Back in 1978, I was the singer in a band called Renegade in Northeast Philly. The musicians were already playing together when I joined the band. It was a huge leap for me and was the beginning of my life as a musician. I’ve written about this time in my life and it’s all pretty well documented.
We played the song, Draw The Line by Aerosmith, and Gerry the guitarist asked that I learn and play the guitar part when he did an extended slide solo during the song. I leaped at the opportunity to play guitar so he brought in his old Silvertone to practice and showed me how to play the three notes I needed to play.
Larry, Mike, Chaz, and Jerry
I eventually acquired the guitar from him. He played a blonde post-CBS Fender Stratocaster. He needed money to buy a Valentine’s Day present for his girlfriend and he sold me his old Sears Silvertone for $15. He even threw in the amplifier that came with it. He was a great guitarist and had a cool Stage amp and a Univox Super Fuzz distortion pedal. The equipment he was using became the model of what I wanted to do musically even though I could barely play.
I found this pic on the internet and it is the exact model I owned into the early 80s.
Time went by and I continued to practice every day. Learning the notes on the fretboard and pouring through my sister’s old piano songbooks to learn songs. I would forgo going out to stay in and practice my instrument. My main focus was to learn the basics and then start writing songs. I wrote my first song called Get Lost on that guitar. I had only been playing the guitar for a couple of months. I always had a good ear and a sense of music in my head. I loved rock music since I was a kid, and leaned more toward the harder acts like Steppenwolf rather than The Beatles. I really dug hard-hitting powerful guitar sounds. The heavier the better.
Let’s jump to 1980 and I’m living in Wildwood, New Jersey with my family. My dad had decided that once my older sister went off to college, we’d leave Philly and live at the seashore. Wildwood back then was an absolute wonderland in the summertime. But in the winter it became a desolate awful place for kids and teens to live. There is absolutely nothing to do. It’s a resort/retirement town and only exists because of its location, free beaches, and a boardwalk full of amusement rides.
But I survived the winter and actually thrived when I met a kid who played guitar. We started jamming and later joined a few other guys to form the Union Jacks. My buddy said I probably needed to buy a “real guitar” if I was going to be taking music seriously. I thought this was a great idea and started looking through magazines to see what my favorite guitar heroes were playing.
The one instrument that really struck me as the guitar that was right for me was the Ibanez Iceman. It had to be black and would represent the cool heavy metal/glam image and persona I wanted. I guess once I learned how to play guitar and write songs I didn’t really focus on being a great musician. I just wanted to write good catchy songs and be a rockstar. I remember reading once that the artist, Sting once said, “I saw the Beatles and I wanted to be in a band. I saw Jimi Hendrix and I wanted to be a musician.”
You can read about my whole music saga in my upcoming book, Down The Shore: Stories from my summers in Wildwood, NJ
But for this story, you can click on the link below to get the backstory of this musical instrument.
When I saw the film Hard Day’s Night I wanted to be a rockstar. A cool job playing rock music and being hounded by throngs of girls wherever I went. So I always liked being in a band but my focus was on becoming a famous rockstar on my songwriting merits. I figured I could always get other musicians to bring my poetic and musical vision to life with their musical prowess.
So now I had the Iceman and I loved it. I referred to it in the feminine sense like men name their boats female names. It’s a term of endearment. Even though the Iceman had the word MAN in the name, and had sharp edges, an angular body, a hook, and what looked like a stinger I still regarded the instrument as female. She was beautiful and loyal and brought me hours of joy. She was far better than most people I knew. But the instrument still had a very heavy metal masculine image to it. Look at the photo. That’s a metal guitar. You don’t come out onstage with a black Iceman and a Marshall amp behind you and play ballads. You crank hard rock and metal at a loud volume.
I remember seeing a picture of a guitarist playing guitar in a music magazine and he had a black guitar strap with a white lightning bolt on it. I had to get one of those to complete my look. I had the cool Iceman, but my strap was plain black leather and I put neat buttons on it. Buttons were popular back then and my guitar strap was covered in buttons. Buttons with images and words like, I want complete control, I want it all, a picture of Alex from Clockwork Orange, a photo of Farrah Fawcett, etc. Just stuff I liked and thought was cool at the time.
