Even if you’ve never played guitar before you will cringe when you hear the tale I’m about to tell. It’s something you might read right out of a Steven King novel. I’m warning you now that it’s not for the weak of heart.
I started playing guitar in the early 1980’s and struggled for years learning chord progressions and scales. Having to learn how to play on a cheap imitation Fender Stratocaster wasn’t of much help either. If you’re a guitar player you know what I’m talking about. The better the guitar, the easier it is to learn on. And although I played with what my parents could afford to get me, I still dreamed of one day getting a Gibson Les Paul. The guitar that players like Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Ace Frehley from Kiss played. A guitar that at the time I wasn’t worthy enough to play or financially responsible to own.
My hard work eventually started paying off. By paying my dues as a working musician over the next few years I was able to purchase a used Gibson Explorer and genuine Fender Stratocaster. But the elusive Les Paul was always slightly out of my reach.
Fast forward now to 2004 and the local band I was in is at the top of our game. We had just successfully completed a long string of summer shows including one as the opening act for American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken.
Now, before you laugh consider this: Clay was almost God-Like at this time. His first album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was, with 613,000 copies sold in its first week, the highest-selling debut for a solo artist in over ten years and an album that was eventually certified multi-platinum.
To help celebrate my hard work and musical devotion I FINALLY purchased my Les Paul just in time for the Clay gig. Much like being a car enthusiast who for years has driven nothing but clunkers until eventually getting their dream car, getting the Les Paul and the chance to play it at the ultimate show in front of 6,000 fans was a dream come true.
Needless to say, the euphoria of this combination of events had me feeling pretty good when the band rolled into the Franklin Township Fair a few weeks later.
The Franklin Township Fair is an annual event held in the wide-open boon docks of Northern Pennsylvania. With sponsorships from a variety of local businesses all supporting the volunteer fire company, the event raises a lot of money to help continue to fight the good fight.
I spent the early portion of the day setting up my gear on the big concrete stage we would be performing on. I had my polished Les Paul, strung with new strings, all tuned and ready to go and gently placed it on the guitar stand.
To make this day even more special, I had just finished recording a brand new song I had written and this was the perfect opportunity to listen to it on the big PA system for the first time. I placed the CD into the drive and pressed play. I then jumped off the stage and made my way out onto the midway.
I was able to completely ignore the smell of funnel cake and the sound of spinning wheels as people tried to match numbers and win gigantic stuffed animals. I just stood there and let the perfect balance of music seep into my soul. Not just any music mind you. This was my music and nothing beats the first time you hear the final mix of a song that you wrote.
Paging Steven King.
As I’m listening to the sound of guitar and lyric in blissful perfection another sound begins to fill my ears. It’s the sound of an approaching helicopter. You see, one of the “benefits” fair goers get to see as part of the festivities is a demonstration of a Med-Evac helicopter landing.
People nearby begin to get excited and cheer as the copter slowly descends and lands onto a small clearing next to the fairgrounds. I myself begin to get a little worried when the breeze coming off of the still spinning helicopter blades continues to pick up. I know the copter has already landed safely but the high wind on my face is definitely a cause for concern.
It’s at this point that everything turns into slow motion.
My attention is quickly drawn back to front and I now see set lists and cables blowing around on the concrete stage. A stage I am standing at least fifty or sixty yards away from. My heart goes into my throat as I now fear the worst. And sure enough, the worst happens.
My beloved Les Paul, the one I had spent twenty years of my life trying to obtain, the one that is now sitting on a guitar stand in what feels like a mile away begins to teeter and totter in the wind. There is nothing I can do as I watch it fall forward and land face down on the concrete stage.
I run as fast as I can to assess the damage. The guitar now has a two-inch crack near the head stock. And the nut, or portion where the strings attach near the tuning pegs, is broken off right where the sixth string passes making that string completely useless.
So here I am, pissed off beyond belief that my beloved guitar, and the only guitar I brought to the gig, has suffered damage and also knowing that I still had to perform for ninety minutes. How I was able to hold it together remains a mystery. The show must go on I suppose.
Not surprisingly, even with the damage sustained I was still able to play the guitar (minus the sixth string) for the entire show and it not once went out of tune. After all, it’s a Les Paul.
Insurance was able to cover the damages and to this day my beloved Les Paul is still rocking. Only now, it has its own identity.
And the dream continues.