Some guitars are born with a soul. They don’t need to be broken in or aged over years. They penetrate you from the first strum. And sometimes your favorite guitar could be one that you found half dead in a pawn shop, or a 70 year old $14,000.00 Martin 00-21 at Chelsea Guitars or a brand new Gibson SJ-200 you found when you wandered into a guitar shop in Nashville.
One of the greatest things for me that has come with singing and writing songs has been the guitars. I made the decision when I started writing and singing songs a few years ago that I needed to play an instrument. I knew I didn’t have to but I’m a control freak, I knew I would need to have a say in how my music was made.
I took piano lessons as a kid, short of having a gun put to my head to practice, I never really took to the instrument. I did start to play guitar at 13. For some reason, I just needed to start. It actually wasn’t because I wanted to be cool or play music or write. I don’t know why I decided to do it but I asked my parents for lessons. They bought me a D-28 style Carlos. I think I even have that guitar somewhere still. I began taking lessons at Kelley’s Music on Brambleton Road.
Kelley himself was a cool rock ‘n’ roller gone local entrepreuner. I don’t remember a lot from my childhood but I remember him and his store. There were so many rock music songbooks and guitars. He always had cool music playing.
He set me up for lessons with another cool guy who worked there. He was really nice looking, too old for me but cute. He liked to teach me The Rolling Stones and Beatles songs. He, however, did not like it when I brought the John Denver songbook to learn Country Roads. Good sport that he was, he taught it to me. Ultimately, he set me up for a lifetime’s worth of three chords, G, C and D.
Throughout my life, on and off, I would find a guitar at someone’s house or at a party and strum Wild Horses, Uncle Johns Band, and maybe the John Denver song because that’s all I knew. I had a boyfriend who played a little when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. I bought a dreadnought Yamaha for $200.00 and played with him and a guy we knew from Austin, Texas. From the Austin guy I picked up E minor and A minor. Now I could play some blues.
When I began playing, writing and singing a few years ago, I was captivated by the song Fort Worth blues by Steve Earle. I did not know then what or who it was about but I loved the scape of the song. I loved how it was written with secret codes and jokes and conversations between two friends. I was happy to remain in the abstract with the writer, going from town to town, to Ireland, To Texas, Paris, France and down the road to nowhere. It took me about a year but I taught myself to play the song and now I cover it.
What obsessed me most, almost more than the lyrics and melody of the song, was the picking pattern. I woke up one day and I had to learn it. I took myself to Music Villa in Bozeman, Montana where I was living at the time and bought a guitar. The one I bought was the guitar born with a soul. A Martin 00-18 custom parlor sized guitar with black and brown sunburst that sounds and feels like dark chocolate. I knew then that I didn’t know what I had, but I knew it was good. I had that buzzy, healing feeling in my body when I played it, better than any other guitar I saw there that day. I know a lot more about guitars than I did then but that’s still the first thing I ever go on when I’m looking at a new guitar, how does it vibrate in my bones, in my organs.
The 00-18…I ‘m sure I will be buried with it. When I left home suddenly in Montana I threw it in the back of my car along with a few bags. It came to New York with me. I would sit in my little studio apartment in the bottom of my friend’s townhouse every morning for months to play and sing and write with it. I took that little picking guitar with me to so many open mics all over New York City. I strummed the shit out of it like it was Johnny Cash’s largest dreadnought. I took it with me to every guitar lesson, in and out of the freezing cold weather and into the dry overheated apartments and bars. I took it with me to Nashville for music workshops checking it in on planes if they wouldn’t let me board with it.
I finally had to get another guitar so the 00-18 could have some down time. It was having a bad reaction to the overuse and what I learned was under care. Now it’s treated right and at the ready when I need it. It’s an old friend and we have gone many miles together. I miss it having been away from New York City during this time of difficulty in the world. Had I known I would be leaving it behind for more than a week, I would have taken it with me, like I always have.