It was like a fever. The sound of The Beatles was in my head, and there was no turning down the volume.
At the age of eight years I had directed a laser-like focus on the noise of guitars and drums, riding my bike to a local record store and trading in pretty much my entire fortune for a copy of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" b/w "I Saw Her Standing There," the first Capital Records 45 of The Beatles to be released in the United States.
But for me, still years away from teenager status, The Beatles were simply a portal into a mind-bending world of sound that seemed to be expanding at an astonishing rate.
My first actual encounter with a real life rock and roll star came just a couple of years into my life sentence in music. We were living in Memphis, Tennessee, and one afternoon the headliner on WHBQ's local televised teen dance party was Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, pushing the most excellent hit single "Wooly Bully," a song that still delights me every time I hear it.
I was definitely a Sam fan, and was thrilled by the revelation that he was in the area. I flew out the door and leapt on my bike, pedaling furiously to the television station's studio parking lot. There I found Sam and the Pharaohs in the midst of the glorious task of loading their gear into a converted hearse. I rolled over to Sam, and looked up at him.
"You're Sam the Sham," I stated with authority.
"That's right, kid," he replied.
End of discussion.
Rock was changing and evolving at a frantic pace, but the first time I heard the power and aggression that had been hinted at before finally fully realized was The Who's "I Can See for Miles." Pete Townshend's chords, the rumbling bass of John Entwistle, Keith Moon's savage percussive attack, and Roger Daltrey's vaguely threatening delivery all combined to give me chills, and I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it.
And then came Jimi Hendrix.
By now I had moved to the Philadelphia area and was in seventh grade. There were a couple of older kids in school who I thought were hip, and I tried to keep tabs on what they were into. One was a budding artist, and he'd completed a large, colorful oil painting of Hendrix. I was fascinated - how could anybody possibly look like this?
Then, I heard his music.
Then, at 13, I saw him live. For me, nothing was ever the same after that night. It was the definition of a life-changing event.
In the years that followed, I saw many amazing guitarists - a number of whom I've since had the good fortune to meet or even work with on book projects. But one thing I never did was try to play guitar myself - until I met The Clash.
I'd enthusiastically embraced the first wave of British and American punk rock, but far and away my favorite band was The Clash. When I heard they'd be playing Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre on their brief "Takes the Fifth" tour in 1979 I was determined to meet them.
Carrying the "Give 'Em Enough Rope" poster I was hoping to get signed, I walked into the lobby of the Benjamin Franklin Hotel the afternoon of the show hoping for the best. I never would have expected to find all four band members happily sitting around talking to fans, but there they were.
With my poster signed by all four, and helpfully illustrated by Joe Strummer, I then got into a conversation with guitarist Mick Jones. We were talking about music we liked, and guitarists we'd seen and admired. I then admitted that I had always wished I'd learned to play.
Mick just looked slightly bemused for a moment.
"Well, why don't you, then?" he asked. "I'm no better than you are!"
The light bulb switched on - and I got after it, better late than never. It just took the encouragement of someone I admired to make it happen. I was off to Eighth Street Music within days and bought my trusty '78 Fender Telecaster, similar to the reliable musical tool favored by Joe Strummer. This guitar was a tank that came to serve me well, as within months my band Informed Sources played with everybody from Black Flag and X to Bad Brains and the Replacements. It became relic'ed the old-fashioned way, complete with my blood on the Informed Sources sticker between the pickups.
I later got to know Strummer a bit, and in my mind I can still hear him croaking out my name whenever we met: "Hey, Moriarty!" But it was that brief chat with Mick Jones that opened the door for me.
Thanks, Mick, for that simplest of ideas!