Tag: clay aiken

A Guitarist’s Worst Nightmare

Me and Les Doing What We Do Best

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.

Someday.

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.

Rock Star Moments

I can still see it as if it were just yesterday. I was in my bathroom upstairs shaking like a leaf. It was around 3 pm and I was getting ready to head to South Bethlehem for sound check. My band was going to be the opening act for Clay Aiken at Musikfest. On the biggest stage of them all. The fastest sellout in the festival’s history – 6,500 people. We had the greatest singer ever in our arsenal that got us there. But I was a nervous wreck.

I had dreamed about this forever. Since the first day I picked up my grandmother’s hand held potato slicer and pretended it was a guitar. The callused fingers, the long walks downtown to Ken Brader and Son’s music store for lessons on brutal summer days. The countless hours of practice after school.

While other kids went out and played sports or hung with friends I was trying to figure out how the hell Eddie Van Halen got his kung-fu. I used to write journal entries in high school of what my life was going to be like after I “made it”.

And now, here I was sitting in my bathroom next to the bowl for fear of losing my lunch. I’m still not sure how I held it together. But somehow my “Rock Star Moment” was here. And I wasn’t about to let it slip away.

Rock Star Moments are those things in life that put us on a whole new level. They allow us to rise above the crowd for a short time. They make our lives really feel fulfilled. Some call it their “15 minutes of Fame” but I prefer to say Rock Star Moments.

They’re like “15 minutes” because it’s here for only a short while and then is gone. The difference is, when your 15 minutes of fame is over that’s usually all you receive.  But you can have many Rock Star Moments in life.

Imagine the day in the life of your favorite chart topping artist as they arrive at a venue to perform. That was me that day. All the crew members doing whatever it takes to make you comfortable so you could ready yourself for a night of great music. Ushering you off away from the adoring public. Ok, so this “public” was there to see Clay Aiken but this was my “moment” so I could think what ever I wanted. Clay had just placed second in Season two of American Idol but was almost on the same level as Justin Bieber is today. People were going bonkers for him.

Surreal.

That’s the one thing that comes to mind when ever I think of that day. It was perfect. Definitely more than fifteen minutes of fame. In fact, even our set was 35 minutes long so there.

There are no prerequisites for when they occur. Rock star moments can happen to anyone at any time. My ten year old daughter just had two of them in one week.

About a month ago I read an article that the Doobie Brothers were looking for fans to submit pictures and videos to use in their new music video. Yes, the same Doobie’s who do “China Grove”, “Listen to the Music” and scolded Raj, Rerun and Dwayne for tape recording their show on What’s Happenin’.

Their new song is called “Far From Home” and they wanted submissions that reflected that theme. Troops coming home from war, kids going off to college. That sort of thing.  By coincidence, I still had pictures from my daughter Jillian’s first day of school 5 years ago on my computer. So on a whim I decided to submit a few of her on the school bus for the very first time. Of course, I never really thought anything would come of it. Until a few days ago that is when I received an email telling me that they used a picture of her on the school bus in their video.

I watched the video and saw not only that picture but other life changing events as well. A beautiful song and message that I’m so proud she’s a part of.

You can check it out here: http://www.uso.org/thedoobiebrothers/

When I showed her the video and she saw the picture her eyes got as big as saucers, she was so excited. I’ll never forget what she said. “Daddy, I think I’m really starting to become famous”. Rock Star Moment. There and gone. But luckily for her, she was on the verge of another one.

The very next night she had her 4th grade chorus concert at school. It would be her final performance in elementary school as she and all of her classmates are moving to a whole new school next year.

From the look in her eyes I knew this was special for her. I watched her singing and laughing with her best friend that stood up there with her and thought to myself, “There is no place else on Earth she’d rather be right now”. And I think I had a rock star moment of my own there too.

But rock star moments don’t have to be “music related”. They could be as simple as having your first child, finishing an important project at work or school or even helping someone in need. My Dad used to have his rock star moments when he would take an old Mustang that sat around rusting for years and slowly but meticulously piece it together. The look he had when he’d beep the horn out front and we’d rush down to see a car that had sat dead for years now suddenly come back to life is something I’ll never forget.

Sometimes you know about their arrival weeks in advance like I did. Sometimes they are a complete surprise (like the Doobie Brothers video). You may even have had a bunch of them in the past or maybe you feel yours is yet to come. But the point is, they exist and they can happen to you. And you have them for life.

So let’s hear about your Rock Star Moments.