The Star Spangled Banner and a Brand New Guitar

I’m not a parent yet, and I’m sure that it will be quite a few years before I will be able to call myself one (I still need a lot of babying, and isn’t having a 100lb dog enough?), but I’ve been reflecting lately on the way my parents helped guide me into the great career that I’ve chosen for myself. I think it’s amazing that parents have the power to do that! When my Grandpa Honey passed away, my aunts and uncles were telling stories of the way he had shaped them into the people they would need to be in order to do their respected career paths. When my father was five years old, my grandfather gave him a kids’ tool set. He grew up to be a plumber and own his own business. When my aunt was five, grandpa gave her a kids’ medical kit. She grew up to be a nurse. It’s like parents can see things in their children that give them insight as to what they would do well. I’m sure I will be blown away when it comes time to steer my little ones, but until then, I’ll just let you know what a good job my folks did:

ASHLEE SINGS

My parents were stunned when at age 8, I sang “The Star Spangled Banner” in its entirety in our back yard, belting it out for all the deer and raccoons that live in the woods behind our house to hear. Not only did I supposedly sing it beautifully (thank you, thank you!) but I also remembered all of the words! Do you know all of the words? I know Christina Aguilera doesn’t (still love her though… sing it, girl!)

A couple of months later, I told them that I wanted to sing in my school’s talent show. At their recommendation, I chose our country’s national anthem. You guys… let me tell you… I made it in!!! I sang the rocket’s red glare out of the song to start the Stone Oak Elementary School talent show that year and my mom made me the cutest little Pinterest-worthy outfit before there was Pinterest: A white leotard with a blue sparkle skirt and red sequined belt with the shiniest tights you have ever seen!

This performance, my first singing performance ever, was in front of about 1000 of my teachers, peers, and their families. I can’t wait to sing for another group like that again. It was hard to believe that I had grown into such a pro since only a couple of years earlier, a group of my friends and I had danced to “Greased Lightning” and the only “talent” I had at the time was doing the splits in front of their 3-girl pyramid. At least it got us in the second half where all the good talent is…

My “Star Spangled Banner” talent-show performance had sparked the show-biz bug in me. Later that year at my Grandpa Honey’s suggestion (he’s so smart) I tried out to sing in the chorus of San Antonio’s local horse racetrack, Retama Park. He suggested that I also throw in a cartwheel at the end and that it would be the “kicker” in the performance, but I abstained and played the audition straight.

The competition at the auditions was rough, all the applicants were older and some had even sang in the “chorale” (cute play on words, isn’t it? A “chorale” at the races?) so they were a shoe-in for getting a spot. But this panel hadn’t seen anything yet. I strapped on yet again my red-white-and-blue-talent-show-gear and marched in there saying “I’m Ashlee Rose and I’m gonna sing the Star Spangled Banner for you!” My family said that it was so quiet that you could have heard the ticking of the wristwatch of the fly on the wall, waiting to hear what would come out of this little girl’s mouth. So I did it: I sang my heart out and I got the gig! We rehearsed multiple times and while we were supposed to be in 4-part harmony, I don’t think I got the message because you could hear me every time belting the melody right in the middle! Maybe I thought I was the star of the show… it’s history now and it musta’ been darn cute.

Ashlee Rose sings the Star Spangled Banner at Stone Oak Elementary's 1998 Talent Show

Ashlee Rose sings the Star Spangled Banner at Stone Oak Elementary’s 1998 Talent Show

ASHLEE PLAYS GUITAR

At age nine, I wanted to branch out and sing something other than the Spar Spangled Banner, so I went in search of an accompanist. Have you ever tried to hire an accompanist? They’re expensive! I just wanted to sing some Patsy Cline and LeAnn Rimes for goodness sake…. How hard could that be? I learned that my dad had an old guitar in his closet and I thought, “This is perfect… I can just learn how to play that!” When I told the idea to my parents it was met with a VERY quick “you’re crazy” and “absolutely not, you are not going to play your dad’s guitar” because it was a 1948 Gibson acoustic-electric in great condition. I don’t blame them. So of course I asked for one for Christmas that year. And what, to my wondering eyes did appear underneath the Christmas tree but a brand new Harmony guitar and the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces” album (the title song written by my beautiful friend, Susan Gibson!) and it opened up a whole world of songwriting-chicks-with-guitars for me to fall in love with.

A couple weeks after complaining about how much the guitar hurt my fingers and saying that it was too hard and that I couldn’t do it any longer, I picked up a song that I could learn… and I taught it to myself. That song was called “The Buckin’ Song” written and performed by Mr. Texas, Robert Earl Keen.

Keen is one of my family’s favorite performers and they had been dragging me along to his concerts singing “Gringo Honeymoon” and “Corpus Christi Bay” for longer than I can remember, so picking up a vintage Mel Bay Book of guitar chords and my dad’s REK songbook and opening it to the first 3-chord song seemed like a good idea on my road to guitar goddess-dom. It took a couple weeks to get down the strumming patterns and chord changes for “The Buckin’ Song” (for those of you learning how to play guitar, take it slow and practice as much as you can until you feel like your fingers will fall off!) but I finally learned it. I was so excited, I rushed into the living room where the ‘rents were watching something about UFO’s on the History Channel (seriously… is this really history?!?!?!) and I immediately gave them an impromptu concert right there in our living room! I played the whole of “The Buckin’ Song” (in which, now I know as an adult, you should change all the “buckins” with their more naughty f-word rhyme which is fun now, but not appropriate then) and my parents were so happy, they forgot that I had interrupted their TV show! In the heat of hearing their daughter sing them a song- even “The Buckin’ Song”- and play it on guitar, they told me, “If you learn one more song, we will buy you a new guitar!” This was going to be fun…

Twenty minutes later, I came out and played a song with the same three chords (E, A, and B7), same strumming pattern, but with different lyrics. Instead of awe, their look was more of shock as they had already promised their little 9-year-old a new guitar.

I exchanged my Harmony guitar for an Amigo guitar at BJ’s music store on San Antonio’s south side and later installed an electronic pickup in and decorated it with sparkly butterfly stickers. This was the guitar that I would play and learn on for the next two years before an “Angel” was sent to me… but I’ll get to that story next time.

Ashlee playing her Amigo guitar at River Road Icehouse at age 12. It was this night that she met Cross Canadian Ragweed at the open mic night!

Ashlee playing her Amigo guitar at River Road Icehouse at age 12. It was this night that she met Cross Canadian Ragweed at the open mic night!

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