I don’t have many regrets in life, but one of them is that I stopped playing guitar when I was 13 years old. I had started taking lessons when I was 8 and, although my hands were too small to form many of the bar chords, I enjoyed being able to make music.
When I was 12, my guitar teacher gave me a copy of a then-brand-new album from a singer-songwriter he liked — James Taylor. The album was “Sweet Baby James.” I took it home and listened to it over and over and over, falling in love with every song, so much so that I still get a tinge of nostalgia anytime I hear any of those tracks.
During the week before my next lesson, I studied the sounds coming off that record. Since I didn’t have any sheet music for the songs, I would pick up the needle and put it back down to figure out Taylor’s fingering and chords, trying to keep up on my own guitar. By the time I saw my teacher again, I had a rough idea of how to play “Fire and Rain” (which has gone on to become Taylor’s most famous tune), and with his help over the next month, was able to work up passable versions of every song on “Sweet Baby James.”
I wish I could still do that, and that I hadn’t given up on the guitar all those years ago. I never envisioned myself as a rock star, but would like to be able to strum and sing some of those tunes again. My wife still has two guitars in the house — one of the things that attracted me to her was that she played — but neither of us has picked one up in more than a decade. Even then, the best I could do was remember how to form a few basic chords, but couldn’t play an actual song if my life depended on it.
All of this came flooding back to me when my friend Scott mentioned that he’d come across something on James Taylor’s website from four years ago. It’s the rock legend himself giving lessons on how to play some of his classic songs, with one camera focused on his left hand as it works the fretboard, and another inside the guitar to show the fingering of his right hand. If only I’d had tools like this when I was young enough to use them…