I would go on to hear John-Alex many, many times over the years, and each time, my mind returned to the first, because each time was sui generis. One of the last times I heard him play, he was at the Boulder Outlook with the Cedric Burnside Project, and I wrote this (complete blog entry can be found here):
The evening opened with the amazing one man wall of sound, John-Alex Mason, alone on guitar. I’ve known John-Alex for a few years now, and yet this was the first time I’ve heard him alone on guitar. He typically plays his solo gigs on guitar and drums simultaneously, creating the illusion of a full band, and with a voice that was made for singing the Blues. I loved hearing him stripped down and raw last night.
I so did love it. Although most know that I’m the promotional director and talent buyer for the Boulder Outlook, I’m still perfectly comfortable blowing our own horn. We’ve had countless “one of those nights” at the Outlook. One jam saw the Tommy Castro Band, The Insomnias, Jason Ricci & New Blood, and the Delta Sonics. No cover. That lucky capacity crowd will be talking about that night for the rest of their Blues-loving lives. The same can be said of the audience that night with John-Alex and the CBP. So much so, that I broke the rules and let them play past music curfew. No one wanted that night to end.
And no one wants to say goodbye to John-Alex. But tragically we must.
I was working at my desk on October 13th, a Thursday evening, when I received a call from Todd “Buck Weed” Edmunds. After only a few seconds of greetings, Todd said, “I have some bad news.” His next several words forever diminished the world in which we live. “John-Alex is in a coma, and it doesn’t look good. No, it’s bad.” We talked for several minutes, but I don’t remember much else. I could only see John-Alex standing over me at Club 152 in Memphis at the first round of the quarter finals, about thirty seconds after the Lionel Young Band downbeat. He was all smiles, with a long, scraggly beard and those pale locks (much longer than I was used to) raining out of a black top hat. He looked fabulous! The club was packed, but miraculously, the seat next to me was free. Well, here’s how I described what happened next (entire blog entry here):
“...The Lionel Young Band.” Nice applause. The set opens with Lionel on guitar, slide. About 30 seconds in, I look up and there’s John-Alex Mason, all smiles and energy. He joins us at the table, smiling and supporting, as the crowd jubilantly cheers the solos. A minute or so later, I lean over and say, “Wait until he picks up the violin. They’re going to go nuts.” John-Alex then breaks into a HUGE, knowing grin.
That’s all I could “see” as Todd spoke. And that’s still what I see every morning when I remember our enormous loss, and then many more times throughout the day.
The Outlook hosted a memorial service/Blues jam in John-Alex’s memory, on Sunday, October 23rd, and approximately thirty of his musical colleagues came ready to play for him. And so many of his friends and fans. It was a lovely tribute to a tremendous human being. Throughout the evening’s conversations, I learned of the many images of others, all circumstantially unique, but uniform in their personal significance. Those first thoughts and images that come to mind when one is hearing life-altering news.
Those of us in Colorado are fortunate to have a lot of memories of John-Alex, as he performed so much in his home state. The rest of the world has his extraordinary music. His last CD, Juke Joint Thunderclap, is a masterpiece, pure and simple and it can be purchased here.
Several months ago, John-Alex gave me a copy. I listened to it repeatedly (still do), and then a few weeks later, he gave me the LP version. Yes, he also had LPs cut. The artwork is gallery-quality, so it made sense to have the big version. I treasure it. When I got home that night, I put on the CD and was admiring the LP. I thought it odd there were no liner notes. I picked up the CD, and discovered the same thing. Then I reached inside the front cover, and VIOLA! There they were. Nerd that I am, I always read the liner notes, cover to cover, including the lyrics (I know, I’m a nerd). When I got to the “thank you” section, I actually squealed when I saw my name. He wrote:
Dan and Honey at the Boulder Outlook Hotel for the place to hang our hats.
I’m not going to speak for Dan, but that is some of the highest praise I have or will ever receive.
John-Alex left us on October 19, 2011, the day humanity lost one its best creations. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s a beautiful autumn day here in Boulder, and I’m going to take a long walk and spend some time in Memphis with John-Alex.
~Honey Bee Sepeda~