As we have said before, music has been a huge part of our everyday living. And it is a story that has evolved through the years. Today, I want to share with you my extensive musical background and intense training that most of you are unaware of. It began when I was 6 and Mother decided I would take piano once each week right after school. (Note I stated “Mother decided”). What a thrill for a boy in first grade at Striplin Elementary! The school was located where the Gadsden, Alabama public library now stands. This was 1957. So, it was convenient to walk 1/2 block to Mrs. Sykes house on the corner of College and Walnut for a half hour of exciting instruction. To a first grader, she had to be at least 90. I literally hated it for 2 years–not so much the half hour (Mrs. Sykes was a sweet lady), but the practice Mother imposed on the other 6 days! Mom finally gave in and allowed me to quit.
I later became very thankful for those 2 years. I learned some very basic and important fundamentals about music. Mother was a wonderful soprano and loved music. I think these early days shaped me more than I realized. I grew to pay attention to music and decided I loved it, too! I am now very glad that I made that walk to the house on the corner with those red music books in hand!
In a few years, the notion of singing and playing a guitar struck me pretty hard. I didn’t get a guitar for a while, but finally did get one from Sears. Yes, Sears! It was a Kay acoustic. The strings seemed about 1 inch off the neck and a pair of vice grips were needed to compress them to achieve a sound. I got so discouraged after a few weeks that I put it away for good, having never learned to make a single chord. Because of this, it was somewhat difficult a year or two later to convince my grandmother that I could learn to play. The secret, I told her, rested in owning that burgundy Gibson electric at Gadsden Music Company. She did eventually buy it for me, and as a bonus, Mr. Green had his guitar teacher give me 8 free lessons as part of the purchase. That’s been about fifty years and I’m still playing. I had no idea how this one thing would influence and shape so much of my life–and that’s no exaggeration!
With the decade of the 60’s on us, there was nothing else to do but form a band, and I found three classmates who were on board with the idea! I suggested each an instrument to play and told them we had to get the resources to purchase what was needed to get started. And by the way–none of those guys played any instrument and I’d never heard one of them sing! In all honesty and with all due respect, this is not the way to start a band! But North Gadsden needed a band. I came up with a name–“The What Four”. Can you imagine?! That’s quite amusing now, but I thought it was creative at the time. We weren’t so good I don’t suppose, but we had the best time and grew very close as friends during those days. And it probably helped us stay out of trouble too! Kids at “sock hops” only needed noise that sounded at least a little like the pop songs on the radio, and we could handle that! We played cheap, too. I guess it sounds better to say we were very affordable entertainment!
I am the one in the white shorts (on the right)
In later days and after High School, I played with some other guys and bands as people come and go and take on other interests. One very talented musician and I became close friends while still in High School. We shared a lot of music and playing time–sometimes just the two of us in his den. I plan a special post about him in the future. I have hundreds of “music stories” I’d love to tell, but you folks don’t have the time to read such.
So, I’ll conclude this with the most significant and important way God used the music to change my life and direction in ’69 and ’70. 1969 had me searching and not sure about much in life except the fact that I still loved and played the music. Playing at after school dances and other places was fun and all, but there had to be more. And there was!
I providentially made my way to a revival meeting one night in June of 1970 with no interest in church whatsoever. But later that night, I responded to the love of Christ and the salvation that was mine as a free gift by trusting in Him and what He had done for all of us on a cross. My search was over! And I also had a new venue for my music–not right away, but in time. The next Sunday, I attended church as I now had reason and wanted to know more. I wasn’t expecting to have music play a role in that first Sunday service, but there she was–a musician, playing the church organ–and she looked really good too! Both of these facts grabbed my attention.
I had to have a strategy to get her to notice me! I knew that my approach, somehow, had to be musical. First, it was needful over the next few weeks to make her aware that I was a singer and guitarist, and even better–played in a band! Girls like guys with guitars, I thought. I really liked a song that was very popular and getting a lot of radio play that summer, so I bought the old 45 rpm single. Strangely, the words kept resonating in my brain and I decided one day that this was my message. I’m really shy and this record could say it for me. It was risky to show up at a house unannounced to give a girl you’d only known a few weeks a vinyl record. But I took the chance. She could easily determine that I was an aggressive weirdo, but she didn’t! It was her favorite song and she didn’t own it. I had no idea!
She began to come hear me sing and play. By that time, I had a Fender Jaguar guitar. Sunburst! I’d give anything to have it now. After about a year, I gave up playing in the band. Some churches in those days frowned on that kind of music. There was no place in the church for me to use the only instrument I owned and knew how to play. An electric guitar would never be allowed it seemed, so I eventually sold it, although that was not necessarily a good decision. But, by that time, God had allowed a black piece of vinyl to open a door that changed everything. Stopping by her house that day in 1970 had been a very good decision!
“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!”