94. Seeking Seeger

Learning the play the guitar can be a lifelong journey. For Steve, this began fifty years ago, as an eight year old, with lessons from his dad (see Post 86) that were also shared with his best friend Andy, who is also still actively pursuing his own guitar journey.

As far as I can remember, our lessons were rather ad-hoc, with us learning a series of folk songs, chords and right-hand licks as we went, but we were also guided by a couple of books and ‘long-playing’ records along the way. One was “American Folk Guitar” by Alan Lomax and Peggy Seeger. Leafing through the few tattered pages that remain, I can distinctly remember the excitement of learning Midnight Special, bashing out what sounded like massive open E-major chords on my three-quarter sized nylon string guitar (which I still have in the attic, though it needs new tuning heads).

The second was “Pete Seeger’s Guitar Guide”, an instructional record and accompanying booklet. I’ve still got the record, though the booklet was long lost until Penny found a complete copy in Oxfam Books and Music a few weeks ago – a lovely anniversary gift – thank you!

Like many instructional records, it begins slowly with the basics but rapidly accelerates towards the end. We learned about chord, keys and capos, and then the basics of strumming, arpeggios, travis picking (which I think we mistakenly called ‘claw-hammer’) and a showy rhumba rhythm that became a bit of a party piece. The final track on the record, “The Mexican Blues”, was a showcase that took things to another level and both fascinated and bamboozled me in equal measure. No doubt, it didn’t help that we learned by ear (studiously ignoring the music and TAB) and that dad couldn’t play it himself! But were were certainly all impressed and I’ve long had the urge to learn it, having made several failed attempts over the years. A couple of years ago I set myself the challenge of finally getting it under my fingers and so – after only fifty years in the learning – here it is – with a little embellishment too.

The Mexican Blues

The record itself is charming and worth a listen just to hear for Pete’s gentle instructions and of course his own rendition of the Mexican Blues at the end.

Learning to play today is a very different business with so much material online, especially videos where you can actually watch how others play, but it remains a lifelong journey. Indeed, it really is the journey that matters. After fifty years of trying, I am still excited by learning new songs and techniques; I still occasionally fall into the trap of believing that I can play this instrument before hearing something that reminds me of how long a road may stretch ahead; and I still lazily ignore the music and the TAB whenever I think I can get away with it. I guess some things will never change.

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