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Making good music makes good people

Charles Rowland Columnist for The Colletonian

Charles Rowland
Columnist for The Colletonian

I believe I’ve met dozens, at least 50, professional musicians in my life. And every time I meet another one, I’m amazed (not Donald-Trump-amazed, but really and truly amazed) at how affable and conversationally accommodating he or she is.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s the case with most other artists. The painter Jasper Johns was actually kind and good-humored when I met him a very long time ago, but you hear so often about painters being so into themselves and their long-suffering struggle to gain public appreciation for their genius and self-expression that you have to figure most of them must be like that.
Writers, I don’t know about them. I know only a few writers, none of them famous. I hope famous writers are mostly nice people. I think if I met a famous writer I admired and he or she turned out to be smug or condescending, I’d never read another word of theirs, no matter how brilliant they were.
I haven’t met any professional actors either, but I’m sure most of them, being actors after all, can at least make you think they’re nice people. Which is OK with me. I doubt if I’ll ever meet a famous actor anyway. I bet Tom Hanks is a really good guy though.
But musicians are the best. I first began to meet well known musicians way back in my early 40s when I was a widower living in Charleston. I was suffering pretty badly in those days and the blues were speaking to my wounded soul. There was a bar downtown, Cumberlands, that regularly featured blues acts, solos and groups, and I was a regular. Now there’s something about bluesmen on stage that can make them look right forbidding. There they are in some serious stage attire and they’re sweating and frowning, sometimes grimacing and rolling their eyes up in their heads when they’re bending the heck out of a note and if you didn’t know better, you’d think, “This guy is messed up. I’d better just stay out of his way and listen”
The first one I met during a break at Cumberlands was Charlie Musselwhite, the great harmonica player. My son was with me that evening and it was his 16th birthday. (The proprietor allowed my underage son in the place on my promise that he wouldn’t touch a drop of beer.) My son loved to listen to recordings of “Little Walter” Jacobs, the harp player who is still probably the greatest influence on all blues harmonica players since his time. During the break we went up to Charlie Musselwhite — Cumberlands was a tight venue — and I introduced the great musician to my son, whose name is also Charlie, telling him that the show was a birthday treat. Right away son Charlie asked Musselwhite if he had known Little Walter. And he answered, “Sure did. Knew him well. We played together and he taught me a lot.” I still appreciate Charlie Musselwhite for taking the time to talk with my son, even keeping a kind smile on his face when it was clear that son Charlie was more interested in the dead Little Walter than the living, breathing legend right in front of him.
During those years in Charleston, I got to know Gary Erwin, nowadays known as Shrimp City Slim, who was a performer, record shop owner and founder/manager of Charleston’s Lowcountry Blues Bash. Gary let me work the gate at several venues during the Bash for a couple of years and I met performers from all over the country. I never met one who was brusque or seemed too hassled to chat for a moment — even the famous Kim Wilson, frontman and harmonica player for The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s still holding true. If you’ve read this column for a few years, you’ll recall that I’ve written lots about Joe Taylor of Bennetts Point. The Columbia native moved down to the Point (by way of New York) with his lovely wife Stacey some years ago and they have become a crucial part of that community. He’s one of those genuinely nice musicians who, I’m not a bit surprised, is married to a gem of a woman. In addition to performing all over the place, Joe is a producer and has a first-class recording studio behind his house. His production enterprise is Moonwatcher Music. You ought to do yourself a favor and visit on line. Grammy-nominated Joe is so well connected in the music industry that he brings really large talent to his gigs and to Bennetts Point. He’s even kind enough to talk a lot of those folks into playing for our Bennetts Point St. Patrick’s Day event, which happened again just last Saturday.
Because I’ve been the MC for the past I-don’t-know-how-many times, I’ve gotten to meet the folks Joe brings to us. Not one has been anything less than a joy to talk to. Some of it has to be on account of Joe himself. I can’t imagine him putting up with a jerk for long. But I know that it also has to do with the nature of the musicians themselves. I think there’s something about creating music for people and connecting with them that way that’s just good for your soul.
At center stage Saturday was the wonderful singer/songwriter Shelly Waters, a singer with a voice I could listen to for a whole day and night and want to hear more after a nap. She’s just put out a CD on the Moonwatcher label, “Drive,” having written all 10 tracks herself. Shelly is as nice as she looks, and that’s saying a lot because she’s a beauty.
Bass player Woody Lingle acts like he’s from right around here somewhere, like, say, over in Orangeburg County. That’s because he is from Orangeburg County, but has played bass guitar for Emmylou Harris, Steve Wariner, Ricky Van Shelton, Chet Atkins — even Liberace. Want to to know what his regular gig is? Playing for Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, who I figured had all gone to the Lord by now, but are still kicking aboard 1960s-Flower-Power-themed cruises.
The drummer Josh Birmingham came from Macon, Georgia and to me, being a professional musician from Macon is like being a writer from Ames, Iowa. Josh and Woody are simply good people who happen to be very good makers of music. And did those four ever make some music on that stage Saturday.
Joe, I thank you, Bennetts Point thanks you, and I hope a lot more Colleton County folk get to see and listen to you and the people you bring in. I know they’ll thank you too.
So the day of reckoning is upon us. The crisis stage hasn’t arrived, but it surely will. It is in the aftermath that we Americans are going to have to look hard at ourselves and decide whether we will begin to champion decency — the kind of decency I described at the beginning — both in ourselves and in those we choose to represent us.

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