Tommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.
Keene: When I took my first guitar lesson, I’d been playing for a while. My first song was “Gloria”: three chords, E, D and A, over and over. I signed up for lessons at a local music store in suburban Maryland. On the drive up there, my mom and I were listening to the radio, and a song came on that completely rocked my world: the Who’s “I Can See For Miles.” I had just seen them on The Smothers Brothers Show, and an older kid in the neighborhood had seen them that summer opening for Herman’s Hermits. I went into the lesson and announced that I’d just heard this song on the radio and that’s what I wanted to learn to play. My teacher, a middle-aged man who looked like a cross between Burl Ives and Mitch Miller, just shook his head and said, “We first must start off with some scales.” Those lessons didn’t last long, and I basically taught myself how to play by pestering guitar-playing friends of mine to show me various chords and licks to standard rock numbers.
That memory of the mom-and-pop local music store stays with me. In Santa Monica, Calif., eight blocks from the beach, there’s a similar store I frequent called Truetone Music. One of the owners is Paul Flynn, also a native of the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area and a friendly guy who handles guitar repairs, intonations and general stress-free service. They offer a nice alternative to the sometimes intimidating corporate chain stores like Guitar Center, where you’re inundated by already marked-up holiday sales and endless kids wailing horribly to the latest drop-D music. Truetone has an unbelievable selection of vintage guitars and cool boutique amps, lessons for the beginners (without the Burl Ives attitude) and a friendly staff that is attentive to the needs of the novice as well as the seasoned professional. And don’t be surprised if you run into Dave Edmunds, Chris Spedding or Nigel Tufnel from the legendary Spinal Tap.
The Who’s “I Can See For Miles”: