Thursday, March 09, 2006

Music Soothes the Savage Beast

The Continentals (1962)

My brother Alfred, his son Jessiah, and I played a gig at a high school charity 'coffee house' again last night. My nephew is who gets us in the door. Without him, fossils like my brother and I would never be invited to play in a high school venue.

Jessie introduced us to the audience. My brother expressed mock surprise that his son hadn't called his father and uncle ' geezers.' I informed the audience that Jessie had to get us back to the old age home by 10:00pm. Thankfully, that got a laugh, and no-one took the remark seriously. After all, I can remember back when I myself thought that anyone sixty years old was positively ancient.

I have always enjoyed music. I loved to hear my mother play guitar and sing when I was a child. Our family sang together often. My brother and I would sing in the car on family trips, reveling in interesting harmonies and catchy tunes.

In grade 10 or 11, a friend of mine coaxed me to start a band with him. He thought it would be cool to play in our annual high school variety show. The problem was that I wasn't a good enough musician to lead a band at the time. My friend's drumming experience consisted of some time spent as a drummer in our school's a marching band. Another friend was a much better musician than either of us, having taken piano lessons for several years and being quite a proficient pianist. I had taught myself to play guitar and played 'by ear,' just as I still do today.

With the three of us, we had the core of a band, but no 'star' to carry a show. No problem. One of my friends found an older student, from another high school, who knew a few more guitar chords than I did and who had actually played at school dances with his own band. We also found a more proficient drummer and our guy played bongos for the performance. We called our band the 'Continentals.' Remember, this was back in 1961 or so, before bands began to think up more imaginative names, like The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

We performed at the St. Catharines Collegiate Institute's variety show, were a hit, thanks largely to 'Clem,' the guitarist we had borrowed from another school. We were all hooked. We liked the music and the attention. Our band continued on, minus Clem and the borrowed drummer, over a period of several years and we all had a lot of fun. For a time, in 1962, I operated a teenage nightclub, the Club Unicorn in St. Catharines, Ontario, and the Continentals were on stage there most weekends.

With some other high school friends, I also had a folk music group we called 'The New Crispy Critters,' a takeoff on The New Christy Minstrels, who were popular at the time. We performed a few times as a complete group until we all drifted apart as our high school years drew to a close.

Music is a way to escape. Often, when I get home, the first thing I do is pick up one of my guitars and bend a few notes. It relaxes me and I enjoy the creative aspect as well. The songs we play are diverse. We borrow from folk, rock, blues, jazz and even classical music. I always like to say that we don't 'play' music. I prefer to think that we 'play with' the music. There is no fun in it for me to try and mimic faithfully how someone else has performed a piece of music. I prefer to take the framework of the music and then construct a completely new interpretation, born out of improvisation, until a final, satisfying musical structure is obtained.

We're not great musicians. We do, however, have a great time.

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