By T. Perry Bowers
By the time I was forty years old I had been gifted four guitars. The first came when I was around twelve years old. I started taking lessons from a guy who lived in our basement. My parents bought me an inexpensive acoustic guitar that mostly sat in the corner of my room. I picked it up here and there, oftentimes just an hour before my weekly lesson so that I could pretend that I had practiced in between lessons. I just hated the way my fingers would not do what I wanted them to do. I could not overcome that uncomfortable feeling.
The second guitar was given to me by my friend Greg. He was an exchange student from France and when he moved back to France after college he left me his Takamine acoustic/electric. This was a nice guitar. It sounded great, it sat in my hand perfectly and it played well. I played that guitar on and off for about ten years. I started to actually learn some intermediate skills with that guitar. I eventually played guitar on stage with my band not too long after I was given the guitar. I still sucked though.
The third guitar I was given was a 1976 Guild D-35. A friend found it in an apartment he had leased. The previous tenants left it behind. It was another beautiful guitar that played well. It had a small crack in the front of it, so I had it repaired. The cost of the repair was almost as much as the guitar was worth, but I didn’t care. I wanted the guitar restored to its former glory. I liked owning beautiful guitars more than I actually liked playing them. I did play this guitar off and on, but I never did develop a solid discipline with it.
The fourth guitar was given to me by a cousin of mine. My dad and I went to Arizona to visit her. We started talking about guitars and she mentioned that her late husband had a collection of them. He had died a couple of years earlier. The guitars were just sitting around in her house. She brought them all out and I was impressed with the quality of these instruments. He had a Guild D-55, a couple of Les Paul Studios, a Strat, a nice dobro guitar, and a Froggy Bottom Acoustic. I told her I would be happy to sell the guitars for her. She agreed to let them go and told me that I could have the guitar of my choice as a gift.
I chose the Guild. Even though the Froggy Bottom was a superior guitar, I didn’t want to take that much value from the collection. It was an eight thousand dollar guitar brand new. This was when it all dawned on me. Something was trying to tell me to play the guitar.
When I got home from that trip, I finally developed a daily discipline with my guitar playing. At that time I was forty years old. I started out by playing for fifteen minutes every day. I just played cover songs. I picked out a handful of Verve tunes, a Death Cab for Cutie song, Neil Young, David Gray, etc. I just played and sang these songs over and over again.
Soon I was up to a half-hour per day and eventually, once I picked up my guitar I would get lost and an hour or sometimes two hours would disappear. I bought a couple of electric guitars and some pedals too. I started to dive into sounds. I started writing songs. After a couple of years of playing daily, I brought some songs to the band. At that point, I was playing drums and singing for my band. It quickly became apparent that we needed to find a drummer. I was going to be writing many of the songs for the band on guitar.
Music was flowing out of me. Every time I picked up the guitar a new lick would come, a new progression was there, a new sound would emerge. Not only was music flowing from the guitar, lyrics were pouring from my mind. Soon we had a full album. After we found a drummer, we started playing this material live and recording. All was right with the world. I was upfront singing and playing guitar in a band. Why did it take me this long to figure out that this was what I supposed to do?
I chalk it all up to not listening to that little voice inside me. We can all hear it. We just don’t listen to it sometimes. It took four guitars to be given to me to finally listen. It’s not that I was destined to be a great and famous guitar player. (Although if I would have learned in my teens who knows)? It’s just that my soul wanted to write songs. It wants to write all of the parts of the songs. All of the songs I had written before learning to play guitar proficiently were written with a collaborator. This was a great experience, but ultimately not the end game.
I think about all the years that I collaborated with my partner Charlie and others in writing songs. I learned a lot. We had some great moments on stage. We made some good records. We learned to work together without having our egos bruised (too much). We learned to play for each other and not to get too attached to our own ideas of what the music should be. Even now when Charlie and I play guitars together and he has an idea for a change in my guitar part, I will always give it a shot. And more times than not his idea is better than mine. It’s because we both listen to our inner voice. When we hear it pipe up, we say something. We go with the flow.
I can look back with regret about the success I may have had in my twenties if I would have been slinging a guitar and writing my own songs. But the biggest thing I yearn for is the simple ability to play the things that come into my mind. Almost every song I write is outside of my ability to play. I’ve always been influenced by progressive rock music, Rush, Zeppelin, Tool, etc. When I’m writing music (in a flow state) I often play a lick one time and know that it is meant to be a song. But, when I try to play the lick the second time, I stumble. That leads to a couple of months of learning that lick so I can play it well, so I can use it in my song.
If I would have just disciplined myself in my teens the dissidence between an idea and the skill needed to execute that idea wouldn’t be nearly as great. So I guess that is the point of this blog. If you’re reading this and you’ve always wanted to play guitar and write songs, do it now. If my case is any predictor, you could be playing guitar in about a year if you pick up the guitar for just fifteen minutes per day.
It won’t lead you to be a virtuoso, but it will get you playing and enjoying music. If you’re in your teens and you’re struggling with your discipline, but you know you have music inside of you, I implore you to listen to the inner voice and get over the uncomfortable phase of playing guitar. You will never regret it. Your inner self wants you to play music. It’s the language of life. It’s the highest form of communication. Buckle down and learn that skill. Don’t waste any time. The music inside of you is alive and it wants to flow through the world. You just have to do your part.