By James Mack Adams
There’s a familiar saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. We will see. I have recently re-embarked on a project that will test the truth of that saying. After several half-hearted and minimally-successful starts, I have resolved to learn to play the guitar. That goal has risen to near the top of my bucket list, just above learning to speak some Spanish.
I hesitate to refer to myself as an old dog. Let’s just say I am a gentleman of advanced years. I know I will never be a rock star or a country artist. Nor do I wish to be. That train left the station long ago. It is just something I want to do for my own pleasure.
I am a fan of most all music genres, from Bebop to Beethoven, from Bluegrass to Bach. I can even listen to Rap, but not for long. My music listening pleasure began with the big dance bands of the 1930s and 1940s and has continued to the present. My music listening media has progressed from scratchy 33 1/3 LPs to the cell phone I carry in my pocket.
Though I have at times been closely associated with bands and musicians, I have never quite demonstrated the dedication and discipline required to master the music art. It always seemed there was no time. That was likely due to poor time management on my part.
I can truthfully say that I participated and earned letters in bands in both high school and college, without learning one note of music. “How did you do that?”, you may ask. Well, here’s the rest of the story.
I have always been fascinated with parades and marching bands. As a kid, I would follow the marching band from the staging area to the parade’s end, marching along on the sidewalk to the beat of the drums. I have often said I think my first steps must have been to a march cadence.
When I entered Dobyns-Bennet High School as a sophomore, I set my goal at participating in the marching band in some capacity. I tried out for the color guard and won a position. That was a proud time. I looked forward to forming up with the band after school on game days and marching down Broad Street to our rapid marching cadence. I think we were the only area band at that time to use the rapid cadence. I was awarded a band letter my senior year.
I entered my Freshman year at ETSU with the goal of joining the college band in some position. I was lucky once more and was accepted as a color guard member. Marching behind me was a young lady from Erwin leading the majorette corps. Jo Mountford and I became close friends and constant companions. We parted at graduation. Fifty years later, we met up again at our ETSU class reunion and decided to spend our remaining years together. It has now been 10 years, and counting.
After a couple years of color guard duty, I decided to become more involved with the ETSU Band and music department. I gave up my color guard position and became the band’s manager and music librarian. I received a college band letter my junior year.
I was given the opportunity to perform with the college concert band at times. The band’s director, Marvin Lindley, knew I was a huge fan of Latin music and rhythms. When a Latin number was part of a concert program, Lindley would allow me to join the percussion section and do my stuff with a cowbell and drumstick. I still could not read music, but I must say I could play a mean cowbell. As a side note, Jo played first-chair clarinet in the concert band.
Back to the guitar. They say it is one of the easiest instruments on which to learn the basics. Learn a few chords and strum patterns, they say, and you can play accompaniment for hundreds of songs. We will see.
Jimmy Dean, of country music and sausage fame, was once asked if the guitar pickers in Nashville could actually read music. Jimmy’s reply was: “Yes, a little, but not enough to hurt their playin’ any.”
At times I have questioned whether I should even attempt such a thing at my age. Then I recently read a quote from a known and gifted guitar player, Nuno Bettencourt.
“If you play music for no other reason than actually just because you love it, the skills kinda creep up on you.”
We will see.