The road down to Wilmington, NC out of Charlotte, NC is just a straight shot down US Hwy 74. Part of the road then becomes Interstate 74 but then returns to its humble Hwy status. On the way down to Wilmington you by-pass the town of Hamlet, NC. It’s the birthplace of John Coltrane; the largest of my musical Giants on my horizon. I have actually gone through that fair little ‘hamlet’ and seen the plaque that is erected on the site where John Coltrane’s family house stood. That was quite a number of years ago and no doubt it was because we were headed to some other gig in the state and the by-pass had yet to be built thus necessitating a trip through its business district. As we passed it I recalled that memory. I can still see the plaque in my minds-eye even today. I’ve just seen on the internet how the local businesses have made efforts to revitalize the place of Coltrane’s birth or where the house stood, because back then it was really just a non-descript looking free standing plaque. Almost like they fashioned it upon a parking meter pole but instead of the meter was this plaque. Kind of looked like one of the historical plaques I see around here where I live demarcating minor troop movements from the Civil War during the overtaking of Atlanta. A bit unkempt and ignored and placed in the world in the most innocuous of posture to fend for itself against the elements and to compete for attention amongst the local shop windows in the semi-depressed area that it was in. This was back in the late 90’s when we happened up the plaque and before the country went through the ‘dot com’ economic resurgence of the Clinton administration. The economic upswings effects had yet to ‘trickle down’ to Hamlet, NC. I’m pleased to see while on the internet that things are looking better in Hamlet and that the city now proudly highlights the event as one its haughty claims to fame, but on the day I chanced upon it the times were humbler but we still stopped to stand beside it and take a picture. I have no idea where that photo is now. Only in my mind and memory does it still exist to me.
So we get to the Rusty Nail and we proceed to load in the equipment. Did I mention how damn good we are at loading in and out? We really don’t mess around when it comes to this most droll of activities of our job. Not that we enjoy it, we just tackle it with extreme efficiency. Slam-Bam we’re up and ready to go! Sound check is done, a few things are run through and we retire a bit so as to shake off the sedentary effects of the drive. Not a long drive today but drives do take their toll on you one way or another. I go to my older brother’s house and visit for an hour or two and change my strings on the gold guitar. By the way, I change strings on my main guitar, the gold one, every gig without fail. It’s rare when I only do a short gig, say maybe 30 minutes or so, and I then use those same strings for the next show cuz’ most likely the strings still have some life in them but those events are few and far between. It’s one of my quotidian errands that I do while on the road; changing strings. The back-up guitar, the Ice Blue, will normally get about 2 changes every 5 gigs, depending on how much it’s played. There are times 1 set of strings lasts the whole week. I guess right here I should give out a shout to GHS strings for being my string company and keeping me strung up for the last 21 years. They were the first real company to step up and give me an endorsement and they’ve been with me all these years with unwavering support. Strings only have to last 2 plus hours with me. After that they’re always replaced. Of course when I’m at home just practicing around the house I put a lot more hours than that on them but my practice is not ‘battle conditions’. You only have to see me once to know that I can be very hard on strings during a performance. Thank you GHS for being in the trenches with me!
Tonight’s crowd is our best crowd yet at the Rusty Nail and it’s gratifying to see a slow uptick in the audience size here in Wilmington. Of course it goes without saying the efforts that my older brother has invested in me with his endeavor in bringing me to Wilmington. He took the further entrepreneurial step of purchasing radio ads for the show and you can’t argue with the results. Way to go Bro’!
I throw in a couple of jazz-fusion songs from my past, requested songs from Bart, (family does have its certain privileges), and though I haven’t played these songs in a while, my group is adroit enough with them so that the ride is a fun one. I’m still trying to stretch out and expand on my abilities so I can dial in some of the songs that are still new to me. The development of their storyline is at the moment an ongoing process. I wish I could be brilliant and come up with perfectly executed ideas but that just doesn’t happen for me. There are always drafts, always edits and always re-writes until the time I land on one that happens to click well with me. It’s painful at times to listen back to some shows during this process because I can hear the stumbling around and the misapplications of ideas. But when it comes out it’s pretty cool. While listening to these shows I can perfectly recall how I felt at their exact moment. Be it good or bad, it never goes away. The neural connection is still strong inside me and it takes years and probably decades for those synapses to fade from an almost tactile feeling in my consciousness. They are always there.
This is a good end to our 3-day run in North Carolina. From my shaky and rusty beginnings at the start, to being back close to ‘playing’ form. This is why I want to play every day out on the road. I can practice, practice and practice but you have to get out there and apply yourself. At least that’s how I operate and I’ll never take my audience, no matter how big or small, for granted. You get all of me every time I hit the stage. That’s a promise.
See you out there on the road.