Just a Sin Away from HellbyMSTarot©
( wrote for fun, like a lot of my short stories)
When I stepped off the bus I could hear it. That soft sound of a saxophone, the low groan from the upright base, that metal on metal of a snare drum. All the rest hide under those three but when I listen I can just hear their ghosts drifting in the magnolia scented breeze. I walked toward the sound of the music of course. That's what the use to say of the true heroes. They always went towards the sounds of the guns.
Well, I'm no hero but I'll walk towards the sounds of mine.
Shifting my guitar on it's strap so it hangs better I fished the small bottle of 'sippin' whiskey from my pocket. The cool night air forgotten after a sip I decide I have enough time to smoke a cigaret before I reach the door to the club. As I hunt my pockets for the pack I think back to my life over the last six months.
I don't think too hard about it though or I will need to get the bottle back out.
My middle class mom, my high society dad. The silly cheerleader sisters. All of them one and all behind me, for good or ill. Bridges burned, ties cut. The soft puff of smoke fills my mouth as their faces brush past. Oh, I love them all still but they... couldn't understand. Their lives are set in stone, layed out to the planning of generations of our family. They had mine planned out the same way of course. Prep school... ivy league... banker... husband... father...
A corpse walking and smiling in a eight thousand dollar suit. That's all I would have been. Staring into my own face every morning as I shave wondering what the hell was happening till I saw my hair thin and my face wrinkle. That would have been my fate, I have no doubt had it not been for something so simple. Just a sound. Just a simple sound heard from a passing car window.
It was Louisiana Blues by Muddy Waters.
I didn't know that at the time of course To me it was just the strangest thing I had ever heard. His voice was twangy, the guitar half hidden by the poor quality of the recording. But the more I listened as it faded away from me, the more it appealed. Then Dad hit the button and rolled up the window. The morning stock report drove thoughts of strange music from my dad's day.
But not mine.
I did something then I had never done. I skipped class. Oh, I'm sure to some of you that may not seem like much but for me when I put my hand on that push bar and went out the back door of the school, to walk across the back parking lot and off into the surrounding neighborhood? It was an act of defiance. My very first in fact... but not my last. Oh, no.
Not my last by far.
I spent the day in a music store. Probably one of the last of it's type in the world these days. The little store sat about a mile from my school. Standing firm in it's last days against the invasion of the Starbucks next to it. Sadly, it's days were already numbered when I found it. I didn't know that then though the lady behind the counter probably did. Still she had a smile for me and listened to me try and describe what I had heard.
My lack of attention didn't help her but she at last got what I was trying to describe. She played something for me. It sounded close. Then with a grin she pulled a green Rubbermaid from under a table. The old paperboard sleeves covering the vinyl records she pulled out had a dusty look to them. She opened the top of an old player that I had taken simply for a store decoration.
Watching the record turn with wonder at this piece of history my jaw dropped as I heard the voice singing to me again the song from that morning.
Her only customer that morning, I stayed for hours there, her letting me play record after record. The scratchy needle holding my attention in a way that not lecturer on economics and business ever had. I wanted to sway back and forth as the tunes drifted past me. When I would look up she would be looking at me smiling.
I bought the whole lot.
Course when the credit card bill came in with the purchase time I had some explaining to do. By then though I was already hooked. Hooked on the smoky sounds of the blues and jazz music that had filled the night clubs and bars so many years before my birth.
A strange hobby. A phase I was going through. That was what they said.
My father loved classical, my mom easy listening, my sisters were a pair of pop princesses. None of them realized the hold that this darker music could have. My fingers began to ache though as I listened. It grew more and more till I realized, that what I was wanting was to be playing along with them. I wanted to be sitting there in that smoke filled bar. A hard stool under my ass, my fingers sore from playing guitar for hours but never wanting to stop. I knew that if I tried to pursue my desires I would be given nothing but grief about wasted time that should have been better spent learning to manage a fortune five hundred company of business men.
They wanted me to be rich, to be powerful to be a baron of industry and trade. I wanted to be a duke. Duke Ellington. I wanted to be a sultan. The Sultan of Swing. They wanted my name in the business news, I wanted it in the variety pages... or in lights.
The guitar I payed for myself.
Don't ask what I had to sell to get the money. It wasn't mine to begin with but wouldn't be missed. The Rolex watch I traded for my guitar lesson might be missed but it was mine at least. For the next three years when I should have been focused on learning business and trade, I was learning rhythm and blues. I mastered fingering and keys easily but the rest took more than I had thought it would. Oh, anyone can pick up a guitar and with a bit of time and practice play a tune. But to really play. To put your heart and soul into it. To learn so much that your teacher falls behind and has to find someone else to teach you? Well that takes dedication. That kind of dedication make other things impossible.
It began to show in my grades. That was their first clue.
Oh it had to be drugs!
I was taken to the family doctor against my protested innocence and tested for everything under the Sun. They called in a favor from a friend and had a police dog brought to the house. My room was searched. That was when my cigarettes and liquor stash was found. Oh well, I wasn't really drinking cause I liked or needed it back then. It was just because I though I should be.
After all I wanted to be a blues player. If they did something, so should I.
Of course I was grounded. Nineteen years old about to head to college and I was being held captive like a twelve year old. My guitar I had hidden at a friends house so they didn't have it to hold as ransom for my good behavior.
