My first experience playing in a real rock band, though not a very good one, was in the orchestra pit for the musical Godspell, my senior year in high school. We weren’t actually in the pit. We played onstage in the back, behind a chain-link fence, the same fence on which they hung Jesus, who was a good friend of mine but not a good actor. Not the real Jesus, who is also a good Friend of mine and could probably play Himself as a hippie pretty well.
As a piano player in high school, I wasn’t invited to join any garage bands. I mean, who keeps a piano in their garage? I didn’t even have much of a keyboard. So I soloed on piano at the talent shows and concerts, often playing original songs or Elton John covers.
I loved Elton John stuff. Upon hearing his Live in Australia, I was motivated to buy more. So I did. With every paycheck I bought a new CD of his. Really, they were all old ones and not originally CDs, of course. I started collecting them: Madman Across the Water; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player; Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. I have over 25, just a fraction of his albums. In the early 90s, there weren’t too many piano players in the Rock scene, so his music drew me in, along with Billy Joel’s and some Bruce Hornsby stuff.
The fall of my senior year, my mother got tickets for her and me to see an Elton John concert in Phoenix. (My first real concert I went to with my mother!) As we awaited the opener, a middle-aged man sitting next to me inquired why I was there, since there weren’t too many young people in attendance. I told him I’d come across his music a couple years prior. A great discovery indeed, he agreed. (One of my favorite obscure E.J. songs: “The Greatest Discovery” is about a boy who sees his baby brother for the first time.)
As a piano player myself I liked piano-driven music. I did join a rock band, sort of, at my church, though most worship music at the time was heavy on the piano. The late 90s would change that, when the acoustic guitar took over.
Friends don’t let friends play Taylors
I’d always wanted to play guitar, if only to look much cooler. (Maybe that’s why Elton John donned all those crazy outfits: to hide the fact that he was still just a piano player.) As an artist I was such a perfectionist, however. So my first attempts to pick up the guitar were short-lived. About two and a half years ago, I forced myself to give it a serious go. Either I’d play guitar or I wouldn’t, though I might die trying.
I approached the guitar with more patience and conceded I might never play. But with steady practice and having a knack for rhythm already I was eventually able to play competently—good enough to lead worship. I received great encouragement from the electric guitarist in my band, who seemed impressed I could pick it up so quickly. Of course, he heard my mistakes—he’s a perfectionist too—but he saw my potential. (Thanks, Lloyd!)
Having played for 23 years, the piano is still undeniably what I play best, though I keep working on acoustic guitar. But, you see, all along I’ve had my sights set on something more. Something more than chingy-changy rhythm. So a week ago, I purchased a low-end Fender Strat, sort of like my low-end Martin acoustic. (A lesson: buy something half-way decent to learn on. If you get good enough, upgrade later. Or sell it while people think it’s a high-end instrument.)
Hair bands are making a comeback
Electric guitar, now that’s a real rock band contribution. Mine sits in my office now with accompanying amp and effects pedal near my keyboard and Martin. I walk into my office now, and it just feels cooler in there, like it could be Eric Clapton’s office, if he were a worship pastor and liked a view of farmland.
This might lead to a whole new way of life. I may need to get some leather pants and some piercings, a tattoo or two, and sooner or later a much bigger amp. I’ll need to grow my hair long like it was in high school, though I think the gray might show more with it long. Man, am I little late to the game! But if Keith Richards can rock it out looking like a corpse, I think I might do all right. I’ll just lay off the cigarettes, which won’t be hard since I’ve never smoked, and keep going to the gym.
Well, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to play in front of people, as I imagine leading worship and playing guitar riffs will be pretty difficult, especially in leather pants. But with plenty of keys players and a couple acoustic guitarists, I can move on to an instrument we’ve been needing in the worship band at ECOB. As long as everyone’s expectations are low, including mine, I think I might be able to do it. Either way, the coolness factor just went up. Now I need to google tattoo parlors in Preble County.