By Jay Hale
When I was a kid growing up in a small West Virginia town in the early/mid-80s, it was unusual – in some cases frowned upon – for a black kid to like rock music. Fortunately I grew up in a household where there were no musical genre restrictions, so in addition to the pop, jazz and Motown my parents were listening to, I also got exposed to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Yes, and all kinds of cool music due to having two older sisters with more eclectic musical tastes than some of the other kids in my neighborhood. Still, it made me somewhat of an outcast. I wasn’t “supposed” to like that music, or guitars. I didn’t care what people said; I always thought guitars were cool. For some reason I wasn’t allowed to touch my dad’s acoustic that was in storage in the upstairs closet. But I used to sneak looks at it and imagine playing it.
Then one day my sister Lisa brought home the first three Van Halen LPs, and my entire world got turned upside down. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – how did he do that? That’s a guitar? Suddenly I had to know. Furthermore, I didn’t care what anybody else said – I was going to learn how. Not only that, his guitars looked cooler than anyone’s I’d ever seen in albeit then brief life, and I wanted one that cool! I begged my mother for a guitar. Got a worker’s permit and a summer job to help pay for it. My first instrument was a garbage Memphis, but mom said if I practiced hard enough and “impressed” her, she’d help me get a Strat, the closest thing I could get to my hero’s instruments. Challenge accepted. She enrolled me in weekly lessons with Chuck Biel, and so my odyssey began. Oh, and I got my Strat in less than a year.
I practiced like a madman. It consumed all my waking hours. If I had a few minutes before I left for school, I’d listen to “Eruption” and practice. But then something happened… I started to feel like I was progressing. My grades slipped a bit, but I didn’t care. For the first time in my life, the outcast kid could do something the “cool” kids couldn’t – and they had to pay attention, whether they liked it or not (some didn’t…ha!). Life, changed. I was hooked. The kid with nothing had something. People who had scoffed at me wanted me in their band! Once I graduated high school and started making money (more than my then day job) gigging in cover bands, I knew it – guitar is my life.
I became equally obsessed with guitar building, also thanks to EVH, so not only was I playing constantly, I was tinkering around trying to build something that served my needs as well as the guitars he was then building for himself served him. I got pretty good at that, too. Those interests eventually lead to me starting my own fledgling guitar line this year.
If I think about it, guitar has not only brought me to where I am, but in some way or another lead to almost everything I have or am in life. The fact that someone happened to bring my demo tape with them to Los Angeles led to an invitation to move here to join a band. Love of music and guitar got me my first LA jobs. The fact that I loved working on them got me a few guitar tech gigs where I met and worked with people whose records I listened to as a kid. My love for all things guitar is the reason why I’ve gotten to write for Seymour Duncan for the last four years and counting. It’s why you’re reading this! So I count the decision to play guitar as one of if not the best I’ve ever made in my life. I’ve never regretted it for a second.
What was it about guitar that attracted you? Did it change your life, too – and how does it continue to shape your life today?