Art cuts an improbable figure as a bluesman. He’s a small, disheveled white guy with a startled expression. But when he plays guitar onstage, he cranes his neck and stares ahead with a hard look in his eyes, as if he’s a different man. Yet, Art’s a little glum about the state of the blues these days. He says, “Nobody plays blues with any real feeling anymore.”
This assertion makes a lot of people angry. It sounds absurd, even arrogant. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, of course. Though Art asked not to be identified in this story, for the last several months he’s been trying to give me an idea of what he’s talking about. That means on Monday afternoons we take a cab down the dead-empty course of 43rd Street and head to the Checkerboard Lounge. The neighborhood used to be known for its blues clubs, but the Checkerboard’s the only one left now. It’s bleak in the street, yet Art’s cheerful with anticipation. He says we’re on our way to see something that’s still good in the blues.
Monday afternoons bring out a lot of earnest young boys from the University of Chicago. There’s Good Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, and Jim, a sidetracked physics student, and handsome Martin, who plays in Johnny’s band.
But it’s not only U. of C. boys who come to the Checkerboard’s weekly open jam. Minuro and Sho are young Japanese entrepreneurs; Sho plays bass, and Minuro plays guitar. Thomas, a stocky German exchange student, comes in too. Some of the musicians returning from world tours say there are no blues fans like Japanese and European blues fans.
There are also plenty of locals around, including Smokey and the Black Lone Ranger. Smokey used to sing rhythm and blues. On Mondays he acts as the facilitator, passing around the tip jar and setting out sandwich meats and bread for the band.
Art’s reports about the death of the blues may be a bit exaggerated, but he knows it’s hyperbole. He claims blues took a wrong turn in recent decades, and his disappointment is shared by many of the young men here.
Harmonica Hinds has already gotten things started by the time we walk in. Rob is hidden behind the drums; Paul K. smiles and squints as he plays his guitar; and Dave Myers sits center stage, nodding and tapping his foot as he plays guitar too.
“Dave Myers is the one to watch,” Art advises in a low voice. He’s distracted by something Myers is doing on the guitar. “This might be a little different than the blues you’ve heard before,” he says, “with two guitars up there and no bass.” Art watches attentively. Ordinarily, he’s a vaguely nervous man, but there’s something relaxed, almost blissful, in his manner as he leans forward to listen. He smiles gently when he hears something he likes. His head waves a little, and he applauds with strange, irregular bursts of clapping. Then he looks at me and nods cheerfully, hoping I heard it.
Myers puts on his finger picks and begins playing in the “traditional” style. Art whispers across the table, “See, can you hear those little chimes he’s playing? Can you hear that? That’s the style I like. Nobody can play guitar like that anymore.”
Do you mean they can’t do it technically, or they just don’t?
“It would never occur to them to do it.”
Well, that seems a little strange. The room’s filled with young men who have brought their own instruments, and they’ve all come for the chance to listen and play with the great Dave Myers.
Myers used to play with Little Walter. He might be best known for playing bass, but on Mondays most of the boys come to hear him play guitar like this, in the traditional style, with picks on his fingers, making intricate little patterns that flatter the harp and do marvelous parts with a second guitar. Dave Myers is the only musician who meets everyone’s approval. The others disagree among themselves about who plays well and who doesn’t. Rockin’ Johnny is criticizing one of the other guys, saying he can’t stand the way the man plays. I just heard someone else praise the very same guy.
He doesn’t play well?
“He plays well,” Johnny tries to explain. “He doesn’t have any killer instinct. Do you know what I mean?”
Johnny’s getting a little frustrated. “You can read a person by how they play. Sometimes I can tell a person right off, by how they play.”
Do you think maybe you have to be a musician to hear it? To be able to read a person by their playing?
“No,” Johnny says adamantly, “you just have to listen real carefully.” Then he adds, “But most nonmusicians don’t listen all that carefully.”
I can vouch for that. At first I have a hard time distinguishing which guitar is which. I don’t tell Art, because I don’t want to discourage him from trying to make his point. I’m sure I’ll catch on eventually. Rockin’ Johnny says playing well is not just a matter of technical prowess–it’s a reflection of something essential in a man’s soul. If audiences respond to the blues because it touches something deep within them, Art’s complaint that no one can play it anymore begins to sound awfully grave. If he’s right, then that leaves a lot of people who can’t hear that something is missing.
