Lee Starnes
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Lee Starnes


Band Alternative New Age


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Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


From the moment I first picked up a guitar I was hooked. The first guitar I ever held was my best friend’s cheap acoustic that his parents had given him - I stayed up all night trying to play it. I knew then I had to have my own guitar and learn to play it. That was my soul talking – I didn’t come from a real musical family, although my folks did like big bands, Sinatra and some classical which they listened to on the record player.

I was about 13 years old and living in a dysfunctional family in a small East Texas oilfield town. There was one little music store, Keoun’s Music, that mainly sold pianos, band instruments and a few crappy Lindale guitars. I don’t have any idea what happened to that brand. So my first guitar was little $35 Lindale acoustic that sort of tuned up. Although this was the mid-sixties, I was a “teenager” and like a lot of young guys today, I wanted to play rock n’ roll. I finally pestered my mother enough that to shut me up, she gave me $55 for a truly awful Lindale electric and a tiny 5-watt amp that barely even had what you could call a speaker. The strings on that guitar were at least 1/2-inch off the fret board and it never would really tune up.

Guitars like that one are basically designed to either make you frustrated and quit or make more determined and try even harder. I played that thing until my fingers literally blistered and bled, and then I played it some more. About that time my Dad finally realized what I was up to, and since he was sure that by learning to play guitar put me squarely on the road to destruction, he wanted to stop me before things got any worse. I could make a few chord changes by then and tried to play them for him. His words of encouragement were “You’ll never learn to play that damn thing!” He never really listened to me again – oh he “heard” me well enough to tell me to “turn it down” or “don’t play while I’m around” – but that was about it.

One afternoon I was over at a friend’s house, we were playing guitars and Jimmy was banging out an E chord and somehow I stumbled upon the riff of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and it “fit.” What a realization for us – that’s how “bands” do it! Right there and then we decided to form our own rock n’ roll band – the first ever in Gladewater, Texas. So “The Chessmen” were born and before long we were pretty popular around East Texas. We stayed together and played regularly for the rest of my high school years.

When we first started the Chessmen, we played a lot of simple 3 and 4 chord rock songs that were popular at the time. I started learning some tunes by the Ventures and taught them to the band. After that we’d start mixing in a few instrumentals like “Walk Don’t Run” and “Apache” in our sets. Jimmy Bowden, our rhythm guitar player, had an older cousin nearby up in Gilmer, Texas who also played guitar in a group playing around East Texas. They were older guys and could play in the local clubs and honky tonks that we were too young to play in. So they were “cool.” One afternoon I was at Jimmy’s cousin’s playing guitars and he put some Freddy King playing his instrumentals on the record player – this was before stereo. I’d never heard any thing like that before – it moved my soul and I had to learn to play it. So I went from the Ventures to Freddy King then B.B. King and Albert King with some Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Albert Collins mixed in.

Although I loved the Ventures and the blues, for some reason I also liked some of the old standards like “Misty” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” I loved the melodies and I wanted to be able to play these pretty standards by myself and sound complete. At the time I was playing lead, but I really liked chords too. I didn’t really know anything about “fingerpicking.” So learning to play some of these old standards using chords was really exciting.

About this time I was working part time after school in a music store in the nearby bigger town of Pine Tree, Texas. There were a couple of older guys also working there who were really good pickers. One of them got to be sort of famous in Texas – “Bug” (Buddy) Henderson. I think he survived his demons too and still plays around Texas. The two guys would be walking around the store trying out all the guitars and playing blues licks and fingerpicking this other stuff where they had the bass going with their thumbs and the chords and melody with the fingers – stuff like “Freight Train” and maybe “Windy and Warm.” I was fascinated asked them where did they get that stuff - Chet Atkins, of course. Chet immediately became another mentor which through him and my love of melodies led me to guys like Howard Roberts, Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery. I picked out some of Chet’s stuff off the records, but I was really disciplined enough to really learn it like Tommy Emmanuel, Doyle Dykes, Richard Anderson and Wesley Crider (to name some of the very best) have. Those guys can really carry the torch for Chet.

I guess