I have a dream. Nothing like Martin Luther King Jr’s dream, but it’s my dream. I dream that I am on stage in the Royal Albert Hall in London, playing Blues guitar alongside Eric Clapton or Joe Bonamassa or BB King in front of an amazing band and thousands of Blues fans. Then, of course, I wake up and I’m in my studio at the back of my garden playing along to a Clapton or Bonamassa backing track, all alone and feeling the Blues. Some dreams are meant to stay just that. Because I know my fingers would freeze up if I were at the Royal Albert Hall or my ever wandering, unfocused mind would just forget the chords and I’d simply embarrass myself. Lack of confidence that. It might have been me if I had not had such a misspent youth, chasing after Jesus’s approval (read parents somewhere in that) and I had been a tad less lazy.
I could have become a world-class guitarist and musician if I had bothered. Even if I had bothered to bother that ought to have produced better results. But I didn’t. I frittered away precious hours dreaming of girls and jumping from hobby to hobby because I was unfocused and undisciplined. Clapton learned guitar by buying Blues records (a feat in itself in the England of the 50s and early 60) and slowing the speed down on the turntable to get every note being played by Big Bill Broonzy & Co. And he practiced all the time. Not me. Always something better or immediate to distract me. Don’t get me wrong, I played the damn thing, the guitar that is, I got to a certain point and plateaued, resting on my laurels, learning nothing new. The consummate procrastinator. It isn’t that I didn’t want to learn, you understand. I simply could not be bothered. I got tired in the 1960s being invited to parties just because I played the guitar. So I neglected it. The folk group I was in at the time relied more on our vocal harmonies than any instrument playing. My group won the Davenport Folk Festival 2 years in a row in Toronto and when we got a recording deal as one of the prizes, the agent told me I played the guitar like a log of wood with a piece of string attached. Ouch. So, I tried taking lessons, but they were too much work. I let the whole thing slide.
My love for the Blues has never waned, nor has my equal love for the guitar. I loved them, I just didn’t do anything about it. Not like Bonamassa who ate, slept and lived the Blues from an early age, perfecting his skill on the guitar year by year. I had a friend in High School who wanted to be someone. He was what you might call a shy, quiet, gawky kind of kid. That’s my impression as I think back. When school broke up for the summer one year, I asked my friend what he was going to do on the holidays. He said he was going to bury himself in his basement and learn the guitar and become a Rock Star. I confess I chortled behind his back. When the autumn came, he could play like few others. He excelled. He had done it. I can only imagine the dedication it took. He had a number of great bands after that summer and ended up with one of the best looking girls around. He became a great songwriter. He may have become one of Canada’s great Rock Stars, but he died far too young. Just shows you that if you want something badly enough, you have to work for it.
I continued to dabble into my 50s, playing for church services when I was a preacher, youth groups, summer camps and with my eldest daughter who forced me to learn a few new things in order to accompany her. She chose some difficult pieces, believe me. It was a stretch for this old goat, but she’s worth it. And in 2004 when my whole world changed, I finally determined to learn this instrument properly, pushing myself as far as I could go with my small hands and slow fingers. When I moved to London, England, I began to teach the instrument while working in a music shop. Nothing like being forced to learn to stay a few steps in front of your students. So, by 60, I had become a decent guitarist, piling on more Blues chops on a weekly basis. Next stop, The Royal Albert Hall….well, maybe a small Blues club first. Maybe….it’s a dream you know.
That might sound like a pipe dream being that I’m 64 at the moment, but consider the case of Steven Gene Wold, aka Seasick Steve. At the ripe old age of 65 the man became a legend overnight after playing the Jools Holland show on BBC television, New Year’s Eve 2006. Six big hit albums later (the sixth, ‘Sonic Souls Surfer’ having just been released), Seasick Steve enjoys a celebrity many of us have relinquished by retirement age, any thoughts of it vanishing like so many faeries at the bottom of our gardens. Now, it isn’t as if the man came out of nowhere. He had paid his dues and has been in the music business most of his life in America and Europe. But like most of us, Seasick Steve was forever on the fringes of the business. But he paid his dues, as I said, and was eventually rewarded. I have done no such thing, instead just plodding along hoping to run into someone like Jools Holland.
And therein lies the problem. I never do run into such types. Even when I do have the occasional celebrity encounter, I never have the nerve to promote myself and besides, Seasick Steve has a gimmick, his odd musical instruments, while I have the old standard garden variety guitars that you can buy at any garden variety music shop. But one thing I can do is give myself a moniker that stands out and I have the name to make it work. You can’t get better than starting with Larry. Because Seasick has been taken as a fore name and as an alliteration to Steve, I thought of the name Landlubber Larry. Not because I love the land over the sea mind you. Steve Wold got his nickname from a friend while travelling from Norway to Copenhagen on a ferry. He actually got seasick and his friend began calling him Seasick Steve. It stuck. Well, when I told a friend I was thinking of moving house to a canal barge, he said, “But you’re a landlubber.” There you go. Name given. I am Landlubber Larry.
Seasick Steve’s first album, Dog House Music, was released in November of 2006. It was promoted in London, England by his good fiend Joe Cushly who has a show on Resonance FM (London) called Ballin’ the Jack Blues. A month later, Seasick Steve is on Holland’s show. Everything set for stardom. I would never claim to possess the musical background of Seasick Steve. He truly has paid his dues….all the way to busking at Metro stations in Paris. And, I have to admit, he looks the part. I have only made a few backing tracks in my studio and they are mediocre at best. But I’m learning. I think in a year, when I turn 65, I’ll be ready to bust out and be the Bluesman I’ve always dreamed about. Landlubber Larry. Watch for him at an Underground station in London near you. I have a dream.