Gigs — Part One






M usic has always been the strongest drug for me, one of the only things in this world that could clearly express the complex tangle of my emotions, so it was quite natural that I wanted to be a musician, to live in this ethereal realm of sound.


I spent a substantial part of my life as a guitar player and occasional singer, my vocal talents being the weaker of the two. I started playing guitar at age twelve after summer camp. My camp counselor played guitar and I was impressed. He was the older brother I’d never had, and his skills on the guitar were so rudimentary that I was not intimidated.

I started out with a horrible guitar from Sears with the strings so high off the fret board they cut into my fingers before the necessary calluses formed. I’d taken trumpet lessons earlier in life, but never bonded with the instrument. After all, it was 1963 and the Beatles were invading popular music. The guitar was the way to learn their songs.

During my first year of high school, I often looked over my backyard fence to watch my next door neighbor Keith rehearsing with his surf band. He played drums. I could see and hear them through the house’s sliding glass doors. O yes, that’s definitely what I wanted to do. I wanted to play in a band.

At various times of my life I’ve seen the future just before it’s come. When my wife was pregnant with our first child we went looking for a house to rent. Finding a "For Rent" sign in front of an old house sitting high above the street in San Pedro overlooking the Los Angeles Harbor, I remember walking up the stairs for the first time, knowing that my young family would be walking up those stairs many more times in the future. Before even seeing the inside of the house, I knew we would live there. I knew the next chapter of our lives would begin there.

It happened again after I’d graduated years later with a degree in journalism. During one of my many unsuccessful job interviews, the editor of a small newspaper had me sit behind a desk in the newsroom while I waited. Looking at the computer keyboard at my fingertips while reporters around me answered phones and typed furiously, I knew that was where I belonged. I knew I’d be working in a newsroom somewhere.

So in the same way, looking over the wall at my neighbor Keith’s surf band, I knew the next chapter of my life would be spent playing music.

I’d met a gifted piano player during summer school before my freshman year at West Covina High School by the name of John Baer. He had astounded students gathered in the music room one day by playing an improvised version of “Lullaby of Birdland” on the baby grand piano. The high school music director, who had spent his early years as a professional piano player, also watched in awe. After this 15-year-old prodigy finished his jaw-dropping performance, the students asked the music director to play, who promptly said, “I’m not going to follow that!”

John and I joined with our neighbor Keith and a saxophone player named Gary to form my first band, The Crescendoes. Our first gig was a dance for young people at the South Hills Country Club. We played “Moon River,” “The Girl From Ipanema,” and other light jazz tunes along with our best imitation of rock & roll and surf music. But we steadfastly refused to play “Louie Louie.” After all, we had artistic integrity. That wouldn't last long.


It was the beginning of a long and often amusing musical collaboration for John and I. We would perform, compose and record music together for the next 15 years, until I finally abandoned my haphazard music career for another stab at college.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
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