It must have been around 1968 or so… I would go up just about every day to my best friend Danny’s house. Danny played piano and his mother taught it. I loved being around the music. I would hear a student taking a lesson with Danny’s mother Eve and I wished it was me.
Actually, truth be told, I really didn’t want to study… take lessons… I just wanted to be on the piano bench playing music.
Danny would be learning all these great classical pieces and he played them really well.
Our class went to go see “The Song of Norway” and that’s the first time I ever heard “Peer Gynt Suite”, aka “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”. If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, believe me, it is. It’s a CLASSIC melody and it was AMAZING to hear it especially with the dramatic backdrop of the Norwegian mountains in the movie.
We learned that the composer was Edvard Grieg. And yes, the next thing I knew I was going up to the Pritchard’s household and Eve played the piece flawlessly… Danny was learning it too so of course I wanted to.
Danny started showing it to me and I started to pick it up. I went home later that day and my mother told me Eve had called her. She called my mother and said, “Linda, I don’t know if you know this or not but I just heard Jason picking up a pretty challenging piano piece and you should really have him take lessons.
And no, she wasn’t trying to hustle another student. In fact, Eve didn’t teach beginners… she made a recommendation of a beginning teacher so we went to her. I wish I remembered her name… ACTUALLY, I DO! Mrs. Johnson!
I started taking lessons and we were using the John Thompson “Red Book” method. The Kindergarten level was REAL EASY. And here’s what I did…
I would take the lesson from Mrs. Johnson, she would leave and I’d goof off all week never having practiced… she’d show up, ask me to play the piece and luckily, they were so simple I could actually *sightread* the lesson… until… we got to the end of the Kindergarten level.
It seems like it LITERALLY changed when we went to the “First Grade”. And looking back, it wouldn’t have been if I had actually practiced but trying to work my old game, I’d take the lesson, she’d leave, come back and I’d crash and burn trying to read the lesson.
She’s say to me, “No, it goes like THIS…” and proceed to play it. I’d see what she did, and I’d mimic what she did. She caught on REAL fast and had a little talk with me and my Grandmother, (whose house this was all taking place in)… this was a BIG PIVOTAL moment in my life and I have to thank both Mrs. Johnson and my Grandmother for the way they handled this.
Mrs. Johnson said, “It’s very obvious what your gifts are. You have an incredible ear for music. But, what I do is teach how to read music so you have a decision to make. If you want to do it your way, which is great, then I would suggest to continue going in that direction. But if you’d like to really study what I’m bringing to you we can continue. The decision is yours…”
It didn’t take me long to say, “I want to do it my way.” And she smiled and went on her way. I had her blessing… she had validated what I was doing. I’ve heard horror stories about things not going that way when a kid isn’t applying themselves to lessons… but I was lucky.
I kept playing the piano… Danny and I learned all kinds of really cool duets… and ironically, I was always playing in the lower register of the piano… naturally gravitating toward the bass.
Danny and I along with 2 of our friends, Dave and Doug, put our first band together. I think we called ourselves “Santa Fe” at first. This was around 6th grade. Dave and I had actually evolved into very close friends. Dave was the friend where we were both turning into complete music freaks reading all the magazines… buying albums… I remember listening to Steve Miller’s “The Joker” in Dave’s bedroom and just going crazy over the grooves!
Once we all got into Jr. High we kind of started going our separate ways musically and one of the biggest moments in my young musical life happened.
My mother is a great singer and piano player and she had a band. They were called “The Roberts Connection” and they’d practice over at our house. I had just gotten a bass guitar for Christmas in 1975 or 1976… I think it was 1976. It was a Kay bass and my brother Darin couldn’t wait until Christmas… he told me to come look in our closet… there was a wardrobe cardboard box… you know the kind that are tall? Especially for a 14 year old? Well, there were a bunch of clothes in it but along the side of it was this brown Kay bass. We pulled it out and I started playing it. Truth be told? It almost felt too easy… another truth being told… I had played musical instruments since I was around 6 years old starting with Danny Pritchard… so by the time I held my first bass I had been playing guitars for a couple years prior…
But back to that feeling… I knew this was what I was going to do… it was eery…
At this point of the story I should tell you that I come from a broken family so when I got this first bass guitar a big hole in my life had been filled. I found a friend for life and almost instantaneously I was working.
My mother had a rehearsal and asked the bass player if I could play a song with the band and I’ll never forget his face. He had this look on his face of “Sure… how cute!” and we kicked a song off.
