Time To Man Up

Tom C. Erb

© Copyright 2018 by Tom C. Erb

Photo of a 1964 Gibson guitar.

On Friday, April 3, 1964 I woke up feeling alive. It was two days away from my tenth birthday and I couldn't have been more excited. After looking through all the catalogs that I could find I decided my first guitar was going to be an acoustic guitar. It only made sense because they costs less, and didn't require an amplifier. There was one thing I was certain about. My first guitar would be a Gibson. If the Gibson guitar was good enough for John Lennon and George Harrison, then it was good enough for me. 

I decided on the 1964 Flat Top Gibson LG-1 Tobacco Sunburst. The price was steep at $125.00. In 1964 that was an expensive guitar. I actually felt a bit guilty about wanting such an expensive guitar, since I didn’t know how to play it. I had a cheaper backup if I felt that my Mother was unable to shell out that kind of money. 

After I was done with my paper route on Saturday, April 4th I went home and showed my Mother my choice. She was shocked. And said, "That is a very expensive first guitar.” I explained to her I had a much cheaper choice if it was too much. She responded, "Do you have $62.50?" I responded, "Yes, I do." She held out her hand. I went to my room and grabbed my paper route savings I was hiding in my mattress. Returned and handed mom my half. She reached for my hand, grabbed it, looked me in the eye, and said so very sincerely, “Happy Birthday Son. I know how much this means to you. 

I knew that my Mother would not be able to get me the guitar the following day. However, I got some great gifts on my birthday. I got clothes, movie tickets, new radio, new albums, a couple of Beatles records, games and much more. The most incredible gift I received that day was from Henry, my newspaper boss, a brand new “Schwinn Whizzer Black Phantom Motor Bike!”

It was completely dressed out for delivering papers. It had a husky very large basket on the front, and a small basket on the back the folded down. I was told it would travel at 25 mph. This bike was not only the most significant gift I had received in my life, but it change my life. I could see my Mother cringing when Henry showed up at our house after dinner. What a birthday! We had cake and ice cream. My tenth birthday was significant, and memorable. I was sent me off on the road of manhood feeling encouraged.

After dinner was over and we were cleaning up, I went over and hugged my Mother. I told her, “Thank you for such an unbelievable birthday.” She smiled and hug me back. I knew she was just dying to say something about the motor bike, but she bit her tongue.

I made sure that I spoke to Henry and thanked him for the "Whizzer". He said, “Oh Tommy, I didn't buy that bike. The Virginian Pilot bought that bike because of all the hard work and commitment you have made for the past two years. You are one of three paper boys who have been awarded that bike." I told him, “I will ride it with respect, safely, and continue to be a good paper boy for the Pilot." He responded, "Don't try to start the motor till you put some gas in the gas tank, and check the oil every time you fill up." 

After that day everything seemed to fall in place. I had some great friends. I was doing all the things I wanted too. I had job, leader at school, girls were looking me and 1964 seemed to be heading in the right direction. I didn’t know it yet, but there were more liberating, fascinating and motivating moments ahead of me. 

It was Thursday, April 16th, 1964 I was blessed with another lifelong memory that still gives me goosebumps as I write this. I just finished my paper route, and was arriving at home. As I entered the front door my Mother and sisters were on the couch watching television. After some small talk my Mother said, “There is something for you in your room”. I stepped into my room, and I nearly passed out from what I saw. Leaning against the back wall above my bed was a guitar hard case, which I didn't even expect to get. Laid out on the bed was new black strap that had been embroidered with "T. C. E." in white.

Piled on the bed were several music books, catalogs specifically for guitars, two of which were Beatles music catalogs. Resting on top of the catalogs, laid an envelope. I didn’t know what to open first. Of course, I grabbed the guitar case and laid it on the floor. Sat on the bed and flipped open the three locks. I slowly opened the lid revealing in almost slow motion a 1964 Gibson LG-1 Tobacco Sunburst guitar. I remember that I just sat there looking at this beautiful guitar, and was almost afraid to pick it up. Honestly, at this point in my life I had never held a real guitar, acoustic or otherwise. Eventually, I reached in and picked it up like it was a dozen eggs. For the first time I laid on my lap the same guitar that John Lennon plays, and I didn’t know how to play it, but it didn’t matter. I will say that the guitar felt right in my hands.

