At fifteen, I decided to learn to play guitar. My influences were Joe Negri and George Benson. Both were amazingly talented...way back then. As I see it, both are largely responsible for the growing number of guitar players from Pittsburgh. But it was George and I who had hustled through Center Avenue that afternoon, straight to his house and on to his music room where I sat and watched in awe as he ripped through single-string runs at astonishing speeds, and with unbelievable ease...way back then. It was George, my greatest influence, to whom I am forever grateful.
The venues I frequented most were Mason's (where George often played), The Crawford Grill and The Hurricane...Miss Birdie's place. I used to think of Birdie Dunlap as the Hill's Grand Hostess...she really had it goin' on. It was there that I met and talked guitar with Kenny Burrell, Thornel Schwartz, Pat Martino, and the person I recognize as being the worlds greatest musical-story-teller...Wes Montgomery. In addition to this good fortune, the Hill was bulging with live music venues...up the hill and down the hill, a potent, fertile environment for someone having what I had on my mind; for the venues, to me, were not only places to play, also, they were places to learn. Most venues were monitored by Union Representative, neighbor, and friend, George Childress of Local 60-471. Nearly all who played union houses were union members. I did, and I was. The following venues were all up for grabs (not all mentioned here were union houses): The Aurora Club, The Florentine Lounge, The Workman's Club, The Savoy Ballroom, The Ellis Hotel, The Loendi Club, The Corinthian Hall, Nita's Bar, The Terrace Hall Hotel, The Northside Elks, Mutt's Hutt, The Flamingo and Hank and Dons.
After working with numerous groups, singers and horn players, I formed my own combo: vocalist, guitar, bass and drums. I had known going in that the singer was under age by a few years; but she was super-talented and really had enjoyed her role with the group; so I didn't give her age a second thought. But sure enough, it became compulsory that I meet with and speak with her mother as the group had landed its first club appearance; and because her mother went along...I claim the distinction of being the person who introduced Phyllis Hyman to this city's night club circuit. Saxophonist and mentor, Art Nance had contributed his talent to the groups first few gigs. Things were going great, and not very long after, Phyllis' career took off at the speed of light...and not very long after that, I took to the road with The Jimmy McGriff Quintet.
Now, surely the path I'm on could be different...but, I have truly been blessed...its like my path has been pre-arranged...like all that happens along the path serves to make me a better guitar player and person...God knows I could not have had a better life...and moreover, God knows, as well as I, that there could not have been a better gift for me than growing up on The Musical Hill.