Stories and tips

8-17-00 First Gig

So…I’m gonna tell you about my first gig, but first let me take you back a little so you’ll know where I was comin’ from.
        Winter Haven, Florida, 1974… I closed the doors on a competition motorcycle shop which I co-owned with my high school sweetheart who was about to become my ex-wife. Nearly broke and broken from all the fun I’d had motocrossin’… and thinkin’ my life was pretty much over, I jumped into the Camaro and headed North. My intention was to find a quiet vantage point from which to view my demise, and after wanderin’ through hell and half of Georgia for a few days, I found myself early one mornin’ sittin’ on a cliff near the top of Chattanooga’s Lookout Mountain… lookin’ out and wonderin’ how many seconds the thrill might last when I saw the light… "here comes the sun, dut, du dut"… shinin’ on the first day of the rest of my life!
        Well, there I was just a couple hours from Nashville; I’d written three "songs" five years earlier, and next to whiskey and women and cars and motorcycles and speed… music had always been the most important thing in my life. So I drove on to Music City and became a songwriter! Well, more accurately… I started sayin’ I was a songwriter. Perhaps I should mention… I’d never really made music, I listened to music. Oh, I’d tried… playin’ trumpet badly for several years in school (I never learned to read music), and I played around with a guitar for a couple months ‘til I broke some fingers racin’ bikes… but I always loved music, especially songs. So I hung out in all the songwriter hangouts. Sayin’ I was shy when someone handed me a guitar, I listened (the real songwriters loved that). I began carryin’ a little notebook and a pen wherever I went. I asked questions now and then, but mostly I just listened. And I wrotenot songs, just thoughts, words and phrases until I hooked up with a musician I’d known from Florida. He loaned me an old classical guitar and showed me a few chords. Then I played and played and played, but I couldn’t seem to learn other people’s songs. So, with the scribble from my little notebook and that ol’ "gut string", I started songwriting!
        My buddy told me he played music with some other guys once a week and invited me to join them. We became "three guitars and a guitar". Since they were tryin’ to learn a new song every week, I started sharin’ my new songs! One of ‘em worked at the Middle Tennessee State Mental Hospital ("Central State"), and one night he informed us he was bookin’ entertainment for a patients’ picnic and asked if we’d be interested.
        Okay, you guessed it… my first ever "gig"! The pay was all the food and soda pop we wanted, and best of all… we had a captive audience! It was weird, but it was fun… I sang and played my own songs. Most everyone was smilin’ (maybe medication?). Feet were tappin’, and I heard some folks singin’ along (not necessarily the same song).
        Was it a success? Hey, they let us leave! After such an off beat beginning, I suppose I might have seen my future bouncin’ off the left field wall, but all I could see was me on the road to becomin’ a songwriter… for real!
        Did I mention I was already 30 years old? Just goes to show… It ain’t over ‘til it’s over; We’re never too old to start somethin’ new; We all gotta start somewhere and… Songwritin’, like livin’, is a verb!
        Which reminds me of the first time I wrote with David Schnaufer, but that’s another story… so, y’all come back in a couple weeks.


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