How can something so important to someone just seem to vanish from their conscience thought? --I’m talking about an actual gift given by God. Well,--He gave me --Love.
Don’t get me wrong, I have not lost love. I will always have love for my Lord, my wife, my kids, my dogs (same thing), family, friends, and mostly everything else. But, I seem to have blocked out the one thing that defined me as a person for most of my life. It was a passion that poured out of me during the early and most impressionable years of my life. God gave me the gift of music.
I know the love of music is a gift to all, but to have the music flow from your heart, through your soul, then into and out of your hands, straight to the hearts and souls of others, is a gift like no other. I am a musician. Well, I used to be.
I was 15 years old when it all came together. First, I had the unexpected pleasure of tagging along with my oldest brother Raymond and my older cousin Buck on a weekend out. We managed to come up with the supplies we needed for the weekend and a place to stay, thanks to my friend Kelly Plunkett, who we picked up hitchhiking that day.
Kelly’s dad owned the store, a house, and a cabin in Burnt Woods. Kelly’s dad let us have the cabin all to ourselves for the weekend. Wow! This was heart-pounding fun.
The cabin was very rustic. It had vaulted ceilings, a loft bedroom, living room, TV, kitchen, bathroom, but sadly, --no action. We got bored real quick and decided to go to Harlan –yeah, like there was any action in Harlan. Harlan is a very small community nestled deep in the coast range that’s very unassuming, but there is a campground there. Camping was more our style so that’s where we decided to go.
We pulled into the campground in Buck’s two-toned metal-flake green ‘56’ Chevy. The mag wheels glistened in the moonlight. The 8 track was blaring out the Manfred Mann song, “Quinn the Eskimo”. Yep –It was all cool --I was cool! --Here I am hanging out with Buck and Raymond on a party weekend. I finally made it; I'm one of the big boys now.
Once we settled down a little bit, we realized there were two local girls camping there, too. We invited them over, and I am forever grateful that they came. I fell in love for the first time in my life. I fell head over heels for the younger of the two sisters. Mickey was her nick-name. I got to experience the passion of a first kiss that night, and the awesomeness of ‘making out’. Yes Sir, I went from a boy to a young man that night.
(No, there was no sex).
I only bring this up because it was pivotal to all that followed.
Although I never saw her again, the time I spent with her was a major turning point in my life. She brought out the part within me that made me pine for the love and affection of a woman….
Enter country music:
My oldest brother Raymond was home on leave from the Army that summer. He had brought with him a cassette tape of Charley Pride (Best of Charley Pride, volume II) he bought at the PX. The album featured “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” which was on the top 40 list at the time, and was a great song, but there were others that had the raw emotion that I was feeling at the time; I couldn’t get enough. The rest of that summer was bitter-sweet and I fumbled my way through it best I could.
Some time later on, I rode my bicycle up to my friend Ted’s house and there, on the porch, sat a huge man with a well-groomed beard, playing a guitar and singing country western songs. This man was a top-notched guitar player and singer. He could flat-pick and finger-pick with the best of them. His vocals were exceptional. His voice was deep, rich, and resonated with total control. Most of all, he sang and played from his heart. He was in his mid-to-late twenties and I wholeheartedly believe, had he been in the right place at the right time, he would be a household name to every country music fan out there. His name was Patric Kasner. --I didn’t even make it to the front door; I just grabbed up a chair and sat and listened to him until he was finished.
Pat had just gotten married to one of Ted’s sisters and bought a small ranch right across the river.
Every weekend was family weekend at Ted’s and Pat would usually be there. I spent almost every one of those days up at Ted’s listening to and getting to know Pat.
Art is an expression of the soul and Pat was an artist. Having grown up with a poet father, an artist mother, and being an artist myself, I knew in my heart I found my new medium. I needed to learn to play the guitar.
I asked my mother for a guitar for Christmas that year and asked Pat if he’d teach me. I received the guitar I asked for, and Pat began teaching me around mid January the following year.
Me –n- Pat:
Pat was ten years my elder and I looked up to him in many ways. Not only was he an accomplished musician, there wasn’t a task that he wouldn’t take on, and do well with, whatever it was he tried. He used to refer to himself as a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. I never fully understood the true meaning of that cliché until recently.
When I first showed up at Pat’s place, he was outside working on his ranch. He said something like, “Charley! I’m not quite ready to sit down and play yet, but if you come over here and help me with this, we can get started on the lessons after.”
