WOSTER: Chance remarks can leave big impressionMy first electric guitar was a Sears knock-off of the popular Fender Telecaster.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
My first electric guitar was a Sears knock-off of the popular Fender Telecaster.
I bought it in 1960, I believe, for about $29. I played it in the Chamberlain High School dance band, learning to read music charts of standards from the 1920s and 1930s and halfway mastering the business of twisting the fingers of my left hand into all sorts of contorted shapes to form the fascinating but challenging chords that went with that style of music.
But this isn’t about guitar playing or even my first guitar. This is about how a foolish person can let a chance remark from another ruin his day and deprive him of a wonderful piece of musical equipment. It might be a metaphor for life, or it might be the tale of a would-be guitar god who never learned to play lead. As the book says (“Illusions” by Richard Bach, that is) “Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”
Anyway, a friend used to argue that a guitar player’s skills took quantum leaps as the player purchased more expensive, better crafted instruments. I didn’t know that saying when I had that $29 Sears electric, but I knew I wasn’t a particularly gifted guitar player. I was modest about my ability, and I had good reason for my modesty.
I could play a whole bunch of songs and accompany myself on guitar. I learned a ton of chords and chord progressions from my time with the CHS dance band. Until my hearing started to go, I could listen to a song once on the radio and remember the lyrics and melody. I was popular at sing-alongs and keg parties in college, because I could play most things people suggested and help the singers with their words.
What I couldn’t do was play anything original or take a spontaneous lead and make it sound like music. Nobody at those keg parties or singalongs asked me to do that, but I always considered it a failing that I couldn’t have done it if they had asked.
So, I grew to adulthood, still enjoying guitar, still trying to figure out the business of playing leads. One day in about 1980, I walked into A&Z Music in Pierre and saw the most incredible instrument ever made. It had a cherry red body, gleaming white bindings, diamond-shaped f-holes and fret markers and a polished, hard-wood block in the tailpiece. The head stock said “Gibson” and the block in the tailpiece read “Trini Lopez.”
In one crazy moment, I went from $29 Sears knockoffs and $70 pawn-shop 12-strings to a $400 genuine Gibson guitar — a signature model, no less. Sullivan Show, here I come.
Well, Nancy wasn’t that excited about an expensive red guitar, especially when I wasn’t playing it for money. But she probably figured it would keep me out of trouble for a while, and it did — for a while.
One day I saw a friend, a guy who had played with a bunch of late 1960s, early 1970s rock bands in the region. I showed him the Trini, thinking he’d be as amazed by the craftsmanship as I was and happy for my good fortune.
“You kidding?” he said. “That’s a lead instrument, man. You’re no lead player.”
I closed the case and changed the subject.
I didn’t sell the thing right away. I took it out of the case now and then and messed around, playing the few simple leads I knew by heart, reminding myself that I was, indeed, no lead player.
After some months, I put an ad in the local paper. A Pierre woman who had a guitar-playing grandson in Minneapolis saw it, called and made an appointment for the kid to see it. He liked it, paid me $400 and walked out the door toward a gig in Vegas. Well, that’s where he said he was going.
Nancy thought I made a pretty good deal, getting my money back. I thought I got my dreams shattered.