Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lionel and Honey: A Friendship Tree

Dear Readers,

I give you fair and advanced warning: This is going to get mushy. I just got off the phone with Lionel Young, the first and only double International Blues Challenge Winner, and my friend. It was an inspiring discussion. As are most with him.

He was returning a call I placed earlier to cover some business. Upon concluding said business, we did as we often do and spent some time chatting and catching up on the topical issues of life.

Lionel and I are lucky, not only to be true friends, but to share a number of true friends, one of them being Bob Margolin. In light of the very recent passing of Pinetop Perkins, Lionel asked me tonight how Bob was doing. [Ed. Note: Since this is a Blues blog, I’m not going to explain that inquiry; Dear Reader knows.] Having had the pleasure of speaking with Bob earlier today, I was able to answer that question: Sad, moved, inspired, and as well as can be expected. We then spent several minutes in a Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin Fan Club Meeting. A lovely place to be. And a place we visit often during our phone chats. More on that club and membership requirements in a later post. 
I first met Lionel a few days before he was leaving for the IBC in January, 2008, in the solo/duo category. He won. And after that win, he went over to Bob’s jam at the Rum Boogie on Beale Street, and sat in. Bob was playing the Outlook a couple of months later, and I arranged for Lionel to sit in one night. The birth of a friendship.

A couple of years ago, I booked former Denver-area wonder, Johnny Long, of whom I’d not heard before. When Lionel heard the news, he came down to the Outlook to find me and confirm what was hanging on the grapevine. When I confirmed the rumor, his face lit up with a reverence I’d not seen on him before. The same with Jim Primock. Lionel has been friends with Johnny for many years. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to hear this man. A few weeks later, Johnny and his wonderful wife, Carrie, checked in early afternoon. The show that night fully explained Lionel’s and Jim’s expressive reverence. He now has mine.

The next day, Johnny, Carrie, and I enjoyed a two and a half hour lunch together, with great conversation, funny stories, and genuine intimacy. The birth of two more friendships.

I first met Ron Thompson a few years ago, and we’ve been friends since. Recently, at the Boulder Outlook’s 3rd Annual Shipless Blues Cruise, I introduced Ron and Lionel, and they jammed together. Another friendship born.

Also that weekend had the extraordinary young talent, Matt Hill. I’d developed an email and phone friendship with Matt, but didn’t meet him until a few hours after the Lionel Young Band won the 2011 IBC, again at Bob’s jam at the Rum Boogie in Memphis. He was playing bass with Bob. He and Bob then switched, and young Mr. Hill has the guitar chops! And the voice. And a remarkable ability to entertain. Two weeks later, at the Shipless Blues Cruise, Lionel, Matt, Todd “Buck Weed” Edmunds, and Jay Forrest played an hour long set, and not only were new friendships born, but so was a band. I’ve named them the Boulder All Stars, and if all goes according to plan, Matt is flying out for a gig at the Outlook on Thursday, May 19. Lionel and Jay have to leave the following morning, so the Friday, May 20 gig will be a trio, hopefully with Audree D. on drums. I’m working on it...

I first met Jimmy Thackery about 30 years ago, and last year, I introduced him to Lionel. Jimmy was staying at the Outlook on a night off, and he sat in with the Heavy Cats Featuring Rex Peoples for most of the night. I have a large wall of framed photos in various sizes, a couple dozen anyway, and one of my favorites is of Lionel and Jimmy on stage, trading licks, both wearing huge smiles of friendship.

Regular readers know that I recently took the nine-day journey to Memphis with the Lionel Young Band, a trip of a lifetime. That was the topic on which our phone chat ended tonight. And why I’m sitting here burning the midnight oil. We had a great time, even with all the drama, but I’d not yet told Lionel how much that experience means to me. I corrected that oversight tonight. I told him.

To recap, I reminded him that I’ve spent my entire life traveling the world, and thanks to my mother and so many members of my extended family living in Europe and the Middle East, I rarely go a year without strolling European streets, or barefoot in the sand at my mother’s beach house at the Black Sea in Turkey. I live a blessed life when it comes to travel. I’ve had more fantastic vacations than I can count, experiences so enriching they are indelibly etched upon my inner eye. And Memphis is right in there holding her own.

With a six piece band (all men), one girlfriend, and myself, a true adventure was born and friendships strengthened. Ricardo Pena, Dexter Payne, Andre Mali, Kim Stone and I had become friendly over the previous months before the trip, but during that trip we became Friends. My mother always told me that before I think about getting serious with a man, take a trip together first. And plan one where I can be pretty certain at least one thing will go horribly wrong. That’s how one finds out if a relationship has staying power. It’s not in how we handle joy that truly measures our character, but rather the trials and tribulations. And we had them. Boy did we have them. I blogged the entire road trip, and you can read it here.

I learned as much about myself as I did about the guys. I learned if I switch my thinking, I have all the patience necessary for any given situation. I was there to make it easier on Lionel by cooking, organizing, or whatever would help him. So little things that would typically annoy the living crap out of me, were easily tolerable. The problem is, now that I know that, I’d be a huge pile of steaming hypocrisy if I didn’t call on that ability rather than getting self-indulgently annoyed in future situations. I have no excuse.

I learned that Kim Stone can rival Jason Ricci in intensity, and that few people on earth can make me laugh as hard. I’ve known Jay for a few years, but now I know him a lot better, and I’m even more in awe of him personally than I was before. The patience of a Saint. Andre, our baby, is damn funny, and has a wicked side to his sense of humor as well; something I learned in Memphis. Dexter too, and he likes to cook. He’s good at the zingers when you’re least expecting it. He’s also very thoughtful. Ricardo is the serious, focused one, and as a world class mountaineer, that’s an important characteristic. But with all his focus, he has a dichotomous laid back side, who after the work is done, can really relax. And another funny one. A strong sense of humor is fortunately the strongest common thread in this weave, and it’s how we managed nine days together, cramped in vehicles, or in a three bedroom, two bathroom house, eight of us in total. Fortunately the house is big and beautiful, and we love our hostess, Heidi Knochenhaur, which added so much to the overall experience. The house and neighborhood are characters in our story.

Most importantly for me, I learned that I can count on Lionel for anything (except being on time). I learned that we’ll be arguing with each other for decades to come. I learned that I will do whatever necessary to protect him. I felt a rage previously unfelt at The Incident, picturing Lionel handcuffed on the curb, and knew at that moment that whether I like it or not, Lionel’s in my life for life.

Right before we said “goodnight,” Lionel reminded me that we had previously talked about my writing an addendum blog with all the stuff I left out. For those of you who’ve read the Memphis blogs, it might seem hard to believe, but I left out a lot. There’s another entire blog there. Coming soon...

I leave you with this: a couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a Blues regular about the trip (he had read the blogs), and he said, “So after a trip like that, I’ll bet you’re never going to miss an IBC again.” I thought for a few seconds, looked at him, and answered, honestly, “What can top that?” ~HBS~

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