I played music full time for about 11 years. It was a weird and wild time.
Actually, I was regularly going to a University City bar to listen to another guy sing and play. He and I became friends, but this did not stop me from realizing that I was a better singer than he was.
“If he’s getting paid to do this, I should be able to get paid to do it, as well,” I thought. For years I told this guy, and then his girlfriend after he died, that it was because of him that I started to play professionally.
Of course, he did have a lot to do with it. He was playing twice a week at a bar called The Arches, on Sansom Street, but decided it was time to make a trek to Nashville. I’d been singing some songs during his sets at The Arches, so the owner knew me and what I could do, so when my friend left, I was hired to play Wednesdays and Fridays (there was Greek music on Thursdays and Saturdays.)
This was the start of my professional music career in 1973.
There were times I played just one night a week. Other times, I worked seven nights a week and sometimes had afternoon and evening gigs. I was often the first performer to play at a Philadelphia bar, opening the venue for other artists in the future.
I played an expensive Martin D-35 acoustic guitar and took it everywhere. I never left it in a car. It came into bars and restaurants with me. I took it to parties (but I never pulled it out of its case and played it without being asked.)
Toward the end of my musical career, I was no longer a solo artist. I led a six-piece country band. The Martin D-35 was always on stage with me, but I mostly played a hollow-body electric Gretsch guitar in those days.
Perhaps the last time the band played together was for some special event at the Whitemarsh Country Club in Pennsylvania. I had pretty much decided to give up music altogether.
The special guest speaker at the Whitemarsh event was legendary country songwriter Tom T. Hall. We had to almost force him to sing one song, playing my Martin D-35. Then I forced him to scratch his autograph across the front of my otherwise pristine guitar. I don’t know, maybe I thought if it was good enough for Willie Nelson to have signatures etched into his old classical Martin, it would be cool for me to have at least one famous autograph.
I quit my band. I felt the need to sell all my music equipment to emphasize my break with music. I sold off sound gear, the electric guitar and eventually sold my Martin D-35 to a music store in New York City, where the old man looked at the name scrawled into the finish of the guitar and asked, “Hall and Oates?”
I sold the guitar for cheap. I told myself for years that it didn’t matter, that the guitar had been just a tool.
It wasn’t until many years later that I admitted to myself and others that my Martin D-35 was a spectacular guitar, much more than “just a tool,” that it had an incredibly unique sound and that I had been a fool to part with it.
I often wonder where that guitar ended up.