It’s not universally accepted–not even among older blues musicians–that young men today can’t play the blues correctly. But Art’s not alone in saying it. A lot of the young men in the Checkerboard tonight will at least pay lip service to the notion.
Why would that happen? How could a whole generation of young men not be able to play blues with real feeling anymore?
“Well, is it really so strange?” Art asks. “Don’t all forms of music go through an ascent and a decline, and people move on to the next form? Wasn’t there a time when baroque music peaked, and then people weren’t doing baroque music anymore?”
So you think bluesmen have passed the torch, that the real feeling has passed on to the next form? To rock or rap or punk or whatever?
“I don’t know,” he says, reluctant to follow the point home. “I don’t listen to those things, so I wouldn’t know.”
In the 1920s, historian Paul Oliver notes, some folklorists watched the growing popularity of the blues with trepidation. “It was, they believed, detrimental to the survival of the other, and probably older, black folk idioms.” In the 1940s jazz fans slow to embrace the advent of bebop were written off as “moldy figs” by their contemporaries. In the 60s Charles Keil used the same epitaph to write off blues fans with unreasonable prejudices for blues styles before World War II. Art says, “I think that’s a little ridiculous, to draw the line at prewar styles. There were plenty of great bluesmen in the 50s and early 60s. On the other hand, I could understand someone not listening to contemporary blues.”
If the boys at the Checkerboard were folklorists, one might say they were carrying on a proud tradition. But it’s not as simple as that. They’re not armchair fools. Many are practicing musicians who’ve invested years in a sort of study-by-immersion in blues clubs and open-air markets across the city. The thing they do have in common with these fretful folklorists, however, is a strange nervousness about authenticity and real feeling in what is supposed to be a working people’s music. The complaint is not that the newer upstarts play with less skill, but that they’re somehow less real.
It’s a distinction worth pointing out because, even beyond the small circle of blues fans, the complaint is pervasive. The fear is that if you don’t watch out the thing that’s good and human in the people’s music will disappear, and you’ll be left listening to the empty, digitally recorded shadow of it, wondering where it went–or worse, not even noticing it left you behind at all.
Hand-wringing over the perversity of youth is not new, but it’s usually been relegated to elitists. Aren’t these complaints usually reserved for arguing about the disappearance of the classics from the schools and the substitution of egalitarianism for ideals of excellence? Isn’t it strange to hear these attentions turned toward a form of music that an awful lot of Americans have cherished because it welled up from the oppressed underclass? Who’s the source of the blues’ contamination now? Art’s detractors might say it’s the college-educated white guys who are trying to preserve it. But then it’s not as simple as that either.
Fernando Jones would reassure Art that the thing that made the blues vital is still with us. Jones is an active young black musician who takes great interest in the blues as an “indigenous African-American folk art.” In 1989 he wrote I Was There When the Blues Was Red Hot, a book that set out to be a history of Chicago blues but turned out to be something else–something quirky and entirely worth reading. Jones interviewed everybody. He interviewed people who play in subways and those who think the blues was better before rock ruined it. He interviewed people who believe blues is the black man’s birthright, and he quotes his own brother, who accuses him of not understanding what the blues is all about.
Art looks leery when I mention Fernando Jones. “You have to watch out for guys who write about the blues,” he says.
I phone Jones and ask him what he thinks of guys who say that nobody plays the blues with any real feeling anymore. He says, “How can that be true? What would that mean for young musicians now? . . . It is only natural that blues will evolve and get better with each generation. It’s like with transportation. When the automobile first came out, it took awhile for people to catch on to it. And when the electric guitar came out, it took awhile for people to catch on to that too–but look how much better the blues is for it now. It’s only natural that the young men of our generation would play circles around Robert Johnson.” Robert Johnson’s a tall man in the pantheon of blues musicians, so I’m a little confused by this last comment.
But Jones’s blues is a much more elastic medium than Art’s blues. In his book Jones talks about what he calls “BluesJazzFunkRoll.” The music is constantly changing because innovation marks the true artist and sets him apart from the mere musician. I ask Jones if an artist ever innovates so much that what he does is no longer the blues–it’s become something else. “Well, of course,” he says, but “anything that a black man sings is the blues.”
