The music biz. Just staying alive sometimes is a daily struggle in order to feed the creativity beast and passion for music. Hunter S. Thompson said once, “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
Now that’s a pretty fair assessment considering the lineage of the fallen… but somehow I have always managed just to play myself through all the bull. Not that I am that good or special; it’s just because I had the drive and I LOVE what I do. I have that passion for Gibson, but I’ll write more on that in another blog.
I come from a speck of a southern town in N.C., just outside of Winston-Salem. It was a rural, agrarian upbringing. Not a lot of culture, but I had three things in particular: great parents, a stereo, and a famous great-uncle. My first exposure to guitar and all its wonders came mostly from a man named Cecil Campbell. Now Cecil to me was my “Curtis Lowe,” like the Skynyrd song. He was a pioneer in early country music. We are talking ’30s-’40s Carter family stuff. He played guitar, lap steel, banjo, and sang. His band was the Tennessee Ramblers. They were featured in many of the early Gene Autry movies, like Ride Ranger Ride, and he got quite famous at one point. He used to come to my grandmother’s house on Sundays and bring a lot of his pickers along with him. The living room was filled with banjos, guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and old country songs he’d written through the course of his lifetime. But to me, the best of it all was an old flat top.
Now I was about seven years old when all of this started, and the only thing I had was a beat-up Sears guitar my parents bought me out of a catalog, after much pleading. I would sit cross-legged at Cecil’s feet, watching everything he did, and try to emulate some of that early rural blues and country that he was famous for. Cecil was a very patient man and would start to show me some of the songs they were playing during breaks, while all my other cousins were out in the yard playing football. I was mesmerized and took it all in. Some of the first songs I learned to play were “Wildwood Flower” by the Carter Family and “Under the Double Eagle,” plus some of Cecil’s originals. I practiced ’til my fingers bled (not a cliché, they actually did).
My aunt, who was the hippest of the bunch, had an 8-track cassette player that she blasted tunes out of at family gatherings or when I begged to listen to them. These were songs by The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, and later Grand Funk Railroad.
Grand Funk Railroad, I was hooked. Grand Funk Railroad Live at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1968 made an indelible impression on me that lives on with me to this day. Then I heard Deep Purple’s Machine Head and I forever left country and bluegrass and my uncle’s songs in the dust.