It's Never Too Late
About Vito Simplicio
My Musical History
I grew up in Southern California where I started playing the guitar in 7th grade. Actually, it was my father that got me started. He always wanted a musical family to accompany him on his saxophone. My older brother played the drums while my older sister played an accordion but soon gave it up. So when it was time to start me on a musical instrument, my dad had my sister’s old accordion for me to play. This was a bad idea because I was small for my age. It was a full size accordion that weighed almost as much as I did. You could barely see me behind this huge squeeze box. I quickly became discouraged so my father told me that I could consider another instrument but it had to be something that would accompany him on the saxophone. After a little bit of thought, he suggested the guitar. My eyes lit up with excitement and who wouldn’t? Who did I know that played guitar in the late 50’s? None other than Elvis Presley! Hmmm, let me think, would Elvis look as cool playing the accordion? I don’t think so.
I started taking traditional guitar lessons learning how to read music. This was too tedious for me and so again, I became discouraged and wanted to quit. I felt badly about this but my father found the solution. I have to give my father credit because he was normally a very impatient man but he hung in there with me by hooking me up with a guitar teacher who had recently moved from Oklahoma that taught me how to play chords. In no time I was strumming the guitar to country western tunes and accompanying my father on the sax with my brother on the drums.
In those days we owned an Italian restaurant in Redondo Beach, California so we were the entertainment playing traditional Italian tunes and old American standards. We were an entertaining trio with my father waltzing up to each table and serenading families while they ate pizza and spaghetti. My father was from Italy and his personal hygiene was not the best so it was embarrassing when he serenaded customers by sticking his soprano sax in their faces blowing his bad breath all over them and their meals. The customers didn’t seem to care because he was the quintessential showman that always delighted his audiences. I too had entertainment value. Although I was 12 years old, I looked like I was only about 8 years old so our customers were intrigued by the little “prodigy” guitar player.
My father later wanted to expand the entertainment at our restaurant so he had a young man audition one afternoon. He had just gotten off the bus arriving from Tennessee. He was the splitting image of the actor that played the lead in Bye, Bye Birdie, an honest to god Conrad Birdie/Elvis Presley look alike. He hooked up his guitar into my amp, took the classic rock stance with legs far apart, and started rock’n, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready now go cat go!” My father hired him on the spot and he became the main attraction on weekend nights. I asked him one night why he decided to come out west and he replied that he wanted to become famous like Elvis Presley. I became part of his act as he sang swerving his hips and doing the rubber legs while I sat on the edge of a nearby chair playing rhythm guitar. I was now a rock’n roller!
I eventually wanted to expand to playing lead guitar. At the time, the major influences were bands like The Ventures, The Fireballs, and Duane Eddie. A huge local influence in my lead guitar playing at that time was a nice guy name Leonard who came to California from Utah to stay with my best friend, Henry Medina, and his family. Leonard helped catapult my lead guitar playing and I am deeply indebted to him. Sadly, he died young and I never had the opportunity to share my gratitude with him.
I entered high school in 1960 when surf music was beginning to become popular. One of the local bands that had emerged was the Revelairs. Their lead guitar player came down with mononucleosis so they needed a temporary replacement and I was asked to audition. I was better than their regular lead guitar player and was given serious consideration but there was one big issue to overcome. I looked like a hodad.
In Southern California during the 60’s, teenagers were primarily divided by two types of kids, surfers and hodads. Basically a hodad was somebody that didn’t surf and had that “John Travolta, Grease” look. They considered me a hodad which gave the group considerable concern that I would hurt their surfer image. Despite that I didn’t have the right surfer look, my playing prevailed and that started my early professional career at the age of 15 as the lead guitar player in the Revelairs. We played all the major Southern California dance venues, released a single, and eventually recorded eight of our instrumental songs. Thirty years later all of our songs were featured, along with other surf bands, on a CD titled, Rare Surf II. Billboard magazine gave it great review specifically showering praise on the Revelairs. A later European edition came out titled, American Surf Treasures Vol II that featured us on the CD cover.
The band went their separate ways in 1965. I joined the army a year later and lost my interest in playing for many years. In 1978 my ex-wife and I decided to take a year off to travel around the US mostly camping. I knew that I would have a lot of free time so I decided to take a few classical guitar lessons so that I could self-teach myself how to play in that style while travel around the US. I spent many hours around campfires practicing on the classical guitar. The main objective of our travels was to find a new place to live away from big city living. Six months into the trip we decided that Sandpoint, Idaho would become our new home. Unfortunately, I again abandoned playing the guitar for many years. They say in life that you don’t usually regret the things you did but it’s the thing that you didn’t do that are most regretful. This certainly was the case with me my on-and-off commitment to the guitar.
It wasn’t until I was in my 50’s that I once again became inspired to play my classical guitar. What was different this time around was that I abandoned the idea of just playing classical music and started pursuing other fingerpicking styles but always on my classical guitar. I want to make a point that I do not consider myself a classical guitarist but instead, I am simply a fingerpicking soloist that plays music on a classical guitar. Also, to my surprise, it was at this time that I started composing music for the first time. It was not my intent to do so. Creativity just oozed out of me effortlessly.
I feel a great sense of accomplishment to share my music with you at 74 years old and, lastly, I hope it inspires you to follow your aspirational dreams because, folks, “It’s Never Too Late!”
March 9, 2021