Jones shares Art’s distrust for people who discuss the state of the blues as if it’s a sociological problem–people who argue about what sort of social qualifications mark a real bluesman and what sort of conditions make for a real audience and what exactly is an authentic relationship between the two–but Jones is particularly suspicious, saying that white men’s arguing about authentic and unauthentic blues threatens to deny the black man his cultural inheritance and native gift. Jones says, “You can call it a tribute, or you can call it condescending, depending on how you feel that day.”
That’s not to say he’s unwilling to give the white fan a break. Jones thinks the blues can include just about everyone brash enough to make a claim to it. At the beginning of his book he writes, “I can recall being in the Checkerboard Lounge, on a particular Saturday night in 1986, when a White gentleman stepped on stage with a Chuck Berry style Gibson guitar. Some of the people in the audience, Blacks and Whites alike, heckled this guy, because he was not that good, to be perfectly honest. However, the thing that impressed me the most was the sincerity that this guy possessed.”
The Checkerboard’s not among the most elegant of nightclubs, but there’s gold wallpaper and mirrors on the walls behind the stage, giving the place a warm, even cozy feeling. There’s a string of white Christmas lights hanging above the musicians. Sometimes the lights blink to the beat of the band.
After the house band’s played a few numbers, Dave Myers calls up other musicians for their chance to play with the band. When Myers takes a break from the stage, he sits at a table in front and watches the young men play. He laughs and is enthusiastic in his praise.
German Thomas and Rockin’ Johnny take up the guitars. Thomas has a flamboyant modern style that can pretty much only allow stinging solos, and he obliges the necessity by playing one stinging solo after another. I know Art hates the way Thomas plays. His style is too obvious. So I’m surprised to hear Dave Myers say, “I love to watch him play. Just look at him, look how much he loves it! I just love to watch that boy play!” At first I think he must be talking about Rockin’ Johnny, who’s generally recognized as an exceptional guitar player. I have heard people say that in the end Chicago will be too small to hold Rockin’ Johnny. But it turns out Myers is talking about the obvious German. “You know, he says tonight is his last night, he has to go back to Germany. He says, “I love it here! I don’t want to go back to Germany!’ He says, “I’m going to come back as soon as I can so I can play here with you again.”‘ Myers laughs and beams at the stage.
I tell him that a lot of the guys say nobody can play guitar the way he does anymore.
Myers throws his head back and laughs, like I’m the most shameless flatterer he’s ever heard. Then he looks at me solemnly and says, “That is true.”
One Monday Jimmie Lee Robinson sits talking to the Black Lone Ranger. Jimmie Lee’s known for his clean living and enthusiasm for philosophizing. When he starts expounding on why we live in a criminal age or about our relationship to the waters of the earth, his ideas can seem pretty impenetrable. But Jimmie Lee sometimes has a lovely way of talking.
Ask Jimmie Lee how he got his name, or how he came to play the blues, or how he got a style so distinctively his own, and the answer will be the same. “My mother was in love with a man named Jimmie Lee Lane. He was a bluesman and a piano player–and he died at the piano. As he died, his last words were, “Let the piano roll.’ Now when my mother was pregnant with me, the sound of his music was deep within her soul. And when I was deep within her womb, her sighs and her desires impressed upon me what he was. . . . My sound is from Jimmie Lee Lane. I have no choice–whether I like it or don’t like it.”
Jimmie Lee maintains the music’s imprinted on his soul, and there are lots of stories about bluesmen and their souls. Some claim certain bluesmen came to play the way they played because they sold their souls to the devil. Tommy Johnson supposedly did that. And Robert Johnson too. Author Peter Guralnick relates the story told by Son House: “We’d all play for the Saturday night balls, and there’d be this little boy standing around. That was Robert Johnson. He blew a harmonica then, and he was pretty good with that, but he wanted to play a guitar. His mother and stepfather didn’t like for him to go out to these Saturday night balls because the guys were so rough. But he’d slip away anyway.” Son House said Johnson would sit at the musicians’ feet and play during breaks. “And such another racket you’d never heard. It’d make the people mad, you know.” Then Johnson went away for a while, and when he returned they let him play again on a bet. “So he sat down there and finally got started. And man! He was so good. When he finished all our mouths were standing open. I said, “Well, ain’t that fast! He’s gone now!”‘ Legend has it that Johnson didn’t improve so fast without any help. In the six months he was away, he went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil, and that’s how he came to play the way he did.
