There Are Songs in That Guitar: A Christmas Holiday Reflection

living-room-guitars

 

This Christmas season, I find myself looking back and remembering people that have been an important part of my life. I think the winter holidays are a wonderful time for cultivating gratitude. There have been people who have been there for me since day one, and there have been those who were only in my life for brief moments, but still altered it forever. I am grateful for all of these people along the way. Some know this, and some I’ll never have the chance to tell them.

Since this is a music blog, I wanted to remember an old friend of mine, Henry Gross. I was only around Henry for a year. I met him through his wife, who was the real estate agent when I bought my first home. Henry is an artist, and among his list of accomplishments, is writing and singing the song called “Shannon” (a song I used to sing along to on the radio as a kid). The first time I met Henry, I was drawn to his guitar collection. He had so many cool old guitars, and I fell in love with some of his Epiphone guitars from the 1960’s. Every time I visited him, I would ask to play them. And Henry was gracious enough to teach me about these magical pieces of wood and steel.

One day, I got a call from Henry saying he’s found me a 1967 Epi Cortez. It was owned by Bob Dylan sideman Bucky Baxter, who was reluctant to let it go, but Henry convinced him I needed this guitar. I still don’t know why Henry was driven to do this. As I was handing over $750 to Bucky Baxter, I felt like the luckiest guitar playing songwriter on the planet. However, with a young baby and wife to support, this was a lot of money to me. I’m not sure why I even did this!! Bucky handed me the guitar and I plucked a few notes on it, smiling big. Then Henry said, “There are songs in that guitar.”

I didn’t think much about his words at the time. I was a struggling songwriter trying to write my first big song, and Henry Gross suggested I needed this guitar. Somehow he knew this guitar was right for me, and that guitar spoke to me on an emotional level. Within nine months, I had written my first hit song with this guitar: a song called “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio. Then, “She Thinks She Needs Me” by Andy Griggs, and “Fall” by Clay Walker. It seemed as if picking up this guitar was magical. Like it was connected to my heart. There really were songs in that guitar. I couldn’t see it, but Henry Gross saw it.

So, this holiday season, I want to give thanks for people like Henry who teach us and give freely. Hopefully, I’ll meet up with Henry again and get to personally offer him my thanks—at the very least, maybe this blog will get passed along to him. He was right. That guitar has songs in it! I’ve included a few songs you can listen to below. All were written on my 1967 Epi Cortez guitar!

Write On! Live On! ~Clay

 

clay-mills-songtown
*Clay Mills is an 10-time ASCAP hit songwriter and co-founder of SongTownUSA

 

Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It – Darius Rucker

One Day You Will- Lady Antebellum

Beautiful Mess- Diamond Rio

 

38 thoughts on “There Are Songs in That Guitar: A Christmas Holiday Reflection

  1. Wow – what an amazing journey you and this Epi cortez had – a true partnership all because of a wonderful friend – You’re an amazing person Clay – thank you for sharing “There are Songs” in this guitar – Merry Christmas – Happy New Year ?

  2. One more tomorrow, evergreen & memory lane! I was groovin’ on Henry long before Shannon put him on the charts! What a great influence, awesome story bro-merry Christmas! 🙂

  3. I have a philosophy that, as long as you’ll reach for your ‘instruments’, guitar, pen and paper, brain and body, there’s another song to be written. Someone is going to write another great song. We’re all going to hear it and agree, ‘That song can stand beside the best I ever heard.’ So why can’t that next great song be waiting in your guitar, your brain?

    Arlo Guthrie posits the concept of the Cosmic Flow. He gestures that it passes by just a little above your head, and you can stick your head up in it and there are songs sort of ‘swimming’ by like fishes, and you can catch them! If you don’t, they swim on and some other songwriter catches them.

    Paul McCartney said he thinks he wrote all his great songs years ago and there won’t be any more ‘Yesterday’s’ or ‘Blackbirds’ coming to him. I think…I know…he’s mistaken. As long as he reaches for his instruments there will be more to come. Reach for you instruments Paul!

    Merry Christmas!

    1. Dear Clay:
      These songs that you posted and the story you wrote are truth. They speak to my heart in a universal way.
      They make me cry,tears of joy and grititude, and remember what it means to be alive.
      Gary, I so agree with you as well.
      Guitars are made of wood.
      The wood was once growing and alive.
      It still moves and breathes, changes with whatever is going on around it.
      I believe guitars and instruments have spirits same as all living creatures.
      The more sensitive we are to them, the more they thrive.
      Its our job to love them and help them express themselves because that’s what we were all made for.
      Much love, Merry Christmas..Now I’m going to wipe the tears and write a song. XO
      Thank you.
      Tedi May
      Tedi May

  4. Thanks for sharing your story Clay.

    It’s the biggest gift for a person to see your talent and drive within, even when you can’t, and look out for you to guide you forward. Ya. Your story touched me.

    And what got me even more was listening to, “One Day You Will.” That one hit home for me today. This songwriting journey will continue to be one that’s a mixed pallet of emotions; moment to moment. The important part for me right now is to be patient with myself. I’m on a brand new journey and while I may seem unclear, overwhelmed and uncertain at times, I know things will start to unfold if I allow it to, on it’s own time, not mine. Yup… I totally felt that song in my bones this morning.

