Interview with a Rocker (Part I)
(Olivia Steele/The Wolf Crier) Kevin Wyer, 66, in the studio where he teaches at Music 6000.
Kevin Wyer: Oo! Chuck Berry, 1957. I’m sitting in my red Radio Flyer wagon, right? Out where the cars were parked on the driveway and the garage, and Mom’s kitchen window’s open, and the radio was playing, and I seriously remember it, I’ve probably told this story a bunch of times before, but the minute I heard the start of Johnny B. Goode, I jumped out of that wagon so fast and went scrambling inside, cranked up the radio and Mom’s going, “What the heck?” as I go running past her, and I listened to the whole song, and I’m dancing and gyrating around with it and all this stuff, and the song finishes, and this guy, he goes, “And that’s a young man, named, uh, Chuck Berry! Hahahaha, I think this is gonna be a hit!” I instantly run over at 7 (years old) to Mom’s piano and start banging on any old keys going duhduhduhduhduh, y’know, and she goes, years later she goes, “That was the first moment you discovered melody but it was one of the strangest melodies I ever heard, it was just duhduhduhduhduh,” and I went, “That was a beautiful melody!” Right? It was like melody, and rhythm, and running, and screaming and yelling and having fun, all wrapped up into one glorious duhduhduhduhduh. Hahahaha, so that’s the song that drew me into this. I had been listening, as most young people did, ‘cause I was born in 1950 so, in ‘57-’58 I’m 7 to 8 years old and I’m listening to the older kids on the block listening to all this 50’s doo-wah music and stuff, and I think it’s pretty cool. One of the things that I really noticed, though, was how happy the kids were. Now, the 50’s, this is right after WWII and I don’t care what anybody says, it was not happy days. There were too many dads, uncles, brothers and stuff like that, who were missing from that great war. And so, rock n’ roll was a chance for kids across America to kind of come to grips with all the missing family members and generate a little happiness. The grandmothers saw that occurring, and jumped in and encouraged all of us to do this, y’know, hahahahaha. That’s how I look back upon it. Mom, she was a piano player, and she refused to teach us, y’know, like “I can’t play that,” but Grandmother could, and she’d go, “I can show you how to play that song,” hahahahaha, and away we’d go.
OS: That’s great, hahaha. So, who are some of your greatest (musical) influences, and why?
KW: Oh, that’s very straightforward. Starts with Chuck Berry, in rock n’ roll, goes straight to Jimi Hendrix, straight to Van Halen, and then that introduces me to, of course, as we start a certain movement, I like to say this, don’t hate ‘em ‘cause they were pretty, some of the hair bands had great guitar players. Silly looking singers, admittedly, hahahahaha, and maybe even some pretty silly songs, but, it was blues-rock based and it was the moment we all discovered we could take major scales, y’know, the ones we had to learn on the piano, trumpets, and trombones, and then bend the heck out of ‘em and turn them into rock n’ roll love ballads, hahaha, so now you get to shred through a love ballad, hahaha. So it’s really kind of like playing slow blues, in a way. But it was more of a combination, that kind of follow Ray Charles and many of our earlier pop singers, who were famous for putting together, I’ll say it quickly, major scales and blues scales, right? In America. And boy, for guitar playing kids in America, we’re in that spot, ‘57-’67 goes from Chuck Berry who, I love Chuck, boy he’s 90 and still made a new album, God bless your heart Chuck, y’know. I’m gonna go out and buy it too, hahaha. And uh, it was all of this stuff, y’know, just trying to learn how to play, right? ‘Cause the old people were going, “That’s not music,” dreadfully so, and a lot of old people, especially the old guys who were grandpas from WWII, it was way too noisy for them, and they just wanted peace and quiet, and who could blame ‘em. But the grandmothers would shush ‘em up and go, “Go ahead, kids, make some noise and have some fun.” So we went from Chuck Berry, who was basically kind of three chords, y’know, standard stuff of rock n’ roll, to Jimi Hendrix, in 10 years. In the next 10 years, we go to Van Halen, who ups this whole thing, and Mom is just going, “Aha! These kids are learning how to play while they’re playing this crazy rock n’ roll music, and that’s good Kev oughta quit this any minute ‘cause he ain’t gonna practice major scales, I know this boy.” Hahaha, but, I did! Hahaha, because it was, y’know, Jimi and Van Halen, and that’s not practicing scales that’s learning how to play hot riffs, y’know? Hahaha. And then, uh, Howard Robertson, of course, was the man that set up GIT, that in the very early days, as he’s practicing setting that up with the local teachers around town ‘cause Howard was the ABC, CBS, NBC studio staff guitar player for like, 20 years, he’s from Everett, WA. I’m talking about one of the greatest guitar players, in, uh, well after WWII, Hollywood history. I’m talking more movies and films than we could count today, I kid you not. And, when you hear Howard, you don’t think of him as a jazz, country, or rock player, he’s just a great guitar player. You go, “Ooh! How does he know that much and how can he time it like that?” Well, Howard had a son about my age, and I think Howard just got tired of hearing us guys in the mid-60’s playing, “Louie, Louie,” over and over again, hahaha. Right? That’s it! Go round these boys up and start giving them some lessons, show ‘em a major scale, for goodness’ sakes, and we’ll give ‘em Greek names, they love that sort of thing, so it’s the Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. Which, as you’re learning in your guitar lessons, are Greek names that are just to give us a starting spot of organization, and then you have all these modes and inversions, right? Of course, right away my mom went, “No no no, we got rid of that, this is Bach theory, we’re not playing those old modes.” And I went, “What do you mean, I love those old Gregorian chants!” Hahahahaha, you know they’re rather heavy metal, with the hur hur hur hur. So, after that, it only took, and I’m talking about all kids in America here really, let us say from ‘57 to ‘87, we had learnt every scale including the melodic minor, started out with a half, two notes out of a pentatonic scale, and in 30 years, learnt the advanced melodic minor scales, and Mom kept going, “Any moment! He’s going to turn to classical!” and then “Oh my god, he learnt all that just to invent a new rock n roll riff? Oh, no.” Hahahahaha. So, Boomers, my age group, did not invent rock n roll, but we decided to authenticate it. Now that’s a great little piece of history. We decided to authenticate it, because remember what I was telling you about ‘57-’58? By the time it’s ‘59 and ‘60 and I’m 10 and 11, getting out and even more aware of the young peoples’ rock n roll culture on the radio, there’s a great sadness going on. And not just about the death of some people in plane accidents, but America stop rock n roll, in I think one week…
Stay tuned for the next segment of this interview to find out why and how America stopped rock n roll in in one week.
By Olivia Steele