ROADHOUSE STORIES - SUPER CHIEF

I've been writing a series of stories about my experiences as a guitar player in a cover band. It's called "Roadhouse Stories." Here's another one of the stories:
"SUPER CHIEF"

With breathtaking speed. That's how I'd like my fingers to sail along the neck of my Gibson. Fast - like a locomotive, like the Super Chief screaming down the tracks at 110 miles an hour.

Instead, I chug along like a freight train carrying 150 cars of coal through a railroad crossing in a crappy part of town.

Some nights after we get done at Morey's Roadhouse, the guys and I go to The Dunes which is open to six a.m. "The Dunes 'til dawn" is the battle cry of that place. It's a real club - three bars, two stages - stages that have lights on them. It's not the rathole we play in.

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The bands there, like "Mother Flag and Country" and "Cold Sweat," have their names on a marquee outside. The only way people at the Roadhouse know who we are is when our drummer Johnny G tells them before we go on break and they're usually too drunk or too interested in getting laid to give a damn about who we are.

The other night, I'm standing in The Dunes watching "Mother Flag & Country." They've got this guitar player who's a monster. He makes the thing wail. I watch him to try and figure out what he's doing but it doesn't even look like he's working. With me, it's always a struggle. I see my fingers bending, sliding and forming chords - chugging along. But this guy is just ripping and it's like he's not even there. He's not even looking at the fretboard. He's got his eyes closed and his head back. He's gone.

Usually when a guy plays better than I do, I tell myself it's because he's got a better guitar. But he's got the same one I do - a '67 Gibson SG Standard. The only difference is his is cherry red and mine's Pelham blue.

Sometimes when a guy's better, I say to myself it's because he's older. And I always thought this guy was older until one night Sam, our keyboard player, struck up a conversation with him and found out he was just a sophomore in college. I graduated two years ago.

Then I think he probably started lessons when he was six and isn't like me - playing from the age of 13 and never had a lesson in my life. No, Sam said. The guy's self taught, only been at it five years.

Damn, I'm worthless. I see the other guys in my band watching this guy play. They don't say it, but I know they'd rather have him than me. That's when I feel my insides shrink and I get really quiet and I feel a dark cloud park itself right over me. I don't cut it and I know it.

When I go on stage the next night, I'm in a foul mood. I don't even look out at the dance floor. I turn and face the wall as I launch into my first solo in the first number in the first set - and that's when I notice it. My amp sounds different. There's more sustain. I bend the notes, pull the strings, then climb all the way to the 17th fret and the Gibson screams like a train whistle.

When the club heats up around midnight, I start to sweat. My fretboard gets slick and my fingers slide up and down like they have ball bearings in the tip. And I don't think about who's better than me and who I'm better than. I don't think about anything. I just play in this cocoon and everything else around me is a blur. And for the rest of the night, I'm on my game. I'm riding the Super Chief.

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