But I wanted that lightning bolt strap to complete my rockstar look. But couldn’t find one anywhere. It was 1979, and I lived in a ghost town so music choices were limited. There was a TV repair shop owned by a guy who had a few guitars and gave lessons, a music store called Back to Earth, and a place called Gilday’s up in Pleasantville. Not much else. It was even difficult to find good music down the shore. All they had was one crappy radio station broadcast out of Atlantic City and if you wanted a cassette by a specific band the store had to special order it for you. I was probably the first person on the island that owned Def Leppard’s first album, On Through The Night, and Some older Judas Priest albums because there was just no call for any of that music where I lived. When I think about how sparse and talentless the population was in Wildwood in the wintertime I’m surprised to this day that we all actually came together and created a viable rock band.
I spoke to my father about the black strap with the lightning bolt and he said he’d see what he could do. He had always come through for all of us on anything we wanted when it came to Christmas, so why not ask Santa himself to procure this elusive item for me? He was great at locating things and bringing them home. I was sure he’d find one for me.
But as time went by, he came to me and said he wasn’t able to find the strap I was looking for. Was it a custom item that the guy I saw wearing it had specially made for him? Maybe. I eventually let it go and continued to play wearing my plain leather one covered in buttons.
The Ibanez Iceman had taken the place of the Sears Silvertone. The guitar that I learned to play and started my songwriting journey on. The guitar looked like a slender Stratocaster, but once you got close to it or held it realized it was one level above being a toy for a child. But it was a great guitar to learn on and it meant a lot to me.
But it eventually started to have electrical problems and spent more time in the closet because it had been replaced by my new girlfriend. My best girl. My beautiful powerful black Iceman. I had a tendency to do that with women back then too. I would have a girl I liked and I would spend time with her. Let’s use Anne as an example. Anne was my little girlfriend at the end of the summer. That lasted into the winter and she would come down and visit with her mom during the winter and we would hang out. I was 17 and she was 14. But I was immature and she was the perfect girlfriend for me. But once I was enrolled in Wildwood High and playing in a new band, I started dating a local girl. She was tall and blonde and I was digging her. New and shiny like the Iceman. Anne slowly became the Silvertone. I thought less about her and enjoyed my time with the girl who was new. I was fickle even back then. I didn’t even feel bad when I dumped Anne to be with the new girl. Anne was a better match than the new girl, but I wanted what I wanted. As the song says, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” The new girl won out because she was available. But because of who I was at the time, once the summer of 1980 broke, I cut them both loose to enjoy all the fresh tourist girls who would arrive in droves each week on vacation.
That was 40 years ago and none of it matters now, but I noticed some interesting parallels in my life lately. The Ibanez Iceman is the only guitar I’ve purchased in the last 40 years. I thought about getting a Gibson Explorer as a second guitar back then, but they were expensive. I had the Iceman and that was enough. I could only play one guitar at a time anyway. The Gibson Explorer would have been a vanity purchase not because of how well it played but because it looked cool. Pretty much why I wanted the Iceman. It looked cool. My decision to spend all of my busboy earnings on a $500 guitar back in 1979 was simply because it looked cool. I wasn’t about the ease of play or tone. I got it because it looked sharp and I had never even played it before I bought it. I just wanted that look. Pretty superficial and shallow thinking. But I’ve always been that way. I’ve put up with so much from so many women because they were beautiful. I was always very forgiving of beauty, mistaking it for sophistication and kindness. When normally beauty is the opposite.
But lately, I’ve been thinking about getting another guitar. Just something simple, inexpensive, and functional. I don’t want to have to drag the Iceman (which is now a valuable collectible antique) out from its case underneath my bed, get it hooked up, and jam. I’d rather just write.
I had spoken to a musician who worked as a delivery driver at the last restaurant where I worked four years ago. He said he would buy blank guitar bodies and necks and build guitars himself. He’s a really talented guitarist but I think it’s more of a pet project than something he was thinking about turning into a business. We chatted about it on a few occasions but nothing ever came out of it.
To be continued next week…
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