Five Firsts: Paul Asbell

Paul Asbell
Paul Asbell

NAME: Paul Asbell
BAND AFFILIATION: Kilimanjaro… but unrelated to the upcoming Lena’s gig, of course

1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … My first record was a 45RPM single that I bought when I was nine years old.

I grew up in inner-city Chicago, and my family was taking a trip to Arkansas, so that my dad could interview a songwriter named Jimmy Driftwood for a magazine article. While my dad and mom were staying at the Driftwoods’ cabin in Timbo, I was placed in a horse camp in the nearby town of Mountain View, where I was freaked out by campfire stories of water moccasins, and by the prospect of using the smelly, communal outhouse for a week. (I learned that you can’t go for two weeks without making #2… but that’s another story for another time.)

Anyway, in my occasional trips to town, I heard a song on the jukebox of a local cafe that my friends and I were not supposed to go into. The tune sounded fantastic. Its name was easy to remember because the refrain repeated constantly… “Alley Oop… Oop.. Oop-Oop.” I had heard vibey, “street-sounding” music like it back home in Chicago, but this tune had a Flintstones-cartoon aspect that made it even better.

I had saved enough allowances to buy the 45, but didn’t know how one went about doing that. My friends at the horse camp directed me to a local hardware store – which was where one bought records in Mountain
View, Arkansas – and I bought my first-ever record.

When I brought the 45 home and played it, I had the first in a lifetime of twinges… the experiencing of listening to my own record was not as thrilling as listening to it on the jukebox in the cafe. A deep realization, and the first in a lifetime of similar epiphanies, but I found out later there was a more mundane explanation.

The original version I heard in the cafe was by a hastily thrown together doo-wop group from Los Angeles that called themselves the Hollywood Argyles. But the copy that I had bought at the hardware store was by a “cover group” called Dante and the Evergreens. The song, the arrangement and the goofiness were the same, but the vibe was less edgy, more antiseptic – as the producers no doubt intended, to appeal better to young, white audiences.

But the “bait n’ switch” tactic didn’t work for me. I was indignant when I realized how it all worked and have spent the better part of a musical lifetime trying not to confuse the “cover” with the “real deal”!

2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … My dad was a musician, so when I was very young, I saw a lot of folks perform – who I now can’t remember. The first one that I have clear, powerful memories of was a triple-bill of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt and Doc Watson. I can’t think of three other people more formative on my acoustic playing than those three… and they were all on one show!

3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … the recorder, at age 8. I don’t think I was a very promising student. At age 12, I started picking up the guitar and never really looked back.

However, all through my high school years, I maintained an active, outspoken dislike of music – probably because I associated that word with a mandatory class that I hated. All the while, I would run home after school, to pick up my guitar. It never dawned on me until years later that “music” and “the guitar” had anything to do with the other!

4. THE FIRST SONG THAT I EVER PERFORMED IN PUBLIC WAS … “Danville Girl”, with my father accompanying on guitar. I was age 3. It was all downhill from that point on. (There’s a recording that my dad made of the performance, a snippet of which is included on my “Steel String Americana” CD.)

5. THE FIRST BAND I WAS EVER IN WAS … A wannabe blues band that we called Dandelion Wine.

Just back from a tour of Indonesia with his jazz band Kilimanjaro, guitarist Paul Asbell goes acoustic and solo at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs at 8pm on Friday, where he will share the bill with fellow acoustic bluesman Scott Ainslie. Tix are $16 in advance; $18 at the door.

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