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Music Education My Way


In 1972, I earned my first paycheck, took my first guitar lessons, bought my first rock albums and fell in love (and got dumped) for the first time, all at the end of my third-grade year.
The girl I fell for was drop-dead gorgeous. Tall and bodacious with long, flowing wheat-colored hair; she was stern when I needed it and played hard to get. She liked how I read to her and, recognizing my prowess with the printed word, pushed me into an advanced reading group.
I so loved my third grade teacher, Miss Foster, that I gave her the clay gargoyle head I made in art class, along with “The House at Pooh Corner” single by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. That was our song.
But alas, she dumped me for an older guy. I didn’t find out until the end of the school year when she tried to break it to me gently by inviting me to the wedding.
Broken hearted, I threw myself into my work. I had a summer job pulling in a $1 an hour slingin’ books, filing, answering the phone, running errands and learning to type in my grandfather’s law office on the Square in Independence, Mo.
I wanted to be like the big kids on my street and listen to albums. And being the oldest of three boys, I set out to start my music collection and show my brothers The Way. For my first purchase I sought something familiar and catchy: The Partridge Family Album.
Nervous and unsure, I slunk into the Skaggs Drug Store next to the Safeway at 23rd and Noland Road and made for the record section tucked in between the self-serve Brach’s candy station and the Hallmark Cards.
Unable to recall clearly what the album looked like, I opted for the black one sporting a small square in the center with scrolled lettering that might have read “The Partridge Family.” I hurried to the checkout clerk with my purchase, trying to BS my way through my uncertainty about what I was buying. At $7.99, it was expensive for an album, but I was flush with my first paycheck, so what the heck.
Arriving home, I unwrapped the shrinkwrap and found not one, but two records, and photos of dimly lit stages. And there, in bigger type, was the name: Chicago Transit Authority. Missing were a blond mom and beaming children parked behind instruments too big to handle. Something was amiss, but it was too late for a return.
As my dear mother looked on, I needled up the first disk and let the 7-plus minute long “Free Form Guitar” play through. This hellish composition by guitar virtuoso Terry Kath included screeching feedback from a Fender Strat. The ashen look on my mom’s face told me that there was something wrong, but I wasn’t sure what.
I never did get that Partridge Family Album. But later that summer I found an abandoned Radio Shack cassette player with a tape of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys with “Machine Gun” on it. At more than 12 minutes long, I wasn’t getting the message that rock tunes were short and sweet.
Finally, toward the end of the summer, I jumped into the mainstream and bought an album that was all the rage with the older kids on my street. It had great hooks and righteous bass lines: Joe Tex’s “I Gotcha!” I didn’t like the title track as much as I did songs like “She Said a Bad Word,” “Bad Feet” and “Give the Baby Anything That the Baby Wants.” I can only imagine what my parents thought as my music collection grew and the disconnect that brewed between what I was listening to—next up was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid—when I wasn’t practicing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on my plywood guitar from Mel Bay’s Guitar Method.

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