Blues lyrics abound with references to the devil and to souls, to voodoo and mojos, and to other matters of the supernatural. And people who chronicle the blues like to focus on those topics too. Maybe it’s the power of the music that encourages them to look in this direction. As Paul K. puts it, “The blues are so simple, there are so few notes involved. Anybody can learn to play it. But then why is there such a huge difference when someone like a Magic Slim plays those notes? And then somebody else will take up that same song and there will be nothing in it at all?”
Maybe it’s the music’s mysterious origins that lead people to talk so much about what’s “genuine” blues. As often as not, this talk tends toward sociological observations, and especially toward matters of race. Even the New York Times wondered recently whether it’s really blues if white people play it. But the author who bangs about, trying to put his finger on just what it is that makes the music vibrant and human can’t help but sound patronizing. But there’s something poignant about his bluster too, as he looks in all the wrong places, as he seems convinced that the music comes from elsewhere. Whatever the state of the bluesman’s soul, there’s something sad hovering in the enthusiast’s speculation about it. There’s an unspoken nervousness, like he isn’t sure he personally has a soul at all.
And so the white fan will wonder if the blues he hears in a north-side club is really authentic. If he’s new to the city, he’ll ask you where to find “real” blues–he has some vague idea of a club that’s not on North Halsted, not packed with other people like himself. These feelings of inadequacy are rampant. Authors like Robert Palmer wonder breathlessly if it was Muddy Waters’s functional illiteracy that made him so profound, as a musician and as a man, by forcing him to be more subtle, more careful, and a closer listener than other men.
When Charles Keil wrote his book Urban Blues in the 60s, he placed heavy sociological emphasis on the setting of the performance and on the interaction between the performer and the audience. He also placed himself in the middle, sitting at the feet of blues greats, spending hours with them in their dressing rooms, trying to absorb their experience. Twenty-five years later, when Keil wrote the afterword, his first sentence was, “I am white.” Was he answering the only question he was ever asked about the book? Was it a confession or an apology?
It’s this tendency to drown out the music with social theorizing and political posturing that Art’s always trying to warn me about. But Dave Myers tends to be more charitable about the matter. He recalls, “I used to go to colleges, and they’d ask me, ‘How come you got soul and I don’t?’ I say, ‘You never have to live like me. You can’t take mine.'” One white student asked him what exactly is soul and how could he tell if he had it. Myers couldn’t help but be vague. “I said, ‘Well, with life it’s many things. Whatever arouses you, unpleasures, the way you get your unpleasures, whatever–that’s soul.” The student jumped up and exclaimed, “Then I got soul!” Myers laughs. “‘You have it,’ I said. ‘Definitely you do have it!'”
Rockin’ Johnny asks what Dave Myers has been talking to me about.
“He said I had better get married soon or I’ll spoil.”
Johnny looks nonplussed. “He probably says that to all the young women.” Then he smiles and adds, “Well, if Dave Myers said it, it was probably worth listening to. I haven’t been coming here every week for six months for nothing.”
Almost all the young musicians are here to learn at the feet of Dave Myers. It’s part of a time-honored tradition: blues musicians pass their trade on to other musicians. The novice learns not just by listening to records and watching the pros play, but by actually joining them up onstage. That’s the purpose behind the Monday afternoon sessions at the Checkerboard. Dave Myers is very clear about his function. “I come here for them, for the young men,” he says. “I don’t get paid for this. Harmonica Hinds calls me up every week to be sure I’m here, and I come to be here for them. That’s what it’s all about.”
The practice of allowing anyone to play is not limited to officially designated jam sessions. It’s almost considered standard courtesy, even at some of the more formal shows. As the night starts getting late, the call goes out for other musicians in the house–regardless of their skill–to join the band. Failing to call up a fellow musician at your show might actually offend the man, particularly if you’ve noticed others and called on them. But you can usually count on the audience to point out anyone you may have missed.
The flip side of this generosity is an apparent lack of discrimination that sometimes frustrates the younger musicians. “European promoters will specify that they want a musician to bring specific people in his band, or at least specify that their audience doesn’t want to see any whites,” Art says. “And the older black musicians often really resent that attitude. You can understand why. On the other hand, it is true sometimes even the best musicians seem willing to play with virtually anybody, no matter how well they play.”
Older musicians will keep to themselves whether they enjoy everything they hear. Even if they compliment someone on his playing, you can never be sure they enjoyed it. Art marvels that the musicians he most admires often seem so undiscriminating. “You’d think if they chose to play one way they’d be conscious of having chosen not to play another way. You’d think they’d be more critical of what they do not like.”
