[Folks can get very attached to the tools of their trade. My “tools” include the humble guitar pick. I’ve held one in my right hand for thousands of hours. This is the story of my attachment to my picks.]
Linus (Peanuts reference) has his blanket; I have my special guitar picks. Two, to be exact. Yes, I’m slightly OCD about my picks. They have to be the exact right kind: Dunlop grey nylon standard, 73 mm. But that’s not the OCD part. The OCD part: they have to be the same two picks, gig after gig. Repeat: I need those same two picks — one in my picking hand, one right near me — for every gig. I guess I’m like a ballplayer who must have his/her favorite glove — not just the right brand and model, but the very glove — for every single game.
Why? Well, I’ve been using this brand and thickness (picks come in a variety of thicknesses) for many years, so I’m used to them. And, since they’re made of durable nylon, they’re practically indestructible. One of these picks can last for years. (I could go through 10 plastic picks in one night’s work. They splinter, break in half, crack in the middle, lose their tip.) The ones I use are not real cheap; and the music store is not that nearby, so I’m also motivated by those factors to preserve them for as long as possible. — Also, and this is cool: I met Jim Dunlop, Jr., the company owner, when I worked at Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project, and he was a genuinely nice bloke. But mainly — well, the thing is, those two picks have helped me play hundreds and hundreds of songs. I do traditional folk songs, folk-rock songs, 60’s and 70’s rock done acoustically, 80’s rock verging on punk, songs from the 90’s-to-the-Adelle-era, songs from the “Great American Songbook”, plus my own originals. And those two picks have played ’em all.
About picks: there are all kinds: plastic, nylon, metal, thumb picks, finger picks, flat picks, felt picks (why felt?). My Dunlops are flat picks. The style of playing I usually incorporate is called flatpicking. Sometimes I fingerpick (I put the pick down and use only my fingers). But most venues are loud, and fingerpicking is quiet. I need the pick, to produce volume. (When I worked at Experience Music Project, we featured a Guitar Gallery, chock-full of innovative guitars. The first thing you’d see upon entering the room was a sign that read, “The Quest For Volume”. I related to that sign.)
This past summer (and it was a long, hot one), I played and sang at a great, community gathering: Seattle Uptown Neighborhood Night Out. The event took place at Lower Queen Anne’s Counterbalance Park, which is located just three blocks from my apartment. The shindig, held in conjunction with National Night Out, was pretty much a spur of the moment happening; therefore, there was little time to spread the word. Add to that the fact that it happened on a big gravel and concrete-paved lot that someone has decided to call a park, where the temperature was anywhere from 84 to 90 degrees that particular August 7, depending upon who you ask. (Ask me and you’ll get the higher number.) The result was this: we had a pretty small crowd. But those who came enjoyed it. I played for the event in 2017, to a really good-sized crowd. — I play just as passionately for a small crowd as I do for a large one at a MLB stadium.
I brought a lot of gear to the gig, which I traveled to via shank’s mare (on foot). I brought my huge Italian 12-string guitar, my beloved 6-string Seagull guitar, and my Strumstick, which is a small, dulcimer-like instrument. And, I brought my two favorite picks. For luck….
I had to set up on a concrete pad, on this incredibly hot, early evening. And over the course of my performance, I found myself channeling a “shrimp on the barbie”. I played a three-and-a-half hour set, with no break, and pretty much broiled. However, the crowd kept me motivated, and I put my all into my singing and playing. I wound up having a lot of fun.
The event came to an end at sunset. Because the park was not lit with any kind of overhead lighting, it rapidly became very dark. Matt, the fellow running the event, approached me at the 3.5 hour mark and gave me the “that’s all” signal. So, I stopped playing; and I proceeded to pack up my gear in the pitch-black dark. My walk home was a lot slower, and took quite a bit longer, than my walk to the gig. Because, I left it on the stage at Counterbalance Park. — I brought it; I left it….
When I arrived home, exhausted, I just set my gear down inside the door; and as quickly as possible, I crawled into bed. The next day, I went through everything, carefully examining the various things that make up my “kit”, and I discovered to my great disappointment, that one of my indispensable picks was missing! I went through the pockets of my black Old Navy jeans three times. I turned my “gig bag” which holds my little gizmos and extra strings, inside-out. No pick. Well, just the one, which I placed on the spot in my apartment where I keep them between gigs. I wanted to walk back to the park, to see if my poor lost pick could be found; but I was so stiff and sore from playing (hey, I’m like 70) that I had to take it easy for a good long time, to recuperate. (Yeah, I remember when I could play six nights a week, and go out and party on the seventh….) But, three days passed before I was able to return to Counterbalance Park.
I knew my pick would be there. I walked right over to the concrete pad where I had “given it my all”, and…. there it was, waiting for me. I figured, due to our unrelenting heat streak, it would be baked right into the concrete; it had endured three whole days and nights of exceptionally hot weather. But no, it was just fine. (I mentioned they’re indestructible.) I wondered why no one had scooped it up. But then, it was a grey pick, sitting on a grey concrete slab; so perhaps no one noticed it. But I sure did. Something told me to take my old Canon out of my knapsack and snap a photo. Then, I gingerly retrieved my pick, gratefully slipped it into my pocket, and brought it home, where it told its twin about its amazing adventure.
Thanks to fellow musician John Spangler, who had his phone with him, you can actually enjoy a 30-second slice of life from the event. (If there’s a little “x” by the speaker icon, click on it, because it means the speaker is turned off.)
Odd Footnote: Counterbalance Park was built on the former site of a building known to Uptown residents as “The Blob”. Here’s its photo. It was torn down in 1997; the park opened circa 2008. Whenever anyone asks me, “Hey, where’s The Blob?”, I tell them it moved a couple blocks down the street, and grew bigger. Then, I give them directions to Experience Music Project , aka MoPop. There are striking similarities….
*Henry Vestine, Canned Heat’s late, legendary lead guitarist, once took my pick in his hands, and blessed it for me. As did James Taylor’s extremely talented brother, Livingston. — But, I lost that pick. Yes, sometimes they do stay lost….
Please visit my FB page for gig news, links to more blog stories and my photography. I’d love it if you “liked” my page. https://www.facebook.com/RandyBowlesMusic/
Thanks to Bill Agle, John Sangler, and the ladies and gentlemen of Michaelson Manor who braved the heat to come to the gig. There will be more!