Back to lofts holding the promise of dusty adventure. My father’s attic was a place of true self discovery, because in it was his old boarding school chest, and in the chest was a collection of old 45s from the late 50s and early 60s. The ones from the late 50s were better: records like “Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry, “Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson, “Cut across Shorty” by Eddie Cochran, “Chicago Calling” by Cyril Davies and “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles. These songs thrilled and inspired me, bringing with them visions of big American Cadillacs, making out at the drive-in, teenage rebellion, highways that stretched into forever, and old black men sitting on porches in the Mississippi Delta drinking bourbon, playing bottleneck blues and waiting for their dog to die.
The 1960s, on the other hand, were a dud until the Beatles came along, because the original rock and rollers were no longer around. Elvis was in the army, Chuck Berry was in prison for smuggling a minor across the state line, Jerry Lee Lewis had been shamed and banned from the UK for marrying his thirteen year old cousin, Little Richard had become a priest, Ike Turner was too busy beating up Tina, and so on. This just left the likes of Pat Boone, Frank Ifield, Helen Shapiro and Cliff Richard. And they were fucking awful.
These records captivated and thrilled me. It wasn’t just the music; it was the discs themselves; all black and shiny and in colourful paper sleeves (I later found out that they were so shiny because every couple of years my dad would bring them out and wash them with Fairy liquid). It was the smell of them; it was the feel of them. It was the old Bush record player with the lift up lid and the mono speaker at the front. It was the deep knowing that these things were of priceless and infinite value. It was realising that the kids at school knew nothing about such things; that they were probably listening to Whitney Houston, Duran Duran or Five Star. It was the fact that these American rock and roll records were folk stories, fairy tales, and that the blues is the music of the soul. It was an awesome and life-defining time, and was the beginning of my endless love affair with rhythm and blues.
But there had to be more. It wasn’t enough just to listen to this fantastic music; I wanted to play it. I wanted to be like the men on the records, I wanted to be like Chuck Berry (without the jail-sentences and predilections for under-age girls).
I pestered my family to buy me a guitar, and finally my father came through with the goods. I remember it still; it was a Kay nylon strung “Spanish-style” guitar. It was the kind of guitar package you can still buy in Argos today for about fifty quid; plywood, suit beginner, complete with box, strap, book and plectrum. Of course, I loved it.
I spent the next three years in that attic, slowing down the records to 16 rpm so I could copy the guitar riffs on them, and little by little I learned. With a few friends at school I formed a band, called the Howlin’ Tomcats, and thus began my musical career. I was to play in bands for the next twenty years or so, until my fondness for mood altering substances got the better of me, and I was reduced to busking in doorways for a can of super T and a blow job off some toothless old crone. Those were the days.
Recently I’ve stopped playing the guitar. It no longer does anything for me. But I am still a fan of a great record, especially an old vinyl 45 wrapped in a paper sleeve. As the Buddha himself said: “You can’t get high sniffing a CD.”