"May you never live in a time or place where you don't need a friend."
I first met Ernie Trionfo when we both played at a book signing at a now-defunct Bridgeton eatery.
Afterwards, we have stayed in touch via Facebook. Ernie has a guitar repair shop in Minotola and is a free-lance guitar slinger, working as a sideman in a variety of bands - the Snake Brothers, Hawkins Road, Danny Eyer and, for something like 26 years, with Dave and the Wranglers, the band that plays while cowboys and cowgirls attempt to ride for points at Cowtown Rodeo.
“It’s still the most unique gig I have,” said Ernie. The band does a half-hour set before the rodeo starts but during the events, they play from the time the chute opens until the cowboy hits the dirt - at most, 20 seconds.
"Each of us is made up of three people - the person we think we are, the person others think we are, and the person we really are."
Hanging around in his cluttered workshop, it becomes clear Ernie and I know a lot of the same people, which always leads to stories and more stories.
These days, Ernie is known not only for his playing and guitar-repair skills, but for his homespun philosophy, which he generally shares by way of Facebook.
Followers so look forward to these witticisms, they write disappointed posts when they don’t appear - as happened when Ernie was sick awhile back.
His philosophies are not new, or earth-shattering, but they seem to be comforting to those who get to see them online.
"I used to look at coffee like money and fun - you can never have enough - but now, after my 4th cup, I'm starting to re-think that."
Ernie is fueled by coffee and music.
Farm-raised in Franklin Township, he started taking guitar lessons at 10. The Piney Hollow area where he lived was pretty desolate. If a car passed his place every hour and a half, that was heavy traffic.
There was no Internet, just radio and three VHF TV stations. “I was pretty excited when we got three new UHF stations,” he admits.
“There was nothing else to do, so I played guitar,” he explained.
"If there's nothing you can do - do it."
By the time he was a teenager, he was not only working on the family farm, but was playing in bands.
At 19, he added a night shift at UPS in Newfield to his work schedule, but the days became grueling.
He turned back to his guitar.
“I knew I liked it and would own a lot of instruments,” he said. He bought a beat up guitar and when he had it rebuilt, the final cost was way past what the repair guy had given him as an estimate.
“So I decided to learn to do it myself,” said Ernie.
He bought two books, the only two books he could find, on guitar repair.
He went to the three music stores that he knew of in Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton and asked for the old, beat-up guitars they had.
“I got between eight and 12 guitars they would have thrown out,” he said.
He read those two books cover to cover several times.
“Then I started practicing.”
Eventually, word got around about the quality of his work, and friends started bringing him guitars to work on, dressing frets, replacing frets, refinishing.
“Frets are like the tread on your tire. If you drive 50 miles a month, they last a long time. If you drive 50 miles a day, they wear out faster,” said Ernie.
All the while, he was playing, as well.
"There's not a single question that can't be answered with one word. It may not be the right answer, but they can all be answered with one word."
He was on the road, in Columbus, Ohio, when his daughter back home first said just one word, “Daddy.”
“When I found that out, it shook me to the core,” Ernie said. He gave up the road.
But not wanting to give up music led him to do repairs full time.
A lot of kids playing guitar still dream of the road. At 56, he tries to dissuade them of the glamor.
“It’s not the adventure you think it is,” he said.
"Today is EXACTLY like yesterday - except for the parts that are different."
The guy who gave Ernie guitar lessons at age 10 was Al Fiocchi, who wound up with three music stores called Music Central. Al allowed Ernie to do repairs in the basement of the Central Avenue store in Minotola.
Al sold the place and the new owner decided to let Ernie stay around. These days, Ernie’s shop is upstairs - there are a couple of guys who work on electronics in the basement - although Music Central still owns the place. Any accessories sold there are Music Central’s. Repairs are Ernie’s.
“The location is good. I get customers from Philadelphia and Atlantic City. This is right in the middle,” he said.
So where do the witticisms come from?
“A lot of time, I’ll hear something and my brain automatically thinks of a response, funny or philosophical,” Ernie said.
“Before Facebook, these thoughts buzzed into my head, then left. Now, I post them,” he said.
“There are times I wake up with a thought in my head. I keep pen and paper by the bed and write them down,” said Ernie.
Yet, he doesn’t write songs much, just some instrumental stuff now and then. In the band Home At Last, he cowrites some songs, but that’s about it.
The philosophical notions he gets go on Facebook, not into songs.
“I’m afraid to write songs,” he confessed. “I’m not brave enough to expose that much of myself. I can’t do it. But, as a sideman, I can at least get close to it.”
Facebook, for Ernie, is therapeutic.
"I've been credited with having keen insight, lucid observations and practical solutions for all kinds of problem - except my own."