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Gems to Strings : His Oxnard jewelry mart is closed, but Carlos Gonzalez can now devote more time to his real love--the classical guitar.


Outside the Don Carlos Jewelry Mart in Oxnard, the writing was on the window. "EVERYTHING MUST GO!" The eviction notice came a little over a month ago, after health officials discovered unsafe deposits of asbestos in the ceilings and floors on this twisty stretch of a street. As of late last week, "Don Carlos" was no longer.

But parting is bittersweet. The Oxnard jewelry trade's loss is the county music scene's gain. Owner Carlos Gonzalez is better known as a fine classical guitarist, whose music aspirations were put on hold when he started the store with his wife, Rachel, eight years ago.

At the store last week, Rachel was up to her elbows in moving and salesmanship, and was philosophical about their abrupt lifestyle change. She shrugged, "I feel that Carlos has been repressed from developing his talent because of the work here."

When Gonzalez gives a concert at Ventura City Hall Saturday night--the third and final in the City Hall Concert Series--it will represent a kind of swan song to a dual life.

For the occasion, Gonzalez will play a program strong on the Spanish and Latin American repertoire. Classic guitar music by Fernando Sor, Francisco Tarrega, Frederico Torroba and Heitor Villa-Lobos will be featured.

"It seems like everything on the program is demanding," Gonzalez said. "I guess that's part of the way I've been trained."

A day before he shut the shop doors, Gonzalez took time out to talk about his renewed musical imperative. A music stand and a thick guitar case were the only visible evidence that the store's proprietor had more than gems on his mind. In the dark backroom, Gonzalez often stole away to practice. "Once this is behind me," he gestured to the store, "I'll be able to spend three or four hours a day practicing again.

"I'm excited about getting back to the guitar. At the beginning of this year, it was a desire to play more music--I made a sort of New Year's resolution. Now it looks like I'll be doing it a lot sooner than I thought."

Abeet-town native, Gonzalez--one of nine children--grew up in the Colonia area of Oxnard. "It was one of the worst neighborhoods to grow up in, with a lot of drugs and crime. I lived in the midst of it all, and never got involved with it. I think my music kept me occupied for hours on end."

His earliest musical memory was seeing acts on the Ed Sullivan show. He got a cheap electric guitar at a pawnshop years before he discovered the classical guitar.

"Even though, at a young age, I wasn't playing the type of music I was going to play later on in life, I definitely had a desire to want to learn the guitar."

He picked up guitar licks and musical info from friends, books, records--wherever he could. Gonzalez became a young guitar fanatic, zeroing in especially on the blues guitar. Gonzalez recalled, "I spent hours and hours and hours with my little record player, listening to people like B.B. King, Albert King, Mike Bloomfield, all the big blues players of the '60s. I was listening to that type of stuff while all my friends were listening to Top 40."

As he got into his late teens, his father, a construction worker, began sounding the battle cry of practicality, urging his son to think about getting a job.

"At the same time, he was a little bit curious about what I was doing. My dad would sometimes ask me, 'Why don't you play me something so I can see how you sound?' I'd say, 'I can't play by myself. I need a band to back me up--a bass player or a drummer.' I couldn't play.

"I got to thinking, 'Here I spent all this time on guitar and I couldn't play when my dad asked me to.' That stuck in the back of my mind. I wanted to break it down and play solo guitar, not just chords and melody, but as a single instrument."

So inspired, Gonzalez gravitated toward the classical guitar, but didn't know where to turn, there being no real classical teachers in the area. He took a guitar class at Oxnard High, and after graduating in 1973 studied with a woman in Los Angeles who asked Gonzalez to start at square one--learning such basics as proper hand position and guitar positioning. Gonzalez balked, unready to apply the proper discipline. "I was a young, immature blues player--very energetic--and I couldn't cope with that."

Soon, though, he found a suitable mentor in Santa Barbara guitarist Serrestina Romero. While taking music at Ventura College, Gonzalez was still playing electric guitar on weekends for sustenance. He moved on to the California Institute of the Arts, where he earned a degree in classical guitar, and later studied at Cal State Northridge.

By then classical guitar was his life. "I became fascinated with that music," he said, "because I felt that the instrument was being utilized to the fullest potential. Had I heard that type of music early on, I would have gotten involved with classical guitar at a young age. I don't know. I don't regret the time I spent with the electric guitar. I was trained by car, you might say.

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