This is for Jon Ross, my summer camp counselor, master of a killer BSA chopper. And a Gibson guitar.
I’d been playing guitar since I was 7, when my mom, in a moment of brilliance, decided I would not play the piano or the violin or the accordion, which were the only instruments 7-year-olds learned to play at the time.
My mom decided I would play the guitar. Young Elvis. She took me to a fellow named Lou Stallman for lessons. Lou was a fairly well known musician/composer whose claim to fame at the time was that he wrote “Round and Round,” a big hit by Perry Como.
Lou showed me how to play a G chord and a C chord and an F chord and a D and an A and an E, covering only the bottom four strings because my hands were too small to cover all six. But it was a start. My first song was I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. G.C.D.
I learned to play all the hits — Michael Row the Boat Ashore, This Land Is Your Land. And I went to my guitar lessons, but (of course) I never practiced. Because I. Just. Wasn’t. Into. It. It was a chore.
But then came the first epiphany. I was in summer camp, playing a few chords, when I figured out — I FIGURED OUT!!!! — the chords to a song all by myself. Palisades Park, by Freddie Cannon. C, A minor, F, G. Nobody had to show me how. There was no sheet music to follow. I FIGURED IT OUT!!!
And so it went for another few years until Jon Ross turned my music world upside down. The second epiphany. We were at a summer camp winter reunion when Jon pulled me into a room, put a record on the turntable, and said listen to this. YOU CAN PLAY THIS.
And he put the needle down on the first track of the Butterfield Blues Band.
And that was all it took. Woke up this mornin’, looked around for my shoes. I had those mean-ol’ walkin’ blues.
The Blues is simple, Jon said. E, A, B7. Twelve bars. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It can go on for hours.
Simple? Hardly. But perfect.
It’s gone on for almost half a century. We’ve moved on from Butterfield and Bloomfield to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells and Hubert Sumlin and Albert King and the Allmans and Ray Charles and Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray and Janis Joplin and the king of all kings, Mister B.B. King.
Tip of the hat to Jon Ross.