    Thank you and Happy Holidays ?

  5. Beautiful story! Your words bring hope that we all have that someone out there that can see just what we need to bring us to where we should be. Thanks!

  6. When I got my Martin I had the same experience. It was as if my songs finally found a conduit. I’ve been writing with thst guitar for 42 years. I’ll probably never get a cut but I can’t stop writing. There are too many songs still in there.

  7. This is one of my all time favorite stories of yours Clay. The heart-felt emotions that these songs evoke are pure magic…Just like you and that Cortez. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  8. That is truly inspiring Clay! I sure hope to get more involved in ST next year! From one Alabama boy to another Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  9. Thanks for sharing this story. The name Henry Gross didn’t strike me until you mentioned the song. What a thoughtful guy and being a writer, he got it.

  10. Good post, great story! Thanks for sharing! I got a used Maton at Artisan in Franklin a while back. After noticing a faint phone # and name on the case, I was curious who the previous owner was. That led to a really neat Facebook post from the previous owner saying statements about how much she loved the guitar and how much she hated to have to get rid of it, and that all the people that had complimented her for it could go get it and she’d be happier if it went to a good new owner, etc. We’ve since connected on Facebook and she told me it’s name is Munchkin, and while no confirmed yet hits have come out of it, I can relate to the great mojo of an instrument.

  11. Nice post Clay… I’ve heard that expression before about there being songs in a guitar… thank you for reminding me about it and about all the other people to be thankful for too… have a great holiday season and Happy New Year!

  12. Love this and these types of events that can do so much to shape our future. Unless you look back, you can so easily take for granted who you are and how and why you do what you do. My Christmas present this year is a guitar I’ve been looking at for years now 🙂 And in my case it was “There are performances in that guitar”. But there are no performances without the songs, so I welcome those too! 😉 Thank you for your blog and Merry Christmas!

  13. Great post, Clay! That’s a beautiful way to look at a guitar or any instrument, that it holds songs that it needs you to play. Your instrument is your first co-writer.

    It’s also a good excuse for me to convince my spouse: “I need to buy another guitar, so I can write different songs.” 🙂

  14. A great reminder that in addition to talent, perseverance and discipline, every successful songwriter needs a CHAMPION. Wishing a merry Christmas and champions for us all😉❤🎶

  15. Sure needed to hear this. Sometimes I forget how I felt when I bought my first guitar at 13 with my babysitting money (Sears Silvertone). When I finally got it, it was hung around my neck for months until I could play & sing “Tom Dooley” without stopping between changing chords. Sometimes playing out 4-5 times a week gives me my “guitar fix” but I really want that early passion back. Merry Christmas & thanks for the gift.

  16. I love stories behind songs! The guitar story reminds me of our brief trip to Nashville last Christmas. We were loading up my boyfriend’s big SUV, and I asked him about putting in his fiddle. He didn’t think it was a good idea, so only brought his guitar — and, of course, the first place we went to and he mentioned the violin, the guy’s face lit up, and he said, “Great! Go get it!” (I didn’t have to say anything.) BUT, out of that came my song “Everybody Plays the Guitar.” Lesson learned, and fun song.

  17. What a wonderful account of an incredible exchange! Thanks so much for sharing.

    A custom guitar builder friend, Charles Whitfill tries to match necks with bodies that vibrate at the same or complimentary frequencies. You can feel that to be the case first strum. I think there are woods, both age and type that vibrate in tight harmony with the vibes of our bodies and souls. Sounds to me like Henry is a bit of a wood whisperer and knew from how you reacted and interacted with his guitars that the guitar Bucky had would be a great fit with your vibe. Sounds like that indeed is the case. We can all walk into even a shop like Gruhn and strum away on hundreds of guitars, but we all know that only a few will have a very good feel and response. Congrats on finding one of those select few special fits.

  18. I love your story, Clay, and feel the same way. Many years ago, guitars began to “call out to me”. I went to a guitar shop in the 1980s looking for a parlor and left with a dreadnaught. I’ve walked into stores like Gruhn with no intention of buying and left with brands I have never heard of because they spoke to me from where they were hanging on a wall. And I believe with all my heart that they are loaded with songs begging to be extracted and freed to see the light of day. There’s some kind of romantic attachment that certain guitars lead us to, and you can hear this in Neil Young’s song “This Old Guitar”.
    I also love the comment in this post about Arlo Guthrie’s view on the muse flowing just beyond our height, and that the inspiration and songs are there for the taking if you stretch a bit and are open to receiving them.
    Wonderful reflections, Clay, and much gratitude for all of us to have the gift of passion and the ability to do what we love.

  19. Nice story, Clay! What year did you buy that guitar? I ask because that price is way lower than I was preparing for when reading the story. Good buy!

    1. It’s always been a really great vintage guitar at a much cheaper price than a vintage Gibson, even though it was built in the Kalamazoo Factory. I bought it about 15 years ago I believe. 🙂

      Clay

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