Well, within the next couple of weeks I was in the band and he was out. I can’t tell you how great the rush was of playing with grownups… a professional band, and I fit in.
There was a crazy sense of it all *making* sense and I didn’t really know it at the time but my life was unfolding right in front of me. All I knew was it just made me feel good.
I joined the musicians union in San Diego shortly after joining my mother’s band and was one of the youngest to have joined… I was 14 at the time and I was working professionally with my mother.
One day, I came home from school and my mother told me she got a *gig* on the road. She got a gig up in Twin Falls, Idaho at “The Falls Lounge”. My mother was so excited not only because she was excited to go but you could feel how she knew she was giving me the best education possible. In the trenches learning the ropes. We were so excited… I remembered going to school feeling like I was a little adult getting ready to go out into the world. I kept it to myself… I wasn’t the type of kid that was trying to be better than people… but I was really getting amped about going… until…
My mother had a friend named Jim who was another piano playing singer who worked at the Hotel Del Coronado… she told Jim we were going on the road and he said, “Linda… what are you doing? He’s 14! You can’t take him out of school!” so she thought about it and told me I wasn’t going… I was devastated… but I kind of understood.
Again, thinking back on it… that was one of the first major disappointments of being in the music business, and not getting something you wanted.
So the other 3 members went up and got to the gig when the guy who booked it asked, “Where’s the 4th member?”. Mother said, “Well, he’s 14 so he couldn’t come” and then magic happened.
This guy must have been really intrigued by the idea of a 14 year old being in a band so he said, “Well, I paid for 4 people… let’s get him up here!”. So I got a phone call saying, “You’re going to be flying up to Twin Falls”. I had never been on an airplane up to that point so there I went… got on a plane and flew up to Idaho.
Got out and it was REAL cold! I think it was November… and we had a BLAST! This moment in my life was the defining moment.
I can remember the room we played… the way it looked and the way people were dancing.
We played for about 4 weeks I think? Came home and I’ve never been the same.
I joined a couple of rock bands after that because I was turning 15 and wanting to rock! But that time in Twin Falls was the defining moment in my life let alone my career.
I knew I was going to play music for a living for the rest of my life. I saw how it effected people. I saw the power you have by sharing a gift. It CHANGED things… people’s moods… their feelings were coming through when we played.
When I was playing in my mother’s band I would see people slow dancing and saw how deeply they felt for each other and how the music was the soundtrack for it.
Telling you the story right now brings back all the good in it… since then… yes, amazing things have happened in my life… I talk about things like how I started to sing by my mother, again, pointing me in a direction… I talk about it in another blog post… actually, click here, and you can read about it later…
But at this point in my life having been in a band singing lead vocals, writing hit singles, producing a title track for one of our albums… and going back to being in front of my Jr. High School having a girl rip my guitar out of my hands saying, “I know how to play guitar!” and strumming “25 or 6 to 4″… it all makes sense now.
At the end of the day, it’s not about all the things people would think it’s about… fame, fortune… no…
It’s about being that kid who found the thing that would save his life… music.
The kid who was trying to learn the great Bach pieces Eve Pritchard was teaching students, but I was hiding around the corner taking it in to eventually learn and play.
Hanging with David Dramm coming up with logos for our band… drawing the stages and the MASSIVE stacks of amps we were going to have once we became famous…
All the drives up the 5 freeway going to LA for a few days, back to San Diego and eventually making the commitment to move up to LA.
The funky dives we’d play in in the early 80s just trying to survive… playing *showcases* at Madame Wongs playing some half baked attempt at punk rock… can you imagine me with a punk rock hairdo? It never worked anyway… my hair was too curly!
And then once big things happened for me… going through all the growing pains of adjusting to having to replace one of the greatest singers who ever lived, Peter Cetera… but somehow getting through it with the support of the band taking me in without looking back… and thank you again to my mother for pushing me to sing… you were right…
And here I am, speaking to you… the person who has shown interest in all of this… still blows my mind but now I get it… we help each other… I provide the music and you provide the smile that it did something for you.
And it’s a million other little subtle experiences that define what it means to be a musician. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. It’s not the bass licks, or the number of albums sold, but rather it’s knowing those things first hand that makes me a musician, a veteran. And it’s knowing that you are one of a small percentage of the population to not only have seen, but to have lived behind the curtain that makes this whole crazy thing worth while.
But perhaps even more importantly than all of that, it’s YOU, the listener, that makes all of it matter.
I look forward to many more great times traveling the world, sometimes hard, sometimes ugly, always worth while experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are part of that
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.