My Guitar History, Pt. 8: Momentous Times!

Much of this episode is not specifically about my guitar history, but I would be remiss not to include it here. In the summer of 1969, I was working in a warehouse in downtown Cleveland. My friends Jim Moore and John Huebner were also around for the summer, and, on pretty short notice, convinced me to hop in a VW bug and head off for the weekend to some music festival in NY state. It was, of course, Woodstock. We left after work on Friday and drove for 7 or 8 hours before traffic came to a halt. We parked the VW in a field and started walking. Seven miles later, we arrived at the festival. When we asked where to buy tickets, people just laughed and told us there were no tickets; the festival was now free. So, early Saturday morning, in a drizzling rain, we moved onto the big field. It wasn’t very crowded, because the music wouldn’t start for hours, so we were able to put our army surplus green ponchos down in that red Yasgur’s Farm mud, and camped out. We essentially stayed there for the next 24 hours, not counting portapotty breaks and attempts to score food. 

Now, this was over 50 years ago, so my memories may be largely imaginary, but this is how I remember it. The skies cleared, the temperature rose, and the music began. Afternoon highlights, for me were Santana, Country Joe and the Fish, hearing John Sebastian sing “How Have You Been?” for the first time, and seeing the Incredible String Band, who soon walked off stage after being discourteously upstaged by a guy throwing fruit from the front of the stage into the audience. As the evening came on, I was too exhausted to really stay awake. Flopped out on my poncho, I can remember dreamlike sequences of waking up for various fragments of sets by Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater, and Sly and the Family Stone, not necessarily in that order. As morning drew near, I awoke in time to see and hear The Who perform “Tommy”, and then, as the sky lightened, the Jefferson Airplane finished the concert with what would have been a great light show, except for the sun fading it out. So, early Sunday morning, we had to get back to Ohio for Monday work, and trudged the 7 miles back to the car and onward to home, happy and proud to have been part of the “3 days of peace, love, and music”. Arriving home, my mom was in a panic, as the Cleveland Press headlines read “New York rock festival declared a disaster area”. That’s how the establishment media dealt with the counterculture in 1969.

Back in Kent in the fall, I began performing regularly as Alex Bevan’s sideman. I also began teaching guitar at the Music Mart, the small town guitar store that stood next to the Kent Theater (now the “Kent Stage”). The first student I remember was little 8 year old Anne Caston. A half century later, we are still friends; thanks, Facebook!

Several of us (Alex, Rick Lytle, Tom Dietz, Don Hernstrom, Kerry Blech) started to hijack the Kent State Folk Festival in earnest. We had to work diplomatically with the frat/sorority crew, but it turned out okay. They got John Hartford, who was a pop star at that time. We contacted Folklore Productions, which handled the likes of Tom Rush, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and others, but everyone we asked about was already booked. In desperation, I asked, “Well, who DO you have?”, and, unbeknownst to me, a life-changing moment happened. “Well…we have the Rev. Gary Davis…”

Now, I had a sort of beatnik friend, an older guy by a couple years, named Chris Miller, and he had played me a scratchy sounding cassette of Rev. Gary Davis playing “12 Gates To The City” the previous year, which had made my jaw drop. I said, “Okay, we’ll take him!” 

By the end of the school year, I’d have spent a couple days with the Reverend and begun to seriously explore his guitar style, I’d have a new Gibson J-200, the guitar of my dreams, and I would have met one of my lifelong musical compañeros, Andy Cohen, but my life that year became much more eventful for other reasons. Tune in next time as the tale continues!


My Guitar History, Pt. 7: “The Sixties” take off!

