Rob Harrelson’s first guitar – a Kay 1160 – entered his life as a 14th-birthday gift from his grandmother. At $25, it was the cheapest guitar at Forbes Music, in Birmingham, Alabama, but that didn’t detract from the impact of that day in 1959.
The guitar accompanied the boy lessons throughout the eighth grade as he learned a few licks and chords. He “customized” the guitar replacing the headstock logo sticker with a decal like the one he’d bought for his scooter. “I did that because Bo Diddley’s Have Guitar Will Travel showed him with a scooter and guitar.”
Ultimately, though, it was relegated to the back of his closet.
By 1962, he was playing tuba in the high-school marching band, where a few guys talked about getting together with guitars to noodle on Ventures tunes. Rob mentioned being a player, too, and was invited to audition on bass. He swapped the Kay for a used Harmony H22 before trading that for a new Fender Precision. As a college student, the P Bass accompanied him to jams at frat parties, car lots, and shopping centers. When he went to rehearsal one day in 1968, hanging on the wall at his friend’s house was his old Kay.
“My buddy’s mother had picked it up at a flea market to have as a decoration, but she didn’t like it, so he gave it to me!”
In the midst of the Vietnam War, Rob served a two-year hitch in the Navy, assigned to Pearl Harbor. P Bass in-hand, he joined a trio that played shipboard parties, military service clubs in Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and even a civilian club in Hong Kong. After being discharged in December, 1970, he returned home, where a changed music scene and a pretty co-ed convinced him to pack up the Precision.
Rob and that co-ed have since raised two daughters, and today he spends time with his granddaughter. He still plays, though, and says, “I still enjoy swapping stories with bandmates and talking about music. It’s been a great ride.”
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This article originally appeared in VG’s June 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.