Guitar Tales

Sounds Like Seaweed

In 1964 I was 13 years of age and, like so many other boys and girls that age, my imagination had been captured by four lads from Liverpool England. It wasn't long before bands began to spring up in every city and town in the western world. All of them wanted to emulate The Beatles.

When we first started our band most of us didn't have instruments, and worse than that, those of us who did couldn't play them very well. I had started off playing drums before I found my brother's discarded electric guitar hidden in a closet. Robert, a friend of mine, was also a would-be drummer who was progressing much quicker at drumming than I was, despite the fact that I owned a snare and a set of sticks, while he just owned a set of sticks. I must admit that it was a mixture of my newfound interest in the guitar, along with the fact that Robert was my closest friend, that led me to quit the drums and give him my snare and sticks. Robert could always make me laugh as well, and it was he who pointed out that my girlfriend's legs looked like upside-down bowling pins. I must confess that I was a little hurt by the comment and was glad she hadn't heard him, but I laughed in spite of it, because his nonchalant tone was hilarious.

Dave was one of those guys who stood out in a crowd. Before joining the band I had only seen him running around the schoolyard terrorizing the younger kids. He was tall and skinny, profane, and seemed quite confident compared to most of the 13 year olds I knew. He kind of frightened me at first. It took a while before I learned he was actually quite harmless. He had bought, or borrowed, or perhaps stolen, a cheap electric guitar. It had two strings, the top E and the A. That was fortunate in a way, because at the time, we were all having trouble playing one string, let alone more. Being that the two strings on his guitar were thick, we decided he would be the bass player, and he agreed.

Along with the three of us came a few more schoolmates; Lenny, who owned and played the tambourine, Gus who owned a harmonica, and Freddy, who didn't own or play anything, but was keen to join a band.... any band! None of us could sing, or at least, none had tried to sing outside of those moments in school when it was mandatory. We never really gave much thought to the singing at the time and none of us volunteered (not even Freddy). I suppose that was because we had enough on our plates just trying to learn our instruments (I don't know what Freddy's excuse was).

As the weeks passed, one by one Lenny, Gus, and Freddy quit the band or just stopped showing up for practice. Robert, Dave, and I forged ahead while looking for other people who could actually play an instrument or anyone who at least owned one. Over the next six months the three of us improved steadily while several guitarists of varying abilities joined the band and quit or were kicked out. Their termination was usually due to confilcts of ego or plain personal incompatibility. It was also during this time that another friend joined us and became our singer. Claude was a handsome fellow and he had a good voice. We thought he would make a good front man. He was afflicted with a severe stutter when he spoke, but you would never know it when he was singing. He also owned a better guitar than I had and also had an amp, but he didn't know many chords. I taught him what I knew, which wasn't much more than he knew, and he did his best to sing and play at the same time. Unfortunately, both of his efforts suffered for it so we collectively decided that I would use his guitar and amp and he would stick with just doing the vocals. It wasn't long after Claude had joined us that our first gig came along. A friend of a friend was having a big party and had rented a hall for the ocassion. We had two weeks to rehearse and would each be paid ten dollars for the night. If memory serves, I believe we thought that was union scale, or a king's ransom, at the time.

We were rehearsing in my basement and I don't know how my parents coped as we slowly acquired more equipment... a full set of drums for Robert, two extra strings and an amp for Dave, a larger amp for me, and a small cheesy P.A. system for Claude. My dad and mom were always supportive and the only complaint they ever made was about the loud and constant thumping of Robert's kick drum. We felt the only solution to minimize my parent's headaches was to remove the front skin from the drum and fill it with blankets, which did help to soften the thud.

One night while we were in the middle of rehearsing “For Your Love” by The Yardbirds, Claude's sister came stomping down the basement stairs and began yelling. We stopped playing and listened while she told Claude that his father wanted him home “Right Now!”. The next day Claude arrived before the other band members and told me that his parents were making him quit the band because his school grades were suffering too much. He took his guitar and amp and left me to tell the others.