Newly installed in Tri-Towers, the high rise dormitory at Kent State, I found that the hippy freak generation had finally arrived in town. That summer, my friend Jim had returned from his Ivy League school with two or three joints of acapulco gold, and it was his pleasure to introduce a couple of us to the joys of dope smoking. Returning to Kent, dope was suddenly everywhere, along with long hair, booze, and music. I had briefly met a banjo player, Doug Tanner, the previous year, and we had played together for an afternoon. Now I found that he was living just down the hall. Additionally, I got to know a couple juniors from Pittsburgh, Mike McCune and Don Hernstrom, who were also into Bert Jansch, and they had the imported British albums, which made note of the fact that, on some of the cuts, Bert had a second guitarist, John Renbourn. This was actually reassuring, because the American release made me think those tunes were just one guitar, and I just couldn’t imagine how that could be done. Soon after, my friend Rusty, who had, since high school, been the arbiter of all new music for our little circle of misfits, showed up with the debut album by Pentangle, Bert and John’s folk/jazz ensemble. It was Rusty, an avid music fan and subscriber to the British magazine Melody Maker as well as the fledgling Rolling Stone, who first pointed us all towards The Doors, Love, The Jefferson Airplane, and many others. There were also several other acoustic guitar players in my circle of friends, and I spent most Friday nights at The Needle’s Eye, the coffeehouse in the basement of the United Christian Fellowship house, just off campus. I met lots of interesting musicians there.

The most important musical compatriot to emerge was Alex Bevan!

The most important musical compatriot showed up when he tagged along with Gusti & Sean, an Irish duo. This was Alex Bevan. He was just out of high school, and did a couple tunes on the open mic. He had a lovely voice and an interesting repertoire. I can’t remember if he was performing his original songs by then, but we hit it off immediately, and have been friends ever since. When Alex’s career in Ohio began to take off, and he was signed to a recording contract, he took me along as his sideman, which led to my first studio experience and also some touring around Ohio colleges, but that came a bit later. Also, Alex had met an older guy, Al Woodson, who might have just come back from the Navy, and was a fine fingerstyle player, and it was Al who taught us both to play the Dallas Rag, another popular fingerstyle piece of that era. I also met Chris Rietz, another Bert Jansch fan, and we became fast friends, as we still remain. Musically, it was a very fertile time for me. I was learning a lot, and also acquiring a bit of a reputation as a skilled guitarist. There were coffeehouses in Akron, Cleveland, Kent, and other nearby towns, and I performed at many of them, cutting my teeth on stage. I cringe now at the thought of what those shows must have been like, but the guitar playing wasn’t bad, and I was slowly learning the craft, trying to emulate the professionalism I had watched at La Cave. 

My freshman year had marked the debut of the Kent State Folk Festival, and I had attended to watch a number of student acts and a couple pros. In my sophomore year, they’d gotten a bigger budget. The students involved in planning the festival were mostly fraternity and sorority types who wanted to pump up their resumés, and didn’t know much about folk music. They spent most of the budget on Gordon Lightfoot and Judy Collins, but a local blues guitarist named Derry Heasley, had infiltrated the committee and hijacked just enough money to bring Doc Watson and the New Lost City Ramblers, which turned it into a real folk festival. By the next year, my friends and I were ready to jump in and do our part to help transform the Kent State Folk Festival into what became a highly regarded traditional music festival. More about that next time!

My Guitar History, Pt. 6: Rolly Goes To College!

I moved to Kent, Ohio to attend college in September 1967. A brief aside: My first two years of college were characterized by an odd cultural turnabout. In my freshman year, I was a misfit; a hippy guitar player in a dorm largely inhabited by very straight frat boys. When I returned for my sophomore year, I was determined to at least make some effort to “fit in”, so I cut my hair off and arrived at my new dorm to find that the roles had reversed, and I was the only guy who gave the appearance of being straight…it didn’t take me long to recover. But that was a year later…

Moving into my dorm room freshman year, I heard a guitar from across the hall. I went over and introduced myself to Greg Dearth, who would become a lifetime friend. At the time, I thought that, by some strange coincidence, two of the most skilled acoustic guitarists in town had ended up in close proximity. Hindsight has done nothing to change that opinion. Greg was a brilliant creative artist in both visual media and on various musical instruments, and we immediately became good friends. His guitar was an “Eko” 12 string (I think it was Scandinavian) with six of the strings removed. He was already a proficient fingerpicker, and we spent a lot of time playing together, and performed at a local coffeehouse, The Needle’s Eye, under the name “Aquarius and The Fish”, derived from our astrological signs. (In later years, Greg would turn to the fiddle, and play in The Hutchison Brothers and in The Hot Mud Family. He has since returned to the guitar, and plays some great jazz!)

