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 Texas : Features : Columns : Spunky Flat and Beyond :

THE GUITAR PICKER

by George Lester
George Lester
I suppose I should give a name to the new lady in my life that I mentioned in the last episode. Let us just call her Molly (not her real name) because it makes the story flow a lot better. We had become quite close in the short time we had known each other and it sure helped a lot to get my mind off the painful divorce I had gone through. Our relationship gave me a new lease on life. It was certainly a welcome change from the gloom I had wallowed in for so long.

Shreveport was only about an hourís drive from West Monroe so I asked Molly if she would like to take in the Louisiana Hayride. I hadnít been there since I left Mansfield almost two years before. They still remembered me and gave us a warm welcome. As I introduced Molly to the stars I sensed that she was a bit uneasy about the whole thing. I didnít push it so we left the back stage area and took a seat out front. She was more at ease out there but when we headed back to West Monroe she confessed that she would rather not go again. Thatís when I found that Molly was extremely shy and that she also didnít like crowds. I went by myself after that.

My renewed acquaintance with the Louisiana Hayride brought about a very interesting development. One day a fellow dropped by the station to visit and chat. The subject of music and musicians came up. Thatís when he told me about a guitar player from a small town just south of the twin cities. He played in a little bar there.

The manís way of playing was what really intrigued me. To explain, the normal way to play guitar is with the palm of the left hand under the neck with the fingers curving back over the strings. This musician had an injury that prevented him from turning his palm upward. It always faced downward. Therefore, the only way he could fret the guitar was to press the strings down with his fingers. He couldnít get leverage by squeezing against the palm against the neck the way most players do. It takes tremendous finger strength to play the way he did. Without being a guitarist it is hard to imagine how difficult it was.

I wanted to meet this fellow and see how he did it. I drove to the town and found the club where he played nightly. From what I had heard about the bar I figure it was no place to take Molly so I went alone. It proved to be even worse than I was prepared for. As I waked through the door and a cloud of cigarette smoke I saw a very plain and dingy looking joint with bare concrete floors and beat up furniture that had seen its better days many years before. There was no stage. The guitar player sat in a chair at the edge of the dance floor. I was surprised at how small and fragile he looked. He was joined by another man playing bass fiddle. There were only a few customers in the place and no one was dancing. They all sat at the bar and ignored the musicians.

I didnít use alcohol in any form so I asked for a soft drink and sat down at a table close to the band. The atmosphere reminded me of a scene from an old western movie when a new cowboy in town walked through the swinging doors of the saloon. The other patrons stared at me as if they were wondering why this stranger would come in and choose to forgo the spirits for sale there and sit alone sipping a benign beverage.

Then the long anticipated event took place as the guitar player began his act. I sat there spellbound with my mouth agape as the wonderful music flowed from his instrument. It was like magic to see his fingers glide smoothly up and down the guitar neck producing a sound like nothing I had ever heard before.

When they finished the set I asked if I could buy them a drink. They accepted my invitation and sat down at my table. We chatted for awhile about his unique ability. He was the epitome of modesty and couldnít understand what the big deal was. It occurred to me that with the proper opportunity this great musician could do far better than this small change job he had now. I invited him and the bass player to take a trip with me to the Louisiana Hayride. There was always a jam session going on in one of the dressing rooms back stage and I wanted him to join them. I wondered if they would be as impressed as I was.

The next Saturday night the three of us went to the Louisiana Hayride. I took them backstage and introduced them to some band members having their usual impromptu session. When the fellow laid his guitar across his lap and started playing everyone sat up and took notice. They closely studied his unusual technique. These great musicians seemed awestruck by his talent. Then they all joined in. There was probably a lot better show happening in that dressing room than there was out on the stage.

After a while the emcee, Horace Logan, stuck his head in the door to see what was going on. Someone asked him to sit down and listen for awhile. Horace was just as blown away as the rest of us. He then did something he had never done before. Horace invited only established performers on the show who had records on the charts. He told the two fellows to follow him to the stage. As soon as the act finished he walked to the microphone and told the audience that he had a special treat for them. He then called the two fellows out and let them have center stage to themselves. The house became real quite as they stared at the two musicians they had never seen or heard of. Then they started playing, no singing, just instrumental music. When they finished the first number the house exploded. They kept asking for encore after encore.

When they finally came off stage Horace asked them if they would like to come back the next week and do it again.

This story should end here with a tale about how this guitar wizard went on to fame and fortune. How I wish that were true.

The next time I visited the Louisiana Hayride I asked about my Discovery. Horace told me he did come back the next week and the crowd loved him just as much as the first time. They were invited to appear indefinitely. They never showed up after that.

Later I learned that this wonderfully gifted guitar player had returned to the same bar where I had found him. As far as I know he remained there for the rest of his days performing for free drinks and tips and an audience that didnít give a damn.

I guess he was just more comfortable in that environment.
© George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir

August 1, 2007 column

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