At the memorial concert organized by Ashby Stokes, in memory of Alex Gonzalez in June, Ismario Gonzalez, Alex’s father, said, “Alex’s short life in Greenwood was surrounded all the time by music. What better way to extend the legacy of music and Alex than with music education?
“I brought him to music when he was just a boy,” Ismario said. “There, his dream was to be the next Carlos Santana.”
During the concert, Ismario played percussion, alongside Gage Kinard, a former student of Alex’s who has been named as the first recipient of a scholarship established in Alex’s memory by his parents.
Gage and Ismario played with a recording of Alex’s rhythm guitar. (Alex used a loop pedal to record tracks he could then layer.)
That performance, according to Ashby, “took a lot of bravery.”
“I know I could not have done that if it were my kid,” Ashby said, lauding the support of the community in attending the concert.
“That’s just our music scene,” Ashby said. “Man, it’s thriving, and it’s only going to get better. Alex was a big part of helping that happen by passing on his talent and passion.”
Marianne Lenti of Greenwood, a professor emeritus of Lander University, internationally known concert pianist and artist-in-residence an accomplished painter, at the Arts Center of Greenwood, said she offered to teach Alex music theory for his placement tests as a freshman at the University of South Carolina.
“We spent many hours drilling at my dining room table,” Marianne said. “Through it all, he was eager to learn, intelligent and a perfect young gentleman. A joy to teach. His freshman theory test was so good he placed in a sophomore theory class at USC.”
Ismario and Dana Gonzalez, Alex’s parents, created the scholarship’s GoFundMe page just 10 days after Alex died.
Ismario said he tends to have a strict parenting style, but he didn’t see obvious signs that Alex was grappling with possible addiction.
“He was our first kid going through college,” Ismario said of Alex. “He had a lot of responsibilities and he was an excellent student. His grades never faltered, which some will tell you is a sign of someone using drugs or alcohol. Chorus was the only class he didn’t like and he still made a B-plus.
“In Spanish, we have a saying: ‘Tell me who you are with and I will tell you who you are,’” Ismario added. “That is something that needs to resonate with parents. If your kids are with people you don’t know, that could be a flag. ... When Alex was teaching, he made it a point to be as straight as he could be. We want to remember him musically and as a son. We’re not perfect and he had imperfections, but I wanted him to succeed and see all the talent he had...You could give him a stringed instrument — one he had never seen before — and play it.”
When word of Alex’s untimely death spread, The Southender Maga’zine’s Facebook page had a post with a photo of Alex playing guitar describing him as “a prodigiously talented musician” and “a truly kind soul.”
The magazine is an online and print publication from Swampfire Records, focusing on arts, culture and personalities of Hilton Head Island.
Ismario, a native of Venezuela, is a self-taught musician and he said Alex’s love of music was evident early. At the age of 3, Alex already had a tiny guitar.
“One night, when a band I was in was playing at a Mexican restaurant, Alex was with me,” Ismario said. “Alex asked me to look at his guitar. People had stuffed all kinds of bills into the body of the guitar. Long story short, he made like 100 bucks that night and I only made like 30. People just loved him.”
The Gonzalez family moved to Greenwood from Akron, Ohio when Alex was about 5.
“His music progressed,” Ismario recalled. “By the time he was 9, he had progressed from his little toy guitar to playing Dana’s classical guitar. He first took electric guitar lessons from Bobby Bice at Sound Systems and More in Greenwood.”
From about the age of 14, Alex played in numerous bands, including a band with his family — Babaluu — playing traditional Venezuelan music, as well as local rock bands such as The System and later, Hilton Head’s Pretty Darn.
Alex taught music lessons here in Greenwood and in more recent years in the coastal community of Bluffton, where he also worked some in construction and as a kayak guide and helped manage a music store.
Among his students here were Gage and twin sisters, Kameron and Madison Amerson, both 18. They are seniors at Greenwood High School.
Kameron wants to study music in college and Madison, visual arts. But, as young teens, they both got interested in learning to play rock music.
Kameron wanted a guitar one Christmas and Madison wanted a bass guitar, Katherine said. Alex taught both girls how to play, beginning in seventh grade.
“Both girls were born premature, but when they started taking music lessons, something just clicked,” Katherine, their mom, said. “It woke up parts of their brains and they were no longer behind everyone in classes but ahead.
“Alex had them play a rock and roll mashup for a talent show in middle school,” Katherine said. “They played ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’ ‘One,’ and ‘Thriller.’ He prepped them for several talent shows and work with them until they perfected it. Alex also had the twins play guitar for his dad’s 50th birthday party. At that party, Alex showcased his students. It was like a jam session on the Gonzalez’s deck. Every time Kam plays, Alex lives.”
Madison said that she and Kameron discovered their “element” in the arts.
“I actually wanted to work on music on my own,” Kameron said. “Alex helped build my confidence and he’s the reason I have gotten so good. Alex was like my musical brother.”
When they learned of Alex’s death, Madison painted a guitar with Salvadore Dali-inspired elephants and Kameron found an inspirational quote about the impact Alex had on Madison and Kameron as a mentor. The design pays homage to a tattoo Alex had. Madison and Kameron gave the guitar to Ismario and Dana.
Her voice overcome with emotion, Kameron said, “I think from any other human being on the planet, I probably learned the most from him. He made me a good player. I still have notes he wrote down for me about playing.”
The Amerson twins took lessons from Alex until he moved to Bluffton. Now, Kameron is taking lessons from Gage.
“He moved to Bluffton in 2016,” Ismario said, noting Alex had one semester of college left to complete. “At the time of his passing, we realized he had four bookings to play for weddings and he had lessons with music students, too. At one point, he was playing with five different bands, all different genres of music.
“My brother-in-law is a professional musician,” Ismario said. “He told me that musicians often give everything to their audiences through their music. In giving everything, they find themselves almost in this vacuum of loneliness and emptiness once they are off stage. Alex had a reputation in Bluffton as a great bassist and guitarist.”