We inhabited the folk music world, but Kent also had a very active bar scene with local bands, and the hotshot electric guitarists in town were Joe Walsh of the James Gang, and Phil Keagghy of Glass Harp. I only met Walsh once. We had a mutual friend, Pat Cullie, who worked in a local head shop, called “Halcyon Daze”, and I wandered in one night when Walsh was showing Pat his newly acquired Martin 12 string. Pat said, “Hey, let this guy play it!”. I ripped through a high octane version of Embryonic Journey. Walsh looked a little dumbstruck. He was already doing a bit of hybrid picking (flatpick w/ fingers), but I think fingerpicking was foreign to him. I didn’t know quite what to say, so I handed the guitar back to him, smiled at Pat, and walked out…it felt like a bit of a mic drop. In retrospect, I would have been much smarter to stay around and schmooze, although the word “schmooze” hadn’t yet been invented. So it goes.

During this time, Greg introduced me to an album called “Music Of The Southern Appalachians,” which had a couple great cuts by Etta Baker, a wonderful “Piedmont style” guitarist. We also mutually became entranced with Lightnin’ Hopkins, the Texas bluesman, and we got our first taste of the playing of Blind Blake, the brilliant ragtime blues guitarist who had only one equal, in Rev. Gary Davis. I wouldn’t hear Davis for another year, but Blind Blake’s playing was jawdroppingly great, and I tried, without much success, to emulate it! I did enough school work to keep from getting in trouble, but most of my energy went into the guitar. Greg and I had a couple friends who played a bit, and more who loved folk music, but we were kind of a musical nation of two for that year. Somewhere in that winter, we drove to Akron with Ken Jurek and others and saw Cream in concert. I remember the huge walls of Marshall amps, and Clapton standing as still as a cardboard cutout as he rolled out his fantastic virtuosic licks on a Les Paul.

Returning for my sophomore year, I learned that Greg had transferred to Ohio University. We would cross paths many times over the years, and remain good friends, but, for now, I would meet a new group of cohorts in Tri-Towers, Kent State’s brand new high rise dorm, which would become the center of campus freakdom, and at the Needle’s Eye coffeehouse, so life moved on.

My Guitar History, Part 5: The First Good Guitar!

In 1966, at the end of my 2nd summer working among the huge noisy presses at the Cleveland Press, toting 40 pound typeset hunks of metal while the presses roared at a kizillion decibels, I was able to take $138 down to Epstein’s Musical Exchange, a downtown Cleveland music/pawn shop, and buy a brand new Gibson LG-1, my first “good” guitar. It was one step up from the much coveted Epiphone of Amy Picciano; a very playable instrument with a nice, somewhat soft, tone, and a classic Gibson sunburst finish. It was on this guitar that I practiced “Anji” for many hours, until my fingers were on the brink of bleeding. Then I’d put the guitar down, go to the park for an hour or so, and come back and start in again.

By the end of high school, I was already a more proficient guitarist than most of the local folkies I saw on stage at Faragher’s Back Room in Cleveland Hts, Ohio. My singing was another matter. As a child, I was recruited for the choir in my synagogue by the rabbi, who told me I had a very good voice. This was, in fact, untrue. He just desperately needed anyone who could carry a tune. The result was that I went into my guitar career thinking I could sing, and thinking of the guitar as mainly backing up my voice. Over the course of my guitar life, I went through these stages:

  1. Thinking of the guitar as accompaniment to my singing.
  2. Realizing that my voice was not great, and thinking of instrumental guitar as the centerpiece of my music.
  3. Realizing that very few people want to listen to a whole evening of instrumental guitar, and studying enough voice to allow me to integrate a certain amount of singing back into my performances.
  4. A long period during which I expanded my stylistic guitar chops, studying with jazz teachers and again diminishing the amount of singing I did.
  5. Arriving at my current pandemic stage of 75% singing (often with sophisticated guitar accompaniment) and 25% instrumentals, buoyed up by studies with my friend and excellent voice teacher Charles Williams.

By the time I finished high school, I was probably at about stage 2, and then it was time to move on; college beckoned.