When I told Robert and Dave the bad news their first question was, “Who's gonna' sing?”. I shrugged my shoulders and wondered the same thing. There was a pause and then Robert said, “Why don't you do the singing?”, followed by Dave's support for the idea. I think most everyone who knows me would say that I'm a shy person, so I was a bit shocked at the suggestion and bewildered that they had thought of it, since they had never heard me sing, and weren't considering whether I could even sing and play at the same time. I suppose I am a pragmatist, because we needed a singer and, since nobody else was volunteering, I said I would give it a shot. It was difficult at first but soon I enjoyed singing and playing and improved with practice. Robert and Dave shared the vocal duties too. They sang backup and eventually sang lead in songs of their choosing.

We still had a problem. Our first gig was drawing near and our sound was thin without a second guitar. Everyone we knew had either already been in the band or didn't know how to play or just weren't compatible. Then, by chance, we ran into an old schoolmate who had been playing drums for his brother's country band. He didn't know we had started our own band and was excited to hear about the type of music we were playing. Country music just wasn't his style. I asked him if he was interested in switching to guitar and told him I could teach him our repertoire if he was willing to work hard at it. He didn't hesitate at all and said that he could borrow a guitar from his brother. The very next day we were sitting on my front porch and I taught him how to play a few barre chords.

I can't describe how excited we both were. For me it was great having another band member, particularly one who had the same sense of humour and loved the same type of music we did. We all got along very well. Considering he was starting cold turkey, he picked it up fast because he really tried hard and didn't give up. Within a few days he was playing pretty clean chords. He couldn't place his fingers directly in the positions of the first chord of a song so we devised a method where he would place his middle, ring, and pinky fingers in the open position of the barre chord and then he would slide them up to the position of the first chord in the song, then, he would place his index finger across all of the strings. (See Barre Chords)

Rod and I practised for a few days while Robert and Dave took a break. When Rod was confident enough to play a few songs entirely, we all got together and rehearsed. Rod was one of those guys who, at 14, had skipped puberty and went straight into manhood... at least as far as facial hair goes. He'd shave in the morning but by 11:00 a.m. he had five o'clock shadow. By 5:00 p.m. he had what most of us would consider a decent start on a full beard. It was late in the afternoon and we were in the middle of a song... Dave was standing at our second microphone singing backup and Rod, in his enthusiasm and growing confidence, stepped over to the mic with Dave and joined in with the vocals. Things were fine for a few bars and then Dave burst into uncontrollable laughter. We stopped playing and stood smiling while we waited for an explanation. Dave, still laughing said, "Rod, man, it looks like seaweed up close!", referring to Rods beard... and with that bit of nonsense we all broke into fits of laughter. Rod laughed hardest.

When things settled down again, we began playing an upbeat and cheery number by The Turtles called, “Some Girls”. As the song progressed I could see that Rod was overcome with unbridled and infectious joy. Dave was jumping around and smiling as he played, I was singing and playing like there was a huge audience listening, and Robert, who was grinning from ear to ear behind his drumkit, reached over and pulled the plug from Rod's guitar. Rod continued to sway back and forth and was again singing backup without noticing that his guitar wasn't being heard. When he did realise it, the air was filled with laughter again, and again Rod laughed harder than we were. It might seem like a cruel joke to some but it was done with good cheer. We were all 13 or 14 years young, and the joy and innocence of the moment was pure.

We were ready for the gig and it went well considering it was our first. Rod stayed with the band for 3 years. Then, like so many people of that era, and like some today, he got lost in drugs. He just disappeared.

We found him again many years later. He was working as a bulldozer driver. He had quit music after quitting drugs and had settled down with a wife and child. Robert, Dave and I had continued pursuing music as a career and had begun writing our own songs. We asked Rod if he would be interested in joining us again... just a part-time commitment. He said yes.

We had some good moments again with Rod, but of course, it wasn't the same. We were all much older and many things had happened along the way. We were rehearsing one evening and Rod jumped up and said he was going out to get some smokes. He asked if we wanted anything at the store. Robert said, “Yeah, would you grab me a chocolate bar...?”. Rod left and never came back. To this day we haven't seen or spoken to him. He disappeared again.

For years we had a running joke regardless of where we were... whenever it got quiet we'd say, “It sounds like seaweed”. Now, when one of us is leaving, the other two say to him, “Hey! Don't get me a chocolate bar!”, accompanied by a bittersweet smile.

- johnny

Back To Guitar Tales Index

Title Banner