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My Childhood Introductions to Music

My introduction to music in Lexington, Massachusetts began with a little record player I learned to use at age 4 or 5. The only record I had was a story called the Valiant Little Tailor until I found a present for my dad which was a Blood Sweat and Tears album that started with “Spinning Wheel.” The tune was rock, jazz, and blues all in one with punchy horn riffs and I couldn’t get enough of it. I would just play it again and start memorizing the words so I could sing along. Little by little I listened to more songs on it but still liked the first one the best. There was also another album by Percy Faith with a version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” which I also memorized in a similar fashion. I also remember never wanting to miss an episode of The Partridge Family and was so intrigued that a family could be a band. My parents weren’t musical but my mother was an artist and my older sister and brother used to perform in school and camp musicals. I listened to the radio when we took family trips in the car and remember loving “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin and “Do it Again” by Steely Dan and being riveted whenever they came on. It was a great era of music to grow up in.

At age 7 I started taking piano lessons with a woman in the neighborhood who taught me to read music and play some classical stuff like Fuer Elise. No rock and roll, but I enjoyed sitting at the Piano and would leaf through a book with Songs of the 60s and try playing some of them that I recognized. My sister (7 years older than me) had a group of friends who were all listening to Dylan, the Allman Brothers, Carole King, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens, and we started to have some cool records in the house. For my 8th birthday, she gave me the Beatle's Red and Blue compilation double albums as well as The Rolling Stones' “Hot Rocks.” Every summer we would go to the Catskills near Woodstock, NY so I began to notice how important music was to the area…It just seemed to be everywhere.

I’d go into our TV room, close the door and listen to the albums incessantly while reading the lyrics. On the TV I’d watch sports with the sound turned off. At school, we had some music classes and a chorus (everyone was in it). I took 4 years of piano lessons before switching to guitar, mainly because my teacher couldn’t teach me Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”

I just figured I needed a guitar to play rock and roll. A boy in my class in 6th grade lent me his guitar and showed me House of the Rising Sun chords and fingerpicking. It came pretty easily so my dad bought me a 3/4 size Yamaha and I was off! I dug through books already in the house and learned some folk songs and tried getting songs out of the piano book (my favorite was “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell) but noticed none of the guitar information was very specific except the chord charts. Most songs were not in the right key for me to sing with so I used a capo to raise the pitch. I was immediately drawn to how easy it was to just strum and sing.

I started lessons with a great teacher in town at Lexington Music Shop which was tiny with a little room in the back for lessons. Jeff Wyman had been to Berklee College of Music and loved everything from Led Zeppelin to Bach. He taught me essential picking skills, rock scales, riffs, etc. I immediately got an electric guitar. By that time I was listening to the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac and buying albums myself. By March of 7th grade at the Belmont Hill School, I did my first performance alone on acoustic. My brother was a senior at the school and was running the school talent show, mainly for juniors and seniors. He heard me practicing “Desperado” (I had bought all the Eagles songbooks I could find) in my room and asked me if I wanted to do it at the show. I accepted and proceeded to practice incessantly. I was under a spotlight and there was a packed audience in the gym. I plowed through it and just lost myself in the emotion of the song, not knowing what it meant. To this day most of my teachers remember me more for that performance than for all my later sports and academic achievements. It just took everyone by surprise and people were coming up to me with tears in their eyes. Senior girls were doting on me. I knew I had crushed it and I was hooked.

That summer I went to a sailing camp in Maine and brought my guitar. We lived on a boat for a week and at night I would entertain my friends (many from Lexington a year older than me) under the stars playing mostly Eagles but some other stuff too like Cat Stevens. They said I had to meet their drummer friend, “Degug” (Greg Deguglielmo, later to tour for 15 years with the band Max Creek). That fall I joined his band as a rhythm guitarist and singer. The other guitarist, Tom Landman (we later reconnected at Berklee College of Music) was good at playing lead. We played Stones, The Who, Neil Young, The Kinks, you name it, and of course, that was my introduction to weed and the Grateful Dead. My parents let us set up to practice in the basement of our new house which was pretty soundproof. We played at Middle School dances and in people’s garages and backyards when their parents were away. We generally got shut down by the police after about an hour of making a major racket in the suburbs for misbehaving pot-smoking, beer-drinking teenagers. Sadly I only played in that band for about two years before sports and academics put serious time constraints on me. I learned so much and learning from musicians who knew more than me continued to be my journey. That band got my first girlfriend, (an 8th grader!) and heartbreak. Being at boys' school then kind of isolated me from that….

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