When you want to practice everywhere you need an instrument that can help you in any situation and that’s where a compact electric guitar comes in handy. There are some people who start learning the instrument a bit later and they need to make use of any small window of time to practice.
If you’re one of those people and you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some legendary guitarists who started their career late.
From prison to stage
Some people are lucky enough to be born in a family that’s capable of supporting their dreams and helping them along the way. Even fewer are lucky enough to have such a family and live somewhere where they can achieve their dreams. For Chuck Berry, one of the pioneers of rock and roll, only one of those was true.
He was born in a family of 8, in 1926, and although his parents were doing well within the society, the neighborhood where he grew up was a tough one. Due to his parents supporting him, he managed to have his first performance as a musician in 1941 as a student. However, shortly after, in 1944, he got arrested for robbing a number of shops and stealing a car at gunpoint.
Because of this he was sent to to the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, where he managed to form a quartet with some inmates. They performed in the prison for a while and they were good so they were allowed to perform outside of it too.
He got married after his release in 1947, bought a small house and at the beginning of the 1950’s he was doing well enough with the help of some jobs and gigs around Saint Louis, Missouri. Through these gigs, he got to meet some great musicians and that’s what really started his career in 1955, at the age of 29.
Wes Montgomery is another guitarist who started his career late. He was born in 1923 in a large family and his parents had many disagreements and they split up, so he ended up living with his father and some of his brothers in Columbus, Ohio. There he attended high school and he was fortunate enough to have an older brother that worked hard and bought him a four-stringed guitar.
He decided to return to Indianapolis, where he was born, and he got married there in 1943. Montgomery also started working in the city as a welder. One night, when he was at a dance with his wife he heard a Charlie Christian record. That started his love for music and he thus bought a six-stringed guitar, determined to learn how to play it.
His intentions were not to become a musician, but he already bought the guitar so he felt compelled to learn how to play it. He learned the instrument all by himself and started performing in clubs at night, all while still working for a milk company during the day.
Montgomery borrowed a lot from what he heard in Charlie Christian’s songs and that’s what eventually caught the attention of Lionel Hampton who was looking for a guitarist to join him. He played with the Hampton band for about 2 years and during that time he always called back home when going from a town to another, to make sure his family was doing well.
Because of the passion he put into everything he became a great musician, and although he started late, at the age of 24, he had a great career. Unfortunately, due to the same passion he had in his heart and the long unslept nights, he also passed away rather young at the age of 45, due to a heart attack.
For the love of music
Born in Queens, New York City in 1948, Johnny Ramone (or John William Cummings, his real name) grew up surrounded by rock music. Due to that, he was part of a band in high school called the Tangerine Puppets. He thus learned the guitar at a fairly early age, but nothing professional.
Funny enough, in the Tangerine Puppets he worked with the one who would later be his bandmate in the Ramones, Tommy Ramone (Tamas Erdelyi). After he finished high school he worked with his father as a plumber. He also attended military school and tried the college life for a while, without finishing college.
While delivering dry cleaning in the early 70’s he met another future bandmate, Douglas Colvin, who would later become Dee Dee Ramone. They would often have lunch together and during that time they would discuss the music they liked and the bands they both loved. With the help of this friendship and the love for rock, they decided to go to a music shop nearby.
Johnny bought a guitar for only $54 while Dee Dee bought a bass. Tommy, being a good friend of Johnny would later join the two and together they would become the Ramones, along with Jeffrey Hyman, later to become Joey Ramone.
Thus, when the Ramones started performing, Johnny Ramone was already 26. The band went on to become one of the most popular of its time and some of its songs are still popular today.
The really late bloomer
James Lewis Carter Ford (or T-Model Ford) was a blues musician that had a really interesting life and career. Some people start playing the guitar at a really young age. Others wait until they reach maturity to play the instrument they love. Well, this man seemed like he was waiting for his retirement when he started being a musician when he was about 75.
Born somewhere around 1920, T-Model Ford didn’t really know his birth date. That may be because he had a rough childhood and an abusive father. He didn’t go to school, so he was illiterate. That’s why he worked modest jobs since he was a child.
Furthermore, he wasn’t a good citizen either, as he was convicted for 10 years for murder, but got out after 2 years. Some say he had 26 children and many wives. His 5th wife gave him a guitar as a leaving present and he started to learn how to play it, without knowing how to read music or anything like that.
He couldn’t even explain his technique, but he somehow managed to reproduce the style of some of the musicians he admired, including Muddy Waters. Ford was good enough to play in juke joints around the country. Somehow, Buddy Guy, a great blues guitarist and singer, discovered Ford’s talent and took him as an opening act for his shows for a while.
The Fat Possum Label contacted Ford and offered him the chance to record an album, followed by others. So in 1997, Ford released his first album, after a life of being an illiterate and a person who mostly had nothing to do with music.
Ford suffered two strokes, one in 2010 and another in 2012, and despite them, he still managed to perform, albeit with difficulties. He passed away in 2013 after a music career of 16 years and a life of 90 years. So, if you feel that you’re starting too late, remember these great guitarists that followed their passion no matter their age.