Doritos and Smoke On the Water


I write this for everyone who has ever owned a guitar but never learned to play, for we are the ones that ensure the presence of cheap guitars on EBay.

A trip down memory lane of the songs we never learned how to play.

My son Kal got a guitar this week.  An EBay find, $45 for a Fender Squier Mini.

He has no previous guitar experience.  I only hope he surpasses his dad on his musical journey.

Approximately one minute into his journey, I was flooded with memories of my own failed guitar life in the late 80’s.

He plugged into a mini-Peavey amp, turned everything on and got ready to play his first lick.

“Wait Kal, let me find you a pick”  But I couldn’t find a pick.

Rewind to 1988.  A townhouse apartment at the University of Kentucky that I shared with my brother Scott and two friends.  I had a Martin Stinger electric guitar that always stayed propped up somewhere in plain sight.  But I couldn’t play.  Still can’t. But every rock and roller wants to pick up an ax and at least play a recognizable portion of a few key masterpieces.  Iron Man, Stairway To Heaven, Smoke On the Water.

Most guys that came into our apartment picked up that guitar and banged around on it.  Few had any actual skill.  But I could never keep up with a pick.  My friend Cass delivered the same answer time and time again when I told him there was no pick:

“You got a Dorito?

Last night, Kal looked puzzled when I told him I would get him a Dorito to play with.  I ended up cutting up a gift card in the shape of a pick so he could get started on Smoke On the Water.

In those college days, there were no YouTube videos to watch, Guitar tab websites, or guitar tab books to learn songs from. But we didn’t really care about learning songs.  We just wanted to play cool parts.  I tried to figure things out by ear, and my ear was horrible.  My brother had taken piano lessons as a young boy so he had some understanding of music and chords.  He tried to show me some things, but I was too impatient to learn.  I just wanted to shred, and I was too impatient to learn how to shred.

He is now a skilled guitarist, as is my dad.  My dad, brother, and sister once picked and sang together in church.  Afterwards, people who didn’t really mean to be insulting, asked me, “Can’t you do anything?”  And the only answer I could give was, “No, no I can’t.”

But I wasn’t without my moments in my final year of college.  My friend Marty moved in with a Yamaha 12-string guitar, and he actually knew how to correctly play major riffs from awesome songs.  Dust In the Wind, Sweet Home Alabama, Crazy Train, Don’t Fear the Reaper, and Stairway To Heaven.  Of course he freely shared this knowledge with me, and I was well on my way to a few more years of not being able to play.

Upon returning home from college and getting married,  guitar mags were now widespread, as were tab books, so I acquired a sizable pile.  Developed an interest in thrash metal.  And Justice For All, Hangar 18, Symphony of Destruction. But I just really couldn’t play.  Still I clung to this vision of possibly buying a really expensive guitar and hooking it up to the right amp………and the awesome sound would take my playing to another level.

Thankfully I never make that silly purchase.  Soon after, I became a father and unofficially declared my guitar career over.

I still pick up random guitars and play the opening licks from Enter Sandman.  I still laugh when people who know my dad and brother ask me  “don’t you play?”.

And I could only laugh when Kal asked me how he was going to learn how to play.

“YouTube videos son.  I sure can’t teach you anything.”

And a last-minute confession that might get me kicked out of the Metal Militia:  Marty showed me how to play Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” on his 12-string.  And I thought it was cool.

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