It was purely by accident I found the bar – it had started raining, it was cold, I had no umbrella, I could hear music, and the door was right there – and it was the luckiest accident of my life.
I had no idea, up front: I just stumbled in, almost tripping over the sill in the semi-dark, muttering curses to myself as I dripped onto the floor. I paused to look around, partly so that I wouldn’t trip over anything else – and partly to reassure myself I hadn’t got into a gang or a biker bar – and it was reasonably generic, lights over the bar and in booths around the walls, and over a bandstand at one end; dim away from these, pretty clean-looking.
With a pretty old clientele, I noticed, as my eyes adjusted to the light. Mainly male, jeans and T-shirts predominating, a lot of greyish hair worn quite long for these modern times. OK, I seemed to be fitting in already: 50-ish guy in black Levis, Zombie Appreciation Society T, duffel jacket – which I needed to get off, because the wet was starting to soak through.
I caught a sense of someone waving at me out of the corner of my eye; I turned to see a smiling greybeard, who pointed at a coatrack off to the side of the entrance. I smiled back, got the thing stowed, and set about getting myself comfortable. Which started with a drink.
They seemed to be a craft beer sort of place, so I asked for “your best local dark beer” – always a pretty safe bet – and the bald guy behind the bar smiled and got me something called Rory’s Malt, in a 750 ml bottle. He also threw in a generous plate of mixed nuts and pretzels, so I was pretty well sorted for a pleasant hour or so.
I carried it back to a vacant booth near a corner, across from the bandstand so I could watch comfortably if anyone played – because it looked like it was set up for action, and I could still hear some pretty mellow blues being piped in.
I got busy with my phone for a while, seeing as there was nothing happening, and they had pretty fast free internet: under the name “GuitarBoogie”, I saw in passing. I had cleared up my inbox, and was typing an email to my son telling him not to wait supper for me, when I heard some guitar tuning up going on. I looked up to see a grizzled-looking black dude with a red scarf on his head, sitting on a stool on the bandstand, fiddling with what looked like an old Stratocaster, rigged to play left-handed. “Like Hendrix”, I remember thinking, and I bent down to finish off the message. When I looked up, there was a smallish white guy with him, grey hair to the shoulders, plaid shirt, laughing as he sat down, beat-up looking old wooden Stratocaster neck to neck with the first guy. They didn’t seem in a hurry to get going, so I got back to messages, enjoying the BB King coming through the speakers near me.
When next I looked up, there were three of them: two guitarists, and a plump, heavily bearded guy gone completely grey sitting at a mike, looking at a song sheet. They looked like they were getting serious, so I sat back, took a long pull of what was a very good beer and a handful of nuts, and settled down to listen.
I noticed the rest of the pretty sparse crowd turning to face the band as well – and several of them taking glances at me too. Hey, I’ve been told by some I look like John Lennon and like Richard Gere by others, so maybe they thought I was back from the dead, or just slumming it. Anyway, the trio seemed to have settled down with the black guy on guitar, small guy on a stomp box, and the heavy-set sitting behind the mike. And the first number started, with a lazy finger-picked intro to what had to be Red House – and the man behind the mike confirmed it, with a deep, slightly hoarse “There’s a Red House, over yonder…that’s where my baby stays…”.
Classic! I thought, and settled back.
They did it so well: lazy, flowing guitar, every note clear as a bell; good stomping rhythm and some very mournful harmonica from the little guy, soulful, dark brown voice from the plump guy. There was a short, lazy solo from Guitar Man after the line “I’ve still got my guitar”, with a “Look out, baby” and a laugh from the Man, then they rounded it up. Some relaxed applause from the crowd – I thought they could have more enthusiastic, but maybe they were the house band and everyone knew everything they played – and then a bit of shuffle of instruments, and Small Guy had a mandolin with the stomp box, and Guitar Guy had a bass.
And I felt the hairs rise on my neck, and wave of cold wash over my scalp, as the little guy launched into the jangling intro of what could only be “Goin’ to My Home Town” – confirmed when Voice Guy sang:
“Mama’s in the kitchen bakin’ up a pie
Daddy’s in the backyard
Get a job, son
You know you ought to try”
“Voice too deep”, I remember thinking, “too deep”, while I struggled with an impossibility. I even stood up to take a better look, knocking over my chair, but some of the rest of the spectators waved me down, and shushed me. The band carried out without a pause, and the bass kicked in, and they rounded it out – not as good as Rory Gallagher did it with only Gerry McAvoy to keep him company, but then, he wasn’t singing.
I think I had guessed who was singing, when they did the next one. “LA Woman”, it was, and now with two guitars interchanging the lead, no need for keyboard.
Oh, they went on, did the three oldsters; they rocked through “Bullfrog Blues”, with the little guy singing, and Voice Guy doing some percussion; they did “In Your Town”, with Voice Guy up and roaring (The third man I wanna see is the old D.A., he was the man who sent me away…); the two Guitar Guys as I now thought of them, black and white, trading licks. But it was when Black Guitar Guy started a long, slow “Hear My Train A-Comin’” by himself, as the other two went off for a beer, when I knew. I let out a long, shaky breath, and drank my beer down. I was just getting up, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, and someone came in beside me and sat down.
“Good band, huh?” he said, smiling at me, eyes crinkled in his bearded face.
“Christ, yes!” I stammered, “But it’s impossible…”
He cut me off with a firm uplifted hand. “We call them “The Legends””, he said. “They come in here every Tuesday. Good guys, just want to play. So we let them”, he finished, eyebrows raised as if daring me to argue. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. He clapped me on the shoulder.
“Come on over to the bar”, he said. “There’s a couple of people think you look like John Lennon, want to buy you a drink”.
And he smiled. “But that’s impossible, right?”