Steve Cushing tends to suspect that a lot of the benevolent elders are not as undiscriminating as they appear. Cushing hosts the WBEZ show Blues Before Sunrise, which focuses on traditional styles of blues. He tells the story of a well-known black bluesman who filled his band with white musicians. The band did well. The musicians enjoyed playing with him, and he apparently enjoyed playing with them. Then one night he got drunk and let them know what he really thought of their playing. The band broke up mid-tour.
So you think Dave Myers doesn’t really love to hear the young men play?
“I don’t go out of my way to play in front of Dave Myers,” Steve says.
The last man to take the stage this Monday is the Black Lone Ranger. Who is the Black Lone Ranger? That’s a favorite question around here, partially because there’s no answer. “Well. What do you want me to say?” Dave Myers responds slowly. “He’s just this guy who likes to dress up like the Lone Ranger.” There’s a picture on the wall of the Black Lone Ranger in younger days, with pistols on his hips. I’ve heard stories about the Black Lone Ranger making appearances at suburban clubs that quickly attract plainclothes policemen. Up in front of the stage he sings a wild version of “I’m a Man.” His full act involves pistol-spinning and an acrobatic chair straddle, but tonight he pours everything into the song. The Black Lone Ranger’s heart may be all there, but the voice puts a pained little smile on Art’s face. Dave Myers is wearing the same cipher’s smile he’s worn all night.
If Rockin’ Johnny’s not afflicted with a crisis of confidence in the state of his soul, it may be because he has great faith in the educational process. One afternoon he tries to explain just what kind of education he’s getting spending all his time in clubs on the south and west sides. He tries to explain the difference between the music kids learn from studying their Stevie Ray Vaughn records and the music that a bluesman plays in a club when he’s trying to please an audience–that audience will let him know what they think. Johnny says the difference is between music that comes from the top down and music that comes up from the grass roots, likening it to the distinction between literate culture and oral culture. “Would you read a book if I lent it to you?”
Sure. What’s it called?
“Orality and Literacy,” he says a little sheepishly.
Scrounging around through stacks of old papers in his room, Johnny finds clippings of a few articles he’s written about blues for the Grey City Journal. He particularly wants me to see the one he wrote when Taildragger shot Boston Blackie. He says it will give me an idea of what it’s like to hang out on the west side. But he can’t find it. “Oh no, I must have given all my copies away. Oh no, oh no.” Sorting through books and sifting through scraps, Johnny manages to piece the story together from a bunch of old photocopies. “OK, this is my only copy. You have to give it back.”
The article relates Johnny’s travels with Taildragger and Taildragger’s ties to Boston Blackie. When Taildragger hired Johnny to play in his band, Boston Blackie complained, “Why do you use a white man to play in a black neighborhood? Why don’t you give the job to a black man so he can make some money.” Taildragger ignored these taunts because there was already bad blood between him and Boston Blackie. They both played at the Delta Fish Market until Blackie was banned for supposedly pulling a knife on an employee. Taildragger simply told him, “I hire whosoever I can get along with, motherfucker.”
Although Johnny’s relationship with Taildragger had its ups and downs, he says he grew to love his mentor. “You had to,” he explains. “After he’d tried your patience by getting drunk and never wanting to stop singing and driving you like a slave, you had to either love him or quit.”
Johnny witnessed the growing tension between Taildragger and Boston Blackie, but he was bewildered when he learned of the shooting. It made him stop and wonder what he was doing on the west side.
Johnny finds a dog-eared copy of Me and Big Joe and hands that over to me too. When I get ready to leave he says, “OK, give it back to me on Monday.” And then as I walk out the door he calls after me, a little severely so I’ll know he means it, “Don’t fuck up now.”
Me and Big Joe is written by Michael Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, or, as Art describes him, another great and troubled bluesman from Hyde Park. It’s his account of the days when R & B bandleader Big Joe Williams “took him around.” Williams brought Bloomfield to clubs and introduced him to other bluesmen, and generally sought to further his education in the ways of the world. First Big Joe had taken him around Chicago. And then they hit the road to see some of Big Joe’s people in Saint Louis. It was a sweltering, queasy, miserable trip. Big Joe got drunk right away, stayed drunk, and played the tyrant.
