Issue 184 – November 20, 2019 — An Occasional Newsletter, Edited by Stan Paregien
Hello to each of you. Thanks for stopping by the ol’ homestead for a little visit. In this issue you will find two of the very best poems of famed cowboy poet Baxter Black.
Now, without naming names, I dedicate this issue to a special couple we know up in Bass-ton. Oh, excuse me, I mean . . . Boston. And it is also dedicated to a known lover of Rocky Mountain Oysters who lives in Slidell, Louisiana. These folks know who they are, while the rest of you will not have a clue. That’s okay. Put your “laughter hat” on, sit back and enjoy the poetry.
MOTIVATION TO TAKE ACTION
I made at least three failed attempts to learn to play the guitar. My first time when I was a sophomore in Fillmore (Ventura County), Calif. I took four or five lessons from an old gentleman but it didn’t seem to stick with me. To make matters worse, my well-intentioned parents had bought me a “Stella” guitar at Sears & Roebuck for well under $50. The problem was that the strings set way high above the frets, making it difficult and even painful to form the chords.
In addition, I had another problem. I couldn’t keep the thing tuned. My teacher would tune the guitar “by ear” when I went to his house to take a lesson. But at home, all I had was a 45 rpm recording of the sound of the five strings of a guitar. Try as I might, I could not listen to the recording of the lower “E” string, for example, and then get my string to sound like that. So I was trying to practice on a guitar that sounded like a concert by comics Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. It was only many years later that I discovered I really do have a “tin ear.”
Well, fast forward to my late 20s. I tried to learn to play the guitar on my own. I read about folks who just bought a “How to Play the Guitar” book and a few days later were playing like Glen Campbell, Chet Atkins and Les Paul all rolled together. Not me.
Then, sometime in my later 30s, I tired it, again. Same methods. Same results. You’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect.” That, friends, is a bald-faced lie. If you’re practicing something the wrong way, it just ain’t gonna suddenly go . . . Shazam!! . . . and be perfect. A more truthful statement is, “Practice makes permanent.” Sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good.
I’ve said all of that to lead up to my next attempt to play the guitar when I was about 68 or so. And here, below, is something I read that motivated me to give it another try. Please take the take to read all of the article. And share it with anyone you know who may be struggling to play an instrument, or to learn how to do carpentry, or is having trouble with some new technology.
When I saw that photo of that armless young man playing the guitar with his feet, I said this to myself: “Self, if that guy can play the guitar with his feet, surely I can learn to play at least a few simple songs.”
It is really not a good sign when you start talking to yourself, and especially if you carry on an extended conversation with yourself. This time it was okay.
I bought a better guitar than I had ever had before. And the thing that helped me so much is when I bought one of those little gadgets called “an electronic tuner.” Wow. What a deal! No guesswork. Hook it to your guitar and it guides you effortlessly through the process of tuning your guitar accurately. It was a miracle.
Still, I wasn’t making much progress on my own. Really, I just wanted to learn how to play five or six old-time cowboy songs that I could add to the programs I did in which I recited my own cowboy poetry and stories. But I finally realized, I needed just a little more help.
So I found out about a guy up in nearby Guthrie, Oklahoma who taught both guitar and fiddle. His name was Jim Garling. He conducted his lessons at the Byron Berline Double-stop Fiddle Shop, and he had an opening. So I picked out a few songs (with chords) I wanted to learn.
The first song that I presented to him was written by one of Gene Autry’s funny sidekicks, the one and only Smiley Burnette. He could not only play half-a-dozen instruments but he had a great gift for songwriting. The one I wanted to learn was, “Riding Down the Canyon.”
Jim Garling took one look at that song and said, “I’ve never heard of that song.”
Well, I thought maybe I’d made a bad mistake. But, we got through that little hitch in my plans. We started off with some of the other songs. I was only able to take maybe six or seven lessons under Jim Garling, but I had learned a few basic chords and quite a bit more about strumming. So I was on my way.
Only later did I find out how sophisticated the music really was for the original “Riding Down the Canyon.” I had to “dumb-it-down” a couple of times, but I finally got to where I could perform it in a “fair-to-middlin'” fashion. And I moved on to collect the lyrics and chords for at least 200 other songs.
Now I confess I never had another lesson. We had a lot of jams at our house in Oklahoma. When we moved to Florida in 2013, we started having jams at our house. We had so many people we moved it to our community’s clubhouse and ran it there on a monthly basis for two years. Still, I have never moved the needle very far beyond a very basic ability in guitar playing. And now that my memory is in decline, I am leaning toward selling our instruments.
However, the point is this: I would never have made that final successful attempt to play the guitar without the motivation of an armless man playing one with his feet. So I hope this little story motivates you to buckle down and go ahead and learn some new skill.
Oh, as the late Paul Harvey often said, “And now, . . . here is the rest of the story.” About my friend Jim Garling, he got very interested in cowboy and Western music. He started playing cowboy music in restaurants and on special occasions. Today, he is the music director for a Cowboy Church up in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And here comes the final part of the story: . . . Jim has four or five CDs of cowboy music to his credit. And one of the songs he recorded was Smiley Burnette’s old song, “Riding Down the Canyon.”
Life sure ’nuff has some strange twists and turns, doesn’t it?
Here is my latest poem, “Ode to Unrhymed Poetry and to Those Who Write Such.” Feel free to send a copy to any friend you know who writes poetry. I hope, even if they write free verse poetry, they will get a kick out of it.
Okay, my friends. That is enough foolishness for one issue. See ya next time.