I looked over and saw the envelope at the end of the bed. After I picked it up I realized it didn’t feel like, or wasn’t the same shape as a birthday card. Plus, it wasn’t sealed. I lifted the flap and grabbed the enclosed, slowly pulled out what looked like a gift certificate. Inside was in fact, a gift certificate for one year of guitar lessons at a Frankie’s Birdland Record Shop, a local music shop only four miles from our house. I strummed the strings and it was obvious they were completely out of tune. I put my hand on the neck and let my fingers lay over the strings and it felt so wonderful. I was ready to start learning how to play my guitar. 

It was Monday, April 20, 1964 I rushed to finish my paper route, headed home and tied my guitar to the Whizzer and began my journey to Frankie’s Birdland Record Shop, to redeem my yearly guitar lessons.

Without any real indication as to where I was going, away I went. I knew it was about five miles away and if I got on E. Princess Anne Road, it would take me to Church Street where the shop was located. 

Since I am always an optimist I always imagine my adventures in a bright and positive way, and this journey was no different. In my mind I saw this big and bright record store full of patrons and great music playing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a dark and dirty store front with a sign that said, Frankie’s Birdland, Home of Legrand Records. 

It actually looked closed. When I turned the knob to open the door I expected it to be locked, but it opened. I cautiously entered since it was dark. There were some wall lights on the back wall, which allowed me to see all the records in the shop. I could hear music playing in the back part of the building beyond a beaded curtain in an arched doorway. I called out, “Hello! Is there anyone here?” A voice responded from the back of the building, “I will be right out. 

While I was waiting for someone to come out of the backroom I noticed there were pictures along the back wall. I stepped closer to examine. Some of those pictures had a man standing with Paul McCartney, laughing and shaking hands. There were actually several of them. Suddenly, the sound of beaded curtains behind me and a voice said, “Can I help you?” I turned and it didn’t take me long to realized that the man standing in front of me, was the same man in the pictures. I responded, “My name is Thomas Erb. You can call me Tommy. I am here for my guitar lessons. I have a one year certificate.” He introduced himself as Cliff Gallup. I immediately asked him, "Do you know Paul McCartney?" He said, "Actually I do. I actually played with Paul McCartney years ago when I was in London. So, you are Doe’s son. I have heard so much about you.” 

It was at that point that I realize that my Mother and Cliff knew each other. I said, "Yes sir I am. You know my Mother" He reached out his hand to shake my hand. Whenever a man or woman for that matter reached to shake my hand, I am always reminded of something my Papa told me, about the hand shaking ritual. He said, "Tommy when you, or someone reaches their hand out to shake this action requires much consideration. If you are the reacher you should want to find out whom you are dealing with, especially if this is your first meeting. What does the handshake feel like? Is it firm, which should suggest confidence and strength, or is it loose with a lack of grip, which suggest lack of confidence and weakness? Also, a person's handshake will be different based on what they do for a living. A steel worker's handshake is different than a baker. Take the time to take notice of a person’s handshake. Look them in the eyes and state your purpose. It is then and only then you will determine how any encounter will play out."

I reached for Cliff’s hand, and we shook. His grip was strong and his hands were soft. I looked into his eyes and said, “My names is Tommy, and it's a pleasure to meet you sir." He went on to say, "Don't call me sir, and just call me Cliff." Based on the look in his eyes, smile on his face, and his weathered wrinkles he was happy to meet me. 

He continued, “Yes I know your Mom. She works at the Peppermint Beach Club. My band plays there frequently. She is a great lady. How many days a week do you wanted to practice?" I responded, "I can only commit to two days a week, and of course I would practice at home as well. I have a paper route so twice would fit into my schedule.” He said, "That'll be fine because I wouldn't recommend more than two days a week anyway. When do you want to start?" I said, "I can start next Tuesday if that's okay with you?" "That would be fine. Why don't we say we do a Tuesday-Thursday schedule each week?" He responded. I said, "That would be great, I can work with that schedule." 

Life was suddenly amazing with a guitar and lessons. I couldn't have been more excited about learning how to play guitar and Cliff seemed like the guy who could teach me, I just knew it. With school winding down and summer on its way I was looking forward to putting everything I had into learning music. The world was becoming electric. The Beatles were filming "Hard Day’s Night" and recording new music so quick it was hard to keep up with it all. New British bands were also bringing even more music that was expanding and speeding up the evolution of rock and roll.

