I didn’t start playing guitar until age 20 when I won a American Stratocaster from a radio contest. Hungover and playing hooky from work, I called the contest and won a Doobie Brothers CD. Big deal, the CD sucked. I was also entered into a larger contest.
Living in Mesa Arizona, I dropped out of college and worked multiple jobs. The main gig was sweating away at gold and silver refinery on the west side of Phoenix. Other jobs included telemarketing, working concrete, putting up hot air balloons, selling buying club memberships and trying to figure out how to grow up. One morning the big boss came out of the office at the refinery and motioned me into his office. This can’t be good I thought. Was I getting fired for calling in with the Irish Flu? Was it my mom, or dad? Did something bad happen? The Big Boss handed me the phone… “Did you hear the news? You won…you’re the winner”””..bla bla bla. It was the radio station telling me to come get a guitar that arrived at their offices. When I got to the Station I was given a strat signed by Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan. CBS (who owned Fender at the time) gave away about 20 of these guitars to AAA radio stations to promote a co-headliner tour of the two artists. This was 1989. Who was Jeff Beck? Who is Stevie Ray Vaughn? After digging into their records I definitely knew they were nothing like Jane’s Addiction or Big Audio Dynamite.
Funny how something like a phone call can change the direction of a person’s life.
I was adopted as an infant and raised by my parents in Rock Falls Illinois. Back then my family was considered regular middle class.
Dad was a Tool & Die Maker at the once mighty Northwestern Steel & Wire Company in Sterling IL. He could pick any lock. When I asked him to teach me the skill he refused. “If you want to learn that, you’ll have to learn it the same way I did. That’s not something I’m going to show you how to do, I’m not showing you how to pick locks”. He loved to make parts his lathe in his shop. He’d drink his beer and shoot his Walkers Deluxe Bourbon. He was very funny, and a professional bullshitter.
Mom drove a school bus. She was the disciplinarian of the family. Ask any Rock Falls High School student that rode her bus and the first thing they would say to me: “your mom is a bitch”. Those same kids (the ones that were always in trouble – and had to ride in the front seat of the bus) would later be the ones telling me “If it wasn’t for your mom, I don’t know where I would have ended up”. She looked out for the broken kids.
She was into the country sounds of the seventies. Kenny Rodgers, Barbara Mandrell, Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, Connie Smith, Tanya Tucker, Mac Davis, Freddie Fender, Tom T Hall. You get the idea. She died of an aneurysm at Christmas dinner in 1989. She was 52, and I was 20.