I Love Electric Guitar

SCCA Praise Concert, 2006

It all began before I was a teen.  My preacher and his daughter were taking guitar lessons and I thought that was pretty neat.  Therefore, I wanted to play guitar too.  Dad had a 1953 Martin 00-17 that he never learned to play on.  Because I wanted it so badly, Mom and Dad took me to the music store in Kokomo (Indiana) where he had bought the Martin and bought me a Winston beginner’s guitar.  A little 6-string acoustic flat-top that had a sunburst paint scheme.  Red blending to black along the edges.

I didn’t have lessons.  I may be a self-starter, but at that point, I didn’t know where to start.  So other than banging on the strings, not having learned anything about playing, it pretty much stayed shoved under my bed.

Then . . . Ralph Trotto came to town.  Ralph was from the southeast portion of Indiana.  His fame is pretty much reserved to the churches he played in and having taught the Memphis blues man Lonnie Mack some of his first guitar chords.  Ralph Trotto was blind which was cool in its own right.  He played a big-box Gibson electric (like a Byrdland or Super 400 or something) into a Fender Twin amplifier.  His voice was big and booming and that’s how he played guitar.  I was hooked.  I wanted it.

Malachi and me

Before I was allowed to take guitar lessons, my folks had me take piano lessons so that I could “learn music.”  I had about three years of piano.  I learned notes and my ear got trained to harmony.  I would practice the piece my teacher gave me that week, fumbling through until I had it memorized and played it back for her, without reading the music, but appearing too.  I didn’t become a pianist like my brothers and sister.

During this time, I attended a youth rally hosted by a Christian Church in Carmel, Indiana.  It was held in the auditorium of the Carmel High School.  They had a band, a Christian band, the first I’d ever seen or heard of.  But it was a Christian rock band and whoever the guy was playing the guitar, her was playing a red Gibson SG.  I was hooked.  That is still my “dream guitar.”  In fact, the best guitar I have ever played was a 1961 Gibson SG in mint condition.  My friend Marty had it.  His grandma had bought it new in ’61 and played it for 30 plus years and there wasn’t a single scratch on it.  If it had all the original tags ( it had some of them), it would have been dead mint.

One of the world's most famouse SG's

I pressed my folks to let me take guitar lessons.  By the summer of 1977 I was taking lessons.  I bought an Alvarez 5022 acoustic flat-top guitar for $90 (half price sale)  and took lessons from a Jazz musician by the name of Malcom Bender.

When the cost per lesson went up 33% ($3 to $4 a lesson), we couldn’t afford to keep them up and so my friend Jim taught me.  We wrote a song or two together, and played them at church.

The first real song I learned, besides the basic music lesson songs, like Michael Row the Boat Ashore and stuff like that was Three Dog Night’s “Old Fashioned Love Song.”

[Kind of a goofy performance isn’t it?]

I’ve been hooked ever since.  I’ve mostly learned on my own ever since, but I’ve played for 32 years now.  Not as good as someone who has played that long, but I enjoy playing.

I’ve owned and played Les Paul’s, Stratocasters, Telecasters, Ovation electrics and acoustics, Hamer, Aria, and more.  I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of guitars in music stores, pawn shops, churches, bars, living rooms and who knows where.

Give me an electric and I’m comfortable.  I’ll even sing with one strapped on my shoulders.  I feel as though the guitar is an extension

Playing a parts guitar (Telecaster copy) before work in 1987

of myself and play it like it is a part of me.  I love the expressive abilities of the guitar.  I love the variety of styles that can be played with the guitar.  I love to rock and nothing will rock like a Les Paul.

I really could go on and on about guitar and the electric in particular.

“I love guitar.”  You can quote me on that too.  I am not ashamed of the fact that I love guitar.  I have been inspired by many players, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Phil Keaggy, Bob Wall, Ron Salisberry, Mike Baer, Santana, Les Paul and I can go on forever about my influences.

Guitar is important to me because I can be expressive in ways I might not be able to otherwise, plus, having an awesome looking guitar slung over your shoulders is pretty cool.


Playing bass for "Wednesday Night Live"

8 thoughts on “I Love Electric Guitar

  1. During the late 70’s-80’s I would drive from Waynesville, Ohio to Aurora, Indiana and bring Ralph home to stay with us. He would play at our church Waynesville Church of Christ, Waynesville, Ohio. My father and I would also find Ralph other churches for concerts. His music was enjoyed by all.

    Pastor/Dr. Christopher Campbell

  2. Ralph entered his heavenly reward some years ago, having been bedbound for a number of years in the wake of a terrible car crash where somebody drove into the side of Ralph’s vehicle as he was enroute home (or maybe it was on the way to church — maybe someone else can clarify this?) I first became aware of him via my longtime enjoyment of Lonnie Mack’s music; Lonnie typically mentioned Ralph as one of his early teachers/influences in Aurora, IN, and that got me wanting to hear Ralph’s music. Given that I live on the west coast (grew up in southern California, and have lived in the Seattle area since 1985) finding any recordings by him was no easy feat. But on one business trip circa 1991 that took me to the Cincinatti area, I made the effort to see if I could find a “Ralph Trotto” listed in the local phone directories, and sure enough I found a number and after making a call or two made my way to him home in Aurora. That’s where I discovered his plight in the aftermath of the car wreck; his wife was there caring for him, he was bedbound in a coma and all in all it was a pretty sorry situation. But his wife and I talked about his music, and after a while she produced an LP and then a cassette tape that had what turned out to be Ralph’s last recording “session”, done in his living room not too long before the wreck. He sings 6 gospel songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar, very typical of Ralph’s music. She graciously allowed me to make a copy of the tape, and more recently I was able to transfer it to digital format so I can listen to the music on CD or my computer — and make copies for anyone who would appreciate hearing Ralph in this format. Feel free to contact me if you would like a copy — only thing I ask is reimbursement for my duplication and postage costs, i.e. $3.00. johntberg@msn.com

  3. Interesting mention of Ralph Trotto. I too grew up listening to Ralph play when he would visit our home. My Dad took him to local churches and he would play for donations and sell copies of his albums. The big box guitar you mentioned was a Gretsch White Falcon. I saw Ralph’s Martin D18 sold a few years ago but always wondered what happened to his Gretsch and that Fender amp. Ralph was an amazing musician.

    • Wow Scott. That’s cool. Thanks for the comment. I never saw Ralph with a Gretsch. It was a Gibson with a Tobacco Sunburst color scheme. A big box one for sure. Maybe that’s the one he brought around in north central Indiana in the late sixties and early 70’s (before 1974). He was in our home several times and played the old Martin 00-17. Sounded wonderful and he commented on how good of a guitar it was. It still is and all my friends are jealous, lol. Do you know if Ralph is still living?

  4. Thanks for that great story, do you think it was a good thing to learn the piano first? I ask because I think it would have been easier for me to learn to read notes if I had played the piano to. You can check out beginners guitar lessons blog and see what think, not that I think I could learn you anything, but we never know.

    • I think learning piano was good, but I only learned where the notes were. The best thing it did for me was train me to hear and recognize music. I can’t really read music, wish I had been disiciplined enough to try. Piano was a help for sure.

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