I was having a tough time in middle school. The year was 1977. I didn’t like school or any other part of my life back then. I was a smart kid, but school just wasn’t my thing. To me it was simply happy hunting grounds for bullies and teachers alike.
However, I did have artistic ability and my parents signed me up for Saturday morning art classes at a high school across town. I would take the 26 bus north on Rising Sun avenue to Cottman street, and then get a transfer for the Y bus east up to Northeast High school.
Times were so bad for me that I have few memories from junior high. I think I’ve blocked most of them out to cope and grow as a person. I was skinny, had bad skin, greasy hair, glasses, braces, no athletic ability, and was getting bad grades. For some reason my mom made me wear polyester slacks and black leather buckle shoes to school. All of the other kids wore more casual clothes. I stood out like a sore, swollen, pimple faced, tinsel toothed, thumb. I was basically a target for anyone who wanted to use me as an object of their scorn.
It’s funny, when you’re that age and ravaged by puberty, many of your friends suffer from the same ailments. I always had a few loyal friends.
I brought nothing to the table back then, and take responsibility for anything I did, or didn’t do. But I can see now why I was such an enormous disappointment to my parents.
So every weekend, I would go to Saturday Morning Art Classes each week at Northeast High. There was a nice group of kids in attendance, and I met a few of them.
It was a welcome repose from my tortured daily life. It was a pretty laid back experience full of kids like me who enjoyed making art. The structure was loose and creative. I think the teacher’s name was Mr. Gilper. He was a talented, chill dude and always had cool projects for us to create.
They would play the radio during class and I thought that was cool. Back in the Seventies the two big rock stations in Philadelphia were WMMR and WYSP. Now only WMMR remains, but it’s become an incredible bore like most terrestrial radio stations in America. They played most of the popular rock songs of the day, and WMMR did the same, but played a bit more deep tracks. So, if you were a music fan, WMMR was the cooler station. I think DJ Pierre Robert worked there back then and he’s still there to this day.
I met this boy named George and we shared a passion for comics and rock music. He was a nice, gentle kid with kind eyes. I remembered that he liked how I made my own comics and created my own team of superheroes. Deneb-6, Lazar, Midnightess, Cestus, Prince Apollo, and The Prowler come to mind. I can still envision those characters.
We got along well enough, but once the classes were finished, I didn’t see him anymore. He was my art class friend.
I remember one Saturday I came out of class and they were holding a flea market in the parking lot. I browsed the usual junk people were selling at their tables. I saw this one guy had a box of comic books for sale. I had some cash on me, so I bought a few choice books the guy had. There were more that I wanted because I was an avid reader and collector of good comics. I basically spent all the money I had in my wallet on comics with this guy. (Like, $10.)
I got home and showed my dad what I had gotten and that there were more good books there. So my dad being awesome, put me in the car and we went back up there and we got the rest of the books I wanted. The guy had many first issues and I knew they were more valuable than what he was selling them for. My dad was a hard core toy train collector and so he understood my urgency. So that ended up being a great day!
I was 14 in 1977 and in 9th grade, which thankfully was my last year at Fel’s Junior High School. The nightmare was ending and next year I’d be attending Frankford High School. I used to describe 9th grade as the worst year of my life back then. But, that summer turned out to be the year I went from caterpillar to butterfly and everything changed for the better.
There are more great tales from that summer, but it was a watershed moment in my life. You can find the rest of them in the Search bar under Wildwood Daze. (See: El Morro Motel, Terri, & Anna Marie)
Anyway, you get the idea. So I get to Frankford High in the Fall of 1977, and the world is a better place for me. It felt like all of the animals who tormented me in junior high all went to Northeast High. Frankford was filled with a better group of kids.
I don’t remember if I ran into George in 10th grade or 11th grade at Frankford. But for this story let’s say 11th grade because it’s the most memorable.
I was 16 now and everything in my life was better. I was getting better grades, my braces were off, I wore cool shirts and jeans to school. My mom let me grow my hair. I was lead singer in a rock band, and my level of cool had gone way up over the Summer.
I was sitting in English class one day and noticed this guy sitting just one seat ahead of me of to my right.
It was George from Saturday Morning Art Classes! By that time, it seemed like a world away. I think he recognized me first and we connected. We shared that class, lunch and gym.
We would draw funny comics about our lives. Not our real lives but a world where we were these cool dudes who played rock and got all the chicks. I mean, in real life I sang in a band and was teaching myself how to play guitar.
You can read the complete saga if you enter the word Renegade in the Search bar.
George and I would have so much fun laughing at all of our little exploits in our comics. (I still have them all on sheets of notepaper!) We also started having lunch together. I had come such a long way from the little weasel I once was in junior high. I had become friends with the most powerful student in the school. This guy Chris, who my sister Janice had known since 1st grade. He sat across from me in art class. He was not only president of the student body, but quarterback on the champion football team. But he wasn’t a jock. He had all these powers but liked music and had a bunch of nerd friends, and he and I connected immediately. He and my sister were a grade ahead of me, but he took a liking to me and my sense of humor.
