Finding Myself Through Music, or, How I Stumbled Upon The Greatest American Rock Band: Creedence Clearwater Revival.
At four, around the same time I started being shipped here, there, and everywhere for hearing tests, I got my first record. It was a yellow Sun label recording of ‘Hound Dog.’ This was ’82. Wish I still had that record. The sheer rawness of the recording caused me to play it over and over again like a… er, you get the idea.
“You Gotta Find A Band.”
My parents listened to country music, and not good country music, either. Occasionally, Jerry Reed would come on or one of those bluesy country players, but for the most part, my parents’ music was pretty anemic. At about five I heard Manfred Mann’s ‘Do-Wah-Diddy,’ which kicked off a classic rock phase. At about eight or so, I remember being over my cousin’s house, and he started talking about how music impacted him. ‘You gotta find what band defines you. Doesn’t matter how good they are or bad. Once you find them, you’ll find yourself listening quietly to some of their slower songs when you need to relax, and some of their driving songs when you’re in the car.’
So, I set out to search for ‘my band.’ Eight years old. Yikes. My record choices at the time consisted of some Beatles, the Monkees, a variety of Disney book on records, and a badly worn Led Zeppelin III. I had the radio on all the time. A few songs caught my ear and I constantly tried to listen to the lyrics to figure out what they were saying so I could go out and by these records. Little did I know that these songs were not done by a variety of bands, but one.
“What’s that song…?”
I was ten years old when I was informed that I wouldn’t be going back to my town’s school in the fall, but rather, to a deaf school about twenty miles north of me. As my mother and the superintendent of schools bickered and argued, I started watching a cartoon entitled ‘The Super Mario Brothers Super Show.’ A song caught my ear, hit me with such ferocity I was floored. At the time, the show was famous for using covers of classic rock songs. It was aired on an episode of the show featuring Mark Twain and a riverboat. A few months passed and I found the VHS. I taped the song off the video, complete with Princess Toadstool’s voice, and played it over and over like a… you get the idea. My mother and father couldn’t figure out what song it was (It was really obvious, though.).
My father and I went on one of our drives in the Spring to go to Yard Sales. I sat in the front seat (at ten, today my father would have gotten a ticket), when all of a sudden the song came on. “Dad!” I yelled. “Quick, who is this? What song is this?”
“Proud Mary,” my father replied. “Creedence Clearwater Revival.”
I was ecstatic. This was it! But more was to follow. Whatever station my father had selected chose right then and there to completely alter my future by playing an entire block of this band. But my father, being who he was…
“Dad, who does this one?”
“Dad, what about this one?”
“The Fogerty Brothers.”
“And this one?”
My father didn’t think or realize that he had confused the crap out of me by not repeating the name of the band, and even though he was technically correct, it annoyed me for years.
“I don’t know where she got it from.”
My first tape was ‘Rollin’ on the River,’ a repackage that opened with Proud Mary, followed by Walk on the Water — off the first album, Travelin’ Band from Cosmo’s Factory, and Poorboy Shuffle/Feelin’ Blue on the first side. I only listened to Proud Mary first, until my father politely asked if I could at least see if there were any other songs that I liked. Travelin’ Band was interesting, as well as Feelin’ Blue, but the opening track on the second side, Green River, sealed my fate forever.
I began to acquire Creedence memorabilia, got a drum set and eventually started guitar (much to the relief of my parents). At yard sales, I would politely walk up to the owner and ask if he had any Creedence Clearwater Revival records. The owner would smile down on me, now with a cute Dutch-clip like Fogerty’s, and say, ‘I wonder who got you into them,’ and then look at my parents, who would smile meekly, happy the owner was impressed with my music choice but not wanting to lie and accept credit for getting me into them. Despite my short stature, I even managed to find a bike like Doug Clifford’s on the cover of Cosmo’s Factory.
While I’d written my first novel at seven, and told my father I was going to be a successfully published author some day, I had yet to really settle down and write anything. Between the song, Proud Mary, and a book about some kids in a nuclear apocalypse resurrecting an old riverboat, my imagination took off. While other kids my age played sports or started doing drugs, I sat on my parents’ front porch during the summer (the back porch was too hot and warped the vinyl records despite my desire to write while ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door.’), and wrote the first draft of what would become Proud Mary while I serenaded my neighbors with Bayou Country and Green River.
“It’s a Phase. It’ll Pass.”
I entered college and largely cruised through my twenties (and grad school) largely thanks to my commitment to becoming a writer, being pretty good at writing papers, and listening regularly to my favorite band drown out the noise in the cafeteria. My relatives saw my obsession as just a phase. How wrong they were!
Being deaf, I had a hard time with my analog hearing aids because they simply amplified sound, rather than pitch, so I’d largely given up on playing guitar. After being rear-ended by a six-ton SUV driven by a woman preoccupied with applying makeup, my doctors told me I might lose sensation in my hands because of a nerve, and advised me to start exercising. I asked if guitar would help. The doctor replied yes, and I immediately went to Daddy’s Junky Music for my first guitar since high school.
I got a used Oscar-Schmidt OE-30, and slowly began to learn how to play. I traded it in for an Ibanez Artcore 75, with an annoying floating bridge that I eventually replaced with an Epiphone ES-175, much like John Fogerty’s, used on Bayou Country.
After my father died, I made a decision to not sell the house and move somewhere where the air doesn’t hurt my face (A decision I’m not entire sure I should have made). A friend fixed my basement wall and casually said, ‘You know, Sedgy, this would make a great little man-cave.’ I had other ideas, and hired my friend to build me a room around several pieces of equipment I’d acquired over the past few months since my dad passed.
I was never much for brand loyalty, but once I started playing on these old Kustoms, it was like the red sea parted. In the back stood the tall, stately Kustom 400 with its two 3x15 cabinets, slaved into a pair of coveted Kustom 200A-4 (John Fogerty models), and I made specifications for a tall cabinet to house the ‘Big Three’: a 1964 Fender Concert, a 1974 Fender Twin Reverb, and a 1974 Fender Vibrolux.
I began to acquire the guitars Creedence played on, as well, including a Rickenbacker 1997, modified with a Bigsby and a PAF in the bridge position. I suppose a purist would have gotten a 1996, but even with my slender frame and small hands it just felt… like a toy.
Eventually I branched out, started building a few small amps of my own, collecting a few antique pieces of equipment, including a Harmony guitar that looked like a Supro, and a gaggle of acoustic guitars, including a Matsumoto-designed Epiphone with a bolt-on neck that cost me $20 at Savers but goes for $400 on Reverb.com. Very few of my pieces were purchased new.
All this to say that music has the power to change lives. Today’s music does not have the same punch for me as the old stuff does, although it seems that much of the country crap on the radio sounds like rip-offs of the classics. While there are those who can clearly see that new guitar sales are declining, it might be because the old stuff holds its value, and a $65 Sigma guitar at a yard sale, which turns out to be an old factory second Martin, sounds amazing next to some of the crap being churned out en masse today.