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":



1 comment:

  1. Amazing. What grit. What gumption. And your guitar playing helped me fall in love with you in those long ago golden years of our youth!
    Go Steve go!

    ReplyDelete