My Guitar History, part 4: Influences: Grown-Up Music!!

My high school years signaled a blossoming of my musical education. Central to this was the discovery of La Cave, a world class Cleveland coffeehouse that was a whistle stop for professional touring folk acts. I could see my heroes up close and in person. At La Cave, I saw Phil Ochs, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Josh White, Arlo Guthrie, the Jame Cotton Blues Band, the Blues Project with guitar ace Danny Kalb, and others. I studied everything about them, and I still remember seminal moments; recognizing a fifth fret “A” chord shape on the neck of Phil Ochs’s guitar during his guitar break on “Changes”…being introduced to the then unknown Joni Mitchell’s music by Dave Van Ronk’s versions of “Urge For Going” and “Both Sides Now”…attending back to back nights of Tom Rush and realizing that his seemingly spontaneous patter was actually a finally tuned performance piece with little variation.

Did I already see myself moving forward to being a performer? I don’t remember it that way. I was just hot for the guitar, propelled forward by the love of the acoustic fingerpicking that I heard at La Cave and on my phonograph records. With the limited availability of written music, I threw myself into the time honored method of learning by ear, lifting the needle time and again to re-listen to my favorite tunes. This led to terribly bastardized versions of Ian Buchanan’s arrangement of “Winding Boy” (sic), Dave Van Ronk’s “Bad Dream Blues”, Danny Kalb’s “Hello Baby Blues”, as well as Phil Ochs’s “Changes”, Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” and “Girl from the North Country”, etc.

I’d learn what I thought was a creditable version of one of these tunes, then listen back a month later, and find that I was way off the mark, re-tool and hone in a bit more. This process sometimes went on for years. I didn’t really “get” Winding Boy till I heard Larry Lamovsky play a version of it at a coffeehouse in Kent during my college years. But one of the lessons I carried away from this process was that my inaccurate versions of these guitar pieces were still musically viable. In other words, I was taking baby steps towards developing my own style.

At the same time, there were two big events which coalesced to fan the fires of my guitar mania. One was the discovery of British guitar icon Bert Jansch. I had subscribed to Broadside Magazine, a stapled-together newsletter from the exotic realm of Greenwich Village. It featured new songs, literally hot off the presses, by the likes of Ochs, Dylan, Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, and more.

On the back cover of one issue, there was an ad for the first American release by British singer/songwriter/guitarist Bert Jansch, entitled “Lucky Thirteen”. The ad copy read, “A creative British song writer who has poetry not only in his lyrics and melodies but in his guitarists’ fingers.” It could not have been targeted more directly to the young Rolly. I went down to Dempshar’s music shop and ordered a copy, and was immediately transfixed by Bert’s version of Angie, a Davy Graham instrumental that was later recorded by Paul Simon, and became a badge of competency for any aspiring fingerpicker. 

The second event occurred in my high school “Folk Music Club”, where I met Mike Harris, another guitarist who was obviously on the same page with me. I saw and heard him play a decent rendition of Angie. Remembering the fingerings, I went home and proceeded to wear out that cut on my Jansch album, and Angie, the mother of all A minor instrumentals, became forever a part of my repertoire. It has come and gone over the years. It became a bit overdone in folk clubs after the 70s, but is now immensely popular in my on line concerts, and, for me, it spawned a number of A minor original instrumentals which are also part of my repertoire to this day.

As of this writing, over the course of 58 years, I have owned a total of 69 guitars. In our next episode, I get my very first “quality” guitar!

My Guitar History, part 3: My Happy Traum Epiphany.

Up in my attic bedroom, I tried to make sense of the new fingerpicking book by Happy Traum. It began with a few pages on the conceptual base of “constant alternate bass” picking, often called Travis Picking, after country guitarist Merle Travis. This was unlike anything I’d seen before, but I had a feeling it was exactly like a lot of what I’d heard before. So here was the theory behind it, and a few sensible exercises, using the tune “Skip To My Lou” as a model. The rest of the book was a collection of about a dozen or more transcriptions of guitarists from the folk tradition: I can’t remember them all, but they included Mississippi John Hurt, Merle Travis, Dave Van Ronk, Joseph Spence, Tom Paley, and others. The pieces were roughly graduated; easier ones first, then getting harder as you moved along.

