Friday, March 30, 2018

9 Year Old Rock n Rollers

My First Guitar

As far back as I can recall, I loved guitars.  I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old, visiting a lady with my family and seeing a beautiful guitar she had behind her couch, and feeling a desperate ache in my middle, because I wanted to play it so bad.  I knew I would not be allowed, so I never asked, but I clearly remember how badly I wanted to play that instrument. I would not have been able to, but that didn't stop me from wanting to.

When I was 7 years old, at Christmas time (that would have been 1966), I got a plastic toy electric guitar. It looked really cool to me, and it had 6 plastic strings, keys to tune them with, and frets. It didn't sound like much but you could actually play chords on it.  It even came with a book that told you how to play two songs.

I think I mostly strummed it, pretending to play it as a rock guitarist for the first few months. But my sister also had one that looked like a regular acoustic guitar, and about the time I would have been turning 8, my older brother picked up her guitar, read the little booklet and played both songs.  I was horrified! I was supposed to be the guitar player, not him! (He was 7 years older than me, so he would have been 15, while I was nearly, or just barely, 8 years old.)

So, I got my older sister to help me figure out the booklet, and I played my two songs.  This was the same sister that helped me figure out the booklet that came with my harmonica when I was 6, the younger of my two older sisters. She would have been 11.

Once I had played those two songs, I started looking for more songs I could play.  My mother had bought a guitar book called "Alfred's Basic Guitar Method - Volume 1".  It had their famous, patented magic chord chart in the back cover.  This had the three major chords, three minor chords, and a handful of extra chords for every key.  I understood how tones and semitones and scales worked (I'd figured it out without lessons) and now I began to get the math and concepts behind transposing.  That back page of the book was my teacher!

Note: Alfred's Basic Guitar method books can still be bought, but they removed the magic chord chart. You have to buy it separately. I suspect that music teachers wanted it out because their students could learn without their help with that included.

With 5 siblings, and all but one of them older than me, I knew I would never get lessons, so when I wanted to play an instrument, and was lucky enough to get my hands on one, I taught myself.

Whatever song I heard on the radio and loved, I'd teach myself. I taught myself a ton of hymns, all the scout songs my oldest brother was bringing home, folk songs I knew, and whatever rock songs caught my fancy.  "Paint it Black" by the Rolling Stones, "Craquelin Rose" by Neil Diamond (I know, not age appropriate, but I didn't care, I loved the song), Shilo (also Neil Diamond), and many others.

I looked, but couldn't find a picture on the internet that matched either my toy guitar or my sister's, so no pictures with this one.

I Get a Real Guitar

Before the year was up, a friend's mother came over and sat on the toy guitar that I'd left on the couch.  I was devastated, but in the meantime, my parents had found some really inexpensive guitars in the Sears bargain basement.  They were from a company called "AGS" which stood for "American General Supply" and I recall they were sold for $10.50. Back then, that was probably the equivalent of a $75 low-end beginner's guitar like what you'd get at London Drugs today.

By this time, my mother knew I could actually play the instrument, so she told me I could use her guitar.

I still remember my first time trying to play it. My little fingers were used to the soft, relatively loose, plastic strings of my toy guitar. This real guitar had steel, relatively high-tension strings that hurt my fingers like mad.  I remember only being able to play for 5 minutes the first few times, before I had to stop, and I remember bawling a bit, cause I wanted to keep playing so bad, but my fingers hurt too much!  I was probably still 8 years old, but I had (and still have) a stubborn streak.  I'd pause, lick and blow on my poor, burning fingers, and then go back to more playing. I think it only took me a few weeks to toughen up my fingers.

Me at 13 years old, with my AGS guitar, in Mission, BC.


My Best Friend

I actually had two best friends, and had real trouble figuring out which one to choose between on occasion.  One of them was a boy my age from a family that my family was friends with. They lived down Jubilee street, and it was his mom who sat on my toy guitar.

The other was a boy I met on the first day of grade 1 (I didn't go to kindergarten, so that was my first day away from my parents.)

Steve and I walked home, and Steve invited me into his house. In there, he sat down in front of their cabinet record player, put a reel-to-reel tape on, and played and recorded a song off of one of his Beatles albums. I was amazed that he was allowed to touch the expensive cabinet (I'd have been killed for trying at 6), but loved the music. Steve and I shared a love of music, especially the Beatles!

Little Rock n Rollers

So, that brings me to being a 9 year old boy, who had taught himself to play Harmonica, Recorder and Guitar, without any lessons, and could play just about any song by ear.

That year, Steve and I got the idea that we'd form a rock band and play our favourite songs.  Steve had got hold of a second-hand acoustic guitar and had strung the first 3 strings on it.  I was impressed that he could pick the lead part out. I was a rhythm guitarist, and just played chords.  I was also impressed because I was convinced he sounded like Paul McCartney (but 9 years old...)

His little brother wanted to play along, so I took two aluminum meat-pie tins, put some pigeon feed in, and stapled edges together. I gave him that for a maraca. I only think he joined us once or twice, but I do recall wanting to include him.

Our first song was "Get Back" by the Beatles.  Our second song was "Hey Jude", also by the Beatles.  We sang a lot of Beatles songs.  Somewhere, Steve thinks they may have a tape or two of us singing. I'd love to hear it if he could find one.

I do remember getting us to sing "Sloop John B." by the Beach Boys, because I loved it so much (the folk musician in me, coming out!)

At one point we had a drummer and a handful of extra vocalist, and I recall Steve's mom took a picture of us all singing.

I remember us playing in Steve's garage one time, with the neighborhood kids riding their bikes around us.

