A Musical Ramble

Music has been always been important in my life. One of my earliest memories is, as a child, hearing Johnnie Rae singing “Cry”. The lyrics meant nothing but the melody stuck in my head. I would sing along with it but a three-year-old trying to copy the song must have looked and sounded a bit odd.

This would be around 1951, before the advent of pop music as we know it and long before “Rock”. Later, aged about seven, I listened avidly to Radio Luxemburg on 208 meters, medium wave as it was the only station at that time that played “Pop”

Rock-n-roll began on the 18th of July, 1953 when Elvis Presley went into Sun Studios in Memphis and recorded “My Happiness” It cost him all of $3;38 to do so. I don’t remember the song but then, I was never a great Elvis fan.

Sam Phillips who owned the studio wanted him to sing Country and Western, but Elvis resisted.  At the same time, Phillips signed George Jones and Carl Perkins. Jones did do C and W while Perkins did “Rock-a-Billie”. He later developed a bluesy, rocky style. Jones had a very successful career where Perkins remained relatively unknown outside the USA which was unfortunate. If you’ve never heard him, try and find him on YouTube. It’s worth the search. He did have some major successes as a song writer with songs like “Blue Suede Soes” a huge hit for Elvis, and “Honey Don’t” which was covered on Beatles on the album “Beatles for Sale”.

Elvis of course went on to have a glittering career both as a pop singer and a Movie Star.

However, the man who really fired me up was Buddy Holly. With the Crickets, he was unique a Rocker who also did country, ballads and Standards but Rock was the main thing with him. He also broke the mould inasmuch as he was the first real singer/songwriter and the first man to put the Fender Stratocaster guitar on the map. He could truly be described as one of the first guitar heroes, a man ahead of his time. Tragically, his life ended far too soon in a plane crash in 1958 at the age of 22, but he left a wonderful legacy of songs which sound as good now as they did back then. His songs have been covered by a host of singers. I often wonder, had he lived, how his career would have developed in the 60’s. Who knows?

It was through listening to Buddy and people like Eddie Cochrane and the Everly Brothers made me want to play the guitar. I suppose I must have pestered the life out of my parents. Money was tight back then for families but, eventually they gave in and on my twelfth birthday I was given a very old second-hand guitar. I can’t remember too much about it except that it was very basic even for an acoustic guitar of the time. It bore the name “The Florida” and I suspect it may have been an post-war product of Japan. That didn’t matter, I had a guitar, plus a copy of Bert Weedon’s “Play in a Day”.  So I was all set for a career as a rock star. Looking back on that instrument, it was awful in every way possible but at 12, I never noticed. It was mine!

I got my first “real” acoustic guitar in 1966, a Framus Hawk. Made in West Germany. That guitar served me well for years. I used it at gigs and it travelled the world with me. Although it is a bit the worse for wear now, it has many scratches and chips with cigarette burns here and there, I still have it. Probably my most treasured possession it has outlived a lot of better and more expensive guitars. I still play it but it desperately needs restored, something I’ll have done once the pandemic is over.

 I learned to play “clawhammer” picking patterns on it, and it is an excellent vehicle for bottleneck as it has a nice flat fingerboard. A good all round folk guitar.

I’ve also had a number of electric guitars over the years and currently have a Les Paul and a Spectrum. The latter is a close copy of a Fender Stratocaster but they are no longer manufactured. The guitar was at one time favoured by a few “heavy metal” musicians, but not now-a-days.

Over the years, I’ve played in a number of bands and as a solo performer and still enjoy playing Folk, rock, blues and country. Our generation has been luck as we have had a lot of wonderful bands and musicians to give us inspiration.

Buddy Holly, Hank Marvin and James Burton were probably my early inspirations as a guitarist. That was until I heard the generation of British Acoustic guitarist who were older by a few years but were making wonderful music. John Renbourn, Davie Graham, both brilliant but, the best of all Bert Jansch. Bert was a Scot, born in Glasgow, raised in Edinburgh, he moved to |London in the early 60’s Sadly, all three are no longer with us but they have all left a huge legacy of music, mostly their own. I have seen all of them live on many occasions, but when Bert was playing, you could have heard a pin drop. Such was the reverence that he was held in that nobody coughed or even moved in their seat, that is the kind of presence he had. The Incredible String Band, from Edinburgh were huge in the late 60’s. They wrote and performed their own material. One particular song from their first album is “October Song”. I still listen to it a lot: it’s one of those songs with a melancholy poignancy, it still conveys the same message today as it did back in 1965. Written by Robin Williamson, it is probably his best ever.

