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Don Archer - a Blue Collar Tribute
By Mick Polich - 04/26/2010 - 10:27 AM EDT

There are people who teach…… and there are teachers – Don Archer was a teacher.

Jazz guitar giant, music/ life guru and teacher Don Archer passed away last Friday in Tucson, Arizona. Although my time spent with Don was short, I consider him a great influence. And I suspect there will be many that will consider him as the same.

Ironically, Don and I got closer via the internet than we did when I took music lessons from him.

I started this column over three years ago after my family moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area due to a transfer with my wife’s job at UPS. To promote the column, and my ideas, I got a mailing list together of old friends, customers,students, and family. It was fun, and another way to communicate. My good friend/teacher Doug Miers got me Don’s mailing address. The ball was in motion.

Don gave me great feedback on my work, and funny, it was kinda of bass-ackwards. It was thru my ability to write that I got to Don, not my ability to play music. Let me explain that. Don had gotten a rep as a music guru in our town of Des Moines, Iowa, over  a few decades, especially in the jazz realm. Any player that wanted to learn anything about jazz, or music, went to Don’s house on the east side of Des Moines. I remember it well, even though at the time I considered myself a ‘rock ‘guitar player. But I wanted to get somewhat immersed in jazz to learn theory and songs.

Well, at nineteen, I was as much of a greenhorn in life as they come, but at the coaxing of my buddy Doug Miers, I decided to take some lessons with Don. Now, Don could be intimidating – he was a big guy, reminded me of the actor William Conrad, who once did voice-overs for the “Rocky And Bullwinkle” show, and was starring in a cop show “Cannon”, at that time. Don had that gruff and direct manner about him, which resulted in humorous, but loving, impersonations of him for many years to come around his cache of musicians that knew him. But Don was just trying to teach, in the only way that he knew.

Don also gave me some great stories that I’ve included over the years in this blog, a few of which involved meeting such jazz greats as Joe Zawinul and Jimmy Smith, along with rock drummer Buddy Miles. Now, Don is joining them on that bandstand somewhere, grooving like he did many years ago.

Opinions – well, Don had ‘em in spades. Back in the late 1970’s, I was heavily into jazz fusion – Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and Return To Forever, to name a few groups. One of our first meetings for lessons, Don asked me who I had been listening to. “John Mc Laughlin, Al De Meolia, Hendrix,” I said. A roll of the eyes, a huff, and an impression from Don of ‘why are you listening to that crap?’ – funny stuff now, but I was scared to death then. Just didn’t have the cajones to say otherwise ( because I STILL listen to that ‘crap’……). But I do credit Don (and Doug Miers) with hipping me up to the guitarist Pat Martino. There’s a YouTube video of Pat, John Scofield, and Joey  DeFrancesco ripping up on the old Bobby Hebb tune “Sunny”. It’s been a signature tune for Pat, and man, you’ll see why Don spoke volumes about his artistry. When Don liked an artists’ work, he praised them right and left.

Don inspired me most of all as a teacher. I’ve taught music since 1977, which is two years after I picked up a guitar in the summer of 1975 – it’s just been in my blood to pass on knowledge, and I hope I’ve done a good job of it so far ( ain’t done yet, by the way).

At one point when I was younger, I kind of copped and glorified the image of being a ‘music guru’ like Don – I mean, he didn’t teach just guitarists. Sax players, bassists, horn players - anyone who wanted to further their musical knowledge on music theory went to Don. He was the ‘go to’ guy for years in Des Moines.

Soon, I predict there will be a few more tributes on-line to Don, so I won’t go into his history here (such as being part of a rockabilly band that put out a few singles back in the 1950’s). My blessings go out to Don’s wife Judy, as well as Don’s family and grandkids – your husband, dad, and grandpa was quite a man.

There are those who teach, and there are teachers – Don Archer was a teacher about life, and living. My dad, Larry Polich, Steve Scullen, my former track/football coach from junior high and high school,my father-in-law Wayne Andrews, and Don, are a few of the men that helped shape my life along the way. Thank you, Don, for inspiring me as an artist, teacher, and person!

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