Happiness is a hundred pound hunk of wood

Published 11:03 am Thursday, March 2, 2017

I have a fascination with guitars.

When I was 16 years old, I had the privilege of attending Mississippi Governor’s School, a three-week summer program for high school juniors held on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women.

There I signed up for a college-level course on classical guitar that was designed to teach any level from experienced guru to the novice who had no clue how to tune the instrument.

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I was in the latter category.

Dr. Giovanni de Chiaro, or “Johnny Guitar,” as he preferred to be called by his students, was a world-renowned classical guitarist, composer and professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. De Chiaro was our professor for eight hours each day, plus individual practice times.

USM provided guitars for those of us who did not own one, and de Chiaro did his best to teach us on our own individual levels.

When I left for home at the end of those three weeks, I had a lot of sheet music, one public performance under my belt, and five semester hours of college credit.

What I did not have was a tremendous new talent to play the guitar, nor did I own a guitar.

I convinced my dad that I needed a guitar in order to continue learning. So, Dad convinced me I needed to get a J.O.B.

Two months later, with my first paystub and my shiny new checkbook in my hand, I walked into Mississippi Music in Meridian, and walked out with my first guitar and amp, and a promise to pay $15 every paycheck. I paid $30, and paid it off early.

My amp was a sweet little Fender Squier practice crate amp. It was a cube of about 18 inches that didn’t have a volume or gain knob that went to 11, but my parents were happy about that, I’m sure.

The guitar was a glossy black Les Paul copy, with a few modifications. It was a great beginner guitar. I had a black and white zebra stripe strap and a back ache every time I stood for too long with that hundred-pound log hanging around my neck.

I knew absolutely nothing about playing guitar, other than what little I’d retained from Johnny Guitar’s patient instruction, and the burning desire to somehow get the music in my heart and mind to travel out through my fingertips.

I stunk.

So I played the same riffs and runs and two songs that I knew over and over and over.

“’Bout got that one down, haven’t you, son?” I heard my dad ask often.

“Yessir,” I’d beam back, and play that same 22-note intro to Petra’s “Judas Kiss” that I had already played innumerable times. Dad would smile and close the door.

One day I went to the kitchen for a snack, after staying in my room all morning torturing notes from my shiny toy.

Dad said, “Sounding pretty good, son!”

“Huh? Oh, thanks,” I answered thinking he must have heard me trying out something new before I put the guitar down an hour ago.

“What were you playing just now?”

“Uh … Sammy Hagar,” I replied.

“Did you learn that by listening to him?”

That’s when I understood. “Oh, no, sir,” I explained, “I’m playing his new tape.”

Dad laughed.

“Want me to turn it down?”

“Oh, no,” Dad said. “And you can leave it playing.”

I wonder what he meant by that.

Well, I still stink at guitar.

And I still play those same songs, on that same guitar that I still love.

I don’t play because I’m good, after all.

I play because I love it.

I’ve even added a couple more guitars to my tiny collection.

News Editor Brett Campbell can be reached at 601-265-5307 or brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.