Pluck Your Magic Twanger Froggy


 

I remember watching Andy Divine ask Froggy the Gremlin to “Pluck Your Magic Twanger Froggy.” This certainly dates me, but I ain’t the only one.  

   Every once in a while during my time playing guitar something remarkable happens to me. At least I think it’s remarkable, it may not be to some folks but it is to me. Something like this happened to me today. It’s just part of the learning curve I think. It’s when a series of things sort of cascade all together at the same time. I believe it comes from setting up these building blocks of learning perhaps. I wish I had a better way of describing it. Anyway somebody in my subconscious ask Froggy to pluck his magic twanger for me today and he did. I had put a brand spanking new Mallory Duracell into the guitar body. This guitar uses what’s called “active pickups”. They’re supposed to have more boost than the standard humbucker ceramics or alnicos. I couldn’t tell you if that’ s true or not however it makes not a tinker’s damn about this story so why am I going on about it? I don’t know. Anyway the guitar was sounding pretty fair. I was experimenting with playing some chord structured arpeggios. For those that have the question “what’s an arpeggio?” well it’s the process of play each note in a chord individually instead of strummed mostly at once. It allows each string to sound and they are almost always in harmony with each other. It sounds very cool if done correctly.

This puts lots and lots of stress on the fretting hand. Instead of just holding down one string your hand is actually fretting three or four strings all at the same time. Somehow I managed to do this for about half an hour or so. My left hand was getting real tired. I was also playing the eight string which has much larger gauge strings on it than your garden variety six string does. This adds to the pressure required to ground the strings against the frets. Well I decided that because I don’t usually practice this technique all that much that I should quit and play something that would loosen me back up. So I got on Pandora Radio and spent about fourty five minutes jumping around from station to station and wound up on Joe Satriani’s station. I like Joe. He’s an excellent guitarist and plays pretty melodic stuff. I am into melodies. Not just flurries of notes just to show folks you can play ‘em.  I knew I’d be in for a challenge trying to play along with Joe. Usually I get a bit discouraged and quit after he shows me how much faster he is than I am.  I happened to find a nice song of his that wasn’t running at warp six. It was actually about a medium tempo. Still the way the music is structured needs to have the notes spanked off the fret board at a more than rapid clip. This usually pushes me right to the limit of my abilities, but for some reason not today. I had no trouble just ripping up and down the neck like I knew what I was doing?  Makes me laugh just thinking about it. Then I started realizing what I was doing and I had to say to myself “damn son!”  I even think Joe would have smiled. 

   I was playing faster than I ever have and I was doing it on my eight string! This was a real shock to me when I started putting together what just happened. It’s a real rewarding feeling when this happens to me, as you might imagine.  It doesn’t happen often enough to suit me but I’m sure I’m not the only musician that thinks this way. We put in literally parts of our lifetimes practicing and playing and the times that Froggy plucks his magic twanger for us don’t come around nearly enough. On the other hand that’s what makes learning an instrument, any instrument, so worthwhile. It’s something that not everyone can do. Some folks don’t have the rhythm for it; some folks have no musical ear or are tone deaf.  Then there are those that won’t do it because they can’t buy it.  I had parents that were kind enough to me to explain that to me, and pound it into my young head every single day. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving a shit about me.  I had about the best parents any kid could have. We weren’t rich by a long shot. But My Dad was the craziest man I’ve ever known and he would make the entire family laugh. He was a great musician and so was Mom. So I got a double dose of this. Thanks again Mom and Dad.  I feel sorry for the kids nowadays whose parents think they can learn this in school somehow.  Personally I don’t think most Moms’ and Dad’s nowadays even know what I’m talking about here.      I’m glad playing a guitar is difficult. I didn’t used to like it but in the words of Clint Eastwood, “I ain’t like that anymore.”  I like challenges more than anything else in life these days. Lord knows I get ’em too trying to make ends meet on Social Security. 

