My Dad had an old, Regal “Cowboy” guitar that he got when he was little, (mid to late 1940’s). He always said that it was Johnny Mack Brown, but I think it was actually Buck Jones. (No one will even know what that means, but I think it is important to keep your 1930’s Cowboys straight.) Anyway, he always kept it in his closet and I always wanted to play it. It had been broken and glued back together, the frets were like knife blades, and I wasn’t allowed to touch it. I would sneak in a look at it from time to time, and wish I could play. My Dad’s Uncle T.J. and his cousin Jim Thomas would come over on the weekend sometimes and sit around and play guitars. Again, I would just watch wishing that I could play with them.
When I was 11 or 12, Dad finally dug out that old guitar, and showed me “G”, “C” and “D”. That was all it took. Three chords that changed my life. The very next chance I had, I bought a cheap acoustic for maybe $10.00 at a yard sale, because the Johnny Mack Brown / Buck Jones was impossible to play. The $10.00 one wasn’t much better, but my fingers didn’t bleed as quickly, so I could play longer. After a little practice I thought I would be ready to sit in with Jim and T.J. the next time they came around. I practiced every day, and was so excited that I couldn’t stand it. At the next get together, I pulled out my piece of shit guitar and started to strum along with the big shots. It was maybe two songs in when I was promptly asked to either “Sit this one out” or “Maybe play in the other room.” I was devastated. Then I was pissed! I dedicated the next several years of my life to getting better. I practiced for hours and hours every day. I bought books and learned every Beatle song. (Except Revolution #9) I worked and worked, and improved a little more every day. I didn’t have to be the best, just better than Jim and T.J. And in the last 30 years, nobody has ever asked me to “Maybe play in the other room.” again.
When I was not quite 15, (1983) I sold my piano for $200.00 and went looking for a “good” guitar. (My Dad had told me once, “Why do you want a piano? You can’t take it to a party with you.) I must have looked at every pawn shop in Fort Worth, before I walked into the Camp Bowie Pawn Shop and saw her. She was a 1979 Yamaha FG-312ii (12 string) beauty. Marked $199.99 + tax and I thought of the David Allen Coe song “Willie, Waylon, and Me” where he sings, “Roger McGuinn had a 12 string guitar, It was like nothing I’d ever heard”. And at that moment, I felt it. Felt it deep down inside where you feel things with your feelings. . . I had to have her.
I bought her on the spot. (Mom paid the tax.) Took her home. And named her Elizabeth.
Elizabeth has gone everywhere with me for the last thirty years. She has been there through every relationship, and the myriad of bands. Through the good times, the sad times, the drunk times, and the sober times. We have played together in the mountains of California, and on the beaches of South Padre. In countless bars, around campfires, in back yards and living rooms. In the back of a 1973 Oldsmobile Hearse, and in at least two churches. In front of hundreds of people, (never thousands) and alone in the dark. She has always been there like a best friend, at times my only friend. And over the last 30 years there has never been a time when she was not with me for more than a few days.
Until August of 2013.
Elizabeth was starting to show her age and had some nicks in her neck so on August 17th I took her to Lamb’s Music on Camp Bowie West (Used to be Hwy 80) for a repair and set-up. It was the longest fifty seven days of my life. Of course I would rather someone take the time to do something right than to half-ass it just to finish. I spent $167.00 to have the neck completely repaired, redone, and refinished and the strings lowered and set-up. She plays better now than she ever has. (Steve Lamb is a great guy. Check out their website at www.lambsmusic.com) I could not be happier with the results. (That’s a “Lute Hole” cover you see in most recent picture. It doesn’t serve a purpose on a non-electric acoustic, but it looks cool so I bought her one.)
She still has dings in her body, and a spot where I have almost worn through the wood at the sound hole from 30 years of strumming. She is getting darker with age, but the sound gets better as the wood ages. She may not be worth anything to anybody else, but to me she’s priceless.
Over the years, more guitars have come and gone than I can count. (Currently, seven, I can count to seven.) One however, has never and will never leave my side. My Elizabeth. I may not have another 30 years left in me, but she will still be there when I am gone. Maybe, just maybe one of my children or grand children will find the same passion that I found way back in 1983, and Elizabeth will still be around. The Regal “Johnny Mack Brown” is still hanging on the wall above my computer, over 70 years after it was made. (See the second photo above.) I look at it every day and think of my Dad. Maybe someday, someone will look at Elizabeth and think of me. But for now. . .
I think I’ll just shut up & play guitar!