He Was One of the ‘Family’

For you young’uns, there was actually life before the internet.  No, really.  People communicated, without Faceyspaces or Tweetypages or any sort of instant messaging.

We had these bizarre local contraptions called bulletin boards.  They were an online metaphor for an actual bulletin board.  Oh, I’m not really doing well, am I?

It was a thing you hung on the wall and people left messages.

Bulletin boards, or BBSes, were the electronic equivalent of the things hung on the wall, except they were at the other end of your phone line.  You used your computer to dial your phone to connect to the BBS.  On the bbs you’d find all sorts of interesting (and not so interesting) information and sometimes files.

Somebody got ambitious and decided to figure out how to link bulletin boards together throughtout the US and the world.  Thus was born FidoNet.  You could send a message to people elsewhere on the planet for the cost of a phone call!

With FidoNet came the FidoNet echoes.  These were groups whose messages got carried around for public consumption to subscribers.  Mail was separated into two categories: email, which was personal mail between two or more people, and the echoes, which were like Yahoogroups: special interest public mails on one topic.

Being the guy I am, I immediately headed for the FidoNet guitar echo.  I wasted no time making friends.  Others would say that some obnoxious *(%$ would not stop posting message.  Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

We became a pretty close-knit bunch of loons.  We had people from most states and a few from other countries – all tied together by love of the guitar.  We even had a guitar tech who worked for several big names and had no shortage of stories.  Who knows who else was hiding in there…..

At that point I had spare dollars, so we went on vacation yearly or so.  Arizona and Los Angeles were favorite destinations.  Coincidentally, the Los Angeles area held a few Fido Folks so we decided to hold what will forever be known as the First FidoJam.  We invited everyone on the echo to come and wound up with just a few takers.  Represented were L.A., Philly area, Las Vegas, and Oklahoma (no, really).

We met and headed to Disneyland.  No, not the Mouse House – we went right for Hollywood, where there was an entire city block of vintage guitar stores.  The running joke was to get a picture of the manager of each store holding a Thumbs Down, as if to say `no, we don’t have any lefty guitars’.  We had more fun than humans should ever have.  Yes, guitar geeks, guitar shopping.  What could be better?

We shopped, we ate, then we went to someone’s house to jam.  The L.A. folks were kind enough to have a whole bunch of guitars and amps there, in case we couldn’t bring them.  I brought my guitar for obvious reasons.

The jam went as poorly as one would imagine, given five guys of five different levels, but everybody had a ball nonetheless.  I went about the rest of my vacation but those memories are strong.

The club got bigger, as did the guitar echo.  The next big jam was held in Oregon and the turnout was incredible.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to go but the stories are legendary.  They jammed at or just next to Bill’s house.  Bill was a cantankerous coot from Oregon who did a tremendous online impersonation of an old curmudgeonly fart.  The allure was such that one of our number flew over from Germany.  How’s that for making the world smaller before the internet?  One of the hosts did not play the guitar but became a great friend of the group anyway.

Time marched on.  The internet appeared.  I attempted to appear semi-grown up (as if).  FidoNet got killed by the internet and eventually we all stopped showing up.  I tried Usenet guitar newsgroups and got the shock of my life.  I had no idea so many people knew absolutely everything about everything and were not shy about telling you why you were wrong.  Rudely.

It’s a shame I didn’t go to college – I could have known it all too!

I’m notoriously bad at many things; among them is keeping in touch.  In spite of my failure, these folks are still near to my heart.  I know we could meet on the street as if no time ever elapsed.  We were part of each other’s lives for years.


I didn’t like the title of the email, especially looking at it too quickly.  Bill’s Passing.   It was from Germany.  It was a copy of the obituary.  We knew Bill had some health problems but we didn’t know how bad they were, apparently.  We also didn’t know he had a fiancee.

They say that you should never go to bed angry or leave on bad terms.  I wish I could have said goodbye.  Or better, hello.

Rock on, Bill, you backwards Les Paul playing curmudgeon…. you’re no doubt telling Hendrix he plays backwards at about this point.