The Rock Legend of Don Harrison (Part 3)

The guitar course consisted of the teacher sitting on a stool, holding a guitar, showing us chords, chord progressions, finger picking patterns, and playing and singing songs we would try to learn and perform. I have no memory of what the teacher looked like but her name was Jeri, she insisted we call her by her first name, and she was incredibly kind and encouraging. She would hand out mimeographs of chords and songs and we would get to choose which songs to practice. For tests, individual students would retire with her to the office, which was glassed in on three sides, almost like a recording studio, and play a song for her. She did not require singing.

Occasionally, Jeri would have the class play a song together and attempt singing the lyrics, which never went over too well with high school boys. The only ones I remember are: “On Top of Old Smoky,” “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land.”

Not very rock and roll and Don never joined us. He just sat by himself and riffed away, perhaps dreaming of being in a rock and roll band that played only one song, but played the living shit out of it.

Smoke on the water / fire in the sky

I have no idea how Jeri handled Don’s eccentricity and I recall no public confrontations between them. He certainly wasn’t a discipline problem and had perfect attendance, which is saying a lot for a rocker. I do recall him taking the semester final. We all watched.

Whether Don passed the course or not, who knows? What a dilemma for a teacher! I suspect Jeri flunked him. How could she not? I supposed if he had passed with a “D-” it would have dimmed The Legend. A D- minus is hardly rock and roll.

For my semester final, I played and sung Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville.” I think I earned a “B” for the course. I still can play the song by heart.

After the semester, I lost track of Don Harrison. I don’t recall ever seeing him again and we never had another class together.

Is Don alive to refute or corroborate this story? I don’t know and have conducted no research. I sense that any high school junior boy who played the “Smoke on the Water” riff 32,000 times in one semester is surely dead by now. If he’s alive and found Jesus or became a Yoga instructor, it would taint the legend. In his death, rock lives.

As for the riff, I never learned how to play it.

Smoke on the water / fire in the sky