Expressway: The Beatles still inspire this new-ish rocker
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I was 11 years old and in the sixth grade at PS 177 in Queens when the Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
That was Feb. 9, 1964, 50 years ago tomorrow. After the show, all everyone in school had on their minds was this new group. As sixth-graders, we were the oldest students in the school, the cool ones, the only ones who understood what was happening. We knew music had changed forever and we wanted to be a part of it.
Some kids ran out and bought Beatle suits, the ones without lapels. They proclaimed that they would be just like The Beatles, even though they didn't play any instruments. Just looking cool was enough. Others, including me, cried out, "Let's start a band!" We could get on "Ed Sullivan," too.
Four friends, including my cousin and I, formed a group. I had been taking accordion lessons, so I was designated as keyboardist. The British Invasion was in full swing and quite a few groups, including The Animals, had organs. My problem was that it was very uncool to lug an accordion to parties. It just didn't fit in. I pleaded with my dad for a Farfisa organ. It was a small portable keyboard that looked just as cool as an electric guitar.
I dragged my dad to a big Sam Ash music store in Brooklyn to look at organs. When he saw that a Farfisa cost about $500, he asked if I had "rocks in my head." And he asked, why couldn't I play guitar? Those had to be cheaper.
A few years went by and in the fall of 1968, New York City teachers went on strike for 36 days. That left a lot of free time for a 16-year-old. I took my sister's acoustic guitar, and, with the help of books and my musical knowledge, I learned all the chords. I started taking the guitar everywhere. Friends and strangers taught me new things.
This was the time of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and other great guitarists. The trouble was, now I needed an electric guitar, I couldn't play in a band with an acoustic guitar. That kind of guitar was only good at parties or campfires. I needed to be cool. I needed an electric guitar.
Again I dragged my dad to Sam Ash, and this time I was lucky. He was in a good mood and, instead of buying some cheap knockoff, he spent $650 on a Gibson, a high-end electric guitar. I already had an amplifier from my accordion. Boy, I was so happy and proud that I thought I would bust.
He turned to me and said, "Now you just better play it and not store it under your bed." I said, "Don't worry, Dad, I'll make enough money with it to pay you back in no time."
I never made any money with the guitar to repay Dad, even though I tried. There were a lot of bands and mine couldn't break through to get gigs at church dances and other local events.
Decades later, as a family man living in Melville, I still dabbled with the guitar but got bored of playing by myself. On the Internet, I found Center Stage Music, a rehearsal studio in North Bellmore that holds jam sessions. No audience, just musicians having fun.
I instantly felt right at home there and have gone every Wednesday for a year. I only wish I'd learned about it sooner. Now I'm in a band that plays at car shows, clubs and benefits. Here I am at 61 doing what I wanted to do at 16.
The way I look at it, if those old British rockers still enjoy it, so can I.
Reader Jeffrey Rosenberg lives in Melville.