My Story | The Good, the Bad and the 80’s.
The Short Version | Just the Cliff Notes
Let’s start with my first life…I attended Bowling Green University and graduated in 1982 with a degree in business administration and accounting. I was actually a certified public accountant before I became a music teacher. I was extremely unhappy as an accountant and left that life behind to pursue music. Without any hesitation I can say that this was one of the best decisions I ever made. So enough with accounting, let’s talk music.
I’ve been playing guitar for 37 years. While at Bowling Green, I took many, many music courses. I later studied music at the Guitar Institute of Technology – Musician’s Institute in 1986 & 1987. After Musician’s Institute I began playing in bands on the club circuit here in Los Angeles and later throughout the country as a way to make money. There wasn’t a lot of money to be made as a struggling musician so I began giving guitar lessons to fund my weekly top ramen rations! In those early days my plan was to teach guitar until I got my break and hit the big time. In hindsight I realize that my big break was right in front of me as a guitar teacher. This is my dream job and every day I consider myself fortunate to be doing what I do. And honestly I feel like an extremely lucky guitar player who gets to teach others his passion…and gets paid for it!
I’ve now been teaching guitar and bass for 28 years and look forward to doing it for another 28! I teach all music styles including Classic Rock, Blues, Country, Jazz, Folk, Alt Rock, Death Metal, Hair Metal, Reggae and even cartoon soundtracks. I accept students as young as six years old. Experience has taught me that most children need to be at least six years old in order to focus on the material and to consistently practice guitar.
I am an approved vendor and teacher for two charter schools – Albert Einstein Academy and Gorman Learning Center.
The Whole Story | The Extended Version
Settle in, I’m about to tell you a story – the story of my journey from rural Pettisville, Ohio to the Sunset Strip to the relative calm of Valencia, California and how I came to be a music teacher.
It all begins in rural Pettisville, Ohio. I was born there in 1960 and had a pretty awesome childhood. As a child I took piano lessons for three years. I learned many valuable skills like reading music, harmony, phrasing and left and right hand independence. I learned to play many classical pieces but it would be many years before this style was something that I could appreciate. So in sixth grade I changed instruments and switched to the drums. I would have preferred to learn the guitar but it was not an instrument offered in the school band. I chose to learn the drums since it was the instrument that would get me closest to rock ‘n roll. I took drum lessons and played in the school band but it was not my musical passion or destiny. At age 18 I switched instruments once again and took up the guitar. Finally, I felt like I was home! I started playing guitar after hearing Aerosmith’s ‘Mama Kin’ and deciding I NEEDED to be able to play that song. Honestly, I just wanted to learn that one song and be done. Well, after learning ‘Mama Kin’ I wanted to learn another song and then another and then another. And even after all my years of playing guitar, I’m still not “done”.
I graduated from Pettisville High School in 1978 and went on to attend Bowling Green State University from which I graduated in 1982 with a degree in Business Administration and Accounting. Even though I was studying to eventually become a certified public accountant, Bowling Green was a foreshadowing of things to come. While there I took many music degree classes. There was a test that freshmen were allowed to take to see if they could get credit for classes and not have to actually take the class. I took the test and tested out of one years worth of electives. I used that year to take nothing but music classes once I had finished my business degree. It was pure bliss.
While attending Bowling Green, I married my high school sweetheart and we’re still together after all these years. She continues to put up with me and all my guitars to this day. I’m a very lucky man.
My first job out of college was at Price Waterhouse. At that time they were one of the “big eight” accounting firms in the world. While working for Price Waterhouse I passed the CPA exam. Shortly after, I left Price Waterhouse and went to work as an accountant for a real estate company. Something was missing though. While I had a secure income and lots of potential for growth, I was extremely unhappy. I often found myself daydreaming about music and guitar during my daily accounting grind. In the little spare time I had, I continued to take guitar lessons and play in local bands.
