In 1964, when I was 15, my friend and neighbor, Jerry Chambers, had a guitar his brother, Jay, had given him to use. Jerry knew the first 2 bars of “Ghost Riders In The Sky” and taught it to me. I would hang out at Jerry’s almost every day after school, and was always practicing on that guitar. It was a Harmony f-hole, painted gold and black. Jerry let me borrow it, and after a while, told me that I could have it. It had 4 strings on it when he gave it to me, and I broke one, so had a 3 string guitar. I played it and played it, making up surf instrumental songs. I would be in a trance. During one such trance, my mother ripped the guitar from my hands, swung it, and broke it over my back. It seems she was yelling at me to take out the garbage (she was always yelling so I would tune her out), and I, in my trance, didn’t respond, so whamm-o!
A couple of weeks later, at Christmas, she gave me a Silvertone f-hole, which was pretty much the same guitar with a cheaper finish. It was black, with painted white edging.
A friend of mine had given me a cheap microphone that was a crystal mic inside of a plastic enclosure in the shape of a ball-end mic, except one side of the “ball” was flat. I taped the mic with black electrician’s tape to my guitar, and bought my first amp, a Silvertone from Sears & Roebuck, with one 10” speaker and tremelo.
I started playing with my friend Gary Schneider, whose parents had bought him a set of drums. I saved my money for an electric guitar. When I had saved $100, I went downtown (L.A.) to look at guitars in the pawn shops. They had these shiny new Japanese guitars, and I wanted one with a “Twanger”, which is what we called a tremelo bar in those days. I found a St. George 2 pickup sunburst guitar for $100, but went to Wallach’s Music City to continue looking. The salesman there tried to sell me a 1954 Fender Musicmaster (10 years old at the time), and it didn’t have a twanger, so I bought the St. George. What a mistake! The guy tried to steer me right, and stupidly, I picked the cheap-ass guitar instead of a real instrument. The St. George had a neck like a baseball bat, and the wood was so soft that my belt buckle gouged a big dent in it the first time I played it. It also sounded dull, and didn’t stay in tune. But it was a while before I figured all of that out, and Gary and I played dozens of songs, just the two of us, mostly playing in his back yard on Waldren Ave in Eagle Rock. We were searching for a name. The first name we came up with was "The Wanderers", and I made a cartoon of us.
We decided to add some members to the band after Gary and I saw the Beatles movie “Hard Days Night”. I had two other close friends that Gary and I hung out with every day at school during lunchtime, Danny Lynch and Orman Clark. Neither had any experience playing a musical instrument. Danny’s father worked for the Carnation milk company, and would drink beer when he got home. He was usually moody, so we asked him if he would buy Danny a bass when he was in such a mood. He said yes, and when payday came, he drove Danny and I over to Pasadena to a pawn shop to buy the bass. In a different mood that day, half way from the car to the store, he says “I ain’t buyin’ you a bass. If you want a regular guitar, I’ll buy that, but no bass!”. We tried to talk him into it, but settled for the guitar, which Danny used to play “bass” on our one and only gig together.
We dubbed the band “The Dimensions”, and got a chance to play for the entire school at assembly. We had practiced two of my songs, which I had patiently taught to Danny and Orman (Orman playing a single note part I had given him to play). We were all set on stage, the curtain goes up, I counted in the first song, but Orman was rattled and started playing the second song instead. Danny started playing the song Orman was playing, but just as I went to do that, they switched back. Because of the confusion, I guess, Gary started playing a drum solo with the crowd cheering. We played the songs out, but it wasn't what it was supposed to be. I couldn’t believe the chaos, and after this first and last Dimensions "performance", I didn’t know how I could show my face in public ever again. As I walked down the hall, someone came up to me and said “I didn’t know you guys were into Progressive Jazz!” It was supposed to be Surf.
My work with Gary was the impetus for what would become a life-long musical career. I wish we had recordings of the dozens of original surf songs we played together. I did get in touch with Danny Lynch in the 70's and found out that he had become a professional bass player. Gary and I have gotten back in touch after 55 years!
Gary Schneider (1964)