So my friend George and I got to sit at the end of the cool kid’s lunch table everyday at 5th period lunch. It was like just a couple of regular guys who got to sit at a table full of celebrities. It all seems funny now, but it was just football stars and hot cheerleaders. But in high school that’s a coveted spot to be in. High School is like a little fictional world you get to act out for a few years before entering real life. It mirrors adult life in some ways, but none of it has any real sustainability for the rest of your real life. I always felt like high school was a show I was on and it lasted three seasons before my character was killed off and I had to move on and find a new gig.
So George and I happily munched our peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches at the end of this table. Not card carrying members, just a couple of B-rate extras.
But, we started to hang out a little bit outside of school. I don’t even know where George lived. I never went to his house. I know he liked to go fishing.
He would come to my house and I think he brought his guitar with him. I was pretty clueless, in regard to the instrument but was eager to learn in the Spring of 1978. I was just the singer in the band, but the guitarist would let me play three notes on the break during the song, Draw the Line, by Aerosmith. (My favorite band on Earth.)
But George could actually play, and he started to show me things on the guitar. I knew where the notes were on the neck of the guitar, but needed some rock n’ roll fundamentals. George had these huge hands and he could reach from the first fret to the sixth, which is basically impossible for most people. It gave him the ability to create complex riff runs that would be unique to his playing.
I was struggling to pull the concepts of the guitar together even though I had a head for music and an excellent ear. I had some books with sheet music and chords in them, and George showed me how to read and follow them. Technically not read music, but enough to understand it.
Sidebar here: Someone once asked one half of the two greatest composers of the 20th century about how he wrote such incredible songs. He stated that he never learned how to read or write music in the traditional way. “I never understood all of those little lines and dots.” he said. “My music simply comes forth from my heart and my head.”
That man was Paul McCartney.
One of the hardest things for a new guitarist to do is to create the muscle memory to hold a chord in place. All of your fingers have to be on the right strings and you have to press them down with enough pressure so that the chord rings and doesn’t sound muted or buzzes against the frets. It’s a difficult feat and takes a while to learn and master. You have to train your mind to get your fingers to just automatically land on the right strings in the right formation to make the right sound. Once you get the chord right and the smile appears on your face, you feel like you’re getting it, and it’s a wonderful feeling. But then you go to move your hand to hit another chord and the whole thing falls apart.
It’s like being a baby and taking your first steps. One step… two steps… oops! Then you fall down. You get up and keep taking steps over and over, and the next thing you know you’re running down the street. Same thing works for learning the guitar. (Or, probably anything in life!)
So, George realized I was a neophyte, and simplified the process for me. He taught me a super basic way to get it done with less fingers and still achieve the same sound.
That style that he taught me, is the basis for twelve bar blues. The boogie woogie chord, he used to call it. With my index finger and ring finger he showed me how to play the chord in a simplified manner. He also taught me how the blues worked and the chord progressions. How certain notes went together. What he was teaching me as we sat in my bedroom, was the foundation of all rock music.
George taught me how to play the blues.
Once I understood what sixth route and fifth route was, I was on my way. That was the evolutionary leap I needed to go forward. I don’t know if I ever told him, but in that moment, George was literally the monolith and I was the ape in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I swear to god… it was on that level. That evolutionary leap.
What George taught me on those afternoons, catapulted my music creativity. The first thing I did, once I understood the basics of rock was to start writing songs. They were simple, and sounded like Ramones songs, but it had begun. My rock and roll life as a musician began thanks to George Schauer.
I know in high school he always thought I was cool, because I knew some hot chicks and had art and humor going. But the boy that gave me his friendship and time were more valuable than anything else in my life at that time.
Thanks to George, when I put that guitar on and started actually playing songs by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and the Rolling Stones, I had become part of a secret club. Little did I know that my friend who I knew from Saturday morning art classes and English class, had become my mentor.
Once I learned the fundamentals, the rest fell into place and because of my love of the instrument and the music. From what George taught me took me from novice, to rhythm guitarist in the band Union Jacks six months later!
That fifth and six route basic style were the building blocks to some of the heavier riff driven stuff I would go on to write and perform in my future bands. Yes, the building blocks to my heavy metal sound.
I’m sure George didn’t know what he had given me. But he actually gave me his post prized possession.
That’s the greatest gift you can give someone, because once you give it, you can never get it back.
Thank you, George. You changed my life.
After 11th grade my family moved and I had to take my senior year at Wildwood High, which is documented in this blog. (See: Wildwood Daze)
I never saw or heard from George again.
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