For me it was early to bed the night before my first lesson with Cliff because it was going to be a full day from the moment I woke up. Off to school 6:00am, Safety Patrol 7:00am, School 7:45am — 2:15pm, Safety Patrol till 3:00pm, newspaper deliveries 3:30pm, picking up all my gear at home and heading over to the record store for first lesson 5:00pm. Like I said, "Full Day."

There was no way of knowing at the time just how powerful and significant Tuesday, May 5th 1964 was going to be in my life. Plus, the chain of events that would be created that would make waves with ripples that would spread throughout my entire life. In addition, the circle of influences that this day would lay at my feet would drop me smack dab in the middle of a cultural evolution and revolution right here in Norfolk, VA. This day was a defining day that will bring experiences that even I will find hard to understand, and believe were possible.

As I start to tell this I am hearing the opening lyrics of the Gilligan's Islands show. "Sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a faithful trip." The entire day was a blur. It just flew by and before I knew it I was picking up my guitar and gear. I loaded it onto the Whizzer, and off I when to the record store. I arrived a few minutes early and was able to have a smoke before I went in. I opened the door with my guitar in tow. I called out "Hello, Cliff are you there?" There was no answer. I made my way to the beaded doorway. As I approached it, I got a whiff of a very familiar smell. The sweet smell of marijuana. So, I called out again. This time I heard a voice from behind a closed door saying they would be right out. 

I explored the pictures once more of Cliff and Paul McCartney that were very impressive. I wanted to see what else there was for me to see. There was a picture of band with a front man that didn't look familiar to me, and another with Cliff and a lead singer playing in front of thousands of people.

Suddenly I heard a toilet flush, and a door open. There was the sound of boots walking on old wooden floors coming in the direction of the record store. Cliff stepped through the beads and said, "Well aren't you a timely one? I was always late for my music lessons. It used to make my teacher crazy. I see you're going to be on time." I responded, "Well this is my first lesson so I kind of wanted to make an impression, by being on time." Cliff laughed and said very seriously, "Don't try to impress. I won't be impressed. Just do what I asked and that will be enough. You the younger generation just doesn't get it." I asked, "What don't we get? What do you mean we don't get it?" He said, "It's the old peace, love, sex, drugs and rock and roll thing. We're at the beginning of a music revolution and nobody realizes just how much music is going to change in the next six, eight or ten years." I asked, "And you do?" He reacted, "Sure I do, more than most. I've been involved in some pretty big bands working with some of the current trend changers. I have toured with them in Europe. Got the opportunity to work with a couple of The Beatles once. I play lead guitar for Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps, and backup guitar for Gary U.S. Bonds." I said, “I don't know who those people are." "Exactly." He said.

He told me to follow him to the back room to start our lesson. We went through the beaded doorway into a long hall that led into a big giant room that looked like a recording studio. I knew what a recording studio look like because I was on The "Bozo" Show. We would record voice-overs in a recording studios. I asked, "Cliff whose recording studio is this?" Cliff looked at me and said, "You know what a recording studio is kid?" I responded, "I've been in recording studio before, it's been a while, but I've been in one. Intrigued Cliff ask me, "Why and when were you in a recording studio?" I said, "Well, when I was young I happen to be a professional actor on The "Bozo" Show." Cliff started to laugh and said, “When you were young? Aren’t you still young?" I reacted, "No, I mean when I was like six and seven, now I'm 10. It was before The Beatles came to America."

After that statement Cliff sat back on a tall director’s chair and just looked at me. He continued, "This is the studio for Legrand Records, owned by the producer Frank Guida who produced hits by Gary "U.S." Bonds, Tommy Facenda and Gene Vincent and the Bluecaps. They were all rock and rollers before The Beatles came to America. We have been making music here in Norfolk, along with other up and coming white and black artist. You are standing in the studio that produced several Top Ten billboard records with artist who are mingling with the artist that will change everything, and start the music revolution." 

