“So you want to be a rock and roll star? Well, listen now to what I say. Just get an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play. Then, in a week or two if you make the charts the girls will tear you apart.”
I didn't write that. It was written by Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of the Byrds. I remember hearing that song in 1967 and thinking, Yeah, I want to be a rock and roll star.
The best way to accomplish that is to be in a band. All you have to do is get a drummer, a bass player, and two guitar players; hopefully, one of these guys can actually sing. If not, you need a singer. Now you can add keyboards, more singers, a horn section, or whatever you want to this basic lineup, but if you don't have the basics, you're not going anywhere. Simple, right? Hold on there, Smokey.
I've been in quite a few bands. Blues bands, hard rock, oldies, etc. Some were really, really good, and well … let's just say some were not. The biggest regret I have is that I was never in a successful band. What do I mean by that? I mean a band that lasted for a while and played gigs that actually paid real money.
My first band was formed with a couple of friends in 1965. We weren't very good, but I got the bug. We played out at venues for other thirteen-to-sixteen-year-olds, so we didn't have to be very good. We didn't really know much, and we thought that louder was better. Each of us wanted to be sure we were heard, so without telling the others, we would each turn up our own amp just a little bit. Of course, this volume one-upmanship would continue until we were just making a bunch of noise. Time to leave that behind.
I went to Boston University in 1970, and let me tell you, the music scene in Boston at that time was from another planet. I'm not going to tell you the names of the people I played with and partied with because you wouldn't believe me, but you would recognize all of them. I was good enough to hang out with some of them, but not good enough to be in any of the bands. Okay, I thought. I get it. So I turned to acoustic guitar. Not a lot of people were playing those by then, since folk music had pretty much died out.
Years later, it was time to try the band thing again. That next attempt was a horn band. We had sax and trumpet and we thought we were pretty good … although I have some recordings that prove otherwise.
Here's the thing about a band: You must have a leader. Someone who knows what they're doing, can decide what kind of music you're going to play, and can help everyone learn their parts. I had that guy. He was an extraordinary lead guitar player who has since played with people you would know … and now we're playing together again. Yes, he was the lead guitar player in that band in 1965, and fifty years later, we're playing together again. We found a drummer with no ego (a very difficult thing to do) and a bass player who was actually happy playing bass. Most bass players think they should be guitar players, and they're just killing time.
When you first start, you never really know if the band will come together. If you play together long enough, you start to be able to read each other's minds and know where you're all going to go with a song, even in the middle of playing it. That happened with this band. Within a couple of weeks, we had enough songs for three sets, and off we went into the bar scene. Our first gig resulted in an offer from the bar to play there weekly, and soon two other bar owners heard us and booked us into their joints. Finally, success!
Two weeks after that our lead guitar player disappeared, and I haven't heard from him since. It seems that many bands break up because someone either stops taking their meds or starts medicating themselves. That was four years ago, and I'm back to playing acoustic guitar in my living room. It's okay, though. I can play any song I want, when I want, and I don't have to worry that the other guys will show up for practice without having learned their parts.
I still have lots of equipment. I have a complete PA system, amplifiers, and more guitars than I can actually play. Every once in a while, I get that twinge that tells me to find a couple more guys and try it again. Maybe this one will work.
Nah. Just one more dream that's never actually going to come true.