Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Yamaha G-5 Practice Amp
This little practice amp was not only pretty cool looking, it was a decent sounding little amp to goof around with. Mostly though, the thought of this amp reminds me of an entire era of my life. Seriously? Yep (warning: this story is going to go way off track, but comes back around at the end).
When I was still in the first few years of learning to play guitar I ended up as best friends with three guys who became lifelong friends and great influences on my musical and even personal taste. I had already screwed up college once and was somewhat in the middle of screwing it up a second time at a different school in a very small Oklahoma town. I grew up in Tulsa, OK, which is not the redneck shithole you might imagine it to be. It's actually a pretty cool city with a long musical heritage and an amazing live music scene. Heck, even this year's American Idol winner was straight out of the Tulsa bar scene, though they always mention his hometown as somewhere in Missouri. Now, American Idol aside (please), the music scene in Oklahoma has it's roots in blues, R&B, honky tonk, swing, and blue-eyed soul. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys went out over the radio to the world from Cain's Ballroom in good ol' Tulsa. You've got Leon Russell and J.J. Cale and David Gates (Bread) and The Gap Band (who I saw open up for Sly and the Family Stone when I was a kid) and Lowell Fulson and Jamie Oldaker (drummer for Clapton) and one of the best drummers ever, Jim Keltner. There are The Tractors and Elvin Bishop and, uh, Hanson, and that guy from American Idol. Yeah, I mentioned him already. Oh yeah, Ronnie Dunn from Brooks and Dunn was a local Tulsa guy I saw more than once before he was famous.
Some of the best musicians from Tulsa are guys you've never heard of but are freakin' legends around that part of the world. Guys like Steve Pryor (at one point the heir apparent to Stevie Ray Vaughn before drugs sidetracked him) and Jim Sweney and Bill Davis and most of Bob Seger's band and Dwight Twilley and Gus Hardin and the list goes on. There is a guitarist named Tommy Crook who has never left Tulsa, but some people (including guys like Chet Atkins and Merle Haggard) say that he might possibly be the best guitarist on the planet.
So where were we? Oh yeah, I moved to Enid, OK.
Enid sucked. No hot chicks, two decent bars, and a bunch of rednecks who would be more than happy to beat the crap out of the guy with the earring if he bumps into them wrong. My three buddies and I hung out together so much, enjoying music and watching Saturday Night Live and having our own cookouts, that much of the town thought we were gay...not that there's anything wrong with that...we just weren't. One of the guys, who was only 19 at the time, was/is a world class drummer who now tours the world with famous jazz acts like David Benoit and The Rippingtons and Keiko Matsui and has played with just about every big named jazz guy you can mention. Another of the crew was an amazing guitarist who could play anything by Larry Carlton or Robben Ford or (name a famous guy) with ease. I always thought he'd make the move to the west coast where he could easily be a session guy, but ended up staying in Oklahoma. The third guy, the ringleader, owned the house we all hung out at and worked with his dad, traveling to Japan on a regular basis. He was the worldly one of the group, keeping our eyes open to the possibilities beyond Enid, OK. He drove a fuckin' Delorean for christ's sake. He was our "Dude." His house was very hip and cool and well designed in a very clean, asian aesthetic and he even did some modeling in Japan. Geez, I wonder why anyone thought we were gay?
Now, although I coveted the Delorean, what I really loved was the Dude's guitar/amp collection. Much like the man itself, it was lean and high quality and to the point. He had a beautiful Gibson 335, a late '70s Telecaster, a la Springsteen, that he had refinished himself perfectly, a Mesa Boogie Mark I with the natural wood cabinet and rattan looking grill (think early Santana), and a Washburn western cutaway electric-acoustic that was one of the first factory acoustics I ever saw that actually worked well for on-stage. Then, sitting over in the corner, next to the Japanese-import Sade records, was a little Yamaha G-5 practice amp that looked much like a miniature version of the Mesa Boogie...see, I told you I'd get back to the amp in question. There was always something about this little amp that seemed cool to me and I always wanted one.
One day, many years later when both of us were living in the San Diego area, the Dude got a job with MTV in Japan. He was moving overseas and didn't have room for all of his stuff and he wanted me to have the little Yamaha amp and a Strat-style guitar that he had received as a gift from the Eddie Van Halen of Japan (I don't know his name now, but evidently he was big in Japan). He also gave me the Washburn guitar and basically said to just hang on to them, but do what I wanted. They were mine. I eventually sold the Washburn to a guy I know and hung onto the Strat-ish guitar and gave back to him years later. As for the Yamaha amp...I kept it for a long time. I almost never plugged it in, but it sat around my house for years, a reminder of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and Sade and '80s SNL and throwing knives in the backyard and my old RX-7 and a million other things.
And then one day I just gave it away to another young guitar player...the son of a friend who was really into music and guitar and really needed to be able to plug in. I'm sure there is no way he could know the history of that amp, but maybe, as his very first amp, it will mean something to him in other ways that will stay with him the way they did for me.