I grew up in a pretty musical home. My dad was a passionate music lover and an excellent musician. There is a story that my mom told me growing up about how, in high school, my dad really wanted to be in the concert band.
Back then, the school chose what elective a student took, so whether you ended up in shop class, or cooking, or band was not really up to you as the student. I think it was in his grade 10 year (sophomore to all y’all Americans), he approached his schools music teacher and told him that he wanted to be in the band. The teacher told him that it was too late, that all the other kids had at least two years of playing their instruments and that their was no way that he (my dad) would be able to catch up and hold his own. My dad asked him (the teacher) to give him two weeks to practice up and then audition him. If after that he still wasn’t good enough, then he would let it go. The teacher agreed.
For the next two weeks my dad would go and practice his flute after school in some hall (I don’t remember what it was, but from how my mom described it, the acoustics were great!). Two weeks later he played for the music teacher and was welcomed into the band.
I grew up around music. My parents were always playing something from their extensive vinyl collection (which is now my extensive vinyl collection… except I don’t have a vinyl player, so I guess my mom can hold on to it for a little longer), and they would often get together with friends and have “jam nights”. I have several memories of hiding in the hallway at night watching my dad sit at the Rhodes and bust out some sweet jam and my mom and whoever was over would start singing. I also remember going to bars (back in the days when kids could go to bars if accompanied by a parent) with my mom to hear my dad play flute in some fusion band that he was with for a while.
So, it’s no surprise that when I started taking piano as a kid, I had a really good ear for music. That’s what my teacher said, I didn’t practice enough but had a really good ear and memory so I got by. Eventually, I quit piano (very sad), but that was not to be the end of my musical journey. Several years later I had the opportunity to join my jr. high band. For some reason I was really drawn to this idea. Initially I wanted to play drums, but someone else had already claimed drums, so I picked up the bass.
I loved playing bass in the band and my enjoyment caused me to excel. At the end of my first year I received a “band student of the year” award which was a $25 gift certificate to a record store in town. I used it to buy my first CD, Live’s “Throwing Copper”. It was a solid choice for my first CD.
I continued to play bass in band throughout Jr. High and High School, but when I got to high school something happened… I heard this song:
Despite the fact that they edited out the awesome guitar solos (in a really awkward way, I might add), this song changed my life. I suddenly became aware of the guitar in a whole new way. The guitar became something beautiful and mystical. It was melodic. It was colourful. It was violent and untethered in its emotional scope; capable of saying things in a language I had never heard before. Then this song came out:
I ran out and bought Van Halen’s Balance album right away… my second CD. As I said, this changed my life. At night I would turn on some coloured lights, line up my stuffed animals on the other side of the room agains the wall (yes, I still had stuffies in High School, so what?) and crank the Van Halen. I would jump up on my bed and air guitar my face off… except instead of air I would air guitar on my bass (I know that, by definition, means that it wasn’t air guitaring, but I don’t know what else to call it). They were epic shows (as my stuffies can attest to), but something was missing; something wasn’t quite right. I realized how stupid it was that I was pretending to play guitar on a bass. I should be pretending to play guitar on a real guitar!
So that year for Christmas under the tree was my first electric guitar: The Peavey Predator. I had no intention of ever really playing it, but given the music that coursed through my veins, it was unavoidable.
I remember, after all of the Christmas festivities were done, going to my room with all of my new toys. I put on No Doubt’s “Tragic Kingdom” album (which I got as a present that year… my third CD) and started checking out my new guitar. Then “Don’t Speak” started playing and I started playing along. Seriously. I had never played guitar before, but as the song played I started figuring out the notes. Then I heard the guitar solo. Then I heard it again. And again. And again. Within the hour I had figured it out… albeit really poorly, but I didn’t care, I felt alive!
From there I found my dad’s Beatles songbooks that had all of the guitar chord shapes in it. Everyday after school I would sit in my room and memorize those chord shapes. I would spend hours changing from D to G to D to G to D to G until I got it. Then I would change from D to A to D to A… so on and so forth. I would make lists and charts of the chords I had felt I mastered and that, initially, is how I learned guitar.
This is just the beginning of my musical journey, perhaps I’ll share more later, but this, for today, is the point: I have had many musical heroes in my life. There have been many who have influenced me as a player, a writer, a singer, a “producer”. And while some may be more obvious than others, there is one who is the foundation that all of my other musical heroes have been built upon: my Dad. But, after my dad, there is one who is the foundation that all of my other musical heroes have then been built upon, the foundation upon the foundation: Eddie Van Halen.
Despite all of my years of music, and all of my study, I have only ever owned one electric guitar, and the reason for that is simple: the only other guitar I’ve ever really wanted was (and is) the Peavey Wolfgang. It is the guitar designed and used by Eddie himself. Go back and take a look at those two videos. See the guitar that he plays? That’s not it… but it’s similar. If I’m not mistaken (and correct me if I’m wrong), the guitar that he’s playing in those videos is the Music Man guitar that he designed with Ernie Ball. Shortly after the release of the album and these videos Eddie started working with Peavey to design a new guitar. That guitar would become the Peavey Wolfgang. It was designed by Eddie, tweaked by Eddie, taken on the road with Eddie, played by Eddie, tweaked some more by Eddie, and finally signed by Eddie… then mass produced by Peavey.
I still remember opening up a guitar magazine when I was in high school and seeing an ad for the new Wolfgang designed by EVH. It was and remains the only electric guitar that I’ve ever really wanted (though I would also be happy with a tele… wait, forget I said that!). I know I don’t sound like him or play like him, but that’s not the point. His music is a part of who I am and his guitar represents so much, not just my past, but also my philosophy.
When EVH first busted out on the scene he was adventurous, daring, innovative and exciting. He inspired a whole new generation of guitar players because he wasn’t afraid to break from the mould of what was considered guitar rock. When 1984 come out and everyone heard “Jump” for the first time, they all thought “what the crap is this guitar hero doing playing the keyboard?”, but proved that he was more committed to song craft and musical exploration than pandering to a specific expectation. When Roth left and Hagar came in he embraced re-invention and refused to give up, thus ushering in my favourite era of Van Halen.
Thos are all things I want to be and how I want to approach my artistry. So, no, I don’t sound like Van Halen and I doubt I ever will (though I did do a VH song from Balance in my Sr. Concert when I was in college), but the metaphorical spirit of EVH lives inside me and is what propelled me, unknowingly, into a life of music. The Wolfgang is representative of that.
It’s also a really sweet looking guitar. In fact it’s the only guitar I’ve ever truly like the look of. Also, I’ve never met anyone, or even read any internet reviews by anyone who didn’t love the crap out of theirs.
So please, Sara, let me buy one!