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FEBRUARY 26, 2008

In the “The Nomads” article below, I touched upon my guitar lessons with Cootch and Mabel. The photo of Mabel’s kitschy furnishings and the two of them sitting there, making music on their guitars, piqued the interest of several Drawgerites. A little more information about the Coutures, then, seems to be in order.

Cootch and Mabel were pivotal figures in my life, though I doubt they understood the powerful effect they had on me. I probably neglected to tell them at the time how much they instilled in me a love of making music, although I  did thank Cootch many years later, when I visited him in a retirement home. I brought along an acoustic guitar and he and I played some old tunes together.

Clarence "Cootch" Couture and his wife, Mabel were old friends of my parents. When my mom and dad bought & refurbished a small resort on Long Lake, 9 miles north of Alpena, Michigan, Cootch and Mabel showed up for a week’s vacation with guitars in tow. For seven, sublime nights, I sat mesmerized, watching Mabel coax unworldly, ethereal sounds from her Oahu Hawaiian guitar, while Cootch sang Hank Williams songs, punching out sock rhythm chords on his yellow-sparkle Supro.

After the Coutures departed, my parents asked me if I would be interested in taking lessons with Cootch. I’d failed miserably as a grammar school coronet player, but the guitar touched my soul. I showed up at the Couture’s home the following week carrying my father’s small, out-of-tune, old flattop guitar.

Every week, Cootch and I would work our way through an Oahu Method “Spanish Guitar lesson. The Oahu company began in 1936, publishing Hawaiian guitar tablature lessons and they eventually added regular guitar and accordion lessons. Later on, the company sold guitars, amps and other music related equipment. When guitars went electric, Supro supplied Oahu with guitars.

If the impromptu jam sessions that followed my lessons weren’t incentive enough to keep me coming back week after week, Mabel’s huge, homemade sugar cookies were. I learned little from the Oahu lessons, but at lesson’s end, Mabel would head to the kitchen, emerging with three glasses of milk and a plateful of gigantic sugar cookies. Energized by white flour and sugar, we picked up our guitars again and the real fun began. Cootch & Mabel knew dozens of classic country tunes and popular standards from the 40’s and 50’s. With chord charts spread out on my music stand, I’d struggle along with the tunes, applying as much as I could from my previous lessons. I spent months wrestling with that rascally closed F chord, but I was determined to get it clean and on time. I wanted desperately to be an active participant in the magic.

This event took place some 50 years ago, yet I recall vividly the smell of the cookies and the warmth permeating Cootch & Mabel's apartment. Thank you, my long departed teachers. Making music was, for you, a spiritually enriching, joyous occasion and you led me to the temple.
Oahu Lesson Sheet
Oahu Lesson Inside
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