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The San Diego Music Awards

I'm a big fan of local music and I’ve been trying, in my meager way, to promote local music in San Diego for quite a while. Now, my friends at sandiego.com asked me if I’d write a column on the subject. They said: "We want a column that covers the local Music Scene down deep." I said, "I don’t know, the time, the effort...". Then they offered to pay me and *bam*, here I am!

Come to think of it...that’s how I landed my current gig as the morning person at KPRI FM 102.1. (Shameless plug brought to you by all the people I work with there who feel the same way about local music that I do.)

Seeing that no music event could possibly be more about San Diego Music than the San Diego Music Awards, let’s make that our first subject.

The San Diego Music Awards (SDMA) are Tuesday, September 28 at Humphrey's Half Moon Inn on Shelter Island. Kevin Hellman, the promoter or the San Diego Music Awards for the past 14 years knows a deal when he sees it. The SDMA uses the main stage at Humphrey’s Concerts. They have the venue thing down.

Kevin donates proceeds raised from the events to support local music programs in our schools. He's teamed up with El Cajon based Taylor Guitars, and gets a smoking deal on their "Baby" Taylors, which then end up in school music programs. The first year that Taylor became involved was 1999. Now there are 662 Taylor guitars in 29 San Diego schools. The goal is to add another 5 schools in 2005.

Taylor Guitars, in case you don't follow the music equipment industry as close as the music, has been around since 1974 and you've heard from their guitars a lot, through the fingers of artists like K.D.Lang, Neil Young, Nancy Wilson (Heart), Leo Kotke and hundreds of others from the Beach Boys to Aerosmith to Clint Black, Jimmy Buffet, Bare Naked Ladies and Pearl Jam.

There isn't another program like it in the United States. (Well there is that Tuba program in Tampa Bay and those kids can really knock down a smoking rendition of Purple Haze from Jimi Hendrix... but it's just not the same.)

What Taylor Guitars and the San Diego Music Awards have done is truly impressive. They make it possible for kids to learn to play an instrument. The idea of these grade-schoolers in a guitar orchestra playing "Claire de Lune" or "The Chicken Dance" might make you cringe at the very thought but it makes my chest swell with pride and brings a tear to my eye.

When I was a kid, I was in a "GUITAR" music program taught by Ed Stegner. Ed was a working musician in Mobile, Alabama. Every Friday and Saturday Night, Ed could be found playing the guitar and banjo at Shakey's Pizza on Airport Boulevard. He played a 1959 Gibson ES5 Switchmaster. It's an incredible guitar. Perfect for Jazz players and even musicians like Ed who gigged at Shakey's.

Ed was the guy who taught me "Claire de Lune". But he taught me more than that... he taught me that music is even better when you are 11 years old and making it yourself. And it was Ed who took the time to teach me and 15 other fifth, sixth, and seventh graders that a joyous noise is that best noise. And that lead to my love for following the careers of guitarists: Joe Walsh was first, then Michael Allsup of Three Dog Night, then Jeff Baxter, then Pete Townshend, then Carlos [Santana], and BB [King] and John Fogerty and Eddie Van Halen and more.

Somewhere in San Diego, California, there is a "Lo-Cal" version of Ed Stegner (LOwer CALifornia). He's helping kids. And he’s getting some help thanks to everyone in the local music scene. And thanks to the San Diego Music Awards and Taylor guitars who are working in our schools with people like Ed, 662-plus kids are learning that making music is more than throwing down a drum track and sampling a riff and rhyming like Dr. Seuss on a Tourette's Syndrome outburst.

And unlike me and my $15 Kauii guitar with the cheese-cutter strings, they're playing Baby Taylors. And that's alright by me.