By Christine Vincent
In a neat little house in Aberdeen, surrounded by well-cared-for shrubs and trees, lives Warren Mason, the man who taught Kurt Cobain to play guitar and to write music. The veteran all-round musician, guitarist, fiddler and violinist plays and teaches all styles of music from folk, rock and jazz to classical on every major string instrument except harp. His classroom contains a work bench where he builds and repairs instruments. The walls are decorated with the images of rock legends who crossed his fascinating musical path. Although Warren Mason never reached international fame, the quiet, friendly man with the great musical gift has become something of a legend in Grays Harbor.
Warren Mason was born into the Croatian immigrant community in Raymond. His mother was Bonita Medak whose parents Joe and Yerka Medak had come over from the old country. When the Raymond logging industry was automated and many lost their jobs, the Medaks and many Croatian friends moved to Aberdeen. When Warren was only three, his father was killed in a logging accident and his mother moved the family to Seattle.
Music is in Warren’s blood. His father played violin and his son began his musical career following in his footsteps. At Catholic school, Warren found himself the only violin student among a group of piano playing girls. During his fifth grade music lessons, the boy was sequestered in a separate small room with a piece of sheet music which he had soon memorized. When his teacher passed by the window, she heard the bored young musician jamming. By the time the nun entered the room, her ‘brilliant’ student was playing his assigned piece with the sheet upside down.
In the late 1950s, Warren’s family moved to San Francisco. He settled in Haight Ashbury in 1966, right into the center of the burgeoning hippie movement. “It was a magical place,” Warren’s eyes light up when he remembers. “There was so much creativity.”
He attended high school with the members of Santana. Later he became a neighbor of Janis Joplin. The boy had gotten his mother’s guitar out of the closet and began to pick out songs from the radio by ear. He considered studying the bands at the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom his musical education. He attended hundreds of concerts experiencing and observing many of the most famous blues and rock musicians of the time: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Beatles.
Warren had made up his mind. He wanted to be a professional guitarist. He realized, however, that teaching was a way to make a living. He decided to learn how to read music and to study music theory as well as teaching. Being able to read music opened the world of classical music to him.
Warren returned to Grays Harbor in 1979. A lively local rock music scene awaited him with plenty of clubs to play in. His plan was to make a living performing with his band. Teaching was to tie them over until they would make it to the top.
Rosevear’s Music Center in Aberdeen was a piano store at the time with a piano salesman and a grand selection of three guitars. Warren began teaching there and within two years had 60 students with a waiting list. The store had a hard time keeping up with the demand for guitars. Warren’s band, which played under several names but is perhaps best known as Fat Chance with Kurt Cobain’s uncle Chuck Fradenburg on drums, was booked for 3 years in advance. Warren was doing what he loved and made a good living performing and teaching. His band was well-known on the Harbor but not far beyond. Fame came to Warren second-hand through his students Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic who were to make it to the top with their band Nirvana
Although Warren is proud to have been their teacher, Nirvana fame has left a slightly bitter taste in his mouth. He had to change his phone number when he was overrun by journalists determined to interview the man who taught Kurt Cobain. Kurt’s tragic death left a shadow on Warren’s treasure of memories.
Today, Warren is content teaching future generations. He enjoys telling stories from his early days in the ‘Haight’ and from his band days in Grays Harbor. “We all just wanted to play our music and make people happy,” he says. Lamenting the lack of music on the Harbor today, he is doing his share to better the situation. ”Music is so important for kids. It gives them something better to do than gaming or talking on their cell phones.”
Warren is currently accepting students for summer lessons in all styles on violin, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and ukulele (notes and tabs). Beginners are welcome. Call 360-533-8041, email WarrenLMason@yahoo.com.