Wisdom Practice Room Photo

Practice Room Photo, 1980-something



This story came came to mind when my exchange student made the following snarky comment about my metal band photo from the last post: “So, what was it like touring the country?” Right….she’s a clever one, she is. Yes, sir…..True, I never toured the country, I toured Columbus, MS, but that is like a whole other country….

My bandmates and I spent most nights for two years locked in a dingy practice room. It was a partially finished shed on a farmers property. The details of our rental arrangement are a little fuzzy, but I don’t recall us ever paying a dime to the guy. Maybe he “rented” to us so he wouldn’t have to finish the room properly for a “real” tenant or so his wannabee metal singer son could sneak in to bang on our gear (despite repeated warnings from us). Both causes saved him more than the lost rent for the unfinished, no HVAC shed we practiced in. It’s a miracle someone didn’t steal the amps, drum set, and other gadgetry from this sorry excuse for a building, but this was pre- Craigslist or eBay and we knew where both pawn shops and the only music store in town were…..

We spent many sweaty nights in that room, but one night is particularly memorable for me. A touring musician named Greg joined us for a jam session*. We were like little leagers playing with a NY Yankee. Greg was good – way beyond any of us. Afterwards, we sat on the floor chatting while he smoked, combining a noxious haze with the drywall dust that never quite seemed to go away in the tiny room. (Note: The guitarist in the photo isn’t Greg, its our regular guitar player, Todd Knight, who was pretty darn good for a teenager – the photo IS the actual practice shed).  Greg and his bandmate were booked at the local Holiday Inn lounge for a few days. No, that isn’t impressive, but this guy could wail on the guitar and his two piece band had a repertoire of over 300 songs – a requirement to earn good tips from inebriated request-yelling patrons.

Reality Check

I encountered Greg at a crucial time in my life. My band was considering doing a regional tour once we emerged from the shed. No, we weren’t that good, but the market for dirt cheap slave labor (read: dive bar bands) was more brisk than you may think in the 80’s. Promoters hungry for their cut had us on radar even before our first real gig.

Touring and playing rock star is something I always wanted to do. As a freshman in college who really never had to work for much in my life, walking away from school for a “semester or two” didn’t seem like such a big deal.

In the conversation with Greg, I mentioned I was an engineering student – nuclear engineering to be precise. I had good grades. I had good future job prospects. I vividly remember the weathered guitarist looking directly at me and saying in his southern drawl “you need to stay in school. You don’t want to do this for a living unless you have to. Get yourself setup first.”

I don’t remember much about the countless hours spent in the shed, but I remember Greg, a stranger that I spoke with once whose wisdom impacted my life. His simple advice weighed on my mind heavily. It was clear even to a pseudo-fame hungry 19-year-old that Greg knew his stuff. It was clear he was the most talented guy in the room. And, it was clear that he was struggling. He was grinding it out in his mid-30s. Lonely. Weary. Underappreciated. A decent soul who regularly got the cold shoulder due to his appearance. (Greg looked like the guitarist from the Doobie brothers with the long stringy brown hair OR for you millenial readers, picture Taylor Swift but make her a man, with no make-up, 60 years worth or wrinkles, and old blue jeans. Got it?)


Now that my kids are approaching college age, I am hopeful that they make good decisions for their future. What path is best for them? I can’t say at this point. But I trust that the path God has for them becomes evident and they have the courage to follow it – one step at a time until He makes the next step apparent. Sometimes He does that unexpectedly. Sometimes He bring a Greg into your life to give you wisdom you can’t accept from your parents.

Would it have been the end of the world had I gone on tour instead of staying in college? I don’t know, but I know I wouldn’t have the beautiful children I have now. Highly unlikely that I would have the amazing wife I have now. Timing, life, relationships would’ve shifted.

I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything, not even the life of a “famous” touring musician.

Tough to see that when you’re 19. Incredibly obvious at 47.

The Right Door?

Whatever path you choose, God has a cool way of allowing life and circumstance to bring you back to His intended path for you – the one He made for you to walk. The one you are wired for. He designed you to be the best person for certain tasks and callings. Sometimes that thought paralyzes people, causing them to analyze forever for fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of “missing God”. But the cool thing is, God is in You, so whether You choose Door #1 or Door #2, He goes with you either way. If He means to take you to Door #5, He will get you there (in spite of yourself). You just have to continue plodding forward. His love doesn’t stop when we take the wrong turn.

Greg’s wisdom almost 30 years ago impacted where I am and who I am now. One meeting. One conversation. One comment from a guy who was where I could’ve been going.

Greg, if you are still alive, may God bless you. May He keep you and may you find your way home to Him. If you are not, I hope you got a good gig at the Holiday Inn lounge up above. I trust that the audience is kind and that your heart is light, joyful and free.

Thank you, Lord, for Greg and for speaking to your children wherever, whenever and through whoever You choose.

Has a chance encounter in your life or wisdom from a stranger impacted you? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below. Thanks!


*Author’s Note: I almost wrote “impromtu jam session” here, but isn’t the whole idea of a “jam session” that it is spontaneous and unplanned, thus impromptu by definition? Ahhh, the endless cliches that mar our thinking….A nod to Marti Di Bergi for the “sweaty nights” sentence also. When discussing the metal years, it is important to capture the sights, sounds AND the smells.



Jeff McKinney
Follow me

Jeff McKinney

To read more, enter your email address below to receive FREE updates.

Jeff McKinney
Follow me

Latest posts by Jeff McKinney (see all)