When I was a teenager I worked a few after school jobs. One job was helping a guy build his house. It was a lot of fun. What did I do with the money? I bought an electric guitar! I went with a friend to the House of Guitars in Rochester, New York and picked out a black Ibanez Les Paul copy and a Peavey amp. I loved it.
Before I moved to San Francisco I decided to sell it. It was hard but my teenage rock star dreams hadn’t come true and I needed the cash. I also sold the acoustic guitar my parents gave me. A few months later in San Francisco I bought an acoustic and started writing songs. It cost half my weeks pay but it was worth it. The world felt right again.
So there I was in Guitar Center at the end of 1993 staring up at a wall of guitars. I was going to be a Rock Star and needed something that didn’t break my budget. I knew I wanted a Gibson. I had narrowed it down to two Gibson Les Paul Studios, wine red or black, both with gold hardware. I opted for the black one in honor of my first electric. I also bought an amp.
How did I pay for it? Student loan money!
I had returned to school exhausted and defeated from music. It didn’t last long. By the end of the first semester I had started a rock band and made up my mind I was going to be a Rock Star. Maybe it was seeing that all the new bands were my age or younger, or that local bands I knew were getting record deals. Either way my teenage Rock Star dreams came flooding back. I was going to be the next Jimmy Page.
I had never bought anything on credit in my life. I felt a sick euphoria as I handed over my cash: $1,300. My gut was telling me “No! No! This is wrong! You’re signing your life away! How are you going to pay this back?! What are you going to live on?” and my head was saying, “This is great! You’re going to be a Rock Star any day now. You’ll pay back these loans no problem. You know you need this if you want to be in a band right? Now that’s a cool guitar!” (I eventually did pay back those loans. Read about it here.)
It turned out that playing in a rock band was very different from the singer/songwriter thing I had been doing for the past five years. It was loud! We had a singer (I wasn’t the front man, something new for me), two guitars, bass and drums. We rented a rehearsal space, played club gigs, and recorded a demo–not exactly in that order. It was total drama and chaos and I eventually missed singing my own songs and being the front man so I quit the band after a year.
By this time I had switched all my classes to performance and writing and independent studies. I was amazed that I could get school credit for songwriting, something I did anyway. I also took independent study from a poet who was flying back and forth to Nashville to work as a songwriter. He gave me constant updates and feedback and we ended up co-writing together. That was very cool. I felt connected to another world.
It didn’t take long to get my Rock Star mojo back. In early 1995 I started a trio with a couple guys from the school. This was a little more manageable to me. With my latest infusion of student loan money I bought a battery powered maxi-mouse amp (to replace the one I brought to Europe that had been stolen the year before) and convinced them to play on the street so we could rehearse and make some cash.
One day on Market Street a guy came up to us and said he was booking bands for the Fillmore. He gave me his card. It said he was from Bill Graham Presents. My head exploded. This was really happening. Oh my God!
When we went down to the Bill Graham office to see about getting the gig it took us awhile to realize that it was for the Fillmore Lounge, not The Fillmore. The Fillmore Lounge is the bar and restaurant inside The Fillmore. After an awkward pause we agreed to play there the following week for an Adam Ant concert. It wasn’t the main stage but it was still exciting. This was the biggest gig of my life!
To be continued…