Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Further on Up the Road"

Bob Guida, from a tgw photo taken in April 2005 at Michiko Studios in Times Square, NYC, on the occasion of a rehearsal.

...and Still in Praise and Remembrance of Brother Bob Guida

The friendly staff of the The Daily Growler thanks everyone who responded so magnanimously to thegrowlingwolf's tribute to Bob Guida, our own ryefarmerfromqueens. We even got word from Mr. Guida's wife and his two sisters how much they appreciated it. Also, it's the most comments we've ever gotten here at The Growler. We apologize for some of the Wolf Man's "wrong" remembrances--as in the case of the fact stated nicely by Mike S (Bob's favorite bass player) [see comment 8 below] that Mr. Guida was not carrying Old #9 when he departed the mortal coil--that he was playing guitar that night--or the fact that Old #9 was a Fender Precision and not a Jazz--The Wolf Man claims he was there when Bob first took it out of its case and played it seriously--meaning he'd certainly played it before he bought it and when he was restringing it and tuning up for that first time the Wolf-Man remembers. thegrowlingwolf emailed us the following, "Hey, come on, folks, I wrote that tribute faster that a speeding bullet--and I only went over it twice in an editing sense--and now, yes, I am reconstructed in terms of where Bob collapsed--and, yes, now I am aware--from the mouth of Eddie Lee Isaacs of exactly what happened. As for Old #9, yes, Bob was the bass and guitar expert--there wasn't anything Bob didn't know about basses and guitars--not just electrics but all guitars--and mandolins (one of Bob's proudest purchases a few years back now was the mandolin that had been the personal mandolin of the world's greatest mandolinist--Bob was so proud of that--and, I might add, he paid a pretty hefty sum for it, too--so it's no big matter that I called it a Fender Jazz bass--it was a Precision--longer neck or something, right?--I know Bob told me he knew Leo Fender had set the neck on it, though he also admitted that Leo Fender was notorious for being sloppy with his numbering.

"A few years back, I saw a Silvertone Thin Twin (Kay Guitars made the Silvertone brand for Sears-Roebuck in Chicago) 1957 Jimmy Reed model electric guitar on eBay for a starting bid of $500. Since I'm a great collector like Bob and especially since I collect rare Jimmy Reed memorabilia, though I'd never played a guitar, I wanted that damn guitar worse than I wanted "you know what"; I wanted it bad and itchy like collectors get when they see something they have to have no matter the consequences in terms of coin of the realm. So I called Bob and sought his opinion in the matter. Bob said, "Hell yeah buy it...well, that is if it's in good shape." I emailed the cat with the guitar and asked him the questions Bob told me to ask him and he wrote back that the guitar was in great condition, the neck was straight, all the pick ups were original, with original knobs, all that kind of info. The only thing wrong with it, the dude said, was that it had a rough spot, some veneer damage, on the lower right side of the body. After I told Bob the dude's answers to the questions, he shouted out, "Buy it!" So I bought it. I paid $575 for it in the end. I called Bob and told him I'd bought it and he got happy as a baby boy. He eagerly said, "Have it sent to me here at the Home and I'll check it out stem to stern, see where I think it needs work, whatever...." And that's what I did; I had the dude in L.A. ship it to Bob. The day it arrived out at the Home and Bob unpacked it, he called me, "Wolf-Man, it's beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I'm sittin' here in the office playing it now." "You mean you approve of it?" "I restringed it, cleaned it up, plugged it in, and it plays sweet, man, what a great sound. I love this guitar. And the neck is perfect, straight as an arrow, tight, solid. Any time you want to sell it, I can get you a thousand for it easy." I went out to Bob's house to pick it up. As soon as I got there and Bob told his wife to get me a beer, which she did, and before I could get down to the basement, Bob was already playing my guitar. "That's my guitar, Bob? That's so cool." Then Bob took me into his little workshop room and showed me how to string it--how to tie the strings around the posts the professional way--plus he gave me two sets of strings. Bob had just been on a trip to Tennessee and had visited the Jack Daniels Distillery and found out they weren't gonna make Jack Green Label anymore and Bob showed me how he had bought 3 or 4 cases of it it looked like--I swear I saw some half-gallon Green Jacks in the mix--maybe not, but he had a goodly supply of it, enough to last several years it looked like to me--so he took out a fresh bottle of Green Jack, busted it open, and poured me out a healthy slug then he poured some on one of his famous rags and cleaned the strings of my guitar with it. "Best thing to clean strings with--Jack or vodka." Then Bob set me down at the table workroom and handed me some sheets of paper. He had hand drawn me out the fret board diagrams with the finger positions drawn on them for all the keys. Then he showed me how to play an E major chord, then an E-minor chord, then an A chord, etc., telling me as he taught me, "I'll have you playing Jimmy Reed tonight--you'll be Jimmy Reed the Third in no time...." "Bob, there's already a Jimmy Reed III...." "Jimmy's kid; he plays the bass, he's no good, you'll be Jimmy Reed the Third in my book." And by the end of that night, Bob had me strummin' along with him doing E shuffles, Jimmy Reed lugging shuffles, showing me how to strum different ways, then giving me a sheet of paper showing me the right autotuner to buy and also the right capo--even where to go, to Sam Asch, he insisted. Then Bob presented me with one of his special snakeskin shoulder straps and took me over to the 7 train and I carried my first-ever guitar home and it sits here by me now, still looking like brand new--"Never leave it in its case. Leave it out of the case and it shouldn't go out of tune that much at all." Then he taught me how to tune it by ear.

