Croydon, 1974 / St Andrews, 1984
Brendon was a man out of time. In 1974 he still embodied the classic style of a 1950s rocker. A quiff of hair, sharp sideburns, and an attitude not to be messed with. He was the real deal though, no reconstituted 1950s nostalgia for him. The music of the era pulsed through his psyche with all the freshness and vitality of the latest release.
He adored the first wave of rock; Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and his hero, the real king of the genre, Jerry Lee Lewis. This time, his time, he believed was the pure source of every great album, single and performer that followed it – from the Beatles to The Stones, from Daddy Cool to Skyhooks. Even though I was born after the initial shock of rock had subsided, I sensed the truth in Brendon’s belief and longed to have been alive a generation earlier.
The rocker persona attempted to hide a shy, deeply taciturn nature. Brendon was a man of few words, a tinder dry sense of humour and handful of catchphrases. With every parting handshake he’d tilt his head slightly, lift an eyebrow and advise me to “stick to the shadows”.
Man, he was cool. He could dance too, gracefully propelling his beautiful wife around the room to the steady thwack of anything that Alan Freed or Wolfman Jack might have broadcast back in 1958.
And Brendon could play guitar!
At 12 years of age I wanted little more out of life than to learn to play guitar…and maybe one day join The Beatles. I knew just one song. A family friend had taught me the chords to The Eagles’ One Of These Nights and I could tell Brendon was not impressed by the direction my musical education was taking. It was time for a lesson. He leaned toward me, conspiratorially.
“With these three chords you’ll be able to play hundreds of amazing songs”.
His tone and demeanour suggested something initiatory was about to unfold. My eyes widened, my ears opened and I lapped it all up.
E, A and B7. I followed and mimicked Brendon’s panel beater fingers as they effortlessly made shapes on the fretboard. E, A and B7. Strings buzzed, fingertips ached and I strummed dysrhythmically. E, A and B7. Tonic, sub-dominant and dominant seventh. E, A and B7. The royal road to rock’n’roll.
I couldn’t help but trust a teacher so enamoured with the subject matter. After I was shown the shapes I simply went home and practised without really knowing what I was doing. The next time we met he showed me why I had been practising.
“You know,” he said, “you can play almost anything with these three chords, even solos”.
“Solos?” I echoed.
“Yeah. You know Peggy Sue?”
“Yeah. I know Peggy Sue”.
Without another word Brendon took my guitar and ripped into the solo from Buddy Holly’s 1957 hit single. My rattly old, dead-stringed, no name acoustic suddenly sounded like Buddy’s Stratocaster. He played that guitar just like a-ringin’ a bell.
“Now,” he said, “your turn”‘ and he sat with me, probably for hours, as I worked and played my way through one of my favourite tutorials ever.
Ten years later I wrote a song about Brendon. I based it on a memory of a visit to his place when I heard two radios playing in different parts of the house. I was fascinated by the phasing of the simultaneous receivers and by Brendon’s effort to fill his home with music. With a bit of artistic exaggeration these two radios became the lyrical hook and title to my song called 15 Radios.
A fiercely unreligious man, Brendon was nonetheless a devout worshipper in the Chapel of Rock’n’Roll. I sensed he believed and rejoiced in the idea that his young wide-eyed student might be similarly enraptured and saved by perfect collisions of drums, voices and guitars creating magic together. My song ends with the lines:
It’s not so much the volume
It’s something stronger that he’s found
Not so much the music
He says it’s just the sound
Paul McCartney and Ron Wood discuss Peggy Sue…