In my hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma, there was only one real music instrument store, Frontier Music. For me it was clear across town, which was about four or five miles away from my house. At age fifteen, after school I would ride my bike to there and play any guitar I wanted to. It was a shop that encouraged you to plug in to an amp and let loose.
The owner was Phil Samson. He wrote a country song in the early 80s that T.G. Sheppard made a hit. The song, “I loved ’em everyone”. Phil was about as nice of a gentleman as you could meet. He was a real big fan of putting instruments in the hands of anyone with the urge to play. He loved music and it really showed.
For a while, every day I would walk in and pick up a purple/blue pearl B.C. Rich electric guitar and play Cinderellas, “Nobody’s Fool.” At the time, learning this song seemed to be a good avenue to getting laid.
One day Phil walked in to the guitar room and said, “you really like that guitar don’t you? I see you pick that one up more than the rest”. I said, “Yes, I like it a lot”. He said, “Well take it”. I said, “I don’t have any money”. He said, “I don’t care. You like that guitar and I want you to have it. Pay me when you can, what you can over any amount of time it takes. Let’s also set you up with cables, an amp, guitar strap and anything else you need”. That day I walked out of Frontier with my dream guitar. I had just turned sixteen and was now sharing a car with my sister and step brother.
I was not working much at the time, but I would stop in with some allowance money every now and then, five or ten bucks a month. He never gave me a hard time about payment and did not even seem to care if I paid him anything.
I took a job at a lure company for a few hours a week after school and increased my monthly payments to maybe twenty dollars a month.
Then I got my girlfriend pregnant. I had to find more stable work as I was now moving out of my mom’s house and gearing up for a family. I took a job at a flooring factory. It was full-time job, but seeing as I had promised my mother I would finish school, I had to take a night shift from four in the afternoon to one in the morning. Between school, work, a wedding to plan and a daughter on the way, it left little time to play.
My soon to be wife and I sat down to figure out our budget. After we budgeted everything, I said there is one other thing we have to pay for, my guitar. She was adamant that I return the guitar, but I refused. After a long fight, she agreed that we would continue with twenty dollars a month if we could afford to. We stopped in every month and handed Phil twenty dollars or less. He still did not seem to care.
My marriage lasted about a year and a half. I still owed Phil on this guitar and I was now eighteen. I made my final payment before moving to Texas at age nineteen. It took me close to 4 years, but I paid it off. I loved this guitar and stiffing Phil was never an option. That was at the end of nineteen eighty-eight.
Flash forward nine years. I still owned the guitar and I was in a band in Dallas. We had a rehearsal space at a rehearsal studio. By this time I owned several guitars. I did not pick up the B.C. Rich very often, but it was in the rehearsal room. My friend was in the band and would often bring his nephew to come watch us, Justin. Justin was a shy kid, but very polite. I was really fond of him. He was probably in his early teens. Often when we would take a break from practicing, we would come back in the room to see Justin noodling around on the B.C. Rich. I asked him, “Do you like that guitar?” He said, “Yes”. I said, “Then it’s yours”. I figured that guitar belonged to anyone with the urge to play it. Just like that, the guitar that had been such a huge part of my life and got me through many really bad days was now in the hands of someone new. I never for a second have second guessed that decision.
That was nineteen ninety-seven. Right after I gave the guitar to Justin, I went back for the weekend to my hometown. My mother told me Phil was getting a lifetime achievement award that weekend, so I went to the ceremony. Phil got up and played a set of his songs and finished the set with his “hit” song. Afterwards I got a chance to talk to him. I told him who I was, he already knew. He knew which guitar he gave me and remembered it all very well. I told him I had recently given the guitar away, but that I owned many others and still played. He was happy to hear it. I asked him if he had given others away like that and if anyone had stiffed him. He said, “Well I never really cared one way or the other, I just wanted to get instruments in kids hands. I suppose I let hundreds of instruments walk out the door without payment and of all of those, only one person did not finish paying me. I figure that’s a pretty good track record”.
When Phil’s song became a hit, he was offered a lot of money to move to Nashville to write, but he liked what he was doing and did not want to move his family, so he passed on the offers. Phil still owns a music store in my hometown.
Phil also had a song that was on a Grammy Award winning album in the nineties. He still plays in bands in my hometown and still writes lots of songs and releases records.
A few days ago, photos showed up of the guitar on Justin’s facebook page with the words, “One of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received”. Me too, Justin. Me too.
Visit Phil’s Facebook page and music store site. Buy his music. He is the stuff heroes are made of.