Fathers Day 2018

Me and my Dad circa 1958. No guitars yet but they were coming. Nice shirt.

I’ve been a guitar player since I was 11 years old and I probably don’t give my father enough credit for moving my guitar playing “career” along in the early days. My father was monumentally unmusical. Couldn’t carry a tune, couldn’t play an instrument but he appreciated music and listened to it frequently. There was always something playing on the “hi-fi” in the living room. It was usually either classical (Beethoven was a big favorite) or show tunes. My father loved “South Pacific” probably because it echoed his WWII experience on Christmas Island in the middle of  the, you guessed it, South Pacific. So, I got to have “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” running through my head when I barely knew what a “dame” actually was. But rock and roll was not allowed on the big stereo in the living room. You want to hear “that awful music,” play it upstairs in your bedroom (on the crappy little portable 45 player). A 45, for anyone under 50, is a record that contained two songs, one on each side – yes, you had to physically flip over to play the “B” side. They were also called “singles” and they cost around a buck which was a lot of money to an 11 year old in 1964.

So, while he didn’t much like rock and roll, he was OK with me playing guitar. I had already taken violin lessons from grade 4 to grade 6, double bass after that and organ for a couple of years after my oldest brother, Ben,  convinced my father to buy an electric organ for the living room. So, taking up the guitar wasn’t met with a lot of resistance. In fact, the day after The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan in February ’64 was the day I started bugging my father to buy me a guitar. So, one day, probably in April or May (it took some fairly persistent bugging), he came home from work with a Kay flat top with no case. $15 at Woolworth’s. Again, under 50? Woolworth’s was a “five and dime”- the 50’s and 60’s equivalent of Walmart today. “Learn to play this and I’ll get you a better one…”

So, I found a guitar teacher in Schenectady. His name was Charlie Orsini and he, like my Dad, hated rock and roll. He was a jazz guy and was happy to teach me the stuff he liked but not the stuff I wanted to learn. Fortunately, I learned a lot of useful chords and a little theory but the pentatonic scale never came into the picture. The lessons lasted less than a year but I kept on playing. Dad eventually (in early ’65) took me to the notorious Hermies Music Store in Schenectady where retail was a vague, nebulous concept. Retail plus 10% was more like it. I tried out a ’65 Fender DuoSonic and Princeton amp and my father sprung for the $159. “I’ll set it up and send it to the house,” Hermie said. When it arrived, it wasn’t the same guitar I played. It was a left over ’64 (three way rather than slide switches). He tried to upsell my father with the Princeton Reverb but Dad was having none of it. “Twenty bucks for one extra knob? Are they nuts?” So, the non-reverb unit would have to do. Also the phrase, “turn that *$@$%!! thing down” entered the family lexicon.

Less than a year later, my little brother, Brian, two years younger, decided he would play the guitar and he would get the hand-me-down DuoSonic and I would get a new one. By this time, I was playing in a band pretty regularly, making pocket change -$25 for four of us was pretty standard for a 3 or 4 hour gig. We only knew about 20 songs, so repeats filled the last hour or so. I had learned that Hermies was jacking up the prices on Fenders and that a Stratocaster could be gotten in New York City for around $200 – Hermie wanted $410. New York was three hours away but Dad loaded me into the car and made the trip to Manny’s on 48th St. to buy my next guitar. I wanted either an Epiphone Crestwood (I still love those guitars) or a Stratocaster. Strangely, the only Crestwood they had was Inverness Green and I wasn’t about to play a green guitar. I wanted a sunburst. Even more oddly, there were no sunburst Strats available either. There was a white one (the DuoSonic was white and I was sick of it) and a Sonic Blue. A baby blue guitar? Are you kidding? So, I got my father to spring the extra $35 for a sunburst Fender Jaguar -fanciest guitar on the lot. I played the Jaguar for at least a year but by then Dad said he was done buying guitars. I did get him to spend $600 on a Vox Royal Guardsman amp before he gave up though.

Dad died in 2011 at the age of 95. He still didn’t like rock and roll but grudgingly accepted The Beatles into the living room somewhere along the way. He actually bought a full set of Beatles CDs when they first came out. I think he was a closet Beatles fan all along (except for the long hair but that’s a long story for another Fathers Day). So thanks Dad for helping me find a lifelong passion. It’s still working for me 55 years later. Not every Dad does that for his children and I appreciate having had a Dad that did.

