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Authors: Brad Paisley

Diary of a Player (6 page)


I met this angel with callused hands who let this boy into his band
Under his wing, I learned to fly on these six strings through this life

—“More Than Just This Song,” written by Brad Paisley and Steve Wariner

y second guitar hero was one of the finest people I will ever know—Clarence “Hank” Goddard. Hank, as everybody called him, came into my life after one traumatic night when my grandfather realized that to get me where I was going musically, he was going to need some professional help.

My parents still remember coming home that evening when my grandparents—who also doubled as my lead baby-sitters—were watching me while they went out. They came in the front door just as I was rushing upstairs to bed, in tears. My folks came after me, asking what on earth had happened. I told them, “Papaw and I had a fight,” and said that I didn't want to talk about it. My father came into my bedroom a little later, but all that he could get out of me was that I had a big argument with my grandfather.

In any family, you're going to have the occasional disagreement,
if not a whole bunch of them. So my father decided to let the whole matter go for the time being while I cooled down. Then a couple of minutes later, the phone rang. It was my grandfather calling, sounding
serious. “Can I talk to Brad, please?”

My dad grew even more concerned and baffled by what had gone down and asked my grandfather what the heck was going on. “Just let me talk to Brad,” he replied. So Dad backed off and handed me the phone. A few moments later, after hearing nothing, Dad heard me say, “That's okay, Papaw.”

Warren Jarvis—a man with a big heart, a hot head, and a great deal of pride—had called to apologize to me.

Warren Jarvis—a man with a big heart, a hot head, and a great deal of pride—had called to apologize to me.

Just like that, our fleeting family crisis was over, and I handed the telephone back to my dad. Only then did Papaw come clean to my father about the multigenerational musical skirmish that had just taken place.

“I practiced this guitar piece for two weeks to show Brad something,” my grandfather told my dad. “He wouldn't listen; he kept acting like he knew more than I did,” he said, clearly upset at my lack of respect. He summed it up:
“Then Brad picked up the guitar and said, ‘No, that's not how it's done.
is how it's done.' And he played it so much better than me.”

I was comfortable enough around him to be a bit of a show-off. After telling this to my father, my grandfather paused a moment, as if to consider the implications of what had just gone down. Then he said with all seriousness, “Doug, we better get Brad some real lessons. The boy's better than me now.”

arren Jarvis really was a proud man, but his love and concern for me were much bigger than a little bruised pride. And so he decided that if I was going to have a real guitar teacher, then I ought to have the very best. I suppose he also figured that if I was really going to pass him by on the guitar, I might as well lap him too. So I didn't just need a guitar teacher. I needed
guitar teacher. And in our little world in West Virginia, there was simply no guitar player better in my grandpa's eyes than Hank Goddard.

Clarence “Hank” Goddard was so much more than just your local garden-variety guitar god—he was a regional legend
with obvious world-class talent. Long before I met him, he'd already mastered his instrument and seen the world while playing with one of those great USO bands during the Korean War. This man was so incredibly fluent and expressive on the guitar that he could have gone anywhere and played with anyone on any given night. Clarence could play anything you requested by his own guitar heroes, like Les Paul, Chet Atkins, or Merle Travis.

Clarence was nicknamed “Hank” after Hank Garland, a famously gifted Nashville cat who played on countless classic recordings by Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and Roy Orbison. In all my years of touring and meeting some of the best instrumentalists the world has ever known, I can honestly say now that Hank Goddard was in the same class as any of them and better than most. But after serving in the Korean War, Hank Goddard came home and chose small-town living over the big time. Hank wanted to stay close to home and to his family, even though his extraordinary talent could have taken him to countless stages across the country. He would live out his days in quiet obscurity in the little town of Moundsville, West Virginia. But with the way Warren Jarvis saw it, I was raised thinking this man was one of the most successful guitarists in the entire world, a household name, an icon, someone everyone
knew, a legend. I remember shaking his hand at church when I first met him and running home and telling Papaw, “I met him! I actually met him! And I think I saw the calluses on his hands!” As if Eric Clapton had gone to our church and said hello to me one Sunday.

By the time my grandfather came to the savvy and nervy conclusion that the great Hank Goddard was the one and only man to teach his grandson how to play guitar and turn him into a real player, Hank Goddard had already decided that he was pretty much done with making music for a living, and especially with teaching guitar to difficult little kids. He'd had some previous frustrating experiences trying to teach young people and had sworn off this tedious work for good.

Still, my grandfather was convinced he knew what was best, and he enlisted his son-in-law to make it happen by whatever means necessary. When my father approached Hank—one of the nicest men who you could ever meet—about teaching me, he turned us down politely but flatly, saying, “Doug, I appreciate your faith in my abilities, but I really don't have any interest in teaching right now.”

As we all knew by now, my grandfather had never been one to take no for an answer, even if it meant a few hours in lockup. Based on his experiences with a far more stubborn
young woman, the man had good reason to believe that he could get whatever he really wanted. So, true to form, Papaw kept pushing my parents and convincing them that they
to make this happen for me.