"I'm not even close to Jimmy Reed the Fourth yet and certainly not the man himself, but I'm getting pretty damn good--especially in the key of E--though I can also play pretty good in the key of A, too. And I still have these handdrawn chord charts Bob drew for me--I'm thinking of framing them as art. I was going to play my Silvertone '57 Jimmy Reed-model Thin Twin on the last gig Bob and I did together last summer--the last time I saw Bob alive--but I decided not to--not in front of such a great guitarist as my mentor Bob--so I didn't bring it--Bob was disappointed, very disappointed--I felt bad; I felt like I'd chickened out on him.

"Here's the guitar Bob convinced me to buy. The sheets of paper on the pottery piece under the lamp are the diagrams of the fretboards, the keys, the chords, the finger positions for chords Bob handmade for me. The guitar strap (one of Bob's signature snakeskin straps) is the one Bob said went perfect with this guitar.

"I met up with Tadd Kotick, Bob's and my favorite drummer, at Bob's funeral, and after the funeral Tadd drove me over to Roosevelt Ave. and the subway and we got to remembering Bob stories from our pastimes with him. In talking about how Bob wasn't afraid of death--I mean, that's was Bob's profession, he was a mortician, his father and his grandfather had been morticians, but in terms of Bob's struggle with his weight over the years, sometimes you felt like he was challenging his body constantly--I mean Bob and I one time played in the middle of August in a rehearsal room with no windows and while we were setting up, the air-conditioner went out and soon it was like Hadean hot in that room, but when I said, "Bob, let's get the hell out of here; we could have a stroke in this heat," Bob said, "Fuck the heat, we've paid our money, so let's play." It was so hot, you couldn't breathe very well, plus you got soaking wet, and I was sweatin' like a Georgia mule and Bob was passing me over a couple of his famous towel-like rags he always had a fresh-washed batch of in his gig bag--and we were both wiping down--I mean the heat was awesome--and Bob never played better.

"Then Tadd reminded me of the time he and I and Bob and the great Major Contay (Pat Conte, the other Otis Brother) got on this extremely ancient jail-cell-tight elevator at Giant Studios when it was on West 38th in Manhattan--the studio was on the 5th floor--and as that old elevator started creakily going up, suddenly Bob started jumping up and down, no signal to the rest of us, just jumping up and down--and I don't mean a pussyfooting jumping up and down but a serious thunderous jumping up and down. At that time, Bob weighed at least 4oo pounds and Pat Conte equaled Bob in weight easy--together Bob and Pat weighed 800 and I was around 200 then, and Tadd, though not a big dude, at least weighed 150, so here we were, over a thousand pounds of weight on this ancient elevator and Bob was jumping up and down having a ball--and then, Bob's twin that he is, Pat starts jumping up and down, too. I was cracking up; yet, as Tadd said, I was a little scared shitless, too. Hey, that old elevator took it like a man, and Bob and Pat appreciated that and never again teased that old elevator.

"And then one time at Kenny's Castaway--a "play for no pay" club as we blues guys called it, down in the Village on Bleeker Street--I got there late and caught the end of Bob's first set. At intermission Bob came back to the bar where I was sitting and he said the stage was so flimsy he thought he could easily crash down through it the next set. "How do you know you want fall through to the basement or something?" I asked. "No, I just think it would be cool to just suddenly disappear down a hole in the stage, keep on playing...." I met a lot of Bob's close friends at that gig, Bob's sister was there, Doctor Lou probably. Bob, I'm pretty sure was playing with Little Mike that night. And sure enough, during the next set, Bob started purposedly jumping up and down on the stage while he played his bass and the stage was bending and rocking but it resisted--Bob didn't fall through--nor did he make any money that night either though he and Little Mike had brought in a big following. Little Mike started up playing in the early years of Dan Lynch, around the time I first met Bob there, and Mike went on, along with Bobby Radcliffe, another one who got his start in the pits at Dan Lynch, to get pretty popular in the blues world and chances to back some great older bluesmen in the 1990s, like Hubert Sumlin--I think Little Mike toured the South with Hubert--not sure about that. The reason I'm pretty sure it was Little Mike (and the Tornadoes, I think was his band's name) is because Bob said Little Mike was a true blues gig hustler. You see, old Kenny, the owner of Kenny's Castaway, the bastard, he'd give bands one-hour sets based on how many of these tickets Kenny had made up and he'd give bands these tickets to hand out to friends and fans before the gig--the tickets were good for a free drink as long as the holder paid a $5 cover charge at the door--so Bob said Little Mike would take a double fistful of these tickets and he would walk up and down Bleeker handing out hundreds of them--to tourists, to sailors, to bums, to whores, to anybody--still, even if you gave out 1000 tickets, you were lucky if 5 of your friends came and actually paid the cover charge, though most people you gave tickets to either didn't show up or they got in free even if they refused to pay the cover charge--the cover charge was supposed to go to the band--yeah sure. I played Kenny's several times in life and I never made one god-damn dime off old Kenny. The last time I played I was playing harmonica with this kick-ass band and since I was blind as a bat (in many physical ways) I had my harmonicas lined up on a chair--12 harps out there with their blues keys (the suck up key) registered on the boxes in big marker letters--during one tune I went into one of showboat harp solos I was getting famous or infamous for with this band and in the process I kicked over the chair holding all my harps and they went scattering across the small stage, most of the coming out of their boxes. As I picked the harps up I suddenly realized I couldn't read the keys on the harps themselves and I sat there on the stage floor picking up harps and holding them up to my face trying to see the small etched in letters on the end of the face plates--this was before a Japanese harp maker put the key letters in white against black on the woodstock ends of the harp. I spent the rest of that gig trying to find the right key, standing there like a stupid geek, fiddle-fucking around--it ended with us--and me--getting booed off the stage--at Kenny's Castaway--what an insult! It pissed the other guys in the band off so much, they put me on the bench for a couple of gigs.

