When I was a kid in the Ontario Public School System, Ottawa Public Schools to be exact, we were offered piano lessons in Grade 1 and beyond. Strangely, my older brothers, who loved listening to music, told me that only sissies took piano lessons, so I didn't. My friend, Bruce, did and went on to play very well. I really wish I could go back and relive and make a better decision at 6 years old on the non-piano-lesson phase of my life!
He supposedly said, “Not enough for it to hurt my playing.”
I’ve heard this same response from many other highly talented guitar players.
This is about Gordon Lightfoot.
I’ll get to him in a minute….please bear with me…
I think there was a time when all guitar players that had hit records played “by ear.”
This seems to be changing.
When I was in college, I was a Billboard college correspondent.
I got 3 albums for every article that I submitted.
The first 9 albums that I got were Broadway Original cast albums.
I’d grown up on them.
My mother had a good many of them, and she played them constantly.
So, when I got to college … I missed hearing them.
About this time … Sinatra announced that he was getting out of the music business.
So, he made this album entitled “A Man and His Music.”
I figured that I better get this one and I did.
It was my first Sinatra album.
Also, about this time there was an article in Billboard about a new kid who played guitar at Sinatra’s recordings.
The article said that all this kid had to do was hear the orchestra go through the song one time and after that, he could play the song on his guitar “by ear.”
The kid’s name was Glen Campbell.
This idea of being able to play a musical instrument “by ear” has intrigued me forever.
Today…. You can Google ANYTHING and find out what you need to know.
So, I Googled “By ear.”
Below is what I got.
I watched about three minutes of these videos.
None of it made ANY sense to me.
For two reasons.
First, I did not get the music gene.
I got enough of it to enable me to play some of the major chords on a guitar….
But, that was all.
In connection with this gene thing… my brain can’t do anything that’s like music.
This includes any form of higher math.
I know that these two things are tied together.
I know …. From 78 years of experience ……
No matter how hard I try …. there are certain things my brain will not let me do.
This is the craziest thing about this.
It’s never bothered me.
For me … it’s always just been one of those things.
I’ve always managed to find something else to do that I’m not nearly as mediocre at.
Mediocrity has been what my entire life has been about.
There are people who are “jacks of all trades…and masters of none ….”
This is what I am…. Except I’m so far from being a master … it’s pathetic.
But, it’s never bothered me.
I’m like that EVEREADY RABBIT… I’m perfectly happy to keep going very badly all the time.
There’s been one exception to this.
My brain works great for law.
I didn’t know this until I got into law school.
For me … law is a walk in the park.
Unfortunately, when I got out of law school and became a lawyer….
What I found was …. in real life…they don’t go by the book.
So, having a brain that was great for law was useless for me.
So, I had to find something else to do with my life.
It turned out to be business.
But, I have always been mystified by music theory.
I wish to heck I could get it.
All of which brings up Gordon Lightfoot.
I watched the documentary on him last night.
Gordon was a highly educated….trained musician.
I never knew this before.
Before he did what eventually made him famous….
He was an experienced musician in all kinds of music.
The same was true of his singing.
It all began for him when his mother made him take piano lessons.
Here’s what Wikipedia says about his musical training. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Lightfoot
As a youth, he sang in the choir of Orillia's St. Paul's United Church under the direction of choirmaster Ray Williams. According to Lightfoot, Williams taught him how to sing with emotion and how to have confidence in his voice. Lightfoot was a boy soprano; he appeared periodically on local Orillia radio, performed in local operettas and oratorios, and gained exposure through various Kiwanis music festivals. At the age of twelve, after winning a competition for boys whose voices had not yet changed, he made his first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto, a venue he would ultimately play over 170 more times throughout his career.
As a teenager, Lightfoot learned piano and taught himself to play drums and percussion. He held concerts in Muskoka, a resort area north of Orillia, singing "for a couple of beers".
Lightfoot performed extensively throughout high school, Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute (ODCVI), and taught himself to play folk guitar. A formative influence on his music at this time was 19th-century master American songwriter Stephen Foster. He was also an accomplished high school track-and-field competitor and set school records for shot-put and pole vault, as well as playing the starting nose tackle on his school's Georgian Bay championship-winning football team. His athletic and scholarly aptitude earned him scholarships at McGill University's Schulich School of Music and the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music.
Lightfoot moved to Los Angeles in 1958 to study jazz composition and orchestration for two years at Westlake College of Music.
BTW, It says that Chet produced an album for Gordon in Nashville before he had any hits.
I liked all of Gordon’s hits.
But, he wrote tons of songs that weren’t hits that I want to hear.
I don’t know when I’ll ever get around to it.
It’s on my to-do list.
The guy was really phenomenal for a trained musician.
Acting interests me as much as music.
There are actors that are very successful that “play by ear” that never took an acting class.
Then, there are these people…