Still Rockin' in the Free World!

I went on to play for my scout troop, my various churches, youth groups, seniors homes, and recently, my cub scouts and bible study group.  I still love all kinds of music.

Steve, meanwhile went on to playing real gigs, and still does so. Recently he created an album, mastered at Abbey Road Studios, with over 22,000 downloads on Spotify.  His album is available on Spotify, on CD and on Vinyl, through is web site http://www.stevejensenmusic.com

You can find Steve's Spotify account with this search:
https://open.spotify.com/search/albums/steve%20jensen

I often listen to his album on my way to or from work, on the Skytrain, and find it really relaxing and fun to listen to. (Warning, there's one song "Really Nice Person" with explicit lyrics.) 

I'll leave you with one of his music videos, featuring many lower-mainland locations, including the old Gastown Steam Clock, called "Walking Back Home":



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Amazon Ads for my book - It Actually Worked!

Previous posts about this book:
I've Self-Published a Story
Using Facebook Promotions to Advertise an Amazon book
Amazon Ads for my Book

The last post on this topic I mentioned my reservations about Amazon ads, but finally, on looking at it decided to give it a try. With Amazon, you can set a daily budget, and between that and the duration, I knew I could control the costs.

So I setup a campaign to start the first weekend of December and run through to Christmas Day, with a maximum cost per click of .25 and a daily budget of $2.00. I was willing to lose that much money for the exercise.  I chose a sponsored products ad campaign and let Amazon automatically choose the keywords. I was convinced that their algorithms were probably better than any guesswork on my part, so I left it to them. I suspect that was a good idea. 

I learned a number of things from this. 

Amazon bids on ads, like mine, that have been activated and put out there.  If they bid on you, they will put you on pages that they feel, based on the ad's keywords are a good fit.  Every time they put you on someone's web page, that's called an impression.  You don't pay for impressions. You pay if someone clicks onto your page, whether they buy or not.

It started on Sunday December 3rd, mid-afternoon. The ad went live in the evening and had over 30,000 impressions by morning.  By the end of Monday, we were at about 80,000 impressions, and I had a few sales in the bag.

By end of day Tuesday, I was at 90,000 impressions. But then it slowed down. By end of the week I was stalled at 100,000 impressions.  I suspect as we moved into the holiday season, Amazon was focusing their bids on high-priced, high-demand items (they are a business, after all.) Impressions practically dried right up!

The interesting thing is they were still under $3.00 cost for the campaign. I had a daily limit of $2.00 but they weren't even coming close to it on any day. So I decided to up the anti.  I increased my per-click maximum to .50 and my daily budget to $6.00.  This resulted in getting more impressions, but still very slow. Sales picked back up.  I also extended the campaign to end of the first week of January, figuring that kids with new eBooks would be loading them with books during the holidays.  Most kids in Canada, and many in North America were off for the first week of January, so this made sense.

Middle of the week after Christmas, impressions began to climb and I got a bunch more sales.

At the end, my total spend on this campaign was under $20.00.  My royalties due for these sales are more than double that, so I'm ahead of the game.

The other interesting thing is, that although the ad campaign focused on the eBook, a lot of purchasers went to the paperback version and bought it, instead.

And finally, my original goal was to sell a dozen through this learning exercise. I sold 18 (of which 4 were paperbacks bought by me) so I'm ahead of my original goal.

Takeaways from this exercise:

  1. Don't try to compete with big business close to Christmas (my next story will not be a Christmas story)
  2. Don't be afraid to have a higher daily budget - you probably won't spend it anyways.
  3. Amazon ads can work - you need a good product that's well positioned.
Thus endeth the lesson!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Wolf Cub Field Trip - To Jail!

Can't remember what, but something brought this back to me today, so I thought I'd share this memory...

When I was 10 years old, I was a member of 1st Burnaby South-view Wolf Cub Pack, which met in Maywood School on Imperial street behind Simpson Sears (now Metrotown). Back then we were called wolf cubs, not cub scouts (I preferred being a wolf cub - much cooler!)  This was when the organization was still called Boy Scouts of Canada. Now it's co-ed and it's called Scouts Canada.

I believe it was very rare at that time, (Scouting in Canada not being co-ed yet) but my Akela was a woman, named Beth Reynolds.  Her son, Greg, was one of the other cubs.  It never phased me that my Akela was a woman, I was just glad to be a Wolf Cub, but I realize now that it was an unusual situation!

We did a lot of fun things when I was a cub, and as leaders today, we try to ensure that out little cubs get to have a lot of fun activities, too.

One of the things we did was a field trip to the Burnaby Police Station. I believe later that year it was torn down and a new building put up.  We were taken around and shown various parts of the building. I honestly can't recall much of it, but there was one part that stood out for me.

The officer that was taking us around got us to the area where the prisoners were kept. They had jails in there with metal bars and bunks.  This particular "ward" didn't have any prisoners at the time, or they would not have been able to bring us in there.  He opened the door to let us go in, which we all did, and started climbing all over the bunks.  There was probably about a dozen of us on this field trip, so we all fit.

Then, he closed the door and locked it, turned to my Akela, and told her "Okay, we can go talk in the staff room in peace!" and they walked away and left us there.  After the initial laughs and wails of "Hey! No fair!" or "I didn't do it! I'm innocent!", one of the boys grabbed the bars and started to chant "We want out!", so we all joined in.

After several minutes they came back and let us out.  They were teasing us (we do that with our cubs, too), but we knew we were safe. We would never have wanted to be in there for real!  That memory has stayed with me over the years! It's funny what stays with a child!