I didn't need it by now anyway. Just running my hands across anything and I could hear the tunes. An old spelling bee trophy became my sweet sounding black bodied Gibson guitar. Night after night I played tunes in my head to the music only I could hear. I gave full vent to the growing need to let my own expression out. I played old tunes and new with equal passion.
Soundlessly I protested.
Then as the approaching day for me to leave for my years of indentured servitude to the corporate machine I managed it. I slipped my bonds. Yeah, I 'snuck' out the house while grounded. My computer had shown me where I wanted to be at. A little bar nearby had a blues night. I took a cab, I flagged down, to the place and stood outside just listening. They wouldn't let me in because I was too young to drink. I fooled them though.
I drank music that night, and I drank it for free.
It was well past eleven when the guitar player, an old black man with music written in his very face to be seen in every wrinkle and pore, came out front to grab a quick smoke between sessions. I let him bum one of mine then began what had to be the greatest conversation of my life. His name was Charley Simpson. He had been a studio player longer than I had been alive. His cords had backed up the legend of the jazz, blues, and the Motown music business for decades. At first he humored me when I said I knew how to play.
Then my questions proved I knew what I was talking about.
When the music started I was surprised to feel his hand on my shoulder guiding me to the door. The bouncer tried to stop us but Charley waved him off. He led me to the stage put a spare guitar in my hand and gestured for me to play. His band mates looked at him funny for a few moments but his bright white smile reassured them. Too bad it didn't do the same for me when I saw the crowd looking at me. I fumbled the first cord of course...
But not the second.
Nor another that night. How could I make a mistake. I was in heaven playing with angels. Slow swaying tune playing angels of smoky music. My eyes were half closed as I drifted into valleys of sound and up hills of slow picked cords. Some of the songs I had to play low so as to not overpower the singer. I learned that lesson after the first song when the drummer reached over and popped my shoulder with his stick. A single finger over his lips told me my error.
I didn't make it again.
My eyes were burning from smoke, my fingers were red hot, the callouses I thought I had earned were nothing but baby steps on the road I was wanting to walk. But that night I took my first true steps.
Steps that lead me to this place here.
Every tune has a birthplace and for the blues I love that's New Orleans. A packed bag, a promise to call and a near empty wallet to my name I walked out the door the next day. I retrieved my guitar from my friend house and went to walking. I could have gotten more money from my Mom... maybe from my dad but I didn't even try. I had about forty bucks in my pocket from the bar tips of the night before and to me that was the first real money that I had ever seen. It was money earned by the music in my hands and to me that made it more real and valuable than any row of numbers I had ever seen on a bank statement. I played four more clubs between my home town and the state line. That gave me the cash for the bus ticket.
To get me half way there.
I didn't care. Every town I traveled to all I had to do was ask a few questions and I could find a place to play. Be it a nightclub where I lied about my age, a 'juke' joint where they didn't care or a street corner where I played to fill my hat. I played. I played till I was half blind from exhaustion. Played till my fingers tips wore through and hot points like match burns appeared. I played in smoke stink so nicotine drunk I couldn't see the people in front of me.
I played. I played and they loved me for it.
Night after night, town after town I made my way south toward this place. The Big Easy was calling to me in a way that a lover might. A soft sound, more a moan than words. I would hear it on the wind at night as I slept in a bus stop, under an overpass, or in some strange woman's bed. Where ever I rested my head 'It' would call to me. It would call and I would answer it the next night with more songs. I played till I knew every tune cord perfect, then the guys I played with would teach me something new. A new rift, a new slide, and a place to let the sound drift low and where to take it high.
They taught and I learned.
I learned. I learned more and more of life than I ever had thought there was to know. I learned that your mouth can get your ass into trouble your fists can't get you out of. I learned that no matter what, bruises heal. I also learned that a drink bought can stop a fight often before it begins. That a smile and a bit of respect could made anger pass. That music does indeed sooth the savage beast. The beast of man. I learned a lot in that half year I traveled the long roads between my home and New Orleans.
There was one thing I still wanted to learn.
As I stepped into the club that night I knew it could be here that I would learn it. Oh, at first I got that strange look of course. I was the only white guy in the place. I had learned that while that might not matter to me, to some in the clubs it would. Some would take it that I was trying to take something from them by wanting to learn to play 'their' music. Then I would show them that I could give back as good as I got. Could play with the very best they had and even though I was young I had a passion for 'their' music that made it mine.
And like I said... a bought drink can make a friend.
Dropping my cigaret butt by the door in to the pale pile of it's dead kin I walked through the open club door. A nod of my hat was enough ID for the guy at the door. He took one look at the guitar and knew that I was there for more than drink. I felt the eyes on me as I crossed to the stage. The band was the normal mix that blues lends itself to. A little of everything. Tall wooden base guitars held the notes but the drums were more for depth than time. The sexy growl of the saxophone and the high scream of the trumpet made the club walls echo. I looked over the rhythm guitars and the electric that was adding that silky slide metal sound. I could hear where my part would be.
If they would have me.
Slipping my guitar around I took a pick from my pocket and with a nod took up the tune. After a few minutes I started to see nods of praise coming from most of them. Most, not all. The guitar players still wanted more. They wanted to see if I could really play. They challenged me with harder cords and I listened to them with the ear I had been training for the last few years. I listened...
My fingers caught what they had given and turned it. Turned those silky sound to my will and gave it a shape to my liking. Then twining it back into what they had played, I give it back to them with a flare their playing had lacked. In their faces I saw smiles, grins, hot looks. But the one thing that they all had that I saw was respect.
That was all I wanted.