News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Happy Holidays, everyone. Yes, it's that time of year again, when we pause to give thanks for our many blessings, settle in for some good old-fashioned turkey and dressing, and all the rest that goes with it, and then, once we have recovered from it, turn our thoughts to December, and the rest of the holiday season. So, for this month's column, I thought I would tell a Christmas story related to this old guitar.

So Sherman, let's set the Wayback machine to around 1967. There was this boy, he was maybe 13 or so, and he used to love to look through the Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog. Ever since he was very little, he could remember spending hours every Christmas looking through them. There was this one year, when he really wanted to get a bass guitar. It would be great if it could be just like Paul McCartney's Hofner Beatle Bass, but he knew that it would be too expensive, so even if he could get a copy of one, that would do. Back then, a boy could get just about anything he wanted out of that Christmas catalog. So, of course, there was a bass guitar that looked like the one Paul played. You know the one: it was violin shaped. He didn't remember what brand it was but knew that it was some sort of fairly inexpensive imported copy. But gee, it would be just great. So, he makes his wish list, and that's that.

Back then, I know it was very common and popular to go downtown on Saturday. Everything that was anything was still downtown, where the heartbeat of the city was. Christmastime was especially magical. Everything was all lit up and decorated and the energy and buzz from all of the people shopping made you get just a little more pumped up. Well, on one of the Saturdays in December, he and some of his buddies were making the rounds downtown, where one of the included stops was Tiller Piano and Organ. Now, the neat thing about this place was that down in the basement, it morphed into a hip, Carnaby Street type of place, with all kinds of cool guitars, amps and accessories. It also had this fellow named Houston Jones who worked there. Now, you need to remember – or in case you are too young, then you need to know – that back then there was quite a generation gap. The Sixties were a time of intense social change. I remember that Houston Jones was like a sort of liaison between the youth of the day and the "establishment" types who ran the place. It seemed he could make it all work out somehow. Well anyway, this young boy noticed, hanging on the wall down in Tiller's basement, a VOX Panther Bass. It was either used, or shop worn, or something like that. And therefore, it was marked down in price. So much down in price that it was about the same price as the violin-shaped import Beatle copy in the Sears catalog!

Now, that was a dilemma. The unwritten household rule was: no poking around looking for Christmas presents. Well, what is a poor boy to do!? It seems he was going to just have to take his chances, and go on and seek and find mission. I guess it didn't take long, for he found the Beatle Bass copy from Sears under his parent's bed. His next move, well calculated, was to spill the beans to his mom, the softer of his two parents. He would use the logic that the VOX bass at Tiller's was such a better bass, and a much greater value, then the copy from Sears. And besides, it was the same price, about $99. Plus it had a hardshell case included! So what if it was used, or whatever. So, I guess his argument won out. His folks could appreciate the situation, even if his ambitious nature sometimes morphed into mischievousness.

The following Saturday found him with his mom, first at Sears, to get a refund, and then on over to Tiller's, to get the VOX Panther Bass. I am sure Houston Jones would never remember any of this, but the aspiring 13-year-old never forgot it. . So, for that Christmas, the young boy already had his Christmas present and was most pleased with how it all turned out, even if it did mean risking the wrath of dad, who, on the outside might seem like a tough guy, especially when it came to laying down the house rules, but on the inside was just a big softhearted Santa.

Now, here we are many years later. The VOX bass is long gone, sold in order to help pay for a Hofner Beatle Bass, which in turn is long gone. And then came a Gibson, and then a Fender and so on. And though the young fellow may have gone through a fair number of basses, it seems he kept on keepin' on, playing the bass in all sorts of bands. Even helped pay his way through college. Who would have guessed it back then, in the basement at Tiller's. I guess you know by now, that 13-year-old was me.

Well I guess that's all for now. So until next time,

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Keep Rockin'.