That’s me playing a Gibson ES-330 in 1967 or so at a gig at the Ridgewood Swim Club in Glenville, NY. The Jaguar was gone by then. I owned the DuoSonic until 2004 though.


8 Responses to “Fathers Day 2018”

  1. RAB says:

    What a cute kid! 1958- could have picked up some great fiddles at the Gibson factory! Happy FD y’all! Roger

  2. chuckNC says:

    Charlie, your dad would have gotten along great with mine. Tone deaf fathers should all stick together. Mine ponied up for a used ’65 Bassman so I’d have something for my bass and guitar to plug into. He was generous, but not exactly enthusiastic! First time he ever expressed even vague approval of my guitar mania was after I had been playing for 10 years. I told him that my first “vintage guitar” might appreciate in value. That’s not why I bought it, but he liked that idea. (FWIW, it was a near-mint ’63 CAR Jazzmaster in a super clean tan/black case, bought in ’81 for something like $400 and it didn’t make me a liar when I let it go.)

  3. chuckNC says:

    Do you suppose your father’s aim in purchasing the Beatles CD set was to have the sounds of his young family in his living room again? Funny what grows on us while we’re not looking.

  4. Steve Newman says:

    A touching way to remember your father, Charlie, and one many of us of a certain age can relate to. A fitting tribute to the dads who got us started, however reluctantly, on our musical paths. Love makes a man a true father, not merely biology, and I am missing mine as I read your post.

  5. okguitars says:

    Well, Chuck (my father was called Chuck but his name wasn’t Charles) maybe he was trying to recapture his younger, noisier days, but after 9 kids (all boys), he was probably happy for the quiet that resulted from all of us finally leaving home, probably by 1982 or so. I think he actually liked them all along. He had more of a problem with the hair than with the music. I fought him on that until I went college-that’s five or six years of fight-and then didn’t cut my hair for four years which drove him nuts when I was home.

  6. Michael Minnis says:

    Great tribute to your father and equally great pictures, Charlie! We all should be very grateful to our parents!

  7. Jay Davis says:

    My Dad, a blue collar working guy (Illinois Bell Telephone), made EVERYTHING so to be able to afford things. Built the whole house, formica countertops, kitchen cabinets, living room couch (slightly Polish), everything. When I started that after-Sullivan/Beatles bugging thing like Charles, he made my first electric solid body guitar, similar to a Les Paul shape but with dual cutaways. He carved the neck to hold a fretboard salvaged from some donor guitar. The pots came from some phone company parts bin, wired with the same wire you’d find if you sliced open that tan six-pair phone line in your house. He mounted six magnets, from the ringer mechanism (yes, phones) in plexiglass rectangles, put tape and miles of hair-like wire using my grandfather’s hand drill around them. (The pickups worked but were later replaced with the then ubiquitous “speed-bumps pups”)

    Too bad he never played guitar (or any instrument), as he had no concept of scale length, and, doing everything “by eye”, he was a little off, but close, so up high on the neck its off, and now, a few wonky frets make it unplayable, but it still hangs from the highest peg in my “studio”. A great lead-player friend of mine saw it up there, and insisting to play it, was blow away by the unique funky tone, and that almost all the knobs still worked.

    Mom especially loved our basement practices (1963?) and both were on board to help me get my Kay 592 “Red Devil”. My after-school job paid for most (the balance a Christmas present) of my “66 ES 335, which I stupidly sold in in 1971ish and, miraculously got back (now THIS is a story)….. for free in 2012!

    Too bad I turned out to be 10 times better at saxophone—sure would have loved to see my half-Polish Dad make me a bari sax–God bless him–he passed n ’99.

    Trying to attach a pic, but for all I know its of my house or grandchildren.

  8. Jay Davis says:

    Sorry, me again, pic is sideways, but after two hours of trying, I take it.—Left off the coolest parts—pickguard/faceplates was left over from the bathroom countertops, and please note the brass “JD” logo on the headstock–a TRUE one-off.

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