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I’ll go first. About a year before I was born, my mom bought my dad a cheap classical guitar. Although the folk boom was well over by this time, it still resonated in the Midwest. The plan was for my dad to take some lessons, learn from some books, and then sing stuff like “Kumbaya” and “Cockles and Mussels.”
My dad, a jazz cat, was way too cool for any of that. So the guitar sat untouched in the closet for the next 10 years or so. Enter a young me, bored and looking for something to do. At the ripe age of 10, I was a massive rock ’n’ roll fan, had been listening to the Beatles since diapers, and knew enough to prefer Sun-era Elvis over the Vegas years. So there was this guitar in the closet. I looked at the guitar, and then at a Beatles photo. Guitar, Elvis photo. Guitar, Rolling Stones pic.
I slowly pieced it together: “If I play that thing, I could be like them.” No further discussion was needed. I started strumming that nylonstring for all it was worth. I didn’t know that chords were involved, so I just strummed open strings and sang. The old strings snapped and, because I didn’t know you could buy new ones, the guitar sat for a while.
I picked guitar back up again within a couple years, and then the real passion began. My first electric was a Memphis. Then I traded some sports gear for a red Hondo II. After that, I got a sweet ’60s Silvertone hollowbody with three DeArmond pickups and a Bigsby. For my 18th birthday, my dad got me a yellow, late-’70s Stratocaster.
Left: Eric Dahl, right, and his father jamming together.
Right: Eric Dahl’s father’s original ’59 Fender Precision bass and matching Bassman combo.
Photos courtesy of Eric Dahl
I have a gear buddy named Eric Dahl who works for the WB network in Las Vegas. The story of how Eric came into music is one of my favorites. Like mine, it began with his father.
Eric’s dad grew up in Peoria, Illinois. He was introduced to music at a young age when his parents bought a brand new Hammond B-3 in 1952 and the entire family took lessons. He lettered in trombone throughout junior high and high school. After heading to college at the University of Arkansas, Eric’s dad was drawn to the blues and rock. One night in the summer of 1959, back in Peoria on break, Eric’s dad was heading home after his shift at the slaughterhouse. He made a detour and took all his earnings—$325—and bought a brand-new Fender Precision bass and a matching ’59 Bassman amplifier.
“My Grandpa Dahl thought dad was crazy for spending that much money,” says Eric. “But after I showed him how much the gear was worth in 1996, he was pretty impressed.”
Eric’s dad took his bass and amp to college with him and started playing in a popular R&B band called the Knights. “He used to tell me stories about playing two and three gigs in a night, just driving from party to party,” says Eric. The guitarist in the Knights, Harvey Hockersmith (aka “Mouse”), was a nephew to Charlie Rich. “So, whenever Charlie would get mad and fire his entire band, dad’s band would get the call to back him up at fairs and other gigs,” laughs Eric. In 1960, Bo Diddley came to town. He had blown up his amplifier at the gig before, so he used Eric’s dad’s ’59 Bassman to play the concert.
After seeing so much gear around the house, it was only natural that Eric took to music as well. He started lessons at the age of 5. There were frequent jam sessions with dad down in the basement and with several bands over the years. Eric’s dad changed amps a few times, but he never changed basses.
That original ’59 Precision fit him like glove and had his sound. Eric’s dad passed away in February of 1984, but Eric still has great memories of making music with him.
“I’m thrilled that I still have these musical artifacts in the family,” says Eric. “My plan is to pass them on to my daughter one day, along with the pictures of dad and me jamming together. Dad gave me the gift of music and I don’t think I can ever repay him for that.”
Guitar: Pass It On
Some of us get into guitar on our own. Others have it passed on to us. But all of us have the chance to pass the love and joy of being involved in the world of guitar on to someone else.
Wallace Marx Jr.
Wallace Marx Jr. is the author of Gibson Amplifiers, 1933– 2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone. He is a lifelong musician and has worked in all corners of the music industry. He is currently working on a history of the Valco Company. He is a children’s tour guide at the Museum of Making Music, a struggling surfer, and he once hung out with Joe Strummer.