I had learned to read a bit of guitar tablature, a system of notating music specifically for the guitar. (One of the peculiarities of the guitar is that the same note, in the same musical octave, can often be found in 2 or 3 different places on the neck. Tablature tells you exactly which fret of which string is required.) Several of the other Oak Publications used “tab”, and I had struggled through some strums, haltingly. I could find the notes, but I was terrible at reading the rhythm. Nevertheless, I struggled through the first couple “Skip To My Lou” exercises, and then a couple rote patterns which included constant alternate bass.

I was memorizing a pattern and repeating it again and again, but the rhythm was wrong, so it didn’t sound like what I wanted. I was very frustrated with my limitations, but I kept doggedly repeating the pattern…finally, my mom called me down for dinner. I put “Casper” aside and went downstairs, ate my dinner, then returned to my room to continue. 

I often tell students that a lot is going on in the subconscious mind when they’re not actually playing, and what happened next is one reason for believing so strongly in this concept.

I returned to my room, picked up the guitar, struggled through a couple unrewarding repetitions of my new fingerpicking pattern, and then it suddenly fell into place. I heard the sound. The sound I associated with Peter, Paul, & Mary, and with Bob Dylan, and then with many others. It was a true watershed moment, and I think I realized that everything about the guitar had suddenly changed, and a new world had opened…not just one in which I would learn the arrangements I’d listened to for years, but one in which I’d learn to fluently “speak” fingerstyle guitar.

So, you might think I would have started working my way systematically through the transcriptions, but no! I was an impatient teenager. I worked my way through Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver’s Blues”, then jumped to the end of the book. I believe Dave Van Ronk’s arrangement of “St. Louis Tickle” was the 2nd last piece, and, while I hadn’t heard Van Ronk’s recording of that piece, I had heard Van Ronk, and I knew that was where I wanted to go, so I cut my teeth on that. At the same time, as I gradually digested the constant alternate bass style, I could start trying to figure out other arrangements by ear, and to also start writing my own elementary, if rhythmically solid, instrumentals. Now, when I listened to recordings by Phil Ochs or Eric Andersen, or others, I could hear what they were doing, and carve out my own version. And I learned pretty quickly that there were pieces that were very challenging, like Van Ronk’s, or Ian Buchanan’s brilliant arrangement of “Winin’ Boy” from the compendium LP, “The Blues Project”, but the pieces by the new crop of singer/songwriters were easy to reproduce verbatim. Those guys weren’t trying to be great guitarists; they were just trying to provide a professional and genre-specific accompaniment to the songs they were writing. I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention John Fahey, whose solid constant bass style of fingerpicking was both original and traditional. In the playing of many of these musicians, my perception had shifted. Where, before, I just heard a wall of sound when I listened to this style, I could now break the music down into the constant alternate bass, played with the right thumb, and the melody lines, played with the index and middle fingers. This made it infinitely easier to deconstruct their compositions. I was off to the races, but there was still so much more to learn!

My Guitar History, Pt. 2: Catching Fire!

In the summer of 1964, my brother Rich counseled camp with some Oberlin friends in Michigan. While there, he was introduced to the basics of folk guitar. At home before returning to college, he showed me his new-found prowess, and his little notebook full of folk songs with the chords written above the lyrics. Mostly traditional ballads of the sort Joan Baez was singing at the time. Bob Dylan’s singer/songwriter ethos had not reached the midwest yet, so folk tunes like John Riley, The Golden Vanity, The Wagoner’s Lad, etc., were part of the limited repertoire. Rich also had Jerry Silverman’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”, which taught the basics of strums and arpeggiated right hand rolls in order to accompany these simple songs. When he left, the book stayed, and that was when I caught on fire for the guitar. I’ve never been sure why Rich lost interest. I certainly hope it was not related to my newfound proficiency. I don’t think there was a lot of sibling rivalry between us. There was certainly no contest for the attentions of my mom…she was too busy being a provider to pay much attention to either of us, although she did her best. I’m not sure if Rich would tell a different tale. We might have been rivals at chess, which we both learned from an early age, but any enmity about that would only have been in the heat of battle. In any event, rather than both of us learning the guitar, it was as if he’d passed the baton to me and I headed off on the longest leg of the race, a leg that has lasted 58 years as of this writing. 

