I would be lying if I told you I knew the exact year or how old I was when this happened. My best guess is 1973, approximately 15 years old. I remember with great clarity being upstairs in my grandparent’s home with my cousin Junnie. Jacob Dixon III was named after my uncle whose nickname was Junior, named after my grandfather, Jake Dixon. Three men, same name, but called Jake, Junior, and Junnie.
I looked up to Junnie, who was two years older and very worldly. I had been relegated to living in North Carolina while Junnie had been all over the world. His dad was an officer in the military.
The upstairs bedrooms of my grandparent’s home was a magical place for a kid. To gain entrance you had to wind up a narrow wood staircase with a low ceiling. This was more difficult for adults but was perfect for kids. Both rooms, divided by a narrow hallway, had severely sloping ceilings that echoed the rain in the best acoustic way possible.
Junnie’s visits, few and far in between, were always welcome. On this occasion, he was excited to show me his guitar. Though I am currently sixty-two, I remember the moment he pulled the Martin guitar out of its case. We cradled that guitar as if it were made of eggshell and sat at the head of the stairs. Junnie pulled out songbooks and began to play several Beatles songs. But it was “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young that lit the fuse. The combination of Junnie playing this song was the spark, the realization that I wanted to make that sound.
That one moment caused me to always carry a guitar with me for the rest of my life. Though I have many guitars, my Martin is pretty much the only one I play. That moment inspired me to make songwriting my hobby and since that time have written more songs than I can remember.
Later, when my cousin Reggie (different side of my family) heard me playing, he was inspired to learn guitar. Reggie and I spent many hours working out songs, playing in local churches, and just talking about music. He passed a love of music on to his kids as well as the knowledge that they could also produce music.
My hope has been to pass on the spark. I gave each of my kids guitars for gifts. My eldest granddaughter, Hadley, now eight, was the first to receive a real guitar when she was old enough to hold it. This is now my tradition, to present kids in my life with real guitars in an attempt to pass the spark from one generation to the next.
Junnie and Reggie are both gone now, leaving me with memories of their friendship and music.
The lesson that I believe to be the greatest of my life is this… when you see a anyone reaching out for artistic expression, be the spark. Encourage them to pursue that expression, not for money, but for the love of doing that thing and putting it out into the world.
The value of the songs that I write is not monetary, for I am not a true performer, it is the fulfillment of taking a piece of my life and putting it to music. It is the fulfillment of passing on a spark that was lit when a guitar was pulled from a case by someone that I loved and admired.
My only task... to pass it on.