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!