My Greatest Guitar Accomplishment


Someone recently asked on a forum, “What is your greatest guitar accomplishment?” Here is my response, with a tad bit of clean-up.

“What is your greatest guitar accomplishment?” Who knows? After fifty years of this who knows what has touched someone else the most? I might quote my performances with various bands or perhaps one of the guitar parts I created when, as a producer, I was asked to rebuild some song or album that wasn't working.

But then, and humorously, perhaps it was tuning a certain black guitar.

The castle in question...

The guitar in question belonged to an attractive young lady who had seen me spend hours in the stairwell of a castle on top of a mountain in Georgia, practicing where the acoustics were so nice and there was a 100-mile view to the west. That attractive young lady couldn't get up the nerve to ask me to give her guitar its yearly tuning, so she mentioned it to her friend from the same upstairs ladies' dorm hall. Now, her friend was also quite fetching, full of pluck, was a classically trained piccolo lyric soprano, and thus was absolutely unimpressed with rock guitar players in general and me in particular. The first girl’s soprano friend simply grabbed the black guitar, brought it downstairs, and asked me to tune it without the slightest trepidation. I pulled out my harmonica and tuned it by ear. I had never heard of a guitar tuner at that point. Once I had tuned it that young lady said a quick "Thanks," spun on her heel, and bounced back upstairs carrying the guitar, without a second thought about the issue.

The stairwell in question...

A few days later that same friend who brought down the guitar joined the local volunteer fire department and was assigned to my company. Over the next few weeks I was impressed by how self-contained and dignified she was, but frankly, I could tell she wasn't the least bit interested in me and was socially upwardly-mobile at the college we both attended. As a musician, I was NOT, but her apparent disinterest played into the story.

Soon after, when I was taking out another young lady, even the third young lady mentioned in this tale, things suddenly started to go south. One night I invited her out and she said, "I'm sorry but I have to wash my hair." Now, she did have gorgeous long brunette hair down to the bottom of the patch pockets on her Levis, so I believed her. The next night, however, I did ask her out again. "I'm sorry. I have to study." Well, it was a college, wasn't it? I went out to an overlook in front of the dorm to think, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the lovely lady I was taking out, arm-in-arm with my band's manager. Well that was a blow, but I tend to be relentless. The next night I asked her out again. "I'm sorry. I have to polish my andirons," Or something similar. Well, even I could figure this one out. "Ma'am, we are both grown-ups," sez I. "If you don't want to go out with me, just say so." "I don't want to go out with you." "Thank you very much. Have a nice life." We hung up.

Now, here I was, standing in the lobby of the castle with the telephone in my hand. "Bob,” sez I, “you have clearly taken this dating thing far too seriously. You need to get back up on the horse, my man, and quickly. Find someone with whom you have no future whatsoever and ask her out, just for fun." I looked around and there on a couch studying alone, was the bright young lady who had brought down the black guitar to be tuned and had later joined the fire department. I summoned my courage, walked over, and said, "Hi! Would you like to go down the mountain to this little cafe' I know and have dessert and study?" I am not kidding when I say that she looked up at me with undisguised doubt. But then her hunger got the best of her. You see, even though it was a private college, this school spent its money on professors rather than amenities, and the food was truly horrible. The plucky young lady replied, still doubtfully, "Let me get my coat."

So we went down to this lovely, rustic little cafe' and I bought her coffee and what is probably the finest, most sinfully delicious chocolate fudge cake I have ever tasted, then or now. We sat in a really cozy booth in the corner of the place. We ate our desserts and drank our coffee and talked. And talked. We didn't get around to studying, because I discovered that the complete lack of a future with this lady helped loosen my jaw and this her refreshingly straightforward spirit made conversation a breeze. We talked for hours about Victorian homes and Christmas and pets and then it was time to go back up to the school. As we walked up to the castle from the parking lot, the young lady doubled down on the lack of a future. She kindly and frankly and explained to me that she couldn't go out with anyone because she was everything but engaged to a young man back at home and she had to be fair to him. I am not sure she could have composed a better challenge to me had she tried. However, being honorable and believing that it was incumbent upon me to turn back in to God any young lady I took out in the same or better condition as I had checked her out, I agreed.

To be honest, a couple of days later I did ask her if she'd like to go down to the restaurant again, sample that fudge cake, and perhaps study. She succumbed to the fudge cake, though we didn't get any studying done... again. The next time I "didn't take her out" it was on a Saturday and we accelerated to sandwiches AND the fudge cake. Well, I had the carrot cake which was equally delicious. We didn't study again but it was a Saturday, after all.

Before long we were eating all our meals together and spending evenings together studying and I had become quite attached. There was a strong risk here, but somehow I combined relentlessness and patience in a way that didn't run her off. I figured that in order to be the only young man with a chance to dance with her, I would need to punch her dance ticket on every line if at all possible. Besides, I had a car and the money to pay for dessert and the occasional meal down the mountain... and she didn't.

This went on until Fall break. The lovely young lady went home to her folks and the subject of her repeatedly "not going out" came up in conversation with her mom. Her mom had a pretty strong sense of right and wrong and told her daughter that to be fair she was simply going to have to make up her mind and choose one young man. After thinking it over, the young lady decided to take her chances with that young southern fellow she'd met at school, me. She did the honorable thing. She met up with her boyfriend from high school and broke up. Then she came back to school and told me she was available to take out. For our first official date I drove her to my hometown, introduced her to my family, and took her to a Doobie Brothers concert on October 28th, 1978. Let's just say things accelerated from there. She decided to follow me to my next college and it seemed a proper time to make a commitment. I took her back to the little cafe' and the same booth and asked for her hand. We were married in 1980 and have spent our lives together ever since.

I have since written her several songs, always starting on the acoustic guitar, but something I learned later turned out to have bearing on the subject at hand: This young lady has, and had, one of the most acutely trained sets of ears I've ever encountered when it comes to pitch. She can sense an instrument that is a single cent's worth of out of tune and it causes her acute discomfort. To this day, if a soloista is a tad off and my wife is sitting next to me, she digs her nails into my thigh in anguish, making it a doubly shared experience because I feel the same discomfort from bad tuning as she does, but now my thigh is screaming at me as well. I shudder to think what would have happened had I botched the job of tuning up that black guitar, those forty-two years ago.

And so, I can say that one guitar tuning was clearly my greatest guitar accomplishment.