What my Parents Did Right
Almost 30 years ago I was living in Floyd, New Mexico, which is legitimately in the middle of nowhere. I was 5 & often sat my parents down to listen to me sing my renditions of Garth Brooks songs. They never complained, never told me no, & always encouraged me to keep singing. I remember having a cool looking acoustic guitar in my bedroom, even though I had no interest in playing it.
When I was 11, my parents saw that I was still fascinated by music & let me take vocal & piano lessons from Eunice Shumpert. Ms. Shumpert became one of my most important musical mentors; she taught me all the way through high school.
When I was 15, my parents gave me an acoustic guitar as a birthday present, but they didn't demand I start playing. Seeing Jonny Lang on TV around my 16th birthday sparked my interest in learning how to play, my dad agreed to teach me.
When I started trying to play lead guitar, my parents found me a teacher & never complained about paying for voice, piano, & guitar lessons. When I needed (wanted?) an electric guitar, my parents didn't know where to start, so they called Anne's dad to make sure I got a good instrument. When I started writing some (terrible) songs, they listened & told me to keep writing.
When I was about 20, my band got booked to play a small festival in Lubbock, Texas. We were originally set to play on a Friday night, but somehow we got bumped to Saturday morning. My mom drove three hours to see my band play at a parking-lot festival at 10 AM. If it wasn't for her, we would have played to 250 empty chairs. Thanks to her, we only played to 249 empty chairs.
They also supported me when I became a 4th grade teacher, & when I went to law school, & when I decided to leave the legal profession to take a run at being a fully independent musician. My parents have never discouraged me from doing any of these things. Perhaps they knew I'd do it no matter what anyone said. However, I suspect they just want me to be happy.
It's not just my parents; I also have an aunt who has been equally supportive of my twists & turns. She runs her own business & now we get to talk shop about being entrepreneurs. She's driven hours to see shows & bought my merch. I have an uncle who texts me randomly when he's listening to my record. My family is pretty great.
I have a client I work with, Alyssa Michelle. She's an exceptionally talented singer/songwriter. (Listen here to see for yourself). I met her when she was 14, playing a gig at a local library. I happened to be sitting near her mother & after the show we struck up a conversation. Her parents are not musical, but they support Alyssa in a way that reminds me of my parents. When I asked if she wanted to record a song with me, her parents did the proper questioning of me. After all, I was an unknown guy in his 30's, hanging out alone at a gig, wanting to work with their teenage daughter...I get it.
They came to our recording session and sat quietly for hours while Alyssa tracked vocals, piano, & wrote a string arrangement that she played on a keyboard. They never complained. They never rushed her. They sat while she worked & encouraged her all the way. If a take wasn't good, they didn't give her a hard time. If a take was great, they let her know it. They asked me for advice on instruments to get Alyssa, because they were out of their depths on this whole music thing.
They remind me of my parents, when I was 14.
My family is pretty dope. Without them, I would not have the guts to do what I'm doing. Their support instilled a certain confidence in me. Does that mean I'm not scared that I left behind my “stable” job? Well, actually, I'm not scared. I'm sure as hell nervous - I do have a mortgage to pay - but I will always remember something my parents told me before I went to college.
I was afraid. Afraid I might fail & flunk out of school. They told me, “You won't fail, because you won't let yourself. You care too much.” I hope they know the reason I won't let myself fail is because they gave me the drive & the courage to quit my “job” & pursue a career. In a time when it is fashionable to complain about your family, I'd like to highlight that mine is amazing.
Music was always available at the Luna house. By that, I mean not only that music was heard over speakers or sang from lips, but that musical instruments were left out of their cases, ready for a parent or wandering child to pluck a string, a key, or blow through a mouthpiece. Music was—and still is—a part of everyday life. I don’t remember my parents ever saying “don’t touch that”, even with their thousand dollar guitars… I have early memories of plinking away on a pint-sized piano, then rolling my fingers over full-size piano keys, just playing with sound. When, as children do, I might forcefully claw at guitar strings, I’m sure my patient parents helped show me how to more gently pull fingers or pick through the strings, showing me how my touch altered sound, and how to respect instruments.
Even though it sounds like a pretty ideal environment for a budding musician, as though a little musical genius might spring up like a beanstalk in so fertile an environment, I was a little slower going about it—and my parents didn’t seem to mind. As I grew and my enthusiasm waxed and waned, I switched instruments frequently, hardly becoming a genius on any of them. I fretted over piano lessons, my initial enthusiasm quelled after discovering the rigors of regular practice in elementary school. I squeaked and squawked on recorder in 4th grade, and my parents (and brothers) endured it. I squeaked and squawked louder on alto saxophone in junior high, the dog howling, but my Dad kindly agreeing to learn piano parts to be my accompanist in solo competitions. After junior high, the saxophone gathered dust. Inspired by my brother’s love of the electric guitar, with guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix pumping through the hall of the kids’ rooms, Dad gave me a Gibson ES347 (yes, like BB King’s “Lucille”). When my young self didn’t appreciate the awesome guitar that was (and it was big and bulky for a lil’ ol’ me), he took me to Albuquerque (a 4-hour drive) and we traded it in for my dream electric guitar—a custom Bonnie Raitt Fender Stratocastor. When that guitar gathered dust, no one gave me a hard time, perhaps knowing that in time I would come back to it, or, allowing the possibility I might trade that guitar in on another instrument. In fact, this was very common in the Luna household—trade an instrument you have for one you want more. There have been a LOT of really nice instruments that came through our house at one point or another…
When, at the urging of a friend, my parents started going to Bluegrass festivals, my Dad bugged his friend at a little music store in Levelland, TX, to sell the Kay bass in the corner. Eventually he did, and Dad brought home the instrument I would spend the most time on. No one said “you must play this”, “you must practice”, “you will like this”—it was always, “Try it. See if you like it.” And, then it was “let me help you tune that…” It was finding teachers to help me, even if it was something my parents might have taught me. It was getting me the best instrument possible. It was never making me feel guilty or indebted. When I got fired from my first big tour, I came home to “we’re so proud of you.”
I have been incredibly fortunate to have parents who supported and encouraged me musically. They still do. My brothers do, too, jamming with me, and my older brother so kindly saying that’s “your best one yet” to whatever tune I’m writing. My grandparents, my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My friends. I have had—and continue to have—a LOT of encouragement. Folks drive hours to hear me play. Friends request CDs and stickers be sent to them. And you, kind person, are reading this now. This encouragement and support is necessary. Without it, I quite simply wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.