A story of love and compromise in the life of a musician
No worries—this Tele cuts through the mix. Photo of Brent Mason’s well-worn axe by Andy Ellis
Duane was questioning his own sanity. He was a working guitarist and against his better judgment, he’d invited Sandy to meet him out on the road while touring the Southwestern part of the country. Now he was sitting at a roadside café having a leisurely breakfast with her.
The couple had met at one of Duane’s gigs a few years before and sparks flew immediately. Sandy would sit right in front of Duane while he played and sang. She loved the way he stroked his gold-colored guitar and imagined that every note he played was for her alone. At first, Sandy would travel long distances to see Duane play with the band—sleeping in her car or renting a motel room with Duane. She loved the music, but shortly after they were married Sandy stopped coming to Duane’s gigs. Duane was worried that she was no longer infatuated with the idea of a musician husband.
Maybe it was like when he fixated on a new piece of musical gear—as soon as he got it, he was thinking about something new. His idea was to get Sandy out on the road to rekindle their romance in the environment where it had started. Unknown to Duane, it was Sandy who had actually put the idea into his head. Secretly, she was worried that he was seeing other women on the road, and wanted to check up on him. By the time Duane got a vague notion about her true motivation, it was too late to change course—she was on her way.
Duane had rented a car purportedly to spare Sandy the displeasure of traveling in the band van with the guys and gear. The rented car was a safety precaution— at least he could shield her from the band. The guys had a way of passing the long hours of traveling by talking trash about each other, their significant others, and the girls they knew in each town. Duane had shifted into survival mode and his bandmates could smell it.
As Duane and Sandy pulled into each town, Duane would suggest they take in the local sights or stop in a pawnshop so he could look at guitars. Sandy used to enjoy watching him try out new instruments, but he realized that now it just meant a possible expenditure to her. He was very careful to arrive at soundcheck slightly late to avoid too much idle time with the rest of the band. He was constantly sending Sandy out for 9-volt batteries for his pedals. After a while she wondered why he didn’t buy them before it was time for him to play. As soon as soundchecks were over, out the door they went to explore the area or check into a motel room. The stress on Duane was beginning to show, which made Sandy edgy, and in turn made Duane even more stressed.
So, there they were—killing time in the café with their huevos rancheros, fried potatoes and coffee. Sandy was talking excitedly about redecorating their apartment, and Duane was thinking about the Telecaster he had on hold at a store in the next town. His Les Paul wasn’t cutting through the mix well enough, but he couldn’t stand to part with it. So against his wife’s wishes, he’d bought the Tele instead of trading for it. He wasn’t sure how he was going to break it to her, but he wanted the band van to get as far ahead down the road as possible before shoving off in pursuit. He’d wing it once they were in the car.
Back out on the highway, there had been about 40 minutes of silence, and the tension was getting unbearable. Duane was just about to bring up the Telecaster when they crested a rise, only to see the band’s van at the side of the road. The entire band was standing outside with their hands on their heads, surrounded by cops and drug-sniffing dogs. Duane slowed slightly and saw the drummer shake his head indicating that stopping wasn’t a good idea. They cruised on for a few minutes in silence—then both broke out into hysterical laughter. For a moment it felt like the old, carefree times. “Screw it,” Duane shouted. “I quit.”
Sandy threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. They were both in the moment, and the whole thing seemed like a sign. Sandy turned and faced forward, her eyes focused down the road somewhere. “I’m pregnant,” she said softly.
Back down the road the rest of the band had lucked out. The drummer had shoved the bag of pot down his underwear and several days of showerless giging must have thrown off the drug-sniffing dogs. They got off with a ticket for a broken brake light, but that was the end of the band. They’d all had enough.
Today, only two of the guys have jobs related to the music business, but they all keep in touch. The anger at Duane for “breaking up” the band has been forgotten and they all laugh about what didn’t seem funny at the time. They still get together and jam from time to time—the wives and their kids sit around the back yard and listen just like the old days. Duane smiles at Sandy from behind that Telecaster as their daughter dances with her friends. Duane wonders if the Tele is cutting through the mix.
Jol Dantzig is a noted designer, builder, and player who co-founded Hamer Guitars, one of the first boutique guitar brands, in 1973. Today, as the director of Dantzig Guitar Design, he continues to help define the art of custom guitar. To learn more, visit guitardesigner.com.