Gaming + Sports = Guitar?

Although I began tinkering around with an old, beat-up acoustic guitar that I found in the garage at the age of eight, I cannot say I was interested in pursuing music as a career for many years thereafter, as I did have a rather normal childhood, and was involved, like many, in playing sports and video games.

Starting with Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, then branching out to Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda, I noticed the then-latest crop of games had become a never-ending maze of nothingness. Flight Simulator was instantaneously forgettable after take-off. Bulge, a game based on the famous war battle, was as boring as its title suggests. Moving on to Madden Football was more exciting. Becoming an avid fantasy baseballer could be considered more intellectual. Even then, I was increasingly finding inspiration in the more-diverse landscapes painted by music.

My parents possessed a vast music archive which, after awhile, I utilized at will. My mom preferred rock; my father was a fan of pop. When I began tuning into the radio, I originally gravitated toward classical music and jazz stations. These artists' names were inscribed on my bed sheets - much to my mother's chagrin. However, what truly turned me on were the older forms of rock and roll on the airwaves, and many of the artists they did not own in their collection - namely, The Animals, Hollies, and Buckinghams. Their musical sensibilities were different than those of Bach, Wagner, and Coltrane, but in my opinion, they and other groups including Steppenwolf and the Rolling Stones wrote timeless tunes containing great arrangements, hooks, melodies, and vocals.

As a result, my muse was the topic heavy music of the "classic rock" era of the 1960s and 1970s. In junior high, the kids also displayed a strong interest in that ethos; there, we would trade 45s by The Monkees, discuss Steve Miller Band's Number 5, and listen to rock music during lunch breaks. Across the street, Beverly Records carried all the out-of-print classics by legends like Arthur Lee and Love and Spooky Tooth that were rarely mentioned in magazines.

Early on, I owned a 1966 Harmony bass and a Sears model guitar with a battery-operated speaker attached to its front side. I received a red Fender Stratocaster as a holiday gift, and set out to play for real - although my true development began in college, playing alongside Northwestern music majors who were far more talented, at the time.

Those sessions were more essential to my development than my first formal piano lesson. A teacher named Burger showed up at my door and attempted to teach me the only piece he knew, "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Of course, this was not the Buddy Guy blues song, and I already knew how to play the toddler tune. I wanted to learn Dave Brubeck and Modern Jazz Quartet-style jazz comping, which was too advanced for his skill set. Following a litany of insults rendered upon a child, he left, and I was free to enter into worlds I would both desire and develop.