Some people are born with music in ’em. Other people do good with algebra, throwin’ a rope or rebuilding engines.
I am blessed with music. My father’s family played: Grandpa on the fiddle, Uncle Wade on the banjo, Uncle Bert on the guitar and second fiddle, Uncle Dink on the mandolin and third fiddle, Aunt Effie on the organ and “Hi-wa-yen slide git-ar” and my dad, the youngest, played whatever needed played.
I remember as a boy goin’ back to visit in Oklahoma. Saturday afternoon they’d have a “musical.” We’d gather at somebody’s house. Anybody that wanted to play would sit in a big circle in the living room, including kids. The recognized ‘first fiddle’ in the group would start playing. They never told you the song or the key. There was no singing, and nobody else took the lead. In my memory, he’d play four or five songs in one key, switch to another key, play a few in that one, then eventually he’d say, “Bert, why don’t you play one?” Bert, the acknowledged ‘second fiddle’, would graciously accept the invitation and play his favorites, then pass it on down. It went on for three or four hours!
I started playing seriously at about 15 years old. The old-time fiddle music was a great influence, but I also was a fan of the country music of my time: Lefty Frizzle, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Jim Reeves, Faron Young, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn. I played in a weekend country band in college. I picked up an interest in bluegrass and Bob Wills’ swing music. I was so focused on what I liked that I missed Elvis, the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the hundreds of folk and rock bands that were on radio stations I didn’t listen to. Today I recognize Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna’s picture, but I couldn’t name a song they did.
My brothers are musical, too. Then, somewhere along the line I married into another Oklahoma musical family. They were a step up from us because they could read music, which just made them even better.
I’ve been schoolin’ my son on the mandolin since he was about 10. He always gripes. Last month he asked if he could switch to guitar. “Sure!” I said. Next thing I know he’s in his bedroom trying to figger out Billy Joel’s “Piano Man!” Looks like he’s caught the bug.
Truth is, he never had a chance. When yer born with the music in ya, it’s like breathin’. Oh, did I tell you the mandolin he’s been playin’ for the last four years was Aunt Effie’s? I think she’d think that’s cool. PD