So I learned how to tune my little “Winston” guitar, which I dubbed “Casper”, because its upper bout was shaped like the head of “the friendly ghost” of cartoon fame, and began playing in every spare minute of my life.

Euclid High School had a “Folk Music Club”, which I joined as a sophomore, and I met other students with guitars. I was auditioning for a school play, and, of course, the artsy drama crowd intersected with the folk music crowd. A senior named Amy Picciano had a small, all mahogany Epiphone steel string guitar, which she was kind enough to let me try. My memory is that it was called a “Caballero”, and the internet seems to confirm this. I was immediately drawn to the steel string sound, and knew that my next guitar would need to be a steel string. I knew about Gibson guitars, and soon learned that Gibson now owned Epiphone, and that the Caballero was an analog to a Gibson model, the LG-0. Later, when I finally got to buy a decent guitar, I’d look for something like that. I was pretty unaware of Martin guitars at this point, even though many of the early folk acts, like the Brothers Four, Joan Baez, and the Kingston Trio, all played Martins, but they looked very plain to me. On the other hand, when I discovered Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Eric Anderson, they were all playing Gibsons, often with sunburst finishes and pearl inlay which subconsciously, I later realized, reflected back on the flashy Gibson J200s I’d seen the Everly Brothers play in the fifties. But that new guitar was still a year or two away, so I stumbled along learning folk songs with arpeggiated strums on a nylon string guitar, and trying to figure out what I was missing in my attempts to imitate the fingerpicking of Peter, Paul, & Mary, and then Bob Dylan. During this time, my thirst for musical knowledge and background was insatiable. I subscribed to Sing Out Magazine, the folkie’s bible, and also to Broadside, a low-tech, stapled together newsletter from NYC which featured topical songs by the up and coming folkies of Greenwich Village. Songs by Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric Anderson, Mark Spoelstra, and others were delivered to my door once a month, hot off of the mimeograph machine.

In addition, I raided the local library for books on music theory, and, while most of them were incomprehensible to me, I gleaned enough to start understanding a bit about what I was doing. At this time, there were probably folkies in Cleveland who would have taught me the guitar styles I was seeking, but there was no way for a tenth-grader to find them. The local guitar stores had teachers who looked down on folk music and would have taught the same sort of simple strums I already was learning, so I soldiered on alone for awhile.

It must have been in 1966 when the big breakthrough occurred. My mom and I would occasionally visit my brother in Oberlin. There was a little music store in town. Being Oberlin, which had a major league music school, this store was probably a bit more well stocked than most. I’d always go in and look around, and had probably purchased a songbook or two there, but, on this trip, I found a new book from Oak Publications, the company that specialized in folk music. This one was called “Fingerpicking Styles For Guitar”, written by Happy Traum. It seemed promising, so I bought it and took it home. Things were about to get real interesting!

My Guitar History: the pre-teen years.

This is the first in a series of writings that will comprise my personal history of my relationship to the guitar. It may interest you. It may bore you. I hope you’ll learn something, or at least be entertained, but I don’t care…It is a way for me to combine two great loves, Writing and guitar, so I’m doing it. Here’s the first installment!

My earliest memories are quite sketchy, but, by the time I was 8 or 9, I had a strong affinity for the guitar, and nowhere to go with it. I had a couple friends who played. One, Jerry, was probably considered a bit of a prodigy, and was learning what we thought of as jazz and rock. Later, he would be a big hit at the high school talent show with his version of “Rockin’ Robin”. The other, Chuck, was a closer friend, and I remember that his parents were giving him lessons. The best image I can call up of his guitar was that it was probably a Harmony archtop, and I don’t remember him ever playing anything for me that sounded like music.

I was discouraged from pursuing the guitar seriously, probably for economic reasons. My mother was raising two boys on her own, and money was tight. My first “guitars” (note the quotation marks) were tiny plastic toys with pink nylon strings. They could not be properly tuned, so chords were not on the table. But I could play little melodies by ear on a single string.

