The Red Guitar

I love guitars. I love the way they look sitting in the corner of a house, laid out on the bed, placed carefully in their cases or on display in a music store.

I love how they feel in my hands.  The new ones shiny with promise of the music that is to come, the stories it might help you tell, and the places it could take you. The old guitars worn from years of picking, dinged up from bar bands and campfires and teaching a child to play.

And I love how they sound, each one a little unique, a little brighter, a little lower,  a little cheaper, a little more rich and full. I love how they transport me, no matter if I am behind the sound or sitting in front of it swaying to the rhythm it creates, to a place so full of heart and passion and loneliness and fulfillment and family and home and leaving and heartache. A place I’ve always had in me.

Because you know how everyone has a first memory? That moment you look back on where you were the youngest version of yourself you knew. Maybe it’s only a few moments in time, but it was so powerful that you hang onto it hard and forever, whether you want to or not.

That memory is a guitar to me…

…dancing in the basement of our old house while my dad played his red Guild and sang. I don’t remember the song, or maybe I do, it doesn’t matter. But I remember the brown shag carpet. I remember how he wore his hair a little long. I remember how his wide, leathery fingers eclipsed the strings at the neck of that guitar. I remember how he swayed back and forth and tapped his foot, just a little bit off of the rhythm of the song he was singing and picking—the same way he does to this day. And I remember wanting to play. Wanting him to let me pluck the strings on my own, wanting my hands to grow a little bigger so I could make the music come from that mysterious instrument. That beautiful, red guitar.

And the instrument, the guitar, still remains a mystery to me. Even though I have been playing in one form or another since I was twelve years old, it still perplexes me that six strings touched the right way can produce sounds that make you laugh and cry and tap your toes or sing words you didn’t even know you had in you out to the world. It’s amazing to me that the sounds that come out of the body made of wood and metal and shine can be so different depending on who is touching it, who is sitting behind the instrument.  I am in awe that a guitar can transform a campfire or a living room or a makeshift stage into a world where where love is lost and found, real cowboys still exist, babies fall asleep peacefully, summer always stays….

Yes, the guitar remains elusive to me even though every person in my family, as a sort of right of passage, owns their own version of the instrument and tucks it away in their basement or in their bedroom closet or props it up next to the piano or next to the living room couch. It is a necessity, whether or not you ever learn to play it, you need it there next to you in case you are ever so inclined—because the music is so unpredictable.

I have had in my possession a number of guitars in my short 27 years. All given to me by my dad based on his judgment on what would be the best fit for me. My first was a small guitar made for beginners that came in a box and wound up in my little sister’s room after I graduated to the next level: a cheap guitar with soft strings upon which I practiced strumming and singing “Amarillo by Morning” until my little fingers and voice were raw.

When I proved that I had an interest in the instrument that wasn’t going to waver anytime soon, I consulted with my dad and we agreed to trade my saxophone, the one I would pretend to play in band class, for a real guitar (because it was quite apparent that I lacked any Kenny G style skills and probably never would). And so I acquired the green Takamine and started writing songs, thinking maybe I could be a real musician behind this guitar. Maybe.

And I kept playing that Takamine in my bedroom. And then that guitar and I had our first real gig playing songs that I wrote and songs that I loved. Then we did it again and again until it was time to record them and time for a new guitar. Because I had outgrown the instrument in sound and purpose.

So another Takamine with a sunburst on its body took me on through high school and into my first year of university where I played in coffeehouses and bars around the small college town. And when the call came about traveling and working on another album I was set to go. I had my big girl guitar, it would work just fine.

I was excited and nervous and anxious about the whole thing….

Then one day after a few of my first on-the-road gigs, I came back home and my dad placed into my hands his Taylor, the guitar I had coveted and loved and snuck to the back room to play by the moonlight whenever I had a chance. He loved that guitar, and he placed it in my hands.

I took it with me.

And if there is ever anything I go back into a burning building for, it will be that guitar.

But if there is anything I love more than that Taylor it is that red Guild. And for a while I thought I would never see it again, you know, because a musician like my dad is known to trade guitars for amps and other guitars. And that red Guild was out of our lives for a while, during the time I was falling for the Taylor.

But damned if dad didn’t get it back in the last few years and pass it along through his hands again to my little sister when she went off to college.

And that red guitar is irreplaceable to her, allowing her to play and sing out loud the words to songs that mean something to her. And when she’s sitting behind that guitar so far away from the buttes of the ranch, maybe a little lost and frustrated some days with life and the pursuit of finding herself, she can close her eyes and strum and take a deep breath and hear the sounds of home.

And so l’ll tell you, all of the guitars I have ever possessed have given me something–confidence, my first song, a stronger voice. But  I watch my little sister behind that red Guild, the very same guitar that took my dad on the road in bar bands and coffeehouses, that let loose the music inside my heart when he played it for me so long ago, that brings two sisters together in song, voices blending, toes tapping, and I am overwhelmed with the spirt of that instrument.

And I realize that red guitar, the one that played the first chord I have ever heard, the one that found us again strumming the music of home, the one that I never even called mine, has been my greatest gift.

6 thoughts on “The Red Guitar

  1. Wow, I sure could identify with this post. I’m mostly a mandolin guy these days but dig my guitars too. Other than my wife and children I love my Gibson mandolin as much as anything on Earth. There’s magic in string music.

    As far as I know, I’m the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer. I wrote my book, “The Mandolin Case” for many reasons, but one was to show the power of music to heal. I hope you’ll check it out on Amazon.

    All the best, and keep on playing and writing.

    Dr. B

    • Wow Dr. Tom, thanks for stopping in! I am definitely checking out your book. I remember researching music and its healing powers when I was in high school and college. It has always been a form of therapy for me, a way to express sadness and joy and connect with those around me.

      I played mandolin for a time when I was younger…have been meaning to pick it up again, I so love its sound.

  2. Hey Jessie, another ausome post…I’ve missed your blog as my computer has been sick for over a month..uff’da. I hope all is well w/ you and your fam..hope spring comes soon. Nicole

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