For the Love of It – Music

This past Sunday afternoon Tricia and I went to see her brother play at a Blues jam session held at a place called Jesup Bay out in Oviedo, a few miles from my place. It was a beautiful afternoon, the parking lot was packed and a ring of motorcycles surrounded the entry way, where a few were enjoying the breezy sunshine and a smoke on the porch. Inside a two-sided stone fireplace marked the line between the restaurant in the front and the bar in the back where the jam session was noisily taking place. There were a number of familiar players that we’d seen at the regular jam sessions held most Friday nights at a dive bar on Semoran Blvd in Casselberry called Holly & Dolly’s. Tricia’s brother, Jack, had already played a set by the time we got there, but the line-up was pretty casual, so he jumped up to play when he felt like it, a few songs after we got there.

If you’ve never been to a Blues jam session, please dismiss the notion that this is some painful amateur hour of garage band rejects or some prima donnas with guitars who think that they’re the second coming of the Beatles. Generally they just show up, tell the organizer that they want to play, then come up front when they’re called. And while setting up someone would take the lead, sometimes just giving the drummer the beat and the key the song to the others, and then just roll through the songs on the spot. It can be interesting, like this past Sunday watching a bunch of white guys scream their way through “War” with proper syncopation and passion. The age range of this Sunday group was probably late twenties to fossilized. The friday night musicians tend to be on the older side of fifty and on more than one occasion I’ve seen a guy waddle up using a cane, sit behind the drum kit, shed thirty-years and shred through the set. And then when done, reach for the cane and shuffle back to his table and order a Bud to celebrate. I can’t imagine what these guys must have been in their prime because these white hairs can rip when they want to and sure as hell haven’t lost a step in their playing. It’s inspiring.

For me, I’ve been lucky enough to watch and play with some amazing musicians over my many years and watching these guys reminds me of how we used to dream about doing music full-time. Well, when my journey began it was all twisted up with notions of ministry and that added a whole other layer to an already overly complicated process of standing up in front of people and singing about things we were too afraid (and too ignorant) to talk about. I know with my secular brothers, the goal was usually a lot more direct and got no more meaningful than getting a pretty girl to smile at you. No one asked, why play music? It was pretty obvious, to get laid. Or in my case, to bring people to Jesus, which was pretty much the same thing… Right. Anyway, for most of us the “why music” question didn’t rear its ugly head until we were thinking about life after school. Hell, I wasn’t even done with school when I found myself in the work-a-day world and playing music became something to do on the side. Eventually even playing on the side would fade out of existence. I probably went over 15-years without playing music in public or with anyone else. I don’t imagine that my jam session buddies ever let the music fade to such an extent, especially given no noticeable fading of their skills that would be evident had they taken the break I’ve taken.

1981 - Seattle Tour - Coffee House gig photo by Joe Bustillos

1981 – Seattle Tour – Coffee House gig photo by Joe Bustillos

I guess when you’re young you don’t realize that you can’t do everything and that eventually life will try to force you to choose. It might be subtle, like how much time you’re going to spend with that pretty girl that smiled at you, versus how much time you’re going to spend practicing and gigging with your friends. And if you don’t make the sacrifice when you’re young and unattached, it’s going to be tough to keep it going because everyone wants you to settle down and there are bills to pay. I’m going to have to ask some of these white hair jam session warriors how many of them are retired pros and how many kept the music going as a hobby. Which ever answer, the draw to playing can’t be to get chicks or for whatever fee them might get from playing (my guess is that the bar MIGHT cover their beer tab) and it sure as hell isn’t because they want to get famous and land a recording contract. The question takes on a completely different meaning after 40: Why Music?

Well, you’d have to be pretty nonfunctional to not recognize that these guys are doing it because they love doing it. It’s the music, it’s being with their friends, it’s because they’re good at it and they live for it. Barring stupid-ass jokes about retirees and Florida, I have to say that I feel like I know where all the old musicians go when they’re done with the road… they spend their Friday nights, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons laying down the tunes and jamming for all their worth.

1981 - Seattle Tour - at the bus stop by Joe Bustillos

1981 – Seattle Tour – at the bus stop by Joe Bustillos

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