Danny and I took turns carrying the case that had Amos in it. Amos was Danny’s 12 string, and for a couple of Oklahoma hippies hitchhiking all across the eastern USA, you couldn’t ask for a better traveling companion than Amos. Just having him along could tease cars and trucks into pulling over to give us a ride. Because of him, doors would open so we could spread our bedrolls on spare floor space instead of grassy road sides. Amos would charm people into buying us meals and giving us road food so in all those months on the highway, we were always broke, but never hungry.
It didn’t hurt that Danny knew the magic moves that allowed Amos to do his stuff. And if I say so myself, with Amos backing us up, Danny and me could put down some pretty salty harmonies. Old timey gospel, ’60s rock and the blues.
That was back in the early ‘70s and at that time, we never heard of a woman playing a guitar. And when I say guitar, I mean GIT-tar, as in the backbone of righteous rock and the Delta blues. It wasn’t that we were opposed to women playing the guitar, it’s just that, so far as we knew, nobody ever thought of it.
We would grant that it was perfectly fine for ladies to play the piano, the viola and the piccolo. But guitars, trumpets and tubas — well, it just wasn’t done.
The problem had to do with musical passion. See, to be a truly great guitarist, you had to have the purest combination of physical dexterity, desire and a kind of soulful passion that could only hit boys and then, not until sometime in late adolescence. Growing up, the only lady I can recall playing a guitar was the gal in Ricks Café in Casablanca. She was singing something in French I think.
Not long after we got back to Oklahoma, there was a musical shift in the tectonic plates. I discovered Bonnie Raitt. Now any culturally literate person knows about Bonnie Raitt the vocalist. But if you don’t know about Bonnie Raitt the blues guitarist, you only know half the story, and, arguably, not the better half at that.
I was amazed to find out that Bonnie could, musically speaking, stand toe-to-toe with such guitar greats as Eric Clapton, Dion, Tom Petty, Keb Mo and B.B. King himself. When she lays into it, there’s no doubt that femininity and blues guitar virtuosity can get along well in the same package.
It didn’t take long for me to find out that the line of female guitar greats is broad and deep. There’s Liona Boyd, Nancy Wilson of Heart (“A good man pays his debt, but you ain’t paid yours yet.”), Etta Baker and the great Elizabeth Cotton who may have been one of the finest left handers ever to hit a chord.
So what got me thinking about all this? Well, Oct. 13 is the 28th anniversary of the death of Gabby Pahinui, one of Hawaii’s legendary slack-key guitarists. (More about the slack key guitar in another column.) Gabby would be proud to know that his memory is honored and his musical passion is being preserved in the performances of a lovely wahine (Hawaiian for lady) named Owana Salazar.
My old buddy Danny passed on before I could introduce him to Salazar’s work. But I know he and Gabby would agree that Owana, like Bonnie, Liona, Nancy and Elizabeth, has the dexterity and passion it takes to set the soul of the guitar free.
I’ve had to change my unsophisticated thinking about the guitar as a purely manly instrument. Ladies can hit righteous licks, too. And I’m real confident that somewhere there’s a lady who can blow everything out of a tuba that that instrument has to offer.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
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Thu, October 16, 2008
by Mike Hinkle