Will John Get His Groove Back
John paid my bride-to-be, Ximena, and me the highest of complements in 1970, in Santiago, Chile, at Ximena’s home at 135 General Bari Street, when he played and sang for four hours at our engagement party, never repeating any song during the entire evening. After we left Chile in 1970 to return to the US to attend graduate school, John stayed on in Chile, and became among other things a cowboy and cattle farmer, an English teacher, and a Peace Corps Volunteer trainer. He kept playing the guitar and would liven up any and all events, as long as there was pisco and vino tinto….and a guitar.
Fredericksburg hosts a small, intimate, relatively rustic Rathskeller, located in the basement of a building on the main street. We were now a much smaller group than the one that met in San Antonio, so the first night in Fredericksburg we ate at the Rathskeller, mainly to avoid the crowds and big groups of tourists at the Brewery. They sat us right next to an unoccupied stool, microphone, and two big speakers, and as we sat down John asked our waitress “There’s not going to be some loud singer ruining our dinner if we sit here, is there?” Well, right behind the waitress was the singer John feared, who smiled, acknowledged politely the admonition from John, took up his position on the stool, and sang lovely familiar songs (some would say “classic rock”) the rest of the evening so pleasantly that we ordered, ate our sauerbraten, German potato salad and sausages and lingered long into the evening enjoying the singer, his songs, and the locals who came and went while we watched. After that, I could tell John was a bit more reflective than he had been so far.
This visit to Texas Hill country was well planned. Right down the road from our very rustic B&B rests Luckenbach, Texas, where “everyone is somebody”, and where all young country singers start out and where the old ones come back to die. Willie and George played here together recently, but they are never scheduled, they just show up and the scheduled performers move over. On our second day in Fredericksburg, Ximena and Blanca wanted to go to a small town named Boerne, about a half hour from Fredericksburg, to visit some antique shops, so on our way we drove through Luckenbach just to check it out. If you have never been to Luckenbach, and plan a visit, make sure you keep your expectations of the size of the “town” low. A post office in a country store, a dance hall made out of a barn, a parking lot for motorcycles, a rough stage, a grove of trees with some picnic tables, and lots of folkloric locals, roosters and Lone Star beer. Our first impression of the place was something like muted wonderment but we drove on to Boerne with the plan to return to Luckenbach closer to “darkdown”, which someone told us is about the same time as sundown.
When we got to Boerne, I could tell something was still bugging John. He seemed a bit more nervous than before, so while the ladies shopped, John and I strolled up and down the street until we came to an antique emporium, on the side of which was a sign that read “Guitar Shop”. Clearly that is where John wanted to go, so we sauntered into the Emporium and up the back steps towards the Guitar Shop. As we got close, we heard someone strumming a guitar. We entered and introduced ourselves to Bob who owns the shop and teaches guitar there. He explained, slowly, ever so slowly, that he teaches, sings at any event he is invited to, but mostly gets his satisfaction from singing for the aged. “Otherwise empty eyes sparkle when I play my music”, he told us, “There ain’t nothin’ more satisfying than bringing that kind of pleasure to folks who have paid their dues, earned their keep, and are waiting to rest.” I told Bob that John used to play the guitar better than anyone I knew, and I told Bob how John played 4 hours without repeating a song at my engagement party back in 1970 in Santiago, Chile. Joining in the spirit of sharing, John explained how he didn’t play much anymore, given the amount of work, raising a family, and other things that got in the way. John and Bob talked about Willie, George, Hank, Merle, and their songs. We even sang a few with Bob, as he played.
It was a fun, relaxing moment, that lasted quite awhile before we were discovered by Blanca and Ximena, but as is the way things go, we were discovered, so we prepared to leave Bob and his guitar shop. He was playing the song he had been practicing when we arrived: “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, by Otis Redding, but as we left he stopped playing, looked John straight in the eye and said “Son, if you are half as good a guitar player as your buddy here says you are, you are badly wasting a precious God-given talent. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Well, we small-talked our way out of Boerne (I could tell John was thinking, or something that looks and feels a lot like thinking), and drove back to our B&B. When we got there, John stated with a great deal of certainty that he would be departing for Luchenback at 6 PM and anyone else who wanted to go was welcome. I had told him I definitely was going, but the ladies had expressed doubts when they saw the place the first time we stopped. They had overcome any qualms they might have had, put on their skin-tight blue jeans, and we all went. The night we were there, Tuesday after Memorial Day, there were not a lot of people. But, the local performers were already entertaining a small group of Danish, Dutch, and Belgian tourists, and an eclectic gathering of music lovers and folks apparently with no other place to go. It was great. We drank a few beers, bought T-shirts, took pictures of the Luckenbach bar, and listened to a few songs, a toothless storyteller, and a young foxy lady who sang some sweet tunes so softly we could hardly hear her. All the while several roosters were crowing from the rooftops and moving into the treetops where they have to be situated, apparently, by “darkdown”.
We went back to our B&B, sat together in wooden chairs out in a lovely lookout spot, and watched the sun set on Texas hill country to the tune of a bottle of good Chilean tinto. As the orange sun set over a typical scene of Texas mesquite and post oak trees, John was as relaxed as I had seen him in a long, long time.
The last I heard on this issue, several days later (and this comes from a reliable source, Blanca) is that John has taken his guitar out of the closet, and has been heard “talking” to someone named Bob. Let’s hope so.
*Most of this story is absolutely true, but not every detail. The reader is free to decide which is which.
Written on June 7, 2010, in Mclean, Virginia.