Folk Wisdom

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Robb Bledsoe started his love affair with music in the fifth grade.
It was a typical 1960’s love story. It started out as a crush and then ended up being the love of his life.
“I started with piano lessons,” he recalled. “And then I sang in the school choir and church choir.”
But then duty to country called, and while he was stationed in Germany, he started taking guitar lessons.
“Rodney Love from Billings, Montana showed me three chords: C, F, and G,” said Bledsoe. Those were three magical letters.
From there, Bledsoe found himself at the PX gathering up music as if it were food. It was like good for a hungry soul. He collected songbook after songbook: Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. He studied them intently, and became proficient enough to form a band and play at the base NCO Club.
Then it was time for coming home, and his musical mistress followed him, joining up with friends and fellow musicians who began performing at parties and picnics.
He found artistic representation through Penn’s Attractions in Collinsville, Illinois. Soon Bledsoe was performing at clubs throughout the Midwest and Midsouth. The doors kept opening.
“I was even offered the chance to tour Europe, but that meant leaving family and giving up medical insurance. Most of us had day jobs we couldn’t afford to quit,” explained Bledsoe.
Ahhhh. The day job. The lament of every musician.
But, he found more and more people were asking him to teach them to play guitar. So….folk guitarist and teacher he became.
Bledsoe has by now taught dozens of people how to play guitar.
“Some learned really well, and others didn’t want to commit to practice,” he admitted. So, some went on to develop their skill and also become professional musicians, but most didn’t.
Bledsoe started a folk music school while living in the St. Louis area. He’s had students ranging in age everywhere from 4 to 80.
“It’s always fun, but sometimes frustrating,” admitted Bledsoe.
Sometimes students have a very specific idea of what they want to learn.
“I had one student who was also a professional artist. She wanted to learn cowboy songs and Scottish songs,” said Bledsoe.
Well…that was a challenge, he recalled, because he knew nothing about Scottish music himself. But he researched it and they got there.
“She brought a recording for me to listen to, and I had to learn it from that so I could teach it. It was hard work,” he laughed.
What made it even more challenging was that she wanted to add lyrics to the music, and she, herself, had a very heavy Scottish brogue.
“It was not easy,” he smiled. “And I was supposed to get an original piece of artwork from her as part of my payment, but I guess the paint is still drying on it.”
Another unusual challenge for him was the time he was hired to write a song for a bar mitzvah.
Again, research was the key to success.
“The mother was so happy with it that she made copies and had everyone sing along,” he laughed.
It’s the human element that makes music rewarding, he says. One of his most rewarding musical experiences was teaching terminally ill kids to play guitar.
“They actually wrote their songs about their feelings,” said Bledsoe. “That will tug at anyone’s heart strings.”
And because of the children’s illness, it took some adaptation.
“Some of these kids were so weak that it was difficult for them to play guitar, so we tuned guitar and ukulele with open chord, which makes it easier for weak fingers,” said the seasoned musician.
He remembers the songs the kid wrote were a revelation of what it is to be human.
“A lot of kids wrote about their dogs or their family. But I had one kid with a great sense of humor who wrote a song about pooping,” laughed Bledsoe. He loved that humor in the face of adversity.
Most of his students have no lofty goals for themselves. Most are not out to become rock stars. Most of them just want to be able to play guitar around a campfire with friends.
Bledsoe has even gone high tech with lessons and taught them via Skype with a student in California.
But, to play guitar takes resolve.
Literally, people bleed learning to play. Sore fingers are a common complaint, and a typical reason for students to give up on the craft. One student found his fingers got to be so painful that he was ready to quit. So Bledsoe switched him to a 12-string guitar, which seemed to solve the problem.
Bledsoe says music can literally be healing. It can be a way of preserving memories. It can bring out every human emotion. To him, that is the hallmark of great music, and why he is particularly drawn to folk and gospel music.
And Bledsoe loves the magic that music brings.
“In what other career can you go into an empty room, and literally bring it alive with nothing but notes and memories?” asked the folk guitarist. “Music can make happy times even better, and sometimes it can turn a sad time around. At the very least, it gives people a chance to express their emotion.”
Because of that, he says music is important.
“It’s like life….it’s ever changing, and ever growing. I still practice every day, and every day it is new,” concluded Bledsoe.
And to think it all started with a fifth grade crush.
Interested in developing some folk wisdom of your own? Call Bledsoe at 573-727-0025 or email him at robb.bledsoe@gmail.com.
edited Robb Bledsoe

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