   Okay I’m drifting again.  Yesterday a friend handed me a Johnson six string acoustic guitar. It was a nice piece for what I assumed was a cheap guitar. It had a nice low string action, the neck was pretty straight and flat, and had decent looking wood. I had another revelation on this guitar. I couldn’t play the damn thing! Because I’ve adapted to playing seven and eight string guitars which have considerably wider necks this guitar’s neck felt like a toothpick. I almost thought I had a banjo in my hands!  No fooling!  With a little diddling around I would have been able to play it but it would have taken about 30 minutes or less to adjust. Funny how this stuff goes.  I was talking with one of my favorite young guitar dudes at the Clackamas Guitar Center last month and we were talking about seven and eight string guitars. He asked me what I played and I told him I played a seven string and an eight string. He said “man I don’t know how you can play one of those things I can barely play a seven string and my six string gives me all the trouble I can handle!”  I had to laugh not at him but because he was so honest!  I like him because he is that way.  I know exactly what he’s talking about. I have pretty big hands so that’s the main reason I can play an eight string.  I think there may be some divine intervention going on in my behalf as well with the eight string. You see I made a deal with God (if we ever can do that,) I told Him or ask Him more to the point, if He’d leave me on the planet for a normal life span that I’d be the best guitar player I could be. I guess He believes me. He’s even helping me because I keep picking up that ole eight string the ole “Black Queen.”  I think the Lord is saying “nope Dave use this one.”  That’s just me. That’s what I think.  I’m thankful that the Lord has given me the gift to play it.  I also think He drops these little Twanger presents on me and that it’s not really Froggy the Gremlin doing it at all. That’s what I think.

   I am thankful for them. I am thankful to be alive in an age when the electric guitar can be such a wondrous instrument.  I’m thankful that the Lord lets me see music of all sorts and that I can like all of it. I believe that music really is the rhythm of the soul. I believe that.

 Dave Proffitt

Automotive Zen


Once in a while folks would ask me why I became a mechanic. I used to tell them that I just had a “car jones.” I don’t think like that anymore. To me now it’s more like meditation. That’s right more akin to playing my guitar. I can get all “Zenned out” by running my creeper over a nut and getting pitched off of it, or holding up something heavy and trying to start a bolt into hole that refuses to start that will relieve the weight. Makes one wonder if the bolt threads and the hole really are “at odds” with each other. I am also in wonderment of all the scars on the back of my hands and forearms for every mechanical that cut me or burned me during my tenure as a mechanical doctor.

    Lots of people like to plop the black hats on mechanics and make us out like we’re the bad guys. Some say we’re out to cheat little old ladies and women out of their money. Some are. Most aren’t. Cars nowadays are ornery, complicated critters to work on. A few years back they didn’t have diagnostic computers to tell you where they “hurt.” You just had to take an educated guess. Doctors have the luxury of asking their patients what’s wrong with them. We have to guess most of the time. I had a guy that got really upset with me one time during the early part of my career as a mechanic. He brought in a car that was made during the late 60’s. A Chevrolet V8 small block. Methinks it was a 350. At any rate this was during the time that the government pulled the plug on tetra ethyl lead in the gasoline effectively turning it into bad smelling Kool Aide. The octane went right into the old toileto. His car had a relativley high compression ratio for the gasoline available at that time.  He wanted me to tune his car up. So I did. I took it out to test drive it and when I put a load on it going uphill the motor began to rattle its brains out with this pinging song from ingesting the new shit grade of octane. So I took the car back and retarded the timing back a couple of degrees. It still pinged. Knowing this gentleman I knew he’d complain if it pinged AT ALL!  So I backed it up some more. Seems to me this motor was supposed to run at like 8 degrees before top dead center. I had it running at about 4 degrees before it would quit pinging. Of course it didn’t run a good as it would have at 8 degrees. When he came and got the car I told him about the problem. He didn’t seem to be concerned at the time mainly because he hadn’t driven the car yet. The next morning he was back and was he steamed!  He came in and got all over my case about the “shitty tune up” I did on his car. My boss at the time explained the exact same thing I had told this Bozo the day before. The gas company had backed me into an impossible corner. I would have liked nothing better than to set his timing at 8 degrees but the gasoline wouldn’t allow it. So opting not to damage his engine I decided to retard the timing which is all anyone could have done under these circumstances. So I was the bad guy here. I’ve seen cars that are so poorly designed that they take half a day to disassemble just to change the part, heater cores come to mind here. Someone has to pay for the time it takes to do this. If the owner wants to get upset with someone get upset at the engineers who designed this crap to begin with, don’t shoot the messenger because of the message.