Finally, Hank's resolve to permanently avoid this punk Paisley kid started to weaken. Hank made a concession. He told my father that his daughter Denise could play guitar well enough to teach a little kid like me, and maybe I could come over if we wanted to try that. And every now and then he would stop by and see how I was doing. And maybe, just maybe, when I got to a level where I needed a little more than just book learning on the instrument, he'd sit down and show me a few things.

We jumped at the opportunity to get our foot in the Goddard family home, so my dad started bringing me down to their house after school on Tuesdays for a thirty-minute guitar lesson. The first time, my father went off on an errand in town and came right back. Well, it didn't take too long before my dad realized that he didn't need to come back for at least an hour or so, if he didn't just want to wait around. After Hank's daughter would give me a lesson, Hank himself would casually wander by, take a quick listen, and then sit down and start working with me himself.

Here's how my dad remembers things from those days: “Suddenly, it would be around eight o'clock at night, and I would be trying to get Brad home to do his homework. Meanwhile, Hank's wife is trying to run Brad off because it's getting late. But even with the clock ticking, you just couldn't break those two up when they started jamming.”

Having a guitar teacher like Hank Goddard would have been more than enough good fortune for any young player in the world. Yet somehow my luck didn't stop there. Almost right away, Hank Goddard became not just my greatest guitar teacher and my musical mentor but my bandleader.

And it all began at that church picnic. I was asked to play a few songs after the way I rocked the house of God with that first performance. By this time, Hank and I were getting to be fast friends, so I'm sure just to be nice, Hank said, “I'll tell you what, I'll get Gene Elliott to get his drums back out. We can put a little band together for this picnic.” Gene was a man in his fifties then who hadn't played in a while. “And maybe Dick Ward will dust off his old guitar and Tom Berisford can bring his bass, and I'll play too.” So suddenly I'm playing the big church picnic with not only my guitar teacher but also these other veteran musicians—a band of brothers, or rather, a band of grandpas.

We learned ten songs for the church picnic—at least I did, because all these older guys already knew every song in the book, and a few that never made it to the book too. Right from the start, I was just this young whippersnapper trying his best to keep up with these guys. I would sing simple country songs, and Hank would play these ridiculously complicated jazzy instrumentals, like “Cherokee” or “Birth of the Blues.”

Suddenly I'm playing the big church picnic with not only my guitar teacher but also these other veteran musicians—a band of brothers, or rather, a band of grandpas.

Hank taught me by example, and that was true onstage and off. Despite his obvious talent as a musician, Hank was the kindest man imaginable. I look back at old videotapes of me playing in the band with Hank, and I still can't believe that he and the guys put up with me. By that time I was playing a cheap Hondo Strat copy—yet another in a series of terrible guitars that I played in the beginning. As much as I would have loved something like an actual Fender or Gibson, we just weren't made of money. Finally, I got a Tokai Strat, and that was as close to the real thing as it got for me in 1985. I didn't get my first actual Fender until high school, I think.

Whatever I was playing, I'll never forget what it felt like
to have a master like Hank look at me onstage and say enthusiastically, “Take it, Brad!” In my mind, those are the moments in time when music became a wide-open canvas for me—a place where I could at least try to express something unscripted on the fretboard. Not that I could take any song all that far out. But I'd plink around on something jazzy like “Cannonball Rag” or maybe “Freight Train,” and then Hank would save me by taking it right back and playing something absolutely brilliant. Every time I took a solo, I was well aware that Hank was always standing there cheering me on, hooting and hollering as if I was the second coming of Joe Pass. I'd be struggling through an improvised part of a solo and hear, “There you go! That's the way!” from the other side of the stage. What a selfless, giving man. I honestly don't think that I have it in me to do what Hank did for me—stand there night after night with a big, generous smile on his face while some little ten-year-old hotshot in Reebok tennis shoes absolutely
“Dill Pickle Rag.” Hank was a much better man than me in so many ways, and that's just one. Looking back, though, that's when I started to become a professional musician. I was learning to solo. Or to “Take it, Brad!”

So how exactly did a ten-year-old amateur like me end up working for years with a bunch of middle-aged professionals?
Like a lot of things in my life, the truth is that it just worked out that way.

That is the amazing thing about my little West Virginia success story—I never really had to ask to play because people kept asking me. The very same guy who booked that first church picnic also needed a band for a luncheon months later at the Delf Norona Museum in Moundsville, West Virginia. And before that, the Fireman's Christmas Party called and offered us a hundred dollars plus free beer for the band, and milk for the star. So we took the gig, and we decided to call ourselves Brad Paisley and the C-Notes because it seemed to us like just about everybody who booked us wanted to pay us a hundred dollars to play. From there, it snowballed into steady weekends at every little event you can imagine. There I was fourteen years old, and the guys in the band were close to sixty. By the time I was in junior high school, my friends started to jokingly refer to me and my modernly mature band members as “Brad Paisley and the Seniles.”

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