In the seventies, I was drawn back into rock thanks to bands like Crosbie, Stills and Nash, CCR and the Eagles. The Eagles are arguably the greatest rock band ever, they turned Country Rock into a high artform. A lot of people think they were too slick, too polished in their delivery. I disagree. That was just the way they did it. Voices that blended into great harmonies and superb, two guitar breaks.  Polished? Yes. Brilliant? Certainly. I never tire of listening to them. It would be difficult to highlight any one song as their best, they are all great.

CS and N went down a different path musically but they still had that Country feel to their music. One of my favourites all time bands, I have been lucky enough to see them live, twice, the last lime at Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, they will not be touring again. They too did some superb songs nearly all self-penned by members of the band. “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” written by Stephen Stills for Judy Collins is probably their most memorable song along with “Helplessly Hoping” and “Our House” A band who have never dated.

CCR had a short career but their leader, John Foggarty made a name for himself in pure country music and still performs.

The seventies produced some really great British bands, ELO, Police and Dire Straits to name a few. Britain had some great rock guitarists. People like Eric Clapton and Albert Lee, both geniuses. Mark Knoffler is also worth a mention.

My personal feeling is that Rock in the UK died in the 80’s along with real R and B. Britpop turned the whole thing into a morass of utter pap and tripe. Rubbish produced by non-musicians using electronic wizardry to achieve…what? Certainly not melodic music. That is only my opinion and you may think differently.

There were still some good bands in the USA over this period, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bon-Jovi and Guns-n-Roses, the latter two are still performing real Rock music. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band were around at this time. What can be said about the USA’s greatest Rocker? He was fabulous then and is today.

I have deliberately not said anything about Tamla Motown. I love it but it is a huge subject on its own and would have to encompass a history of Afro-American music from Spirituals to Delta Blues. It produced some of the most amazing performers. Otis Redding and Smokie Robinson being particular favourites.

Similarly, the singers/songwriters like Bob Dylan and James Taylor, they are the culmination of American folk music. Both of these genres would need an essay each.

There are scores of singers and bands, guitarists and drummers that I have enjoyed. Just certain songs or tunes strike a chord and you never forget them. As long as this happens, kids will want to make their own music which is a wonderful thing. Whether an old comer like me will ever understand what they are doing remains to be seen.

I had always wanted to play Classical Guitar and in the mid-70’s I found a very good tutor and took lessons for about five years. I love playing Classical it is intellectually stimulating, it expands your being and opens your m8ind. The Classical Guitar is a demanding mistress, she requires one’s full attention and concentration from the moment you pick her up, until you put her down again. Give her your full attention and she will reward you well.

Outside pressures prevented me from having the time to play any guitar for around twenty years. I still listened to plenty of music, went to live gigs and concerts along with classical recitals, I just never played apart from a few minutes now and then to “keep my hand in” as it were. I retired from work at 62 and within months I was right back into my guitars. I still play a variety of music but it is Classical that takes nearly all of my time.

The Classical guitar was nearly lost, people didn’t play it, composers overlooked it; it was dismissed as a peasant and gypsy instrument purely for “vulgar” folk dances and the like. A few composer/Guitarists of the mid to late 18th century breathed new life into the instrument. Men like Fernando Sor and Francisco Terrega, both Spanish, and also Manuel Ponce from Mexico. These men saved it and brought it forward as a respectable concert instrument. All three composed a huge body of music for the guitar. Composers like Heitor Villa-Lobos in Brazil and Joachim Rodrigo in Spain in the early twentieth century added to the repertoire. They also transcribed Music by J.S.Bach, Handel. Scarlatti and others from the Baroque period, mainly borrowing from Lute and Harpsichord compositions. Others went further back to early and Elizabethan composers, particularly John Dowland and Michael Pretorius.

The mid twentieth century saw a rennassanse in classical guitar. Andres A Segovia, the revered guitarist from Spain arranged a lot of music for guitar as did the English mucition, Julian Bream. Bream also resurrected the Lute as a serious instrument and has recorded extensively with the lute as well as guitar. The Australian born, John Williams who studied under Segovia was the “young” face of classical guitar. Now in his late 70’s he still plays. Personally, I think he was probably the best of them.

In our modern times, there are plenty of composers scoring guitar music.as well as this, there are countless young guitarists who all appear to make a living on the concert circuit. Happily, a large number of young women are in this group. They all make splendid music.

Apart from Rock, all of the genres I have mentioned have future but going by its number of adherents, the classical guitar has a very bright future.

As an instrument to learn for recreation or leisure, a guitar is an excellent choice. A flat plectrum and half a dozen chords plus practicing the basic strum technique will have you playing along to pop songs and standards in no time. We all have it in us to make music.  You can choose your own musical path to ramble along, experimenting with what you have learned. I promise you. It is well worth it.

Bert Scott

Penicuik, Scotland

 May 2021

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