my old friend, Otis

If there was a better way to go then it would find me

I can’t help it, the road just rolls out behind me

Be kind to me, or treat me mean

I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine.

Fiona Apple

Otis was not originally called Otis. Otis needed a new name. Well, that, and a fresh set of nylons, but more importantly, a new identity.

Dammit, I miss him when he is tucked away. Every time I decide to pick him up to start playing again, it feels like embracing an old friend. An extra limb that carried me through half of what was a mangled childhood. In all my years of playing, I have yet to find a classical that sounds quite like him.

I honestly hate talking about music. Some things you experience in life are just too involved or intense to be able to put into words for another to comprehend and in trying to do so, the opinion floodgates open and by then you have lost your motivation from disheartenment. Music and I have always had such a personal connection. I do not play to be heard, I play to feel free.

Otis was passed on to my brother and I by a church family getting rid of extra guitars when I was in my preteens. The only guitars we had been introduced to prior were my father’s classical and a special, eighties built Les Paul; a deep, blood, red wine color with special machine heads that had tiny tuning handles, which folded inside of each knob. The neck was perfectly crafted with a fretboard of stunning mother of pearl inlays. To this day I have still seen nothing like it. I loved that thing and hated it all at the same time. It was the guitar of my dreams and could lull me to sleep when played. Unfortunately, after I convinced the babysitter that we were “totally allowed to play with it” that one time, the days long welts left behind from the top of my back, down to the backs of my legs from the leather belt lashing made me feel differently about its allure. I had accidentally chipped some paint on the damn thing and the damage was very soon discovered by its meticulous owner. After that it just felt like a toxic love affair. The thing was fucking haunted.

So close your eyes,

And close your mouth.

And do this all in time to the music

That screams like a child in the back of your mind

In a clown’s saloon...

Ryan Adams

Receiving Otis as a kid felt like I had been handed a brick of gold. The moment I figured things out and conquered tuning, it just all rushed in. I had grown up on a lot of sixties and seventies classics from my parents’ collection before finding my own music journey. I wanted the slow hand of David Gilmour mixed with the complex finger styling of Steve Howe, playing Mood For a Day with perfect ease. I spent hours on end with calloused fingers and sore wrists, giving myself full blown tendonitis by high school from overplaying. For a spell, I was the kid with the record player and a stack of Pink Floyd, tucked in a quiet, dirty basement, resetting the needle over and over until I had the timing just right. Music and I were already one, but now that I could play it, the game completely changed.

I will sit right down

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision.

David Bowie

Once my father caught on that we liked something that he already had a vested interest in, we finally found a sliver of common ground and by my late teens, the guitar count in our home was in the teens itself, with an amp count not far behind. A person could not walk into our house without noticing that it was full of guitarists.

My baby brother had met the strings not long after I did and blew us all away, learning songs by ear, even learning Hendrix was straight-forward for his fingers. Soon, after being gifted his metallic, mint green Stratocaster (affectionately named Lucy), a guitar strap only left his neck for showers. The magic music man of the family was born, and he has never put a guitar down since, all because of Otis.

Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight,

Carry that weight a long time

The Beatles

There are a lot of reasons I walk away and come back. Sometimes it hurts too much. The fond memories I have, outlined by my entrancement with the strings still sit like fine china on an old, rickety shelf. I am not ready to feel them yet. However, sometimes I just need him again, during rough times of emotional stress or just because seeing an old friend can sometimes bring you back to a happier state of mind. Who knows…

Brother and I, forever ago. The younger us’s, trying to get Eddie V. Halen to join our band by mastering a most triumphant video.

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