News From The Pit

This Old Guitar
By Jimmy Brown

Hi everybody, and welcome to the November edition of this old guitar. For this issue, we'll take a trip down memory lane and see how one guitar, connected to two people, can make a lasting impression. It all started a few weeks ago when I received a call from Dan Becker, a friend of mine who happens to be a guitar repairman. He said I needed  to see this Gibson SG Junior he had in his shop for repair; that it was unbelievable, in terms of how worn it was.

Dan went on to ask me if I knew who Mike Kessinger was. Kapow! That question blasted me back thirty years. At that point, I immediately knew the guitar Dan was referring to. It was the instrument that forever altered the course of my life, and perhaps Mike Kessinger's life, too. So, Sherman, set the Waybac Machine to late 1970.

Here I was, a sophomore in high school, playing in a garage band with my best friend Danny Boone. Down the street from where I lived, near Iroquois Park, was a small music shop, called E&B Music. It was situated right behind Colonial Gardens. A little shop with accessories, a few guitars and a young Mike Kessinger giving guitar lessons. I can't remember the fellow who owned the place, but it was Mike who energized the shop. If you ever met Mike, you would understand what I mean. This was a place to hang out, and it was where I traded in my first guitar for a set of bass guitar strings! (Sounds pretty stupid, but, gee, here I am, 30 years later, still performing a bass player.)

I was wanting to get another electric guitar, and there was an ad in the Sunday paper for a Gibson electric, for $75. Back then, there was no Bargain Mart, or similar second-hand publication. The Courier Journal was it. So, here I was, 16 years old, and armed with only a driver's permit. My parents were gone, the keys to the other car were there and, well, what was a poor boy to do? I took my chances. I drove across town to the Cherokee/Seneca Park area and bought this 1961 Gibson SG Les Paul Junior for $75. It rained that day, I got lost, but I still beat my parents home. My dad noticed the wet tire tracks, however, and deduced that I had taken the car out. No driver's license, no permission. Man, oh, man, did I get in trouble.

Still, I had my Gibson electric guitar, a shiny cherry red SG. It looked So Cool. I went down to show it to Mike, and lo and behold, he fell in love with it. Had to have it. Offered me $150 for it. What a dilemma! I had nearly risked the rest of my youth obtaining this thing, and now this guy was offering me twice what I paid for it.

To get some perspective, at this time I was the neighborhood grass cutter, at roughly $3 a yard. It took twenty-five yards to make $75, which was the profit I could realize from this guitar sale. The minimum wage was about $1.10, so this was actually quite a dilemma.

Well, being that I was primarily a bassist and didn't really need this guitar, I sold it to Mike. That was the first in what was to become literally thousands of guitar sales. It forever changed the direction of my life, as I realized what could be. This was at a time when people like Mike and me sought out vintage guitars because they were truly better and cheaper than what you could get brand new. This particular '61 SG was way better than a new, 1970 SG Junior or its equivalent. A 1961 Fender Precision Bass would put a new 1970 P-Bass to shame.

I was still a kid, and Mike was only a few years older, but already at a point where being a professional musician was on the very near horizon. I was still in high school, enthused by old guitars. I dug fixing them up, playing in a band, and so forth. I guess the time was right. The demand for vintage guitars was beginning to take off, and I saw that I could take my enthusiasm to a whole new level. It sure beat cutting grass at $3 a pop. Besides, I was so into it.

Fast forward. I managed to make it through high school; E&B Music closed long ago, and Mike Kessinger is but a memory. One thing led to another, and, by no design on my part, I wound up as the owner of The Guitar Emporium, now celebrating its 25th year.

I have often thought of Mike and that SG. Seems like every time I find myself driving near Big Rock in the Cherokee Park, I still get lost, and I think of that most eventful rainy Sunday afternoon 30 years ago. Even writing this now, the emotions are pretty strong.

But there is more to this story. When Dan Becker called me to tell me about this SG he was working on, he mentioned that it belonged to Mike Kessinger, and that it has been Kessinger's guitar to play for the past thirty years! Let me repeat that - The last thirty years!

Not too long after we went our separate ways, Mike signed on at the Colonial Inn, where he has been the band leader with one Gibson SG Junior in hand for 25 years! It is not only refreshing but remarkable that a musician could ply his craft for that long with the same guitar. It is such a testament to both player and guitar. Mike and his SG have weathered Southern Rock, Glam Rock, Disco, Urban Cowboys, Punk, New Wave, Big Hair, Heavy Metal, Grunge, Alternative, Rap, Hip Hop, you name it. It just goes to show-it is what's inside a person that really matters. Over thirty years and through countless styles of music, Mike has persevered.

I mentioned to Dan that I would love to hear from Mike. That I couldn't believe he still had that guitar. Dan said that it was so worn out that Yngwei Malmsteen and his scalloped fretboard had nothing on Mike and his SG. He said that the back was even contoured now, like a Fender! This, I said, I gotta see.

So a week or so later, Mike walks into the Guitar Emporium. I had not seen him in well over 25 years, or so I thought. He reminded me that I was in the band that played at his wedding reception some years back, which had escaped my memory. But anyway, it was great to see him. To this day, he still maintains the youthful exuberance that he had when we were both so young. His positive and professional attitude has kept him not only busy, but happy in the music business, and believe me, that is not always an easy thing to accomplish.

He dropped off a video that chronicled the last 20 years or so of his playing. I did notice in the video that the SG had gone through some changes of its own-new tuners, added pickup, etc., but it still sounded great, and Mike's playing had a lot to do with that.

The guitar is still in Dan's shop. Soon, I hope, I will get a chance to hold it for myself and ride down a damp memory lane in search of a vintage guitar one more time.

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

Keep Rockin'