Lessons from Lelia Drive


Lelia Drive was where I got my first guitar and began the journey towards making records like the many that filled the airwaves in our home. Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, Beethoven, Charlie Pride, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, the Ventures - you name it, we had it. We didn't have much of anything else, but it was enough for me. More than anything, I wanted to get the music inside my heart and mind outside into the light of day so that the whole world could hear and feel what was in my soul.

Lelia Drive was a pivotal and formative place for me. I lived there about two years, the longest I'd ever lived in one place as a child, but it was where I accquired the lessons that shaped who I am today. I learned about hard work, the contagion of passion, and the humility that is required to gain wisdom.

In that white wood-frame house butted up to a cotton field, I learned that if you have a dream, you must do the hard work to achieve it. I built my first guitar with an old blue guitar neck, a 2x4, some brown mobile home wall paneling, orange burlap, and fishing line. I took a hunting knife and a hammer to cut out the guitar body, nailed the neck and body panels to the 2x4, and covered the sides with the burlap. The fishing line didn't give me the sound I wanted, but it drew attention from my uncle. He talked my dad into buying a little red acoustic guitar from him. That was a sacrifice at the time, because we were very poor. I loved that guitar and played the strings off of it, but I wanted an electric guitar to get that sound I was hearing in my head. I was no stranger to work (I started laboring in my dad's welding shop and in the cotton fields at age 11), so I picked up a job pitching watermelons to scrape together enough money to buy an electric guitar.

I also learned that passion is contagious, and people will help you if they see that you're on a mission. My dad did this when he gave up $10 to buy that red guitar. He also did it when he hooked up some adapters to his stereo to make my first amplifier. My uncle came by and saw me playing my $25 electric guitar through the stereo and took me to the music store. He asked me to help him pick out a guitar and amplifier combo, and then traded me. It was definitely an upgrade.

Finally, I learned that if you are willing to humble yourself, you will find the wisdom you seek. I realized very quickly that I didn't know how to play anything, and I could only get so far by pushing my fingers around blindly and trying to retain everything I'd accidentally discovered that sounded good. I wanted to play so badly that when I heard of anyone in town knew a song or two, I'd show up at their house with guitar in hand and ask them to teach me those songs. I look back now and realize that not only was I in the humble position of asking for wisdom, my many teachers were quite humble and patient in granting me my requests.

On Lelia Drive I learned that poverty and lack of resources aren't ultimate barriers to achieving your dreams. Rather, pride and unwilligness to do what it takes are the real barriers. As a tribute to the lessons I learned there, I will be recording my third CD, Lelia Drive, later this year. It will be released on Raynbyrd Records, the label I started a few years back. Not bad for a poor boy from the Missouri cotton fields.


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