May 27th…“DID YOU EVER PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT?”
The famous guitar player, George Harrison (with The Beatles), would’ve been proud of me as I imitated him to perfection there in front of our Holstein dairy cows in our barn on the farm back in Minnesota days. I was in love with guitar music from my earliest days and, since I didn’t have an expensive Gretsch guitar to play, like his, I used one of my father’s five tine pitch forks. The hardwood handle of the fork was my pretend guitar “neck”, and the five tines of the fork were my guitar “strings”. As The Beatles songs rang out on the barn radio, to the screams of thousands of girls, I “played” for our 15 head of Holstein dairy cows and responded to their feminine mooo’s of appreciation for my pretend talents. 😉
From the reaches of my farm boy memory, I had always been enthralled with the lovely music that came from a guitar. The charisma of a guitar’s aura has always permeated some part of my existence to this very day.
The year 1967 saw a dramatic paradigm shift for our family as we sold the farm in Kiester, Minnesota and moved clear out to the West Coast, landing in the southwest corner of the State of Washington in a town called Battle Ground. I was one VERY lonely boy without our extended family and friends nearby from our past life in Minnesota. I was a wandering soul in a new land with no buddies and not much to do now that we were city dwellers “in town”. Other than daily chores around the house, life was pretty boring when you’re a stranger on the block. One day, as I was cruising the neighborhood on my bike, I came across a local garage sale. Inside that garage, beckoning to me, was a Harmony “Stella” guitar. The family wanted $20.00 for the instrument, so I buzzed home on my bike and returned with the cash and, for the first time in my young life, I now owned my very first guitar. Next question on my mind was, “Now, how in the heck do I PLAY this thing?”
A few days later, as I was watching television, I happened to stumble across the local PBS (Public Broadcasting System) channel, out of Portland, Oregon, known as Channel 10. There, to my elated joy, was a beginner folk guitar course called “Folk Guitar with Laura Weber” that repeated three times a week. It was taught by a sweet lady with a big smile whose broadcast studio was based out of San Francisco, California. My television teacher’s name was Laura Weber. I sent away for the first edition of what would be a total of three lesson books and they were only $1.00 each (plus shipping). I was thrilled and watched all three episodes each week as I’d practice the rudiments of basic guitar playing. I practiced so much, that I garnered blisters and a little blood on my finger tips in order to acquire the callouses that Laura Weber said would eventually accumulate over time.
Within the first year of life there in our new town of Battle Ground, I had met a new friend that lived down the street from me by the name of Dennis Fleming. He had a Gianinni Classical Guitar that he was willing to sell to me. The neck was wider, for ease of playing, and the “action” on the neck, along with the soft nylon strings, was MUCH easier for me to make chords with. DEAL!!! I bought the guitar and set my “Stella” aside for the next generation of guitar music to commence.
Musical time marches on and it’s now 1972 and my 18th year of life and I am “freed” from High School’s bonds. That summer, I paid $340.00 cash for a beautiful new Hernandez Classical Guitar. The music store that sold me that beautiful instrument also provided classical guitar lessons,(for a price, of course) so I began to move into yet another phase of enjoying this type of music in my life. Although not professionally proficient, I had acquired enough general knowledge classical guitar and note reading to be able to pick out a sampling of classical tunes and deepened my love for this instrument even more.
Thanks to Beacock Music in Vancouver, Washington, I was introduced to the “Oaks” Guitar. It was a handmade, one of a kind musical wonderment made by two brother who lived there in Vancouver. Mine was the very first edition of what I think was the M1 or M6 model and it’s sound was phenomenal!! For the late 1970’s, its price tag of $600 was a bit steep, but you know……you get what you pay for and I wanted to have that “Oaks” sound in a big way. For a steel string guitar, its tone was rich and mellow……just what I enjoyed!! I took that guitar with me everywhere!! School, church, home; you name it, that guitar was like my shadow. Sadly, it was stolen from my car in 1988 and never recovered.
Sadly, my insurance company, at the time of the guitar being stolen, gave me less that $200.00 to replace what was, in my opinion, a “Stradivarius” valued guitar in that one of a kind “Oaks”. So, at the time, I gave up guitar all together until I could save up the $1,000.00 I needed to purchase my next dream which was a “Guild” Jumbo Body acoustical guitar. A very generous friend at our church said, “Elliott, I just can’t see you without a guitar……..here’s the $800.00 you need to go out and buy that “Guild” that you want.” I shed tears of thankful joy at this dear man’s generosity and became the new owner of an instrument that was the epitome of mellow sound. The gorgeous black finish on this marvelous guitar led me to call it my “Black Beauty”, and that she was!!!
In my personal reflections, I see that John Denver’s song, “This Old Guitar”, sums up my feelings about this fine instrument of pleasure. Similar to Mr. Denver, playing guitar has brought innumerable blessings to me over the years!!! It has helped introduce me to new friends, enabled me to express my given feelings at any moment of life. Guitar playing has even been an avenue of expression of my very soul (whether that is joy or sorrow) and has been a tool for me in my simple attempts at creating lyrics and poetry. I’ve also been able to bring praise to God in many venues of worship, AWANA children’s ministry and at the Royal Ridges Retreat Horsemanship Camp to name a few inspirational outlets for singing His praises.
It’s nothing fancy that I do, but I enjoy being “just a strummer” as the Norwegian Farmer’s Son.