“I can’t remember a time in my life when music wasn’t a major part of it.” – Russell Nollen
Even in my earliest memories, I was listening to and singing nursery rhymes, traditional folk songs, and whatever my parents were listening to. When my parents moved our family to Iowa, one of the prized features (for me) in the house was a stereo system built into a wall. My dad enjoyed that feature, as he was an avid music listener and record collector. From before the time I was in school to the time I left that home, my dad was playing records of all sorts in that basement room. My mom always had a country music radio station on in the mornings before school. Between both parents, I had plenty of musical exposure growing up.
Kids at our school had music class in every grade. Singing along with the music teacher was a daily event. In first grade, we had a substitute teacher for music class one day. She was young, long haired and pretty. She brought with her an acoustic guitar, and we all sang along to John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” I can still remember the feelings of elation and goosebumps on my arms as she smiled, strummed and swayed while singing.
The next year, my mom began babysitting the neighbor kids. They had a teen cousin who had a record collection. That collection was often pilfered, and those borrowed records were brought over to our house. Lots of typical records for the time were enjoyed by us kids. Have you ever done air guitar? We were often ‘rocking out’ to these songs with brooms and mops as pretend guitars! Even back then, at the tender age of eight, I was infatuated with the sounds of guitars, both electric and acoustic.
I had persistently asked my parents if I could get a guitar. Well, instead, they got me a piano for my 9th birthday and I took piano lessons. Even though I learned a lot and did well with those lessons, my heart was still with the guitar.
I knew that by the time I was in third grade that I wanted to be a guitarist. How? Well, you probably know what it’s like to fall in love. All you think about all the time is that sweet, wonderful someone, right? That’s how I felt about music. I was often accused of not paying attention in class or daydreaming. Truth was, my mind was on the music, the guitar riffs, the jangling strums, and the smooth finger-picking of those wonderful sounding guitars – all the time.
Although I played on school guitars from the time I was in junior high, I didn’t actually get my first guitar until I was fifteen. By the time I had graduated high school, I had performed several recitals, band concerts, choir performances, marching band shows, and of course, practicing my beloved guitar for hours every day, often during study halls when I would get a pass from the band director to practice in the music rooms. I had also been attending a music school where I later taught private guitar lessons.
By the time college was over, I had experienced many performances with a few bands, worked with several pro musicians, taught hundreds of guitar students, and was ready for my own professional career to go full time.
Fast forwarding almost thee decades later, countless performances, tours, recordings, and so many musical experiences along the way, I am still in love with the music.
I’ve said before that “Failure is an event, not an identity.” and “Fat is a material, not an identity.” However, for me, though, being a musician is not merely a career choice – it is in fact who I am. I have tried to deny that a couple of times in my past. I’ve tried relinquishing my career to a hobby, settle down, get days jobs, and every time I tried that I was absolutely miserable. Have you ever tried to make a dog meow or get a cat to bark? Futile, isn’t it? It’s much easier to embrace who we truly are, even in the presence of adversity than to conform to other’s ideas of who we should be. I am very glad to be who I am, even after all things considered. Much happier.
Being a musician for me has been a lifestyle of extremes. As a passionate artist, one cannot help but feel a vast array of emotions rather deeply. Making a career as a musician, one cannot help but experience these emotions personified. I have in my career experienced feasts, famines, good times, bad times, made tremendous sacrifices, gained treasures both material and spiritual. I’ve watched beginners and amateurs rise to stardom, and watch legendary stars fall to oblivion. I’ve seen fads come and go, watched trends end, have adapted, and learned SO much! I’ve seen the good, bad, and ugly sides of this crazy, wonderful enterprise known as the music business. I’ve made countless friends, colleagues and fans along the way. In some cases, I feel like an old veteran, and in other cases I feel like a rookie in his freshman year! In the end, I am grateful for all of those experiences, for those that I’m currently experiencing, and for those adventures I have yet to embark upon.
For me, music isn’t just a game of notes or a collection of interesting sounds. Music is everything to me. It is what this universe is made of. It has allowed me to better know myself, and in turn, others. It has helped me dance, sing, play, express myself, given me purpose, inspired me, lifted my moods, helped my laugh, cry, grieve, consoled me, motivated me, bolstered my confidence, strengthened me, allowed me to rejoice, enlightened me, has given me company when I was lonely, brought us closer together, comforted me, delighted me, dissolved fears, alleviate pains, allowed me to feel more intensely, heal, and has enhanced my life in countless ways. It moves me in ways that no one or nothing else does.
These days I am very blessed and grateful that I can be the artist that I am, do it full time, and share my music with you. Here’s hoping that I get to enjoy having you along for the ride…
To hear the most recent milestone on this journey, click here to listen to “II.”
To hear the previous milestone on this journey, click here to listen to ‘I’.