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I'm a business reporter. I work at a daily paper, covering all the news and
blues about local businesses and economic development. Real white-collar
I got to work on Monday morning, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to my
desk. The red light on my phone was lit, indicating a voice message was
Dialing in the code, I listened as I heard my wife's voice explain that she
had packed her clothes and was leaving.
"Would you feed the dogs until I get a place to stay that lets me have
pets?" were her last words.
"Whoa, what a day I'm gonna have," I said to myself as I leaned over and
turned on the computer. I cranked out a couple of stories, then called Tom
to see if he wanted to
grab a sandwich.
Tom's the president of the local chamber of commerce. He's 57, white and
peddles memberships to the chamber while hailing the virtues of small
business. He's also a pretty good picker, and loves the blues.
What's a white 57-year-old chamber of commerce president know about the
blues? Well B.B. said everyone gets the blues, even the Queen of England.
Tom was in Viet Nam, lost his first wife to cancer, lost his first son to
crack and he grew up in St. Louis sneaking into juke joints to hear the old
guys jam. He knows the blues.
At lunch he said he was going to Apple Annie's for open mic night to play
with a couple of friends.
"You oughta bring your harps and sit in," he said. "Lord knows you gotta
work that crap outta your system."
As the day wore on, the fear of playing in front of people slowly faded as
the idea grew on me.
I showed up at Apple Annie's with my three Hohner Pro Harps and a little
trepidation. I'd never really played for an audience before. But this was
Apple Annie's, a local watering hole in a small town. How many people could
possibly be there?
A lot. The place was packed, and I knew a lot of these people. This would be
embarrassing, but I went on in.
Tom was pulling his Strat from its case, and getting ready to play with a
buddy. I grabbed a beer and sat down. They struggled through a CCR song,
said thanks to the audience, then the next guy jumped up. Tom came over.
"You bring your harps?" he asked, sipping on a gin and tonic. What kind of
blues man drinks gin and tonic. Gin maybe, but not gin and tonic.
"Yeah, but I don't know," I wavered. "I haven't played in a long time."
"That's what's great about open mic night," he said. "It's just a night for
guys like us who don't have any real talent, but like to play."
So he started running through a list of songs he could play.
"As long as it's one the three keys I got harps for, I'm OK," I told him.
"You just get the song started and I'll jump in."
So I went up to the little stage they set up and grabbed a mic. I was just
going to blow a little bit to see how loud the mic was set up. Looking out
at the crowd I decided it would be better to close my eyes so I wouldn't see
them looking at me and laughing.
As I cupped the mic and pulled out a wail from the fourth hole, bending it
slowly down then back up, something happened. That note was the perfect
sound to describe what I had been feeling all day. The next note was even
better, the same note, but I tripped my tongue a little at the end, which
gave me a rhythm. Before I knew it, I was the one who started the song, and
Tom was jumping in to join me.
I went through every emotion I had felt throughout the day. Standing there
on the little stage with my eyes closed, I poured out my heart, from the
soul-wrenching sadness, to the raging anger, everything came out of that
harp, through the amp and to the audience. They apparently got the message,
‘cause when I finished, they roared. I looked over at Tom and wondered what
the hell had just happened.
"Man, I've heard you play before, but that was unbelievable," he said. "I
told you that you had to get that crap outta your system."
A business journalist at a daily newspaper in South Carolina, I grew up
in Mississippi, where I developed a love of the blues.