During these long weeks of quarantine, while many East End teenagers are missing the social life that school provides (if not school itself), one Sag Harbor man is looking to help kids suffering from the blues to learn how to play them.
Lyle Granger has formed Operation Beat The Blues with a simple mission in mind: to connect South Fork kids ages 13 to 18 who want to learn to play guitar, bass or organ with professional blues musicians through online classes and mentoring.
Not only is it a way to beat the COVID-19 blues, but with this initiative Granger, who plays guitar himself, is hoping to foster the kind of mentorship he wishes he had gotten as a teenager.
“When I started playing electric guitar and getting into a band, I was 16 or 17,” Granger said in a recent phone interview. “We were playing heavy stuff, like Led Zeppelin. I was a great rhythm player, but never had anyone who could teach me good lead guitar stuff.
“A kid in transition may be a good player, but where will he get to learn good technique? Maybe on Google.”
Or, maybe through one-on-one instruction with some awesome blues players. That’s the goal of Operation Beat the Blues — and Granger has the connections to make it happen.
“Right now, I have three professional blues musicians stuck at home who are on board to mentor and teach kids the history and music of the blues through online sessions,” explained Granger. “This is an incredible opportunity for kids right now, especially being stuck at home with a desire to learn guitar and no way to get started.”
But first, he needs instruments for those prospective students. Granger is currently seeking local donations of musical equipment, such as guitars (both acoustic and electric), amps, strings, practice books, stands and even ukuleles.
“If we can get donations of guitars and amps, get them hooked up with a kid who wants to play, we can get them started and see where they are,” Granger explained. “I don’t want guitars to be family heirlooms — they just need to be playable. If they need strings, we’ll get strings. I have a donation of a brand new amp; now I need an electric guitar for a kid transitioning from acoustic.
“If it doesn’t work out, they’ll pay it forward and give the guitar to another a kid.”
Though Granger grew up in Middletown, New York, hardly a hotbed for the blues, before moving to Sag Harbor he lived down South, which is home to many blues musicians. About five years ago, he founded The Legion of Blues, an organization in Ellijay, Georgia, to promote the music of traditional blues musicians and offer them a place to play live.
“I teamed up with The American Legion because they had a stage, a dance floor and a bar,” Granger explained. “I was able to get these world-renowned blues artists from Greenville, South Carolina, or Atlanta to come do a series of concerts, and then we did a festival at a vineyard.
“We had some great people,” he added.
Among the musicians Granger got to know in Georgia was Dr. Mac Arnold, a renowned bluesman from South Carolina who is now in his late 70s.
“He’s one of the oldest blues musicians still alive, but he’s played with just about every blues musician on Planet Earth,” said Granger. “He did the bass line for [the TV show] ‘Sanford and Son’ and was a ‘Soul Train’ producer.
“We met at a festival and hit it off … I really started the blues series because of him, so he could come play locally,” he added. “Once you know Dr. Mac, you know everybody.”
The real inspiration behind Operation Beat The Blues, however, was musician Joel DaSilva, a professional player living in Florida who reached out to Granger after finding himself stuck at home with no gigs in the midst of the current pandemic.
“He called me and said, ‘What am I going to do?’” Granger recalled. “He’s always playing live. I said, ‘Now is the time you can teach and pass on what you know.’ I thought maybe I could hook him up to mentor kids learning how to play or help kids in that transition who are wondering if they should keep playing or learn the blues.”
Granger adds that he also has other musicians waiting in the wings to teach teens, including a bass player, “a wicked organ player,” and Sag Harbor native Greg Bucking, who is a guitarist for the Huntington-based band The Scofflaws. Granger, himself, plans to give lessons as well and explained that he will start with younger or less experienced players and then transition them over to the professional musicians once they’ve progressed a bit.
“If there’s a 16-, 17- or 18-year-old whiz kid who’s really good at guitar, then Joel can zero in on them and say, ‘These are the techniques you should work on,’” said Granger. “If I can get this together and get kids hooked up, then he could do a live feed to play a bit and talk about his story.”
“We’ll make it a free thing until we see where they are,” he added.
While Operation Beat The Blues is for kids primarily interested in guitar, Granger is happy to branch out and work with South Fork teens who play horns or the organ. But right now, he needs instruments and stressed that donors will be contacted by the students who receive the equipment with a thank you card or a call to verify the donation.
“I don’t expect a huge response, but I feel like if it can help out a few kids, it’s better than nothing,” Granger said. “I know when I was 13 I was dying to learn guitar. So I feel like helping out local kids if I can.”
To contribute instruments and musical equipment to Operation Beat The Blues, or if you have a student age 13 to 18 who’d like to learn to play the blues, contact Lyle Granger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Granger has also started a GoFundMe account and is accepting monetary donations to the program. To donate, go to Operation Beat The Blues.