A Quality Friend
My brother and I formed a two-person band when I was ﬁfteen years old. We almost sounded like three people so at the time that was good enough for us. We cut our teeth playing local bars and youth centers for a few years before he and my parents surprised me with a Gretsch guitar for my high school graduation. I didn’t know it then but this would end up being a major turning point in my life.
In those days, a lot of the bands we played with were covering Blink 182, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, whereas we were playing rockabilly and punk. If I close my eyes now, I can still recall hearing a high school band butchering “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as I change into a yellow suit in my car for our rockabilly set. There was no van in those days, just my deceased grandmother’s brown 1979 Delta 88, which I inherited. It had leather interior, also brown, and could hold my brother’s full drum kit in the trunk and everything I needed in the back seat, everything except total privacy for my “costume change.”
As my career evolved and I cared about tone and versatility of sound over costumes, I gained even more respect for my Gretsch. I owned the cadillac of guitars before I knew how to drive it. Most people grow out of their instrument and have to upgrade at some point, but in my case, I grew into mine and still play it 20 years later! It has held up to every harsh condition you can imagine for a touring guitar. It’s spent days in a hot van with repressing, seam-splitting heat, the kind of hot you can only get from a southern sun. It’s been jostled down city streets stacked precariously with our other gear. I’ve dropped it, sweated on it, and climbed stage rigging with it dangerously dangling off my shoulder. It sounds great on a quiet porch, smoky club, and most importantly, in the recording studio.
This past year I recorded an original music EP. The appealing aspect of this project was that there was no inﬂuence by anyone as to what the end product was supposed to sound like. I wasn’t trying to represent a band sound or image. In fact, the only commonality between the songs was my Gretsch and me. I took on this production task along with Mark Bengtson who recently moved back to Upstate New York after a decade in New York City. His work included sessions with artists like Mark Ronson, John Mayor, San Fermin, and The Strokes, just to name a few. Our process was pretty typical. I would demo songs and ideas at my house and send them to Mark for his thoughts. He would do rough mixes to conceptualize a format and we would proceed from there as to what we needed to re-record. It’s amazing how many times we ended up keeping the demo guitar tracks as our ﬁnal. The pickups are so dynamic and versatile on my White Falcon that we didn’t need a room of amps to make the guitar sound good.
We tracked between Mark’s studio and an old church, now the Center of The Arts in Homer, N.Y. The room itself looks like a mini version of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. A room with a familiar smell, one of old books and sun-stained wood, the same way an antique shop smells. The ﬁnish on the stage, worn in certain spots, showing exactly where great moments have happened. I’ve been in a lot of studios in 20 years, dimly lit spaces with mini fridges full of energy drinks, comfortable couches, and someone always watching the clock. That wasn’t the case with this project and it was a refreshing change.
As I write this piece, thinking about all the memories, miles, and bad sleeping situations involved with being a working musician, I am reminded that there has been one constant glimmering light through it all, and that is my guitar. I’ve never gotten to a level where I had a guitar tech or someone assisting me prior to a show. I’m the only person that maintains and handles my guitar. How it has held up over the years is astonishing and a true testament to how well made it is. Like a missing link, when I put that guitar over my shoulder I have completed the circuit and anything can happen. It gives me conﬁdence, reassurance, and most importantly, performance. It has been a quality friend through the good and bad times and a great tool for telling my stories.
— Rocko Dorsey, guest Gretsch blogger.