Houston Music

Guitar Zero, or One Old Dog Attempts to Learn a New Trick

[Ed. Note: What happens when Rocks Off finds out one of our writers recently began taking guitar lessons? This.]

Some men hit their 40s and lose their minds a little. They trade in their minivan for a Corvette, or their wife for a similarly newer model. I have a history of getting these kinds of things wrong, however, so for my midlife crisis I had twin daughters and bought... a minivan.

I also got a guitar. Learning to play was always one of those things - like learning to SCUBA dive or getting my prostate checked - that I wanted to do "when there was time." I imagine it ranks on most people's bucket lists somewhere below "have sex with Beyonce/George Clooney" and somewhere above "spend more time volunteering with the elderly."

So there I am with my brand new Takamine GS330S and no idea how to wring sweet, sweet music from its neck. I pondered how best to proceed while simultaneously feeling a little pressed for time, as I wanted to play and sing for my (now three) daughters like my dad used to do with me.

Inadvertently, I'd struck upon a solution, for when my wife realized my shiny new gee-tar wouldn't be employed solely to annoy her with acoustic Sabbath covers, but could also be used "for the children," she promptly signed me up for lessons at Rockin' Robin Guitars and Music.

I went up the stairs for my first session with not a little trepidation. After all, my last experience playing music in public was at the state marching band finals in 1986, when I'd been safely ensconced in the rear with the rest of the low brass. Here, I'd be fumbling up and down a fretboard in front of a seasoned axeman. I pictured Steve Vai or Yngwe Malmsteen fighting to hide their laughter behind polite coughs.

Once again, luck was with me, because while my instructor did have a bit of the Vai hair thing going, he was more than happy to treat me as a "from the ground up" guitar construction project.

Don't get me wrong, Robert's good. Even the noodling he was doing as I came in sounded like something from a Pat Metheny album. Worse, he's actually a professional musician. When he told me his full name - Robert Ellis, of Robert Ellis and the Boys, among many others - I was a little surprised that I'd actually heard of him.

No mean feat, since - as a father of three - I'm allowed to hit the clubs slightly more often than Charles Manson. But he couldn't have been more tolerant of a tone-deaf Motley Crue fan with fingers better suited to potato digging than arpeggios.

We had an appreciation for twang and older country in common, and In a scant half-hour, I'd "mastered" three chords (the truth is taught later, I guess) and a few warm-up exercises. I certainly don't imagine Robert will be inviting me onstage to play with the Boys at Mango's anytime soon, but I think we're off to a good start.

Stay tuned to Rocks Off for more guitar-novice adventures. Who knows? Next week, I may demonstrate my mastery of "Smoke on the Water."

Pete's teacher, Robert Ellis, plays with Robert Ellis & the Boys 9 p.m. Wednesdays at Mango's, 403 Westheimer, 713-522-8903 or www.mangoscafehouston.com. No cover.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar