I moved to the Memphis-area, Walls, MS, to be exact, in July, 2003. I remember the date vividly: I had spent the last two years driving to Memphis three days a week for school, and I moved to the area the day before my graduation on July 11, 2003. Perfect timing, I know!
The following October, an old friend and past bandmate, Chris Wages, called to say he and his fiancé were coming to town for the evening and wanted to get together and maybe go to Beale St. I hadn't had the opportunity to go since I moved (this was during that time I was out of the music scene), so they came by my apartment and we went to Beale.
We plotted what looked to be the best route around the panhandlers and made our way to the Flying Saucer. We had a couple of beers there and wanted to go check out some music on down the street. We walked through the barricade and bought our $10 Armband that almost NONE of the establishments on Beale honored, stopped and got us some more beers, and started walking down the street, listening for something that caught our ears (I've never stopped loving music, I just quit playing it for a while). We decided to walk the entire length of Beale before deciding which establishment to grace.
As we got further down Beale, I started hearing what sounded like a band on the sidewalk. I looked at Chris and said as much, and the three of us hurried along to see who was making this music on the sidewalk for free.
We made our way down to the New Daisy Theatre, and what we saw we couldn't believe. Here was ONE GUY, sitting on a drummer's throne, with a kick drum in front of him, a snare drum on a stand sideways, a hi-hat, and the weirdest looking guitar-contraption I had ever seen.
He finished the song he was playing and introduced himself as Richard Johnston, the Hill Country Troubadour. He described his cigar box guitar (or diddly-bow, as he called it) in detail to everyone standing around (which was easily a couple hundred of people), pointing out the beer caps for pickups, the bass guitar string and 3 regular guitar strings, and the neck, which was actually the struts from a prosthetic leg. He had it split off into a guitar amp and a bass amp, and would play and sing these songs completely by himself. This was the first time I had ever heard names like R. L. Burnside or Junior Kimbrough, Raimey Burnett or Jesse Mae Hemphill, and the music was hypnotic. We spent at least two hour there, watching him do all these things by himself, letting our "Big Ass Beer"s get hot. I bought both of the CD's he had available at his next break and thanked him for kicking me in the ass enough to go home and pick my neglected guitar up. We made our way back to the vehicle and were back at my apartment about 15 minutes later.
Fast forward to November, 2011. I was working in a print shop in Tupelo and my work one particular day was to help design some of the printing for a March of Dimes fundraiser coming up. As I was printing the posters, I noticed a familiar name as the entertainer for the evening: Richard Johnston. When the lady came to pick up the posters for the event, I asked about getting tickets to the fundraiser. I even told the whole story I just told you, and I'm guessing I bored her enough, so she hands me two tickets!
I had a young friend that was spending a lot of time at my place around this time. We'll call her "Sally". I told her the same story, adding the part from work, and asked if she would like to experience a night she'll remember forever! By this time, I had "acquired" a copy of the unreleased (due to licensing problems) "Richard Johnston: Hill Country Troubadour" DVD and put it on for her to see for herself. Sally admitted that she had never seen anything quite like that before and thought it would be a great first "real" date.
The night of the show, she comes by my apartment to pick me up (I'm a Bluesman for reason, y'all!) and we head to the BancorpSouth Conference Center for the show. As we're walking up to the door, I see Richard standing out front, smoking a cigarette. He looks at me with some kind of recognition in his eyes (no clue who he thought I was), and says, "Hey, you're a bass player, right?"
I replied no, but that I was able to play bass, and he proceeds to tell me his bass player (he had added one by this time) had a stroke a couple of days before and wasn't able to make the trip, and he would really rather have someone playing bass for him, as it makes his job easier. I look to Sally, who clearly has that "Oh, HELL no, you betta not!" look in her eyes, and just kinda shrug my shoulders, to which she says, "If you want to, I don't mind." Looking back, I think she actually DID mind.
I played part (ok, most) of the show with Richard while Sally sat by herself in a faraway corner of the room at a lonely little table even the servers wouldn't look at. When the show was over, I invited Richard back over to the apartment for some banana moonshine, to which he replied thanks but no, and off he went back to Memphis. Sally dropped me off and left about as quick herself.
Sally quit coming around as much and eventually drifted away. Sometimes I see her out, and we stop and talk. We're still friends, but whenever that night is brought up, she smiles that unforgettable smile and reminds me, "You promised a night I'll remember forever, and it was. That was the worst date ever!"
As a side-note, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this is my 100th blog post! 100 different stories and I still haven't said a damn thing, just a bunch of drunken rambling. But that's ok. At least y'all get me. Thanks for your attention.