It was funny how that seemed to happen every time I went up there. But, I learned how to work, to love my work, and to pour my heart and soul into my work. Pat became my best friend and mentor. We did many things together.
Pat served our country in the U.S. Navy as a Sea Bee and was very experienced in operating heavy equipment. He bought a dozer and started an excavating business. He pushed around a lot of dirt and gravel for a living. The work was always there, but when it came to collecting the money owed him, the money didn't always come in. He finally sold out and went to work cat-logging for a local gyppo logging outfit. I became his chocker setter. I don’t remember what I was paid, but I loved that job!
While Pat was taking a turn of logs to the landing and I was presetting the chokers, we would both be composing limericks, trying to outdo each other in wit. I got a few good ones in, but he usually outwitted me. The days went by too fast. We sure got a lot of logs out though, and we had a lot of fun and laughs doing it.
Pat was very intense in his personality, in that, he was very confident in himself and would watch and learn very quickly. It never took him too long to get the picture. I remember a time when he picked me up one morning and took me to a neighbors place to help out with shearing their sheep. I got paid to stomp the wool while Pat helped the shearer tend to the shearing of the flock. Looking back, I know he was there to figure out how to do it himself. As stated earlier, Pat was a Jack of all Trades, Master of None (emphasis on the ‘Master of None”); it came time for Pat’s sheep to be sheared. Shearing sheep is a skill that takes some time to master, but this time it came down to just Pat and me.
I showed up early that morning and we went right to work putting the sheep in the barn. We corralled them in one area with another holding area on hand for after they were sheared. Then, there was a trough with medicated solution in it, on the floor, for them to walk through once their hooves were trimmed and delousing could occur while they were on their way out the barn door (multitasking). We were all set. Pat had all the necessary equipment to get the job done –equipment doesn’t make the man (to be touched on later in this narrative).
Pat fired up the shears and I grabbed a ram or a ewe and pitched it out of the corral gate to Pat. He took the knowledge that he received from the one day he had watched a professional shearer do his job and proceeded removing the wool from the sheep. Once completed, he chunked the critter into the holding area we had set up. One after another we sheared his sheep.
If you have ever been in a closed barn, on a warm day, in the middle of shoulder-to-shoulder, wooly, sheep, the stench of lanolin, the flies, the heat and the sweat, then you’d know that it is almost a relief to take a break, jump into the wool bag and stomp down the removed wool (pieces of flesh and all).
After all this work the sheep were finally sheared. We then set about the process of clipping the rot off of their hooves (which, by the way, smelled like decaying flesh). I held back the urge to gag because I didn’t want to appear to be a wuss in front of my hero. –He probably felt the same, with the exception; a hero is not supposed to be a wuss.
We drove the sheep through the trough, patted them with pesticide, and dabbed them with purple dye so we knew which ones were done, then sent them out of the barn and into the pasture to do what ‘field maggots’ do (eat, poop, and just be stupid).
When our work was done, Pat and I kicked back on his shaded porch, had cold drinks, played a little music, and bragged to his wife Charlene about what a good job we did.
We sat there and looked out over the pasture and watched those pathetic creatures that now looked like a bunch of Michelin Tire Men with flat tires, gaping bloody wounds, and purple splotches.
But, what the heck, the sheep survived the ordeal, Pat made a little money on the wool, and we had a kick-ass time. We did well. That’s what it was all about. And, I got my guitar lesson.
They say ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained”, Pat and I took on many like-projects and learned and gained our way through all of them without a single casualty.
Pat and I were inseparable; we formed an almost telepathic way of communication. The type of communication between us, and our band, brings me back to the main subject:
From day one, Pat seemed to instinctively know the best teaching method. He put his own ego aside and brought himself down to my level and did not even so much as strum a chord while I was there. He drew a diagram of the fret board, described each string’s note, and showed me how to tune the guitar. It was like –come back when you got that down. I went home and studied with steeled determination. I wanted to know everything about what I had just learned by the following week.
I showed up at Pat’s a week later, and by God, I knew my way around the neck of that guitar; I just didn’t know how to make any music with it. Pat, seeing that I was more that just willing to try this, knew I could start learning chords.
