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Dreaming of Fenders

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On this 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, it’s appropriate to discuss one aspect their impact on American kids: The desire to play rock-and-roll music themselves!

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The world was never the same for me after watching this!

I had heard many rock-and-roll records, but it wasn’t until the Beatles that I wanted to play that music myself. I played sax in our elementary school band but after watching the Ed Sullivan show that February Sunday night in 1964, I knew I’d never feel the same way about it.

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Later that year, my mom and dad gave in to my begging and ordered me a Silvertone guitar for Christmas from the Sears catalog. It was a solidbody in sunburst (a Japanese Teisco-made 1435 model) and cost about $65. It looked great but the thing was miserable to play, especially when fitted with Black Diamond strings, which was the only kind you could buy at the drug store. I had no amp, and I almost killed myself when, using some parts I found in my dad’s tool chest, I made a cable that had a 1/4” microphone jack on one end and a two-prong electrical plug on the other. I didn’t realize that an electric guitar needed an amplifier, so I was ready to just plug it into a wall outlet. Luckily my dad walked by just before I plugged the thing in and explained some things to me!

I was able to use an old shortwave radio that had a mike input jack as my amp after that.

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One day in 1966, when my family was living in Marathon, Florida, one of the kids in my ninth-grade class brought in a full-color Fender Electric Instruments catalog he had ordered by mail. I vividly remember four or five of us boys spending every lunch hour for the next week reading that catalog and studying the photos. Our discussions were funny as I look back on them:

“Hey! Are these the coolest guitars in the world or WHAT?!?! I wish I could buy one!”

“Yeah, but these are described here as professional instruments. I don’t think they sell them to kids.”

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“They have student guitars in the back of the catalog. Kids could buy those ones.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think they sell them anywhere but in California.”

“I bet you’re right about that. I’ve never seen one in the stores.”

“Don’t forget you’ll need an amplifier, too. So we’d better study those.”

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“They’re expensive. That Stratocaster model like Buddy Holly played is over $250!!!”

“My folks would never buy me something that expensive!!!”

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“If these Fenders are so great, why don’t the Beatles play them?”

“It’s probably because they live in England. That’s a long way from California. Maybe they haven’t heard of Fender guitars.”

“They play Rickenbackers, and those are made in California.”

“Maybe Fender guitars are just for surf music.”

“No; you can play any kind of music on these. It says so right in the catalog!”

“Well, they sure are amazing looking.”

“If you could have any one of these you want for free, which one would you take?”

John's Strat

By the time the Beatles recorded their Revolver album, John and George had matching Fender Strats!

We took turns borrowing that catalog overnight and reading it over and over.

I remember I wanted a Fender Jazz bass and a Bassman amp, because a bass, played with single notes, was more like a saxaphone than a guitar was.

Over the years, I had several Fenders. I still do and still get a thrill out of those wonderful instruments and amps. But I’ll never forget the excitement of reading that catalog over and over and dreaming of having whatever Fender guitar, or bass, or amp I wanted for free.

The Skipper

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As long as I’m talking about Nashville buddies who have wonderful blogs, allow me to introduce you to Skip Adams!

Skip Adams and I go waaaaay back. When I first moved to Naples, Florida, back in mid-1960s, I ran into Skip– literally, with my Corvair into the back of his car– and he was kind enough to forgive me. With his brother, Danny, we played some gigs with me trying to alter my nasty old Silvertone electric guitar to play like an electric bass. Nobody in Naples could play guitar like Skip, and that caused a lot of resentment.

One time, I traded Danny something or other for a little motorbike, which I tried to keep a secret from my mom. When Mom found out, she went roaring over to the Adams’ house, spitting fire and planning to tell Skip and Danny’s mom a thing or two about the hooligan kids she had raised and how they were a bad influence on her little angel. Millie Adams became my mom’s best friend and they became even closer when my father passed away in Skip’s and my senior year in high school. They were a pair, those two, and set Naples on its ear! Skip and I played around in various band formats when he had to time to class up whatever I was trying to promote; high-school hops, country-club gigs, whatever.

After high school, Skip stayed with his music and in a big way. In addition to his film and television credits as an editor, sound supervisor and music supervisor, Skip is also a songwriter, musician, record producer and music publisher with several top-ten records worldwide to his credit. Dave Mason, Survivor and Sam Harris are among those who have recorded his songs. He currently makes his home in the Nashville, Tennessee area; he was based in LA before that, where he owned and operated a successful studio. He’s worked on over 40 TV shows or movies, including The Wonder Years, Dawson Creek, and LA Law, and was nominated for at least one Emmy.

A few years ago we all gathered in Naples for our high-school reunion, and had the happy idea of playing acoustic music together one night at a Class of 1970 barbecue and then playing a few electric sets at the reunion dinner. With Jeff Gargiulo as band director, alternating lead guitar with Skip, we rocked the joint to the point that folks not associated with the reunion stopped me on breaks to ask if we were for hire for other occasions down there! I played rhythm guitar on my old Mosrite electric and just tried to keep up. Another NHS rocker, Skip Reznor, played the keys, Mike Threlkeld was on violin, and Nick Koch came in on drums toward the end of the evening, giving the Miami session player Jeff had arranged for us a rest. We may have grayed up a bit, but we had ’em all on the floor dancing and laughing and that’s what it’s all about.

I’d expected Skip to have grown musicially in the 40 years since I had heard him, but I was unprepared for what he came up with. It was so soulful, tuneful and advanced from what other guitar players I knew were doing that I was shocked. But Skip has always shocked people; he can’t help it. He zigs when the rest of us are trying to figure out how to zag. In his hands, which had always been more than capable, his guitar sang out clear, focused and elegant melodies that no one else could have come up with.

Jim, Skip and Jeff; still rocking after all those years . . .

Please check out his blog, which traces the creative and songwriting process:

http://blogadams.com/