The Lead Guitarist & The Sisterhood of the Wolf
We all have something special inside us; the challenge
is believing in it and letting our uniqueness
come out. My dad was the first person to see my talent.
And since I was a kid, folks that came in and out of my
life also recognized it. The gift is separated into two
parts, which makes it complicated. One side, I express
with joyful abandon. The other half is like a prisoner inside
me waiting to be set free. I hold the cell-door shut
tight like my life depends on it, and that keeps me under
a dark cloud of self-judgment.
My name is James Ryder. I’m twenty-eight years old,
and it’s 1986. The uniqueness inside me I do let soar free
is the way I play electric guitar. There’s no way of stopping
it – it’s a wild, uncontrollable force. The other gift
that has been waiting to be released for twenty years is
my own original music. I call them musical whispers.
They started flowing out when I got my first guitar at
eight years old.
For five years, I’ve lived in New York City, making
my living playing guitar on the street. It’s the only place
I will let myself play – where I feel safe playing. No one
can touch these musical whispers inside me there. And
they do feel like whispers that are coming from somewhere
deep within. I’ve only been able to describe it as
a feeling like I’ve forgotten something. My dad was the one
person I was able to share that strange thought with.
He’s gone six years now, and my mom passed when I
was one year old – both from cancer. My dad was my
best friend and my biggest fan. He was a tough-guy,
worked as a supervisor on the line at General Motors.
Hard-core work ethic. Respected. When he passed,
some part of me left too. Of course, I want to make him
proud of me. His wish for me was to show people the
music that’s inside of me. But I’m not able to share it,
and I can’t figure out why. So, I wait for the cell-door to
I live in a one-room apartment in an old brownstone
building on the Upper West Side. If you walked into my
apartment, you would think it was a teenager’s room
from the late sixties or early seventies, with worn posters
of the bands and concerts from that era covering most
of the four walls in a collage – Led Zeppelin, Hendrix,
Steppenwolf, Cream, The Who, The Allman Brothers,
Rare Earth, The Doors. It’s like an explosion of psychedelic
colors that shield me from the outside world. In
one corner of the room stands a very old acoustic guitar
that’s my soul. On the floor sits weathered amplifiers and
microphones that feel like friends to me. An old pull-out
phonograph rests on top of four wooden crates crammed
with my collection of vintage records. Littered about the
room are Zeppelin and Hendrix music books – my
bibles. On the metal-framed bed is my Fender Stratocaster
electric guitar – my brother. He’s watched over by
a framed photograph of me and my dad with his arm
supportively around my shoulders; we’re standing next
to his baby – a pristine 1967 black Corvette. This is my
sanctuary. It’s all I need, at least that’s what I’ve convinced
Since I can remember, at least once a week, I wake up
in the middle of the night from a recurring nightmare.
It starts the same way, with images charging at me from
the powerful “Are You Experienced” video by Jimi Hendrix
– which is an intense series of flash-like scenes of
Hendrix in concert intertwined with psychedelic images
of Jimi. His electric guitar and voice are pushing at me
from all sides, like they’re trying to pierce some deep
part of me – as if the sound is trying to open a door inside
me. Over and over again, Hendrix is singing the
song, “Are You Experienced?” Then, suddenly, I’m
walking through a forest shrouded in a heavy mist. I look
ahead and see a small clearing, and barely visible in the
fog stands a dilapidated white shack. Sitting out front
are seven empty straight-back wooden chairs forming a
quarter-circle. The chairs seem to be waiting. Then I’m
thrust back into the “Are You Experienced” video –
physically running through the clips of Hendrix in con-
cert. He’s wailing on his Stratocaster with his usual focused
wildness – the images of him pass by me in a rush.
Then a picture of an old Native American woman flashes
in front of me; she’s standing by the side of a two-lane
paved road surrounded by open plains. She smiles at me
as if she knows me. I hear Native drumming in the distance.
And then, quickly, I’m back in the woods, this time
running fast. I sense someone running next to me but
can’t really see them. I feel afraid as if I am being chased.
A gunshot cracks in the air – something whizzes by my
ear. The shock of it forces me awake. For a moment, I’m
not sure where I am – I’m scared. I try to look around
my room to orient myself with what’s familiar – the picture
of me and my dad, my guitars…slowly, the fear
fades. Not the best way to wake up. But sometimes after
the nightmare, I’m inspired to pick up my acoustic guitar
and write a new song, but again the thought of sharing it
I wrote the dream down and studied it in hopes that
I could understand its meaning – nothing came to me.
But I know it means something, brothers and sisters, I
know it’s important. Why? Because, like many other guitarists,
my teacher and inspiration are part of the dream
– Jimi Hendrix. What is the mysterious connection between
him and the shack in the woods?
I have spent my life studying Jimi. There is not a book
written about him that I have not read or one of his songs
I haven’t learned. But the answer still alludes me.
Come Join The Adventure!