I was fifteen and eager to explore the world beyond the 4th ward liquor-control limits. I was hanging with some Near-Northsiders. Tom was a guitarist, he said he had played with The Del Counts, the third-most successful North-side Minneapolis band, but couldn’t be in the band because he was only in eighth grade! This was over a decade before Prince, when The Trashmen were #1 and The Underbeats were #2. He was younger than me, but knew a lot more songs. His specialty was Chuck Berry riffs, he would reel them off—one after another—almost like the record.
One time I was hanging out with my girlfriend and he stopped in and invited me over to his house. He had something that he thought I should see.
We got to his house (I left my girlfriend behind at her house) and went upstairs to his room. He reached under his bed and pulled out a guitar case. The was no ordinary case—it was bigger—and covered in “Fender Tweed”, a lacquered fabric, with leather wraps on the ends. Opening it, I saw a real Fender Precision Bass guitar. It was very cool, and far more expensive than I could afford on my lawn-mowing earnings. How he managed to buy it as an eight-grader was a mystery; the secretive way he displayed it made me think that it might have been stolen.
The girlfriend broke up with me soon after, maybe she was jealous of my interest in Tom. She played guitar too, but not as good as him. I quit going to that neighborhood, but I did run into Tom a few years later. I had graduated from High School by then, and I went over to see a band practice, I knew the drummer. By that time musical styles had changed, but Tom hadn’t. He was still playing his Chuck Berry riffs, but with precision.
I don’t know what happened to that particular bass, although Fender Precision basses of that era sell for up to five figures now.