A Music Career Inspired By the Mouseketeers

An episode of the Mickey Mouse Club inspired Bill Frisell to build his first guitar out of cardboard and rubber bands.
  • Transcript


Question: What were some of your early musical influences? 

Bill Frisell: Nobody else in my family was a musician, but my parents loved music, my grandparents loved music. It was always around a little bit in my family... we had a record player. But I think just growing up during that time in the ‘50s, as rock 'n' roll was starting to happen, I just sort of followed along with whatever was popular at the time. Very, very early on, I think I was four years old, or five years old when we first got a television, and I would watch the "Mickey Mouse Club" in the afternoon, and the leader of the Mouseketeers was this guy named Jimmy and he would play a guitar and I just thought that was really cool. At that time I made myself a pretend guitar out of a piece of cardboard and rubber bands and somehow I just stuck with that my whole life. You know. 

Question: What was your music education like? 

Bill Frisell: Well, when I was in fourth grade, they would come around in the public schools and ask if anyone wanted to play an instrument, and at that time my father thought clarinet would be a good instrument. So, I started in the school music program playing clarinet, and then I got into this marching band and... looking back on it, this fantastic teacher that led the marching band. And I also studied private with him. He was very strict, almost military kind of process I went through. I had to practice every day, and tap my foot in the right place, and you know, at the time it was kind of harsh almost. 

I remember one time I was even crying at the end of one of the lessons because I couldn’t do what he wanted me to do. But he just kept on me and somehow I look back on that as being just so much of the basis for what I do came from that. 

Question: What made you switch to guitar? 

Bill Frisell: A friend of mine across the street had a guitar. There were guitars around at my friends' houses, and there was a friend of mine that lived across the street that was a little bit older than me that was... I really looked up to this guy. He was kind of my hero from when I was maybe five years old. You know, I’d be in kindergarten and he’d be in second grade. So, anyway, he was the first one to get a real guitar and then he started playing in a band and I would go sneaking around his house and looking in his window while they were practicing, and I just thought it was so cool. Then I’d get to play his guitar maybe a little bit, or another friend had a guitar and I’d sort of mess around with it. I must have been maybe 12 or 13, my parents got me just a $20 cheap guitar for Christmas. 

And I guess the point that I think where it really began was: I think I was 14 and I saved up money and bought an electric guitar. And I remember the day I told my mother I wanted to see all this stuff in the ‘50’s, like hot rods and surfing and even though I lived in Colorado, I would by surf magazines and dinosaurs and outer space. I really was into hot rods and I wanted to be a race car driver, and I had a lawn mower engine that I would take apart and I had big plans to make some sort of racing car. And then one day I thought, man, I think I want to get a guitar instead of having this racing car. And I remember really clearly one day coming home after school when I had made this decision and told my mother... I remember seeing her in the alleyway behind our house and I said, “Mommy, I decided I don't want to be a race car driver, I want to get an electric guitar.” And she said, "Oh this is wonderful!" She was so excited and relieved that I didn’t want to be a race car driver.

So anyway, then I saved up my money and I got an electric guitar and at that time if you owned the instrument then you were automatically in a band. You didn’t really have to play. My friend got an electric guitar and then within a couple of weeks, we were playing at parties on weekends. And it’s still kind of like that, that’s my social... The music has been my whole social life. 

Recorded on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown