Brian: Is it rolling, Bob?
Caesar: Rolling. I grew up in Forest Hills, Queens. On weekends my family would go to nearby beaches on Long Island. I remember there was an old dilapidated piano in an empty room. I went over and struck a single key on it. The natural echo kept swirling around and I listened really closely for a long time. I held down different notes and listened to the layers of sound. It dawned on me at that moment that there was something between this instrument and me. I could “play” sounds.
Brian: Funny, I had a similar awakening, if you will. My parents were looking for a place to move to and there was a music room in a cottage out in the country. We grew up in Wembley, in northwest London just after the war, a time of rationing. So, going out to the country was amazing because you had access to fresh farm food. There was a music room in the cottage had an upright piano and on top of the piano was a nylon string guitar. I was quite young and I reached up and brushed the strings. I’d already played other instruments but this was an absolutely magic sound and I remember thinking to myself, if the sound of an instrument is already that good, anything that you add to it would be quite amazing!
In 1954, we moved up to the country where my older brother and I started primary school. We had a headmistress called Miss Edmonds, and I remember she was really into opera and very classical stuff. She invited an opera singer one time and to me it sounded like screeching that would’ve made a grown man cry. In fact, when I looked over at Miss Edmonds she had tears streaming down her face. My first music teacher was a Miss Cheshire and we all learned to play the recorder. She played the piano and two years later I played my first recital with her. But after the show I got severely reprimanded because I had deviated slightly from the written music, which was a real no-no. What do you think of that?.
Caesar: Sounds like rock and roll was soon to be for you. My first real experiences of being a musician were around the time of the British Invasion—I’m sure you’ve heard of it (ha ha!). On my block there were three apartment buildings with loads of kids and every other week it was a new fad. A particularly rabid fad happened at the intersection of age 13 and the British Invasion. Everyone—and I mean everyone— started buying a guitar. It just took a couple of chords and we all started forming bands instead of choosing up sides for a ballgame. We all found our niche. One of the guys, John Cummings, shredded his guitar, while I played melodic George Harrison licks. John Cummings was later to become Johnny Ramone.
Brian: On my side of the pond, my brother and I went to different secondary schools and that was interesting because they each had very strong influences on our guitar playing. For me, it was more rock and blues, R&B and electric stuff, whereas for my brother it was more folk blues and acoustic. We would swap notes when we’d get together and play.
Caesar: My first REAL guitar was a Gretsch Chet Atkins, complete with tremolo bar, a muffle bar (think Herman’s Hermits) and a big honkin’ orange semi-acoustic body, which soon got powered by a Fender Tremolux amplifier.
Brian: Do you still have them?
Caesar: Well, Angelo, my fraternal twin brother, who now repairs and builds guitars, has them and he makes sure they’re in tip-top shape. I think we had a cheap-o Dan Electro on board, too. So we both plugged in and played. We went on long jamming journeys in our room to the glow of the red light on the amp. That’s when we really started laying down the blues.
Brian: I couldn’t afford to buy an electric guitar when I was in school and so I used to draw guitars. One of my favourites was the red Stratocaster, inspired by Hank B. Marvin of The Shadows. I had odd jobs from an early age, working with the milkman and I had a paper round. I also worked on building sites, which gave me access to building materials. I could get wood and I’d also hand tools to the workers on the scaffolding. I learned something about how to use the tools and I made a bit of pocket money with the jobs. The first guitar I made with those materials and tools was an electric guitar, which I painted blue with polyurethane paint. I cut all the frets and everything myself. I got my own little amp, plugged it in and it worked! It was very satisfying building my own instrument. I used to go to a youth club in those days in the early 60s and that’s the first time I ever heard the Rolling Stones.
They had a Chuck Berry song called “Come On”, and that really hit me. We had a woodwork teacher that allowed us to rehearse in the shop and I remember doing Yardbirds stuff like “For Your Love.” We would copy all the bands—the Stones, Kinks, Small Faces—and I wanted to know where this music came from. Post-war we had been through the Skiffle era, inspired by the likes of Lonnie Donegan, Joe Brown and Tommy Steele. We'd build a 'washtub' bass, play the washboard with thimbles; and someone would have a guitar or a banjo...
Caesar: All hail rock and roll! Those were good days, our beginnings.