A Music Career Inspired By the Mouseketeers

Question: What were some of your early musical influences? 

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

Question: What was your music \r\neducation like? 

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

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

Question: \r\nWhat made you switch to guitar? 

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

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

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

Recorded on May 5, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

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

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