"Tadd Kotick said he made it through Bob's funeral without bawling right up until the very end when the organist and singer up in the choir loft started singing "Shall We Gather at the River"--as they were hauling Bob in his casket out to a big fine Caddy hearse in front of the church. Tadd and I were the last exiting the church and we stopped at the top of the steps and looked down onto the street, Bob's street, with his business, the Guida Funeral Home--there it all was, the hero shop next door, Bob's "land of milk and honey." Then I noticed sitting at the curb in front of the Funeral Home was Bob's 1950 Mercury. All slicked up--with the Styrofoam dice still hanging from the rearview mirror--and I remembered Bob taking me for a ride in the Mercury one time, out to Smithville, Long Island, to a gig. I remember Bob buying that car, too. Even remember what he paid for it.

"The first time I ever went out to Bob's house, back in the 80s, his mother was still alive--it was her house then, and he took me out in the backyard and showed me a '49 or '50 Caddy up on blocks--he was intending to restore it, but one day he up and sold it--that's the first time I had the pleasure of not only meeting Bob's mother, such a dainty little lady to be Bob's mother, though Bob said she cooked the best Italian food in the world, but also meeting his dog Elvis. I remember when Elvis died. Bob was very nonchalant about it. Death to Bob, and I know this sounds macabre, was his best customer--"there's a time and place" when all of us have to face Death, so Bob could tender the grieving with great compassion, he saw death every day of his life--Sunday his only real day off--and Bob used to joke about how his business stayed steady no matter the state of the economy--like I say Death was his best customer.

"Anyway, Bob's in another world somewhere now. At the church service, Bob was said to be a "good" Catholic--his family probably helped build the church his funeral was in--and the priest who knew Bob very personally kept calling him a believer in our lord and master Jesus Christ and saying that Bob had already arisen from death in the casket and had been resurrected in Heaven, blah, blah, blah. And I got to thinking, Bob in Heaven?--though Bob was once a choir boy at Marist College, I got to thinking, is that gonna make Bob satisfied, singing in the heavenly choir? Bob passionately worshiped the Blues, but I don't think many of the blues idols Bob worshipped went to Heaven--did Elvis? did Hank Williams? did John Lee Hooker? Did Skip James? Maybe Son House went to Heaven since he dropped blues singing and became a reverend of the Gospel in his later years--and, hey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe surely went to Heaven and Bob loved doing Sister Rosetta's songs, especially "If You Don't Know Jesus," so I'm sure she'd love having Bob in her celestial gospel band--and Thomas Dorsey, too, first a blues singing piano player named Georgia Tom--and I'm sure Bob knows a lot of Georgia Tom's blues--and surely Robert Johnson went to Heaven--or how about there must be a Blues Heaven. I used to sing a Tanya Tucker song with Bob and the chorus of that song says, "When I die I may not go to Heaven/I don't know if they'll let an old cowboy in/If they don't then take me back to Texas/That's as close to Heaven as I've ever been." With Bob I'd change that to "When Bob dies he may not go to Heaven/I don't know if they'll let a Bluesman in/But if they don't then take him back to Queens/That's as close to Heaven as he's ever been.""

thegrowlingwolf has excused himself to the world and is currently going through boxes of cassette tapes he made with Bob Guida from 1985-through-1987--hours and hours of tapes--especially those in which they left the tape deck running while they jived and conversed and learned tunes and talked about music and the Blues and each other and guitar stuff and the Blues over and over. No one is allowed to bother The Wolf-Man while he's listening to these tapes and marking the ones he wants to copy from cassette tape to CD--"I'm in mourning--so leave my funky ass alone." And that was the last time any of the Growler Staff saw him. In the meantime--keep on truckin'.

for The Daily Growler
Will Bob Be in Hell With This Guy?
Or Will He Be Up in Heaven With This Lady?
Note: doesn't that look like Pete Seeger back there on the right?

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