Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington, cried Noel Coward. Don’t send your son to guitar lessons was probably more apt for my mother. She didn’t, and I wouldn’t have gone, being of that rebellious age, determined to decide my own musical career. However, after a year or two of bashing barré chords, and attempting to play punishing pentatonic solos, I acquiesced. I’d heard that an old guy who once played guitar in Sydney had arrived in town.
Like moths to the flame, every guitarist in Townsville made an appointment to see Charlie Lees. My first encounter with Charlie consisted of me turning up at his house, his wife calling out to him, and him appearing in shorts, t-shirt and thongs. The second lesson I made the mistake of asking him about diminished chords. He launched into a diatribe such that to this day I haven’t heard the likes of. It took me many years to understand what that lesson was about.
I went back to my rock’n’roll band with nothing more than a high and mighty impression of a bigger sort of music. It took six years on the road, from Townsville to Perth and back to realise that Charlie had held all the clues all along. By that time it was too late. He’d gone out fishing in his boat, and whether it was too many beers, or too rough weather, or divine intervention, Charlie checked out and went to the Jazz Club in the sky. He was a trooper, an original, possibly the first real jazz guitarist in Australia. He was also the resident guitarist in this long-serving band at the Trocadero.
I later studied with George Golla and Don Andrews, jazz guitarists of the highest calibre. They remembered Charlie Lees. As they opened my eyes musically, I realised that Charlie could have taught me the same stuff, if I’d been ready for it.