To play (music) or not to play

“It’s never too late.”

That is a predictable comment when I sometimes openly wish I learned to play a musical instrument or speak fluent Spanish. Certainly, the response is an appropriate one for the latter. Too many uncertainties rise with regard to my learning guitar or even piano, the two instruments I would most prefer to master. One big reason is that I am not the most patient person in the world. It is a reason I give when people ask if I hunt. I do like fishing though, which can often take tons of patience. Go figure.

As a teen I enjoyed being around live music. I went to more than several dozen rock shows, mostly in the 1970s. A few shows I saw were during the prime of the performers’ careers. Included were Creedence Clearwater Revival, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Seger, while others concerts were likewise and remain popular. These were bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Doobie Brothers and the Grateful Dead.

When several of my friends developed the idea for a “garage” band I was glad to cheer them on and to help in anyway I could. I guess you could call me a “roadie” though the venues were never more than 20 miles or so away from home. The group also weren’t literally a garage band. Like my late brother John, who was a musician and played more regionally than local and were even once on local TV, their bands had adult sponsors who were very reputable in our town.

I was very pleased when I worked my first “real” job outside the Navy, as a municipal firefighter, and was able to afford a decent stereo system. It was an Emerson system, not a component system with a turntable made by one company, an amp by another and speakers which launched a wall of sound like the giant Klipsch speakers a friend had. My friend brought those gigantic speakers to a couple of parties, our annual chili cook off was one if I remember correctly. I lived in the country with a large pasture in front of my house and my nearest neighbor was about a mile away. Normally, the neighbors couldn’t hear music from my place although their daughter later told me she heard the music and liked it.

I have never felt regretful that I didn’t learn to play an instrument, being the avid music listener and as appreciative as I am of music. My feelings were really reinforced yesterday upon playing perhaps the best Eagles song ever: “Hotel California.” The song — which contains what several polls say is one of the best guitar solos of all time — and the particular incarnation of the band then was largely contributed by a man whose name you probably can’t pronounce but is on many hit CDs and albums. That is: Bill Szymczyk. Pronounced (Sim-zik’.)

Szymczyk is now semi-retired but he has engineered and produced artists from B.B. King on “The Thrill Is Gone” to The Who’s “Face Dances” recording. Szymczyk never played an instrument and considers himself “a professional listener.” He developed that ability as well as building his electronics acumen by serving as a sonar technician in the Navy during the early 1960s.

It was Szymczyk who having produced the James Gang — which featured vocals and lead guitar by Joe Walsh — brought Walsh and the Eagles together. Walsh and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder had some outstanding lead output before Felder was fired from the group in 2001. You can hear Felder and Walsh in that famous “Hotel California” guitar solo.

The Szymczyk-produced “Hotel California” LP title track was named the 1978 Grammy award’s Song of the Year. That’s pretty amazing for someone who was not himself a musician.