Tennessee Flat-Top Box (Johnny Cash)

This was the first guitar solo I ever learned, through an odd confluence of coincidences. I got Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire LP in Falmouth, Ring_of_Fire_-_The_Best_of_Johnny_Cashwhere the record store on Main St. had a discount bin and I could easily persuade my mother to take chances on unfamiliar material. Cash was definitely that, for us, and when we got home and listened, my mother was instantly turned off — she didn’t like his hyper-macho voice and the overblown arrangements, and her dislike was cemented by the lyrics of “Remember the Alamo”: “Hey, Santy Ana, we’re killing your soldiers below/ So men wherever they go/ Will remember the Alamo.”

Seth ShulmanBe that as it may, I listened to it sometimes, and then I was over at Seth Shulman’s house — the one time I ever recall visiting him. Seth had blown me away in fourth grade by bringing his guitar for “show and tell,” and performing a Beatles song. I don’t remember which Beatles song, but it was way beyond my abilities, as was the whole idea of performing anything on guitar — I had one already, but could barely pick out simple melodies. Seth and I were not super-close friends, but we were always friendly and I had huge respect for his guitaristic abilities, which is probably why I was invited over to his house.

I think I was only there once, and we went up to his room and played guitar, and he had the Newport Folk Festival Songbook, which I had never seen. We were going through it, and it had Newport songbook“Tennessee Flat-Top Box” — not only the words and melody, but the guitar solo. It was just an extension of a basic bass run in C, and I could read enough music to figure it out, so I did. Seth and I played together for an hour or so, and then we went downstairs and played for his mother, and then I went home, and that was that — except that almost fifty years later, I still know the damn thing.

Incidentally, Seth is now a respected science journalist, with multiple books to his credit, and he lives in Western Mass, and we really should get together one of these days. I have no idea if he still plays guitar.