I was completely mesmerized as Cliff shared the history of where I was standing, and ultimately going to be studying in twice week. Cliff asked me, "So, you're a Beatles fan?" I responded, "Yes I'm a Beatles fan, aren't you?" He said, "Of course, I am a Beatles fan kid. Who can deny the genius of John Lennon and Paul McCartney? They are the ones that crashed through the walls that started this music revolution. I happen to not be a part of unfortunately. I don't fit into the revolution quite yet." I said, "What do you mean by that?" "You don't know me well enough for me to tell you my life story yet. Until we get to that point why don't you just let me be your teacher? I'll let you be my student. You think we could do that?" He exclaimed. I said, "Sure I can do that."

Cliff instructed me to take my guitar out of the case and sit on the chair underneath the microphone in the studio. I did exactly what he asked. He followed me out to the studio. He looked at the guitar and said, “Nice! It looks better in person.” I asked, “What do you mean by that?” “I was the one that ordered this guitar for you. When you mother told me your choice I was impressed.” 

He never sat down. He just lit a filtered Viceroy cigarette and walked around me asking me questions: "Did you name your guitar? Does she have a name?" I said, "No I hadn't really thought about it, am I supposed to name my guitar?" Cliff laughed and said, "Every musician names their instrument. I suggest you start thinking about a name for your guitar. Don't spend too much time on it because it will make you crazy. Just start to play it and the name will present itself."

"Close your eyes." Cliff told me. He asked me, "How many strings are on your guitar?" I responded, "Six." Then he asked me, "Do you know the notes that each one of those strings makes?" I said, "No not really." Cliff then went on to say, "Here are the simple basics of a guitar. There are six strings. There's a top string and below that are five more strings. The top string and the bottom string are the same note. The top string is the sixth string and a low E, and the bottom string is the first string, a high E." 

I was having trouble keeping up with him because he was taking so fast. Then he asked me, “What's the note for the top string on the guitar?" I responded, "E?" He then asked, "What's the note on the bottom string of a guitar." I responded, "E?" Cliff said, "Very good, now I know you listening to me. There's many of stupid ways to remember what the rest of the notes are on the guitar. You can remember them by just having a smart brain, or you can use a simple little piece of poetry such as: Even Brainy Girls Don't Always Eat, which is the notes starting at the first string, E, B, G, D, A and E, or you can go the other way too - using thickest to thinnest strings like these: Easter Angels Don't Give Broken Eggs, or my favorite. Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good-Bye Eddie. Do you get it?" I just shook my head. He then said, "Practice it! Every Day!"

Based on the big black round clock in the wall our hour was almost up. Cliff said. "This has been a first good lesson. Next week we will discuss how to tune your guitar and make the strings be the notes they are supposed to be. You will find that learning to tune is a bit tricky, but there are tricks to get it right." He goes over to the cabinet and get three albums and hands them to me. He said, "It is good that you are a Beatles fan kid. They are going to takes us on a glorious ride, which I can promise. Here is some music that broke through the wall of rock and roll and it was born right in this room. All of which were influences to John Lennon and Paul McCarthy. Listen to them and on Thursday let me know what you think."

I left my first guitar lesson on cloud nine and didn't even play one note. I was looking forward to taking my new guitar home and listening to the albums that Cliff had given me. The Whizzer was full with my guitar, records and music catalogs. It only took about fifteen minutes to get home. 

Over the next several months it was just routine, but great routine with a couple of surprises. My Mother informed my sisters and me that we were going to have another sibling. I really didn't care at this point. My life was just fine with the sisters I had. In fact, my oldest sister Mickey and I were starting to talk about music together, when we were forced to be alone. Our interests were similar and it created a common ground for us.

I passed the fourth grade. My guitar lessons were going great. Cliff was starting to open up with me and shared the best stories. He began to teach me how to set-up a sound studio. I turns out that Frank Guida was a very close friend of my mother’s as well. I had the pleasure of assisting Cliff and sitting in on recording sessions that included: Marcelino "Daddy" Grace, Gene Barge, The Church Street Five and Gary U.S. Bonds. 

I decided to join the Boy Scouts because my friend Eddie asked me to join with him. We became Cub Scouts that summer. I enjoyed doing the books Bear, Lion and Wolf. That summer of my tenth year was a great summer with literally sex, a little bit of drugs, Cub Scouts, newspapers and rock and roll. Little did I know that the next year of my life would be the most rewarding, challenging, controversial and painful? But when you are ten and you have the freedom, friends and opportunities that seem to come my way, anything could happen, and it did.

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