Guitars, ways and means

When I was 9, Santa brought me a much longed-for six-string acoustic guitar. From memory, it cost Mum and Dad AUD$13 at Kmart. I kept it in its triangle-shaped cardboard box, sliding it under the bed and dragging it out again, until my 10th birthday when they gave me a black carry-case for it.

Learning the wrong thing for you

For the best part of the following decade, I tried to learn that damn instrument. I changed the strings to metal when I was about 12 but even with various teachers over the years, I never ‘got it’. Not in my head and not in my heart – it just didn’t make sense to me.

All the lessons I had taught me to play chords. I knew what chords were and I played them and practised, but they didn’t do anything for me. I couldn’t sing (ask my family!), and so it was just chords. The piano did make sense, however: I would play the chords with my left hand and the melody with my right, so when I played piano, someone else would have an idea of what I was playing. But with the guitar, I was just strumming a bunch of sounds that ‘meant nothing to nobody’, as my dad would say.

Clapton unplugged – by me

And then around 1977, 2SM – the cool Sydney radio station of the day (AM of course – this was before FM!) – ran a series called The History of British Rock and the theme tune was based on the riff from Sunshine of Your Love by Cream. (Try singing ‘the history of British rock’ to Sunshine of Your Love – it works!) For some reason, this ‘woke’ me and I figured that, as I was able to pick the riff out on the piano, I just had to translate those notes to the guitar and … I could pick the riff out on my guitar!

Clapton I ain’t – never was, never will be. Like most of us. But I could do it – I could pluck a recognisable tune on my guitar. Finally! But then came the same old problem – why? What to do with it then? I never did solve that question.

By the time I was out of my teens I’d given up the guitar-playing. I was still playing piano – and enjoyed it – but the guitar-playing was something I had to leave to those who connected with it. It was always a regret – how would I ever be a rock ‘n’ roll star if I couldn’t play guitar? So I became an accountant instead – as you do. 😉

The answers come when you least expect them

Fast-forward 40 years. I’m scrolling through the phone one day and see a film-clip of three people on a porch – one bloke playing a suitcase, a woman with a washboard playing tambourine and singing, and a big bearded beast with a guitar, also singing. I watched the clip as it was entertaining by itself, they looked like they were having fun and the song was catchy, but I couldn’t work out whether the guitarist was playing bass or what – I thought I could hear the effects of two guitars, but could only see one. I figured that there’d been a session muso adding depth in the recording studio, but they didn’t want to show that on the clip. Nope. Turns out I was wrong – one guitar, one player, amazing sounds.

The penny drops, albeit a bit too late for me

With a bit of research I found out that this was the Reverend Peyton, a man who uses a style of play often referred to as ‘fingerstyle’, where the player doesn’t use a plectrum, doesn’t strum, but uses their right hand (or the left, if they’re left-handed), to play notes independently. This means one guitarist can create a wider variety of sounds – bass and treble – making it seem as if there is more than one guitar involved. Now this type of guitar-playing made sense to me! Unfortunately, it was 40 years too late. 😐 If only my guitar teachers of the 1970s hadn’t been so keen to teach us chords to things like The Green, Green Grass of Home … But I digress.

So for the last couple of years I’ve played guitar vicariously in my head via The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.

Last year (2021) they released an album called Dance Songs for Hard Times – brilliantly titled for the way we’ve all been feeling the last couple of years, but also with some awesome tracks on it. The lyrics inspired my husband to label their music ‘pov rock’ (not to be confused with ‘POV rock’) – and it couldn’t be more appropriate.

Then this week The Rev released a video of himself playing Ways and Means, one of my favourite tracks from the album, unaccompanied. Again, just watching his skill with the guitar blows my mind. Aside from that, I love the #povrock lyrics. Things like:

  • My knife is sharp, my guitar never flat, king of the laundromat
  • Ask your mama, she’ll say the same thing, I got all the ways, I just ain’t got the means

Amazing, huh? Also – play it twice and you’ll be singing it for days. 😉

So what’s the lesson here? Pretty simple: if your kid wants to pick up a guitar, please expose them to as many different ways of playing as possible, and start here, with the Reverend Peyton. And please don’t send them to a teacher who only knows how to play chords – get them someone who can help them make sense of the instrument, so they can enjoy it. They may never be a professional guitarist, but if they can form a relationship with the instrument and can enjoy playing it, in whatever manner works for them, then the lessons will never be wasted. And they can be applied to other instruments, too:

Here’s to the musos of the future!

And here’s to the Big Damn Band touring Australia one day – I’ll be booking front-row seats. Am I an ageing fan-girl? Hell yeah! And proud of it! 😀

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