A few month's ago, I related a story about my friend Mike Kessinger and his Gibson SG that he has played professionally for literally decades. Mike is the consummate journeyman professional musician. He has played the club circuit in this area since the Seventies, quietly going about his business of providing entertainment. No posing or lime lighting going on here. Now, if you happen to know Mike, then you already know about his quick wit, down to earth charm and humility. But in case you did not know, there is something else about him I want to share. So, in the spirit of the children's classic, "The little engine that could," here comes the story of "The Super Reverb that did."
If you play music long enough, you are pretty much assured of experiencing some type of "technical difficulty," be it a guitar malfunction, amp quits on you, broken guitar cord, or maybe all three on the same night! In my own simplemindedness, the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" remains a mantra. Having some spare gear is a prudent move, also. As a musician, having lots of musical instruments can be lots of fun and even inspiring at times, provided you can afford such luxuries. You can rarely if ever go wrong with sticking to what works.
Mike Kessinger is someone who pretty much takes the cake in my book. As I said earlier, he has this Gibson SG he has played for roughly thirty years. In 1973, Mike bought an early `70s Fender Super Reverb at D Sharp Service Center. Before there was a Far Out Music or Mom's Musician's General Store, Kenny Deweese and Marvin Maxwell had a business downtown around 18th Street called D Sharp Service Center. (I think that was the formal name of the business.) I remember going there myself when I was still a teenager. So Mike got this Super Reverb there and began using it around town. Six nights a week at The Sahara Club, The Sheraton, The Wig Wam, Flaherty's, pick a Holiday Inn, any Holiday Inn.
This scenario continued until 1976, when Mike took over the house gig at The Colonial Inn in Clarksville, Indiana. Fast forward to 2002 and Mike is still at the Colonial Inn. To me, that info alone is impressive enough: to have made an honest living plying your craft for all those years. Add to that the fact that he used the same guitar and amp For All Those Years and it kinda blows your mind.
Now for the coup de gras: from 1976 to 1996 at The Colonial Inn, Mike's Super Reverb, the one he bought from D Sharp in 1973, was "NEVER TURNED OFF" or "UNPLUGGED"!!! Man, if we were playing "can you top this," I think I would have to save that one for my ringer. In fact, it merits repeating: NEVER TURNED OFF or UNPLUGGED!! Mike did mention to me that at some point he changed one tube and the pilot light has burned out twice. He has since had Kenny at Far Out replace the speakers. Kind of like replacing your tires after 200,000 miles!
Just for fun, I did some rough estimates, to put some perspective on this. Let's say in 1973 that Super Reverb was $250 or they're about. In twenty years of steady playing at The Colonial Inn, you're talking approximately 25,000 hours of gig time. That alone is staggering, but if my calculations are correct, the cost of that amp spreads out to one penny per hour! Talk about getting your money's worth. And that is for the Colonial Inn gig only. Take into account the three years prior to that, plus the six plus years since '96 and it boggles the mind. I guess it would be like putting a million miles on your car.
These things can be done, but all the factors have to come together, such as the gear, the person using the gear and the care given to such gear. If you have ever had your stuff break down on you, particularly at a critical time, then you know how trying that can be. It doesn't take many of those instances to appreciate having an amp work flawlessly for thirty years. Though today it is a cliché, I would say Mike's amp is close to priceless. In talking with Mike about his amp and guitar, he seemed to take little credit for their reliability.. He wanted to give credit to Kenny at Far Out, or Marvin at Mom's, anyone but himself. This does not surprise me. Mike remains a humble person. As I have said before, there is nothing wrong with wanting to have good gear, but it ultimately comes down to who's doing the playing that counts. I reckon I would have to live and play until I was a hundred or so in order to match a feat such as what Mike Kessinger has done.
My hat's off to you, Mike. So until next time, Mike,