“I always thought that guitar was a little too rock and roll for me.”
– My Dad, 2013
Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)Jeff Beck
Ray Davies (The Kinks)
John Kay (Steppenwolf)
Mick Ralphs (Mott the Hoople)
Mick Jones (Foreigner)
Robbie Robertson (The Band)
Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield)
David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
Alvin Lee (Ten Years After)
Peter Tosh (The Wailers)
Zal Yanovsky (Lovin’ Spoonful)
Boz Scaggs (Steve Miller Band)
Jon Anderson (Yes)
Above is all the information you need to know why I am neither rich, nor famous, nor infamous. The list of names comprises guitarists from some of the most successful bands in the history of rock and roll music. A few of those men are legends, enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and known the world over as the greatest guitar players ever. What do these guitar heroes all have in common? They were all born in 1944 (this list is even more impressive if you include 1943 and 1945 when giants such as Clapton, Harrison, Townshend and Richards were born).
1944 also happens to be the year my father was born. He too, as evidenced by the quote above, plays guitar. You’ve likely never heard of him; at least not in the context of guitar playing. And that, my friends, is why I am neither rich, nor famous, nor infamous.
My Dad was born at the perfect time. A sweet spot in history making him part of a generation of musicians whose rock music took the music scene by storm, influenced the largest generation the West has ever produced, and changed the world. Furthermore, as a young man, he learned to play the very instrument at the heart of this musical revolution; the electric guitar.
My dad bought the guitar in that picture in the late 60’s. It’s vintage. A bit of a treasure. It’s also Swedish so not quite a Stratocaster level treasure, but still pretty neat to still have around and functioning. I just won’t be taking it to Antiques Roadshow for the instrument expert to gush over like it was green olives on pizza, though the guys at the guitar tune-up shop had a black olive excitement about it.
Dad wrote the above quote in a text he sent me a couple years ago. Words, though spoken in 2013, that harken back to a most heartbreaking twist of fate decades before my conception. That was when my Dad fell in auditory love with another truly gargantuan figure of the guitar scene. This legend was born in 1923. His name is Chester “Chet” Atkins.
Chet is a finger-picking virtuoso, a country music superstar, and a man who puts the Western into Country and Western. Ironically, he is also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame though not for his guitar playing. He has in one way or another influenced every man on that list above and yet none of them followed in his musical footsteps. My father did.
In October of 2013 my parents came to visit. Unbeknownst to me, they brought the guitar in that picture, the one that was a little too rock and roll for my dad, and the accompanying amp. Both had been unused for probably 20 years or more, tucked away in storage at my parents’ house. Both bleed memories of Dad playing Chet’s coolest guitar instrumentals downstairs in our unfinished basement with the orange carpet, fluorescent lights, and console TV. Dad gave them both to me. It’s the best gift I’ve ever gotten.
You know what, I’m feeling generous today and since this is a rather obscure artist for most of you, I’m going to kick off this weekend with a double bill of instrumental guitar greatness in honour of my Dad’s upcoming birthday. From the legendary (and favourite of my Dad) Chet Atkin’s 1962 album Down Home, this is “Windy and Warm” and “Trambone”.