My music story really starts with art. I never attended art school, but I had a real knack for sketching. In about the 7th grade my step-dad paid for private art lessons.
My art teacher was Astrid. She was Estonian and lived two apartments down the hall from us. She was an awesome lady and an awesome artist and teacher. I flourished under her tutelage!
Around this time my bud Harry from across the street (the guy who became my best friend after we had what would be my only actual knock-down-drag-out fistfight of my life at the age of 10 or 11) had all these musical instruments in his basement where we always hung out. I gravitated to the bass.
It was his dad’s bass. Electric and in the general Paul beatle bass mold (though not a Hofner). This bass had a curleyque carved into the top of the headstock! There were no amps, and I couldn’t take it home but I learned Smoke on the Water, Paranoid, Iron Man,25 or 6 to 4 and all those incredibly hooky bass riffs from the 70s. We’re talking ’74 or ’75 here.
Then one day Astrid (remember Astrid?) gave me an acoustic guitar. Well, I thought she gave it to me – it turned out to be a loan. I immediately removed those two REALLY skinny, pesky top strings. They didn’t make any sense to my bass-player habits. I learned even more bass lines on that guitar and at that point I was playing hours every day.
I earned some money from summer jobs. Astrid asked for her guitar back and I was able to buy a bass guitar of my own. For you axe nerds: a Gibson EB2 with the tobacco sunburts. I was in the 8th grade and still had no amp. But, I had these headphones with a 9-volt battery that I could plug the bass into. I wore those headphones out learning Yes and Rush songs and writing riffs of my own. Then, by some miraculous act of parental illogic, the folks bought me a bass amp! (nerds: A Kustom 1-15 with the padded covering and the vent ports and the purple power light).
Apartment living and a 6-hour-a-day bass habit drove our upstairs neighbors nuts!
By now I was really solidifying all the worst possible habits on bass. My mentors were rock’s most notorious over-playing bassists: Phil Lesh, Berry Oakley, Jack Bruce, Jack Casady, John Entwistle. I found that I had quite a bit of dexterity and had ambition, gusto, and a LOT to learn!
My first lesson was humility!
Down in Harry’s basement I was widely regarded as a bass superstar! I was, unbeknownst to me, also being widely promoted as such at the local public high school by Harry. He was an attendee. I was not. There was, at that time, a real guitar superstar attending Harry’s public high school. I had personally seen this 16-year old play entire Yes albums with his band in concert in the high school auditorium. Harry informed me that he got me an audition with none other than the great Bruce Johannesson!
In case you didn’t know, shortly after high school, Bruce left Brooklyn for Los Angeles. Within a year, he was C. C. DeVille of Poison.
Stay tuned for the details of that rare musical encounter…