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Question and Obsession: First Songs

Illiterate Light’s Jeff Gorman joins us in remembering the first tunes we learned to play on guitar.

Q: What was the first song you learned to play on guitar?

Jeff GormanIlliterate Light
A: I started off as a drummer, and then in the 8th grade my childhood best friend, John Rambo (his real name), taught me “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream on his guitar. The first song that I taught myself was “Down by the River” by Neil Young.


I still absolutely love the solo in that song. I also found that my vocal timbre and range was similar to Neil’s. I started learning a ton of his songs throughout high school because his style felt really natural to me. I still learn them to this day!

Current obsession: Three things: Ken Wilber, Patriot, and Frogger. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on by philosopher Ken Wilber. I’ve recently discovered that some of my musical heroes are also fans of his work (Billy Corgan, Jim James, Alanis Morissette, Stone Gossard, Serj Tankian, Saul Williams). A Brief History of Everything is a great starting place! Secondly, Patriot is insanely underrated and my current favorite show. I binge-watched the entire first season on our way to SXSW this March and am obsessed. Lastly, Frogger. The local coffee shop (Black Sheep) in my hometown has a Frogger arcade machine and I’m desperately trying to get on the scoreboard there.

Andy EllisSenior Editor
A: My 6-string journey began inauspiciously in Paris, around 1964. I was taking lessons from a classical guitarist who was more interested in developing my right-hand technique than showing me any music. Dammit—I wanted to learn songs, not perfect my rest stroke. Late at night, I’d secretly listen to Radio Luxembourg on my Sony transistor and when I first heard the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” I was hooked. The beautiful progression and tale of ruination captivated my 12-year-old mind, and thanks to Jerry Silverman’s Beginning Folk Guitar, I learned the chords. Nailing F was tough!

Current obsession: Using partial capos to remap the fretboard without leaving standard tuning.

Rich OsweilerAssociate Editor
A: I knew many of the usual-suspect riffs as a grade-schooler, but the first song I learned all the way through was the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” In fact, as a just-moved kid from Chicago, I played and sang it for my 5th grade class in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the suggestion of my teacher. It was the second week of school and it was absolutely terrifying, but I instantly became the kid who can play guitar and was no longer the “new kid.”

Current obsession: No, the Mötley Crüe biopic, The Dirt, isn’t going to win any awards for best screenplay, but it was a fun guilty pleasure watch and I enjoyed the ride back to that odd era and phenomenon. Even better was revisiting some of the great songs from Too Fast for Love that I hadn’t heard in so many years.

Jason ShadrickAssociate Editor
A: I received a Franciscan acoustic in December of ’95 and immediately tried to play a few Dave Matthews Band tunes. I failed miserably. Those long stretches and African rhythms were well past my fumbling fingers. However, thanks to a transcription in a guitar magazine, I was able to plunk out the first few notes of “My Friends” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers rather quickly.

Current obsession: I just watched Between Me and My Mind, a documentary on Phish’s Trey Anastasio that was far more personal and deeper than I was expecting. It centers around the recording of his Ghosts of the Forest album, which was written as a tribute to Trey’s oldest friend, who was dying of cancer. Even through the heaviest of emotions it was great to see him laugh and rehearse with the fellas in the band.