So in the last week, we lost Michael Burks and Donald “Duck” Dunn. This year, we’ve lost Etta James, Whitney Houston, Davey Jones and Levon Helm. It’s been a rough year for music so far. That’s a couple of hugely influential female voices, the bass player who provided the foundation for some of the greatest songs in rock and roll, probably the best singing drummer of all time, one of the best guitarists to surface in the blues in the recent past, and an actor who wound up being a singer who wound up meaning an awful lot to a lot of people.
It’s easy to be complacent. I’ve been a complacent musician in the past. Stood on the stage and gone through the motions. When you go to work all day and then you chase kids around all evening and then you hustle around to get to the gig, sometimes I think it’s easy to put yourself on auto-pilot.
It’s not fair, though. It’s not fair to the people who come to the gig. It’s not fair to the other guys on stage. Most of all…it’s not fair to the music. The songs deserve better than that.
I have to remember, and weeks like this are a good reminder, how much I wanted to be on that stage. I have to remember how many people want to be on that stage. I have to remember that along with whatever talent I have, I’m also very lucky to have fallen in with a good bunch of guys. I have to remember how lucky we’ve been to be where we are in this town.
But mostly, I have to remember how it feels to play that one note. The one you can’t name, but you know it when you play it. It’s the one that you feel in your toes. The one that makes you close your eyes because you feel it in the middle of your chest and it feels so good and it feels so bad and right and heartbreaking and completely joyful all at the same time.
It’s the one that I found when I started playing guitar for the second time that told me to keep playing. It’s the one that brought me back to the guitar after sort of putting it down during my first marriage. It’s the one that reminds me how it felt to hold my son for the first time. It’s the one that reminds me that I’m alive.
And so I guess that’s the point. Michael Burks was ridiculous with a guitar in his hands. He could say it all with one note. And he worked himself to death just to play. That really is how good it is to play. And so I hope that’s what he’ll help me to remember.