HNHS student becoming real-life ‘guitar hero’ with talent, hard work

Local guitarist and Huntington North High School student Jesse Gonzales takes a break from practice on Friday, March 17. Gonzales and his band, The Timebacks, will perform in a benefit concert on Friday, April 21, at the HNHS auditorium.
Local guitarist and Huntington North High School student Jesse Gonzales takes a break from practice on Friday, March 17. Gonzales and his band, The Timebacks, will perform in a benefit concert on Friday, April 21, at the HNHS auditorium. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin

Originally published March 23, 2017.

Jesse Gonzales, by his own admission, is “music illiterate,” meaning he can’t read music. And he didn’t come from a family possessing any musical abilities. However, there is nothing not musical about him.

“My parents don’t play any instruments; my grandparents don’t,” he says. “I don’t know where I got it from.”

Gonzales’ interest in playing guitar sparked when he was in eighth grade — a late age, by comparing many who have reached his level of talent.

“We had a class at Riverview that was a guitar class,” he explains. “There was a kid in there who was my friend at the time. He actually knew how to play a little bit, and I wanted to be better than him … I didn’t know how to play, but I wanted to be the best one in the class, so that’s where that started.”

Gonzales, who is considered to be somewhat of a guitar prodigy by some, is nearly entirely self taught — if you don’t count the YouTube videos he watched in order to hone his technique.

He cites musicians including Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and Slash among his inspirations, opting for a blues-based sound among his favorite genres.

“I like a lot of types of music, particularly more classic rock from the ’70s, and the middle ’80s and stuff like that,” he says. “And I enjoy music from the ’60s, too.”

Now a senior at Huntington North High School, Gonzales has made an impression on the local music world. Not only has he formed a band — “We think we’re going to call it ‘The Timebacks,’” he says — but he also does what he calls “demos” at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, playing guitars at the superstore for prospective buyers.

“He actually has had several people have him play for them at Sweetwater Sound. They request him because they think he is so good,” says HNHS teacher Ruth Reed. “He’s been in the (school) variety show every year since his freshman year, and I think he has ability. When he was in my speech class, he gave a speech on playing the guitar and then played, and the kids loved it.”

Gonzales approached Reed after the last variety show, in December, and asked if she would sponsor him and his band to play a concert in the HNHS auditorium.

She says she was all for giving him the opportunity.

“I encouraged him, and said, ‘If you can get some people to sing, that would give other people a chance,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea. We could do that,’” Reed adds. “Because he is so focused on his talent, I do expect him to achieve great things.”

Gonzales has since added a singer to The Timebacks — Keswick Shultz, a freshman who is a member of the school’s Varsity Singers — joining drummer Bramley Shultz and rhythm guitarist Tremar Clore, all students at the school. He has also invited some “guest” musicians and vocalists to perform as well. It will also be his first “solo” concert as an artist.

The classic rock influence will be evident once the band begins to play, with at least 14 songs in its repertoire that draw on the rock-and-roll style. Three of the songs are original compositions. Gonzales promises a good show for rock enthusiasts.

“They can expect a really good show,” he says. “A lot of good stage presence, and I guess you could say ‘theatrics,’ because I like to be really expressive when I’m on stage. And I have some special moves — I guess you could call them — prepared for it, so it should be really exciting.”

Clore agrees that his bandmate’s talent is impressive.

“I think he’s a great guitar player, better than anyone I’ve actually seen,” Clore says. “You can tell he puts a lot of time into it, and effort.”

The benefit concert is scheduled for Friday, April 21, at 7 p.m. in the auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at the door. The proceeds will go to help pay medical expenses for a fellow Huntington North student, Conner West, who is battling leukemia.

Gonzales is pragmatic when it comes to “making it big” in the music business; he has no candy-coated delusions. When he graduates from high school this spring, he will be gearing up to attend Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he plans study to become a high school history teacher. He’ll be the first member of his family to go to college.

“Obviously music is a big thing and very important to me. I also have a love for history and teaching,” he says. “I also want to try and pursue music to a certain degree.

“But I think there is a certain line to where you have to kind of say, ‘Hey, if it’s not working out we each gotta quit.’ I don’t want to be one of those guys who doesn’t go to college and tries so hard to be a musician and doesn’t get anywhere for 10 years of trying.

“Music is an option; if opportunities present themselves, well, I’ll take them.”