After a few years of feeling like a slave to the grind I decided to give music a try. In 1986 to 1987 I attended the Guitar Institute of Technology – Musicians Institute. What an amazing experience! I was surrounded by like-minded people who all shared my passion. And I got to play and learn guitar all day, every day! I immersed myself in guitar for 10 hours a day. It was awesome! Every day brought new challenges and more knowledge of the instrument I loved. My perception of guitar was revolutionized as I was exposed to incredible musicians from all over the world and to music genres I didn’t even know existed. I never woke up excited to crunch numbers as a CPA but guitar was exactly the opposite. My time at Musician’s Institute solidified my desire to find a way to make a living doing music.
After Musicians Institute, I began teaching as a way of making an income while I chased my dreams of stardom playing in local bands. Teaching was supposed to be a temporary gig until the world recognized my greatness. At that time I thought of myself as a rock star waiting to be discovered.
The longer I taught, the more positive feedback I received from my students and from my students’ parents. I had also received a lot of positive press and excellent feedback from people after live performances with my bands but I wasn’t making any money. Any money we would get for playing gigs was less than the cost of renting rehearsal space, rental trucks to get the gear to gigs, buying gear etc. In my 30’s I became very disillusioned with people telling me what a great guitar player I was after a gig. I’d watch them drive home in their nice new cars to their nice houses while I drove my old, beat up ’66 Ford Fairlane with my Marshall stacks crammed in the back seat to my mobile home. Sure I proudly owned my mobile home, but it wasn’t exactly where I had envisioned my guitar playing would take me. I also have a strong need to pull my own weight. I was never one of those musicians who could live off his girlfriend. I wasn’t making enough money to pay the bills and I wasn’t going to let Judy shoulder the financial burden of my rock star dreams. I had begun to realize that I might not be able to sell out Dodger Stadium anytime soon. Then grunge took over the music scene and the music I was making at the time vanished almost overnight. I was up the creek without a paddle. At that point I stopped playing in bands and started focusing on teaching which continues to this day.
Becoming a full-fledged guitar teacher just sort of snuck up on me. After several years of teaching, I had a steady roster of students. One night after wrapping up my last lesson of the day, Judy and I took our dog for a walk around the neighborhood. We talked about life and our future. It was during that conversation that I had an epiphany…I realized “OMG, I am a guitar teacher!?*!”. It just sort of happened while I was looking in another direction. I was so determined to make a living playing guitar but I had my eyes on tour buses and stadiums full of adoring fans. I never really thought about becoming a guitar teacher. And now, here I am with the greatest gig in the world!
I became a private guitar teacher because the teachers who taught me the most were private guitar teachers who worked for themselves out of their home. I also learned that the best instructors weren’t going to be found at the local big box music store. So I built a teaching studio at my house and haven’t looked back since.
The Starving Musician | My Band Days
Starting a band is hard. Finding the right group of musicians is very difficult. Getting a gig is really tough. Keeping the band together is a constant challenge. So why do we do it? Because there’s nothing like the experience of playing your music on stage! And after many failed attempts at bands and a lot of jamming with friends, I FINALLY got to play a club on the LA scene! To a boy from farming country in rural Ohio, this was a huge deal. The band was “Outta Line” and we played our first show at the Country Club in Reseda, CA back in 1985. The band consisted of two guitarists, a singer, a bass player, and a drummer. The second song of our set list began with me playing a guitar intro and then the band was to join in. I was so nervous that I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to play. My hands were moving and making the most hideous of sounds! The other guitar player was looking over at me from stage left like I was some kind of idiot. Luckily the fog in my brain soon passed and we kicked into the song as planned. My guitar teacher at the time was sitting in the front row, which meant a lot to me. A very memorable night. After a number of gigs with Outta Line, the band broke up and that was when I decided to attend Musicians Institute. I knew there was so much more about music and the guitar that I wanted to learn.
After musicians Institute, in 1987, I joined a band called “Ampage”. We played clubs in Los Angeles and Orange County including The Roxy, the Whiskey A Go Go, the Troubadour, Gazzari’s, FM Station and many too numerous to remember. We recorded an album titled “Champagne and Caviar” that was released and distributed worldwide on the small independent record label called Ironworks Records. We toured various clubs around the Southwest to promote the album (San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, etc). We received international press in music magazines. Around this time I was also featured in Guitar World Magazine’s column called Hometown Heroes. With the first royalty check I received from sales of the album, I bought my wife the limousine she always wanted and I bought me a Porsche. Sure they were “Matchboxes”, but the idea of receiving a check for making music and buying something with it was a lot of fun. We still keep them around as mementos of a really fun time. Ampage also had a publishing deal with Broadcast Music Inc. from New York City. Our performance royalties were collected through BMI.
