Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Changing from a Kid into a Musician (Part 2)

Sitting right in front of the dart board. Brooklyn 1980.
So….the Big Jam…..with Bruce…..


I pushed my padded, 4-wheeled amp and my bass 40 blocks to Bruce’s house. I went in, and he had a Marshall stack in his room. One of the albums I saw laying around was The Sex Pistols. I plugged in and we tried to find stuff we knew in common. Meanwhile, his amp on zero was drowning out mine on 10. After a while, Bruce called his uncle down from upstairs. His uncle played some banjo, so Bruce split and I jammed a half hour or so with Uncle Banjo, then pushed all my stuff 40 blocks back home.

Curiosity and ambition aligned one day in the mid-70s and I walked to the music store and purchased the Allman Brothers Complete sheet music book. I had been eyeing it for months and was a regular denizen of the music store (13 years old, little else to do…). I got that book home, got the bass fired up, sat down. I opened the book and was confronted with all these familiar song titles I was aching to learn. And dots. Dots on lines, between lines, weirds symbols. What the hell? I just want to learn the bass lines!

So I walked back to the music store and bought a Mel Bay book on learning to read the bass clef.

Between the two of these books, I s-l-o-w-l-y got every Allman Brothers song under my belt. I was in high school by now and the much-reviled disco music was the new normal. My friends and I reacted by becoming even hippi-er than the actual hippies (mostly our older brothers and sisters). It was with great good fortune that my high school’s only guitar teacher decided a half-semester bass guitar course was overdue. He was mainly a history teacher, but back in the day he was one of the first white cats to gain acceptance in the Harlem jazz clubs in the 40s.

So began my Formal Musical Training. Approximately 12 hours of basics, but these basics included what’s known as chord theory. I was able now to write bass lines. Also, I had by then figured out what the two top skinny strings on a guitar were all about and I had learned some guitar chords and some songs on guitar too.

But when joining bands (which happened a lot back then), I did it as a bass player. Knowing a bit of music theory allowed me to start playing with a more advanced set of local musicians and my learning accelerated again. I would ply the guitar players with a million questions. Usually they were really helpful and soon I was playing an acoustic guitar 8 hours a day.

High school finally ended. At 17 I had already played more than a few bar gigs. I was obviously going to be a rock superstar. Of course! So, since my high school music teacher refused to sign a letter of reference for me to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I chose to forego a college education. My parents were right there with the money, willing to put me through school. But by now I also had a tendency to party like my musical heroes. I am still convinced I wouldn’t have lasted a semester in college at that point anyway.

So four days after graduation from high school I got myself kicked out of my parents’ apartment by nobly storming out with however much of my stuff I could carry. I made it as far as the apartment building service entrance – behind the garbage cans. When I woke up, I soon became a relatively permanent resident of Harry’s Basement. Then my ex-girlfriend Melba’s house. Then the local park.

Yup. I kicked around my neighborhood couch-surfing through a summer and a winter and by the next late spring I was a citizen of the local park. At this point I would be playing guitar 12 to 18 hours a day in the park. Then I’d sleep on the same park bench at night. I had a cheap mushy cardboard guitar case and it made a decent pillow (and guitar theft alarm). A pack of four stray dogs slept under my bench every night as well. When I ate, they ate.

Sometimes I had a job at a local bakery. Cleanup. In a neighborhood bakery cleanup starts around 2 or 3 PM. Perfect timing!

Well, summer turned to fall and, in New York, its not subtle. Facing the prospect of freezing to death I signed up for the Air Force. This was September. When my recruiter told me to report to such-and-such in late January, I was sure I was going to freeze to death in the meanwhile.

But a sudden resurgence of employed girlfriends, actual jobs, and even apartments just materialized out of nowhere.

By late January, all the reasons I really had for joining the Air Force were gone…but I figured I signed on the dotted line and HAD to go or else…

Next: Some observations about the US Air Force.