     I don’t miss this Zen part of testing one’s mettle. Not me brother. I have zero tolerance for corporate greed and bean counter neckties dictating to stockholders how their cars should be designed and built so it puts more money in their pockets and cost you the consumer more. That’s the Zen part of mechanics I really understand. It comes from seeing this sort of tomfoolery and nonsense evolve thru the years. It almost killed the American car manufacturers in the late 70 and early 80’s. Imagine experimenting with water borne paints and having your car lose 65% of it’s clear coat, base coat or both driving down the freeway. This is a truism to the saddest degree. None of the car manufactures I know of took car of this problem it was just a case of “toughski shitski” for the owners who gave their hard earned dollars up to this sort of manufacturing skullduggery. What a way to do business?  Then the Japanese come along, offer a car for less money, more reliability and the paint stays on! What a concept. It’s no wonder Americans stopped buying Made in Detroit, by necktie dipshit bean counters and shareholders. What a load of shit. 

One would think that Detroit would learn from past mistakes but it all comes down to a brand new set of bean counter shoes and bad colored neckties and the process starts all over again.  The next time you are driving down the freeway on  a long trip and are bored looking for something to do try this; there is a wiring problem with the parking lights on the late model GMC and Chevrolet pickups and Suburban’s. Usually the driver’s side parking lights are out. See how many of these you can count while you’re driving. A few years back it was a problem with the glass in the windshields. Most GM windshields developed a crack in the center of the windshield. Usually started near the top and ran downward. Although I’ve seen them start from the bottom and go up.

     Well I really do like working thru a problem on my 1968 Olds Cutlass. It doesn’t have all these defugealties I’ve mentioned here. It has its own set but I can deal with these. The engineering on this car is so much better than the new stuff, and it’s made out of better steel. It’s sheet metal is also heavier, but somehow the car weighs less than its new counterparts by almost a thousand pounds. How does this happen when so much of the newer cars utilize plastics everywhere and aluminum this and that? Some of the higher end cars are sporting titanium pieces as well.  I don’t know the answer to this question and frankly I don’t give a shit either. I dig my Oldsmobile because it is what it is. I totally understand every nut bolt and screw within its lovely old frame. I know why it does the things it does, and how it’s wired from its funky back up lights to its four headlights and everything in between. And when it doesn’t feel good I can fix it and it doesn’t cost me and arm and a leg and best of all there’s no damn place to plug a computer into it!

   This is hot rod Zen at its best.  

Dave

 

Hard to Lose


 

If someone would ask me how many dogs and cats I’ve had down thru the years I couldn’t answer that. I’m a dog person. I like cats okay but the cats in my life were the result of pleadings on my Sisters part. I always had the dogs. The largest percentages of those were German Shepherds. I had a Siberian Husky, and an Australian Shepherd and even a Cattle Dog/ Border Collie Cross. But mostly German Shepherds.

    There inevitably comes the time when we have to put them down.  This time is always put to the very bottom shelf of our sub conscious, for obvious reasons.  And when that times comes as it always does, makes us feel terrible. To me it was always such a huge loss, and a sense of helplessness.  My dogs always seem to contract something that was not fixable by any vet on the planet and euthanasia was the only alternative. Saying your last goodbyes to a dear pet because modern vet medicine, or our animal’s time line has run down, never seems like a decent answer to the holes we have left in our hearts from losing out pets. 