During my time with Ampage I entered LA’s hottest guitarist” competition which was sponsored by Kramer guitars. I won the preliminary rounds and placed first runner-up in the finals. One of the contestants was not able to make the finals because he was touring with his band in Japan. I turned to my fellow competitors and stated “The competition is over. He has already won. He’s doing what we all wish we were doing.”
As the lead guitarist in Ampage I obtained endorsements from Seymour Duncan pickups, Dean Markley strings, and Groove Tubes vacuum tubes. They would send me free pickups, free strings and discounted tubes simply by making a phone call. I am very thankful to these companies for helping me during the lean years. These days I gladly pay for gear that I truly believe in. See the links page for all the gear that I use and strongly recommend.
Next I played in a band called Foolish Pleasure. We headlined clubs throughout LA and Orange County including The Roxy Theater, The Whisky A Go Go, Troubadour, Key Club and many, many smaller venues. We were chosen as KNAC radio’s “local band of the month” in December of 1989. We recorded 12 songs in the three years we were together.
I played in the band Ten Till Ten for three years as well. We also recorded and shopped multiple demos for major labels. We played all the same clubs throughout LA and Orange County and received radio airplay on KNAC. Our demos were produced by Pat Regan who also worked with bands like Shotgun Messiah, Deep Purple and Kiss.
These days I rarely perform live but I have never stopped practicing. Each day before I teach, I spend as much time as possible playing my guitar and practicing so that I can become a better guitar player, musician and teacher. Practicing is a morning ritual and prepares me for teaching by reminding me of the need for patience with myself and with my students. Learning is a journey that cannot be rushed.
Studio and Session Work
I also do studio work for singer/songwriters, bands and for television. In some cases a singer/songwriter will have a simple campfire type guitar arrangement and I will transform the original idea into a contemporary guitar arrangement and record the parts. In another studio session, a delicate situation arises where the guitar player in a band cannot perform the guitar parts at the high level of quality that is required in the studio, although their playing ability is adequate for live performance. In these situations, I meet the band or its producer, but I have never met the guitar player. Let’s hope it stays that way! ☺ TV has its unique challenges. In one case, I wrote three versions of the same song. The first version was complex and was recorded by me in the studio. The idea was that the actress would perform to my soundtrack but her fingers would not be visible on the guitar during the scene. The second version of the song was simplified so that the actress with intermediate guitar skills could play the song to a backing track and look credible. The third version was greatly simplified so the actress could sing and perform the guitar parts live during the taping of the TV show. Studio work requires the same skill as teaching in that the ability to be flexible is essential to success.
Concerts that Changed My Life
In 1978 I saw Van Halen in concert and my life changed forever. Seeing Eddie play the way he did completely rocked my world and changed my perception of what could be done with a guitar! He took the guitar to places I’d never imagined. His performance lit a fire in me that’s still burning bright today!
As if witnessing Eddie Van Halen play live wasn’t enough to hook me, I was also fortunate to see the late, GREAT Randy Rhodes play live with Ozzy. My eyes did not leave Randy the entire night! His classical influenced rock guitar playing opened my ears to new possibilities. His playing style and showmanship are something I’ve never forgotten. The man may be gone but his legend lives on in the memories of those that saw him play. I am lucky to say that I am one of those people.
A little later, my wife received 2 free tickets to the LA Philharmonic to see violinist Itzak Perlman so I happily agreed to accompany her. At that time I had no interest in classical music. I was attending for the wine and cheese and for a nice night with my wife under the stars. Once again my concept of musical possibilities was blown wide open. As he played Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, I could hear how amazing those licks would sound on the electric guitar. I went home and started on a three-month journey and memorized the first seven minutes of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. I still use it as my daily warm up.