I was eight years old the year The Beatles issued Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was an odd time to be a kid: the teenagers seemed a little out of their minds, and the adults were most definitely out of theirs.
1968. Vietnam was raging. My father did a tour at Pleiku, after which we all moved to Clark Airbase in the Philippines while he flew back and forth to Vietnam and Thailand as an inspector. He was career Air Force and well thought of, but he hated Vietnam. Still, he stuck with it, knowing each trip was only a week long. I liked it because he came home with all sorts of gifts.
That summer he returned from a trip to Thailand with an acoustic guitar for me. It was a huge, full-bodied monster, but I fell in love with it right away. He’d also somehow found a chord book I could use, the “Mel Bay Big Book of Chords.” For the next few months, me, the guitar, and the chord book remained sequestered while I learned. I’ve been playing ever since.
On another trip, my father returned with an electric guitar and a small amplifier. The guitar was a knock off of a Fender Stratocaster, with the brand name (using Fender’s font) “Splendor.” The neck was warped and the strings sat very high over the fretboard, but it was 1968 and I was eight, and soon me and four other eight year olds had formed a little neighborhood band. There’s no doubt we stayed in tune, but I could tell my father loved it.
His album collection was filled with guitar players, from Chet Atkins to Wes Montgomery. There was something about the guitar my father loved, and in hindsight I’m pretty sure he came home with the guitars in hopes that I’d take to them. I think guitar music spoke to him. After his year in Pleiku and traveling back and forth to the war zone, I think he somehow needed that.
I was never on a par with Chet or Wes, or, for that matter, any of the great guitarists that have come up and gone. But I played, and he liked it. Better yet, I wrote little songs from the age of 12, and I could tell he liked that too. And when home recording systems became affordable in the 1980s, I started making multi-track recordings of my songs, which he loved.
My father passed in 2014, and that fall I had a song written for him. I recorded it that winter, then stuck it up on Soundcloud. Tonight I’m thinking about him, and so I thought I’d write this and post a link to that song. It’s called “He’s Still Gone,” written by me for my father.