He taught me C, F, and G to start with. I went home and practiced until my fingers couldn’t handle it any more. I learned the chords, but I couldn’t change between them very fast. The next week Pat taught me some transitional runs that would put my fingers in a better and easier position to change the chords on time. I figured it out after another week. Then, it was time to put what I had learned into a real song.
The next lesson involved timing, beat counts, chord patterns, and strumming techniques in 4/4 and 3/4 time. The first song I learned was the old Engelbert Humperdinck song: ‘Please Release Me’. It was played in three chords and was simple in the beat count and chord pattern. Before long I was playing it! Pat picked up his guitar, sang it, and played a little lead along with me.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I played until my fingers literally bled. They were black-and-blue with cuts from the guitar strings. It hurt so bad I tried to put bandages on them, but I needed to feel what I was doing, so I took them off. My family got real tired of hearing me playing ‘Please Release me’ all day and all night.
In the middle of the night, one night, I was under the covers in my bed practicing. I was trying to play real quiet-like so as to not wake anyone up, when I heard my mother stomping across the floor toward my bedroom. I felt like I had just got caught under my covers with a flashlight and the lingerie section of the Montgomery Ward catalogue. I was busted! In a nurturing way, she calmly said, “PUT THE DAMN THING AWAY AND GO TO SLEEP!”
Pat and I went through his songbook and worked out many songs with similar cord patterns. He showed me other chords and how to transpose a song from one key to another. My determination never ceased and by June or July we had enough songs worked out to where we could go down to the local bar and play a few hours of music for tips-out-the-hat. I think we made 15 or 20 bucks each. That made me much more eager to learn.
I believe I had a hand in rekindling Pat’s love of performance in song, because, by that fall he put a band together and arranged a Friday and Saturday night gig at the Eagles lodge in Corvallis.
The job was a two month commitment and he managed to get his old drummer to play and found a lead guitarist and a bass player. Pat played rhythm guitar and sang lead vocals. He called the band: The New Country Ramblers (I know, but it was the early seventies and it was a take-off from his last band’s name).
The lead player’s name was Joe (we always referred to him as ‘Cousin Joe’) and the bass player went by the nickname ‘Boots’.
Cousin Joe was mediocre at best with both vocals and the ability to play the guitar, but he was a ‘country star’ in his own mind. He would show up with sunglasses on a winter night and he would be sporting his highly-glossed white patent leather shoes. He was low on talent and high on ego.
Boots, on the other hand, was real in his heart. He had a sense of humor that wouldn’t quit and could thump that bass real fine. He was an older man, --tall, thin, and had a huge handlebar mustache. He would lodge his cigarette in his ear while playing a song and dance around like an idiot. He was a clown and always had something funny to say. He became a good friend.
Pat arranged for me to come in and play with the band as a second rhythm guitarist. I was under-aged and not a paid member so I don’t know how he pulled that off, but knowing his personality and his silver tongue, it probably wasn’t too big a deal for him.
I had just entered a world that was still years out of my reach, but for some reason, I settled in just fine. I loved the music, the people, the dancing, the dim colored lights, the smoke, the clinking of the glasses, the din of the patron’s conversations, and of course: the short-skirted waitresses.
Pat kept me close enough to him on stage to help me learn the songs. He would turn toward me at times to let me see his fingers on the fret board to show me where the changes were going to be. During breaks he’d teach me the chords and patterns of the complicated songs we were going to do on the next set.
I learned many new chords and patterns and how to feel the changes coming. I learned how to play songs, on the fly, that I’d never ever heard before. The music started to come from a place within. It’s impossible to describe.
After the two months were over, the lodge wanted us to stay on longer. Cousin Joe and Boots had other commitments and couldn’t play. Pat wanted to keep the job so he went ahead and booked it. Pat contacted a local guitar player named Roger to play lead guitar, but still needed to find a bass player. He looked at me and said, “I think you’re ready to do this.”
Pat borrowed a bass from the neighbor and had me come up to his house to get started. He had already shown me the basic bass runs when he first taught me the chords on the guitar. He went over a few walking patterns with me and then turned me loose. I went home and practiced like I always did (sorry Mom).
I arranged the rental of an amp, and then, that following Friday night, at the age of sixteen, I became a paid and working bass player in a four-piece country-western band.
Welcome to Skippin' Rocks
I originally Started a blog to run off at the mind on politics, hopefully witty and humorous ramblings, and just random thoughts. But, I'll make a new one for that and stick to short stories here. I hope you liked what you've read so far.