By the fall of 1997, I had already experienced one
rite of passage: buying a guitar and learning how
to play it. Now, that rite was succeeded by a
complementary one: joining/forming a band.
Recall that I got my first guitar in August, 1996.
I had exactly ONE YEAR of playing experience when I
felt this urge. By any reasonable standard I was
jumping way ahead of myself.
But I was full of vigor, stoked by my ability to
change between the major and minor chords in something
slightly less than glacial speed---an obvious indicator
of my mastery of the fretboard!
And I had a partner in crime who felt the same way.
Like Thomas, Jenni had come in with the class of 2000.
And like Thomas, she was a member of the PC Choir.
In addition, she had a crush on me, which led her to
follow me around like a pet nearly every where I went.
I wasn't annoyed; in fact, I was flattered by the
attention, even if I wasn't interested in dating her.
What was more important, she was a guitar player too.
And she had already done something I only dreamed of
doing: she had played an original song one night at
an FCA meeting. A minor-keyed number about longing,
frustration, and God's plans, it went over well.
I envied her.
Once this particular bond was established, we
fellow musicians spent much of our time playing together.
She would play a few of her own songs, and I would teach
her the bluegrass "boom-chuck" style of playing, which
I had picked up on my own.
One evening while dining at the Waffle House, I pitched
the band idea to her.
"Yeah, that's cool!" she said.
"We could play our own stuff!" I said.
"Yeah, that's really cool!" she said.
"And we could play at Inklings like the other guys do!"
"I'm all for it!" she said.
"Good!" And we sealed the deal over chop-steak melt
plates with SSCCTD hashbrowns.
I started looking for other members. Thomas was receptive
to the idea as well. That made three guitar players, all
presumably strumming (I never thought in terms of any
I tapped the bassist for Jazz Onions, wondering if he
would be interested in some "side work". He was.
All we needed was a drummer.
I found him one afternoon, practicing in the basement
below Belk Auditorium. I walked in, introduced
myself, and explained what I was looking for: a drummer.
Period. And what do ya know? He fit the bill, obviously.
He was in.
The practice space was in Inklings, and was tentatively
scheduled for Friday afternoons, when everyone ought to
Songs? I had started writing another song, a Biblical
allegory about infidelity (which used my arthritic "A"
chord), and thought it was a sure-fire hit. The opening
verse---"Hey, hey baby, your love is dead / You took to
the comfort of another's man bed / You told me child
that I was just too much / You wanted to taste what you
shouldn't have touched"---suggsted a worldly knowledge
that I certainly DIDN'T have at that time (being a
rather cloistered, traditional Christian) and hinted at
libidinous pleasures that I knew were sinful but wanted
to sing about anyway. (Hey, no one ever said rock n'
roll was about subtlety and restraint...)
Jenni had several originals, but didn't feel like contributing
any of them. So I dug up some up old blues songs from
library books and photocopied the lyric sheets. I was already
a blues fanatic, and I figured they would be o.k. (I also
nixed Jenni's suggestion to include a Billy Joel song;
as far as I was concerned Billy Joel was passe, and there was
no way in HELL I was going to sing any of his songs...)
The first practice time rolled around. We assembled in
Inklings, set up the drum kit (usually a lengthy undertaking,
as I would learn over the next few years), plugged into the
PA (or, in my case, put our guitars close to the stage mics)...
and let fly. My song, titled "Unfaithful", sounded gorgeous
with full instrumentation. We played a few more songs, then
got bored and started noodling. After an hour or so, we
packed up and said our goodbyes.
What an auspicious beginning! Surely it was a sign of
things to come! We would open at Inklings, then play Belk
Auditorium, then score gigs across the length and breadth
of South Carolina, and then...Carnegie Hall!
As it turned out, that first practice was the creative apex
of our little group. Looking back, I think I can explain our
First and foremost, I (the erstwhile leader) had no real
talent to speak of. It wasn't long before the other, more
experienced members recognized this, and began dominating
the practices. The problem was that none of them had any
idea what else we could/should do. So it became an exercise
in indecision. We would gather together, futz around, and
then slowly drift away.
Second, we never worked on a potential set list. I never
finished "Unfaithful", and I'm sure the other players
got tired of hearing that hoary old chestnut banged out
time and time again, raggedly incomplete (I only wrote two
verses and a bridge) and going nowhere. No one other than
Jenni suggested any cover tunes (and, like me, no one else
seemed enthused about playing anything by Billy Joel), and
no one liked the ones I picked (which were admittedly beyond
our capacity; many years later, when I had a better
command of the idiom, I would finally get to play something
closer to real blues). We would strum around, look at each
other, and say, "Well, what should we play?"
Third, we never told the Inklings people we wanted to play.
I think that maybe setting a deadline would have forced us
to get our act together. Maybe we would have played at
least one show before splintering. But we never acted on
our vague ideas. Without a plan, we soon had little reason
to get together. Strumming chords aimlessly isn't a jam
session; it's an act of avoidance.
Fourth, we never came up with a group name. That may sound
inconsequential, but, like the concept of working under a
deadline, it might have forced us to pull things together.
Again, no one had any ideas. I suggested a few lame ones,
such as The Shindig or The Flying Clouds. I was obsessed
with 60's culture at the time, and thought these were
pretty hip monikers. But when I mentioned them, the drummer
would just give me a pained look and shake his head.
Finally...it wasn't the time. Who were we kidding? We
were college juniors and sophomores. Life was beautiful, youth
was fleeting, and other things demanded our attention.
Who among us was really interested in applying himself/herself
to this band idea? It was just a lark to pass the time.
Still, for a handful of days in the fall of 1997, I had a
band. I had arrived!