In my inaugural post I mentioned wanting to trade guitar solos with Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall or Madison Square Garden. Given my total lack of musical skills, I've begun to think that my dream may never come true. Fortunately there are other ways to scratch the "guitar god" itch. Over the years my wife Christine has played guitar and sung at a variety of social events, typically holiday parties and family affairs. Occasionally I have joined her. One of these occasions was a couple of years ago on Labor Day weekend when we played for a group of friends at our beach condo in Maine. We hadn't practiced that much and neither of us was particularly happy with the performance. For some reason, a few in the group started asking when we were going to do it again. Maybe they were all drunk the first time? Anyway, there's no accounting for taste. (For the record, Christine is a great rhythm guitarist and has a beautiful voice, so the real issues are my ham-handed soloing and off-key harmonica. Don't ask about my voice.) One night in June we were playing guitar at home and, in a moment of insanity, we decided to put together a playlist and practice all summer for another Labor Day weekend show. That gave us about 8 weeks to practice, which sounds like a long time, but it's not, it's really not. After a few days of suggesting, vetoing, arguing, debating and experimenting we settled on a 15 song playlist:
- I've Just Seen a Face (The Beatles)
- I'll Fly Away (Albert Brumley - as performed by Gilian Welch)
- Strong Enough (Sheryl Crow)
- Give Me One Reason (Tracy Chapman)
- Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
- San Francisco Bay Blues (Jesse Fuller - as performed by Eric Clapton)
- Don't Think Twice, It's Alright (Bob Dylan)
- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band)
- Bad Reputation (Freedy Johnston)
- Superman (Five for Fighting)
- Something About What Happens When We Talk (Lucinda Wiliams)
- Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen)
- You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Bob Dylan)
- Leaving on a Jet Plane (John Denver)
- Let It be (The Beatles)
We practiced as much as we could for weeks. Christine on vocals and rhythm guitar, me on rhythm and lead guitar and harmonica. In late August we assessed our progress: we were in pretty decent shape. It could be worse…much worse. That, of course, is when things changed. Our son Dillon, who had been away at a performing arts program all summer, had been listening to us practice since he'd gotten home and asked if he could sing on a few of the songs. He's got a fantastic voice. How could we refuse? TWO weeks until the show and a new vocalist. No problem, his vocal skills were welcome.
Then came change number two. We had made new friends, Jim and Susan, who have a place in Maine. Jim plays guitar but told us he hadn't picked it up in years. One night while sitting on the beach, in a drunken stupor and ONE week before the show, we asked Jim to join us. Also in a drunken stupor, he agreed. He confided that this was a "bucket list" item for him. We had never played together and would have one opportunity to practice before the show. When Jim showed up at our house for the practice session he was nervous, not only about his own playing but (I'm sure) about ours. What had he agreed to? Could we play at all or did we totally suck? After one song (Southern Cross) we all wiped our foreheads and breathed a sigh of relief. We liked how he sounded and vice versa. Jim is an excellent player and really has an ear for chord changes and song structure.
Sunday, September 1 -- show day. We set up on the deck. Our friends and neighbors gathering with lots of alcohol. Excellent. The drunker they were the better we would sound. Jim and Susan arrived with a bunch of friends in in tow. Christine, Dillon and I opened with "I've Just Seen a Face:"
Jim joined us:
Soloing on guitar and harmonica:
In the end we had a great time. Our audience seemed to enjoy it. Christine, Dillon and Jim were fantastic. Did it satisfy my desire to do scorching guitar solos? Partially, but next year we go electric.