My first great achievement was the theme from “Swan Lake”, which was the theme music in the original Bela Lugosi movie of “Dracula”, which my brother Rich and I watched on late night TV. Learning it was no small feat, considering the tools I had to work with.

Next, I became obsessed with acquiring the Emenee push button guitar, a plastic instrument that was miles beyond my little pink nylon string model, but even more miles beneath even the cheapest of real guitars. It came with an attachment that could be strapped to the neck of the guitar, with buttons you could push to create chords…a little like the idea behind an autoharp. I believe the attachment was also marketed as the “Arthur Godfrey magic chord finder” for ukelele in later years. This would have been a good entry level instrument for a 10 year old, had I only been able to tune it. The directions said the four strings (it was a tenor guitar) should be tuned to the melody of “My Dog Has Fleas”. I still don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who knew that melody. This was, of course, decades before the advent of the electronic tuner, and even a pitch pipe was too much for little 10 year old me, so, bereft, I continued into my pre-teens dearly wanting to play guitar with no way of getting one.

In 1963, Rich prepared to go to college at Oberlin. Every high school kid needed a guitar with which to head off to college, so we were taken downtown to a pawn shop, and Rich got a $25 Stella flattop steel string guitar. Knowing that I’d eventually need a “college guitar entrance model” as well, I was able to get a $30 nylon string guitar. It was a “Winston”, certainly what was known in the music store parlance as a “rack job”. These were no-name guitars, turned out in Asian factories and purchased by American retailers who then slapped their own label on. I’ll cover this at length when I discuss my tenure at Dick Lurie’s Guitar Studio, so stay tuned. Anyhow, I was 14, and now had a guitar, but didn’t have a clue what to do with it. I had a little white plastic 6 note pitch pipe (the actual pipes were metal), but I can’t remember whether I could get the guitar in tune. So it sat. There are plenty of other things to engage the interest of a 14 year old: tennis, basketball, girls (as in “dreaming of”, not actually interacting with), subversive literature (thanks to Rich, who aimed me at “Catcher In The Rye” and the like)…

Time went on. Then, in midwinter, I had the flu and was stuck home for several days. I was very bored, and finally picked up the guitar and started trying to make music. There was a Dave Clarke Five song called “Come Home”, and it led off with a distinctive bass line. I managed to figure this out by ear, so the guitar must have been relatively in tune. It went something like “G, C.thud thud thud C, A, thud thud thud A, D, thud thud thud, D, G, thud thud thud.” I was newly energized with the idea of learning, but it still went nowhere. I hadn’t reached the tipping point yet. That would come a year later.

Rolly Brown concerts on line.

It struck me that there might be folks following this blog who don’t know about my on line “Curve Flattening Concert” series. Starting on March 28th, 2020, I’ve done several weekly short on line concerts on Facebook a/or Youtube for the past 2 years. These concerts (372 and counting) are archived on both of those online venues. Here’s a recent example. (If you’re getting this as an email, you may need to go to the browser version to see this video.) This series has grown a lovely community of listeners from all over the world who have become friends via the chat function on Facebook. I do a good bit of blabbing amidst the music, so be forewarned!

The current schedule is Monday and Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET and Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m ET. You can find lots of these concerts at my Youtube channel. Join us some time, either on Youtube or at my Facebook page. If you’re still being careful about Covid and spending time at home alone, it can be a bit of a refuge.

Reflecting on John Renbourn’s “My Dear Boy”.

“My Dear Boy” was my favorite John Renbourn tune when I first became aware of him in the late ’60s.

Short and sweet, and beautifully conceived; I spent hours and hours wearing out the grooves on my “Sir John Alot Of” vinyl recording, trying to figure it out. That was over 50 years ago, and I’m still trying. Recently, an old friend reminded me of the tune, and I tried to reach back over my many years of getting closer and closer to what Renbourn was playing. My understanding of the tune is still a work in progress, but I thought I’d share it with my old friend, and I thought I might as well share it with the rest of the world as well, so here’s my instructional take on “My Dear Boy”.

I hope you enjoy it! Have fun!