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By Kevin Hoctor
While waiting at the bus stop when I was in first grade, I found a slightly chipped 45 vinyl record. It was “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis. The chip kept me from hearing the first few bars of the song, but it didn’t stop me from playing it over and over and over again. I could feel the raw passion in his music.
Around the same time, while stranded at my cousin’s farm house, I heard another song that I couldn’t get out of my head. The dirty guitar sound and the screaming vocals invaded my preadolescent brain, but it would be years before I realized that the song was “Revolution” by The Beatles. It was a volatile time for the U.S., with the Vietnam War and the Cold War constantly in the news, and I remember music mentally transporting me to a safer place and lyrics that let me dream and visualize a better world. I wanted to be that person who inspired dreams and a brighter future.
I wanted what I did in life to mean something.
When I was 14, I knew music was going to be my future and the way I changed the world, so I convinced my parents to let me spend my savings on a cheap Korean Les Paul guitar knockoff and an amp—a very loud one. I also managed to get them to pay five bucks a week so I could take guitar lessons—yes, way back in my day, that was the going rate. In my head, I fantasized that my natural talent would be unlocked after a few lessons, and I’d be the next Jimmy Page or Eric Clapton, but my teacher was trained as a classical guitarist and insisted I focus on scales and technique. All I wanted was a shortcut to learning “Stairway to Heaven” so I could get on stage and affect people like so many musicians affected me.
My second love got in the way of my guitar practice—I loved to fix things. My first stereo was one I salvaged from the trash and eagerly repaired so I could listen to music in my room with the volume cranked up. One day, I read an article in Guitar Player magazine about how Eddie Van Halen changed the sound of his guitar by wrapping his own pickups. That afternoon my guitar was in pieces and I was redoing the generic pickups in it.
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