In the end Bloomfield and a fellow white guy named George were so fed up they decided to head back home to Chicago. Big Joe refused to go with them. So they left him there–or they started to. Then they looked back at the man, standing solitary in the dirt road, fumbling with his equipment, and they thought, “We can’t leave him there.” Big Joe had stature, and even if he was difficult he was still the blues singer. As Bloomfield puts it, “To know this man was to know the story of black America, and maybe to know the story of black America is to know America itself.”
So they went back for him, but Big Joe would not have them back. He told them, “You go on back to Chicago. You don’t belong here. But I want to stay with my people awhile longer.” Bloomfield admits it is true. They had thought they could learn to swim in Big Joe’s world, but it wasn’t in them. “I was a stranger in a strange land, and it was nobody’s fault but my own.”
Back in Chicago a reconciliation took place in Big Joe’s basement apartment, when Bloomfield was pressed to play his guitar. “And I did. There was no way I couldn’t. Joe’s world wasn’t my world, but his music was . . . so playing on was all I could do, and I did it the best I was able. And the music I played, I knew where it came from; and there was not any way I’d forget.”
Johnny says, “Sometimes I think Orwell was right in 1984 when he said if there’s any hope at all it comes from the proles. I think that’s right for the future of blues. The only thing that will keep it alive is the community–and that’s the only way to learn it. You learn it from the community. You learn it from playing at the Checkerboard, or at the 5105.”
But the proles are listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn records. And you guys at the Checkerboard on Mondays aren’t proles.
“Yes, I know. I know. We’re an elite, from the U. of C. That’s the paradox.”
If his deference to paradox sounds a little like a cop-out, consider that for Good Rockin’ Johnny and Art and their peers the question of real feeling and who has it isn’t primarily a social question–it always comes back to aesthetics.
Steve Cushing responds pretty much the same way.
If blues gets its strength from being a folk music, why can’t the folk be trusted to recognize–or play–it anymore?
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Cushing says. “That’s all very interesting. But I can’t answer your question. I don’t know why these things are the way they are, and I don’t know why I prefer the style of blues I do. I just know what I like.”
Dave Myers doesn’t play much around town these days. No one can say why, though people suggest different answers. Some say he commands too high a rate. Others say his traditional style of playing is too subtle for North Halsted. And some say he no longer has the contacts that get a man gigs.
The question is particularly disturbing to the boys at the Checkerboard. On a recent Monday, Myers is sitting at one of the long tables in front, watching Rockin’ Johnny and Paul K. play. He’s surrounded by attentive young men. Jim, with his permanently crooked glasses, leans forward across the table. Martin looks smart in a black felt hat with little red feathers tucked neatly in the band. Sho, German Thomas, and some shy newcomers to the scene are all trying to hear what he’s saying from the next table. They pepper Myers with questions, and eventually the conversation turns to Myers’s strange absence from the current club scene.
Myers says that he taught the younger generation of Chicago bluesmen how to play–he called them all up to share the stage like he does with the young boys now. But once they’ve made it they will not return the favor. He could be in Buddy Guy’s club, talking to Buddy. There could be backslapping and a warm “How you doin’?” And then Buddy Guy will go onstage and will not call Dave Myers up to play with him.
Jim is incredulous. “You mean he won’t call you up? Why?”
Martin interrupts to explain. “Because if you’re Buddy Guy up onstage, you’re not going to say to your crowd, “Thank you, thank you for the applause–now let me introduce you to the real shit.”‘
Myers says nothing, and the conversation moves on.
Whenever Art hears Myers talking about the younger generation, praising young musicians as he often does, he always asks, “Why? Why won’t Myers criticize the younger generation? Why doesn’t he just come out and say, ‘They can’t play for shit’?”
Once I thought I could find out what Dave Myers really thinks of the younger set by asking him why he doesn’t play much around town anymore.
Myers tried to explain it to me in his carefully vague and roundabout way. “These kids, they know, and they feel things through me. They look throughout the world, they think about my credibility. They can see it, and they know what a person deserves and what a person does. They have to deal with it, seeing that I don’t get recognized. They’re continually looking for the reason. A lot of ’em talk to me, want me to answer their questions. They want me to tell them why.
“I can’t tell them really what they want to know. Because I don’t feel that way. I love what I live. I love the little life I know. I don’t get nothing for it at the Checkerboard, for example, but I’m there for them. There’s a lot of love involved in what I do. No use for me to say something negative. That’s a waste of a thought.
“You can’t get a good answer. It’s just not the same.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Marc PoKemper.