Aberdeen musician and guitar instructor Warren Mason shared his gift with countless Grays Harbor hopeful guitar heroes through the decades. Two — Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic — hit it as big as any kid could ever dream with the grunge-band phenomenon Nirvana.
Mason died at his home in Aberdeen on Saturday at the age of 74, his band Fat Chance announced on Facebook Sunday morning.
“Warren taught many generations of Harborites a love for playing the guitar, including our own Kurt Cobain. He continued to teach guitar in any style of music, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle and violin even during the pandemic via Zoom,” wrote Fat Chance bandmates Bruce Moore and Jeff Ramberg.
“He was such a piece of our music world here on the Harbor, I referred countless people to him,” said musician and current Downtown Aberdeen Association Executive Director Wil Russoul. “He and I would get together to work on my guitar technique as I was also one of his students.”
Mason was interviewed for the 2018 music documentary “20 A.C.,” which chronicled the continued impact of Cobain and Nirvana on the South Sound music scene — 20 years after Cobain’s death on April 5, 1994.
That film’s producer, Russell Brooks, remembers fondly interviewing Mason at this home in 2014 for the project, and Mason’s appearance at the film’s premier at the Capitol Theater in Olympia in September 2018. Brooks and Mason stayed in touch over the years since, and Brooks said he had been planning to introduce his 14-year-old son, an aspiring guitarist, to Mason after the pandemic.
“It was an honor to know him,” said Brooks.
Mason relates in the film meeting a young Cobain through his uncle, Chuck Frandenburg, who was a new drummer in the band Mason was playing in at the time. They were practicing in Fradenburg’s basement and, “There was this little blond-haired kid sitting in the corner quietly watching,” said Mason. Fradenburg asked if Mason would be willing to give Cobain lessons, which he did “in 1980 or 1981.”
“I asked him what is a goal song you’d like to learn and he said ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” said Mason. A few months in, Cobain had learned the opening notes to the song, when his lessons abruptly ended. Mason said when he asked why he’d stopped his lessons, Cobain’s family told him “all he does is play the guitar” and “he’s flunking every class in school.”
In the film, Mason tells the story of a friend who told him one of his “old longtime students is making it famous in the college circuit, and they said Krist Novoselic,” who took lessons from Mason four or five years after Cobain. “The guy who told me about Krist said he was going to be on ‘Saturday Night Live’ this week, and I thought I’d have to check it out.”
He continued, “I’m watching it and see Krist and I’m looking at Kurt going, he sure looks familiar. They said his name and I said wow, that’s Kurt Cobain. I taught the whole string section of Nirvana! Then they got really famous and that was that. I was really proud for those guys, I thought that was really cool.”
Mason was born in Raymond. The family moved to San Francisco for a time, but Mason returned to the Harbor in the late 1970s, and taught guitar at Rosevear’s Music Center in Aberdeen. He continued to teach and played in his band Fat Chance with Moore and Ramberg until his death.
“In spite of his obvious talent, Warren was a consummate professional and deeply respected his craft, devoting many practice hours before coming on stage for a show,” his band mates wrote.
“Warren’s musical integrity was paramount to him. Behind our 120-plus song set list, laid many hours of practice and Warren’s careful attention to how each song was played. For Warren, it was important that each band member played the song as it was intended to be played. Both of us are better musicians because of having played with Warren and we are heartbroken over his loss.”
Russoul posted on Mason’s Facebook page: “You always were there for so many of us musicians including me. I never told you but you influenced one of my songs called ‘End of the 70’s.’ Such a Hendrix’s feel you told me. We had so many chats about chords, the music scene, Nirvana, California, old Les Pauls, and those lessons you gave me to untangle my fingers. You are part of my music brother.”
Ocean Shores artist Lora Malakoff was among those who posted on Mason’s page: “I’m sure you’ve already mastered that harp my friend — you will be missed.”
Musician Bill Cleland wrote, “I worked with the early version of the Fat Chance group along with Chuck Fraidenburg (Kurt’s uncle), other members included Barnie Perrin, Mike Strom, early to mid ‘80s. A true gift to music in the area.”
Cremation arrangements are being made by Harrison Family Mortuary.