    Losing one of my dogs is actually much harder on me than losing a parent, sibling or family member.  I know this might sound hard, but to me it is. I don’t know why this is exactly. I can talk to a human and express to them how I feel and thru conversation we more or less sign each other out to the great gig in the sky. We can talk to our dogs and cats, horses, parakeets, etc, but I’m wondering if they know what’s coming next?  Somewhere in the Bible it says that God made animals and he blessed them. That tells me that all my dogs are in heaven.  If they ain’t then I ain’t going. Simple to me. Why wouldn’t they be? Can you think of a better model for a human than a dog? I sure as hell can’t. Seems to me the good Lord knows this one too.  The last dog I lost was Utah. He was a beautiful German Shepherd I got from Cris Sweeney at Black Hills German Shepherds in Molalla. He was huge too, tipped the vets scales over 147 lbs.  I raised him from a puppy. I took him to the vet one day for a skin defugealty and when the vet examined him told me that Utah had an enlarged liver. The next thing I know in a day I was making plans to have him put down. So I decided to hang out with him while this was going on . I actually got down on the floor and looked him in the eyes while he was slipping away. My God that was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done. But I wanted him to know I was there when he was leaving. I wanted him to not be alone while he was going out. I can’t imagine how an animal must feel knowing they are dying and wondering where their beloved owner is. Can you fathom that?  Doing what I did is not easy, but we have to look at it from the animals view point. In fact I’ve done that entirely with Zephyr.  When you think about it, our dogs depend on us for their happiness.  We have a universe of things to keep us busy and they only have us. Sniffing around the yard, peeing on the shrubs is just normal dog business.  Every dog I’ve ever seen is wired that way. That doesn’t mean they are happy campers because we keep them outside all the time, and spend little time with them. I have found having Zephyr with me when I go grocery shopping or running into town for something is fun, and he’s good company.  You couldn’t have a better car alarm either.  I’ve spent so much time with Zeph that when I am on the Harley I feel bad that he’s not in a side car with me.

    Anyway I’m getting side tracked as usual. Losing a pet is a difficult, heart rending experience we as pet owners get to go thru. If you can look back on the times you had with your pet and say, “I tried the best I could to be a good owner and love them to my utmost of my ability, when that time comes when you say a final goodbye to your pet makes it a little easier. At least I can live with myself knowing I did the best I could for my animals, and was the best companion I knew how to be for them. It’s little comfort but that’s all we get as humans.

    We are always in awe of a dog’s love for us.  I am anyways.  Animals, especially dogs, have this simple unfettered way of dealing with us as humans. Because we are intelligent beyond them I think sometimes takes away our simplicities that we should never lose.  I have had revelations about how stupid I’ve been around my pets in the past, I felt like smashing myself in the head with a V8 can. How could I be so f—kin dumb?  I’ve never mistreated an animal but sometimes I feel like I’m the king ignoramus on planet earth.  We are not so important that we can’t learn a thing or two from our partners on this planet. Just because we are smart enough to screw it up doesn’t mean we know everything either.  I learn things about my dog and from my dog on a daily basis. I doubt that he gets that from me in return. What can I show him? I mean really?  I couldn’t’ improve on his love for me or his personality if I were a god. Something’s are perfect the way they are. I think God knows this about dogs.  I’ve lost my Father and my Mother and my Sister.  This was difficult but still not as hard as losing one of my dogs.  I can’t explain this, and I don’t care, its just an honest feeling. I don’t think I’m the only one either.  The best I can do is to be there for my dog 24-7. I owe him that. I owe him to throw his ball for him, I owe him conversation. I owe him kisses, and grooming sessions. I owe him an occasional slice of Tillamook Medium Cheddar cheese when I’m making a sandwich. I owe him fresh water in his bowl every day, I owe him decent, nutritious dog food, not some slaughter house garbage in a bright shiny bag. I owe him regular visits to the vet. I owe him.

     When I lose him if I have done all of the above I may not shed as many tears, and have irreparable tears in my heart strings as I would if I hadn’t done all of the above.  This sort of emotional turmoil is just too hard on me anymore.  I’m almost out of tears sometimes I think. 

     So the best we can do for our animals while they are with us is to be the best parent to them that we are able to be. They are a life entity. I believe they have souls and I know they have feelings. Because they are not equal to us from some cosmic mandate doesn’t mean we should treat them as some sort of sub life form.  Jerry Ryser used to have a sign up in his body shop that read, “ The More I know about people the better I like my dog.” Amen to that.

 

Dave Proffitt