When the time came for Career Day this past spring at my wife’s elementary school in Phoenix, I cleared my evening, planning to come in with notebooks, press badges, and journalism stories like I had the year prior. Then, the school had brought in a handful of professionals, many of them parents, to answer questions about our respective fields to some of the older grade levels in the school.
But this year, my wife had another idea.
‘Why don’t you bring your guitar, and talk about music?’ she asked. I thought about it for a while; I don’t consider myself enough of a professional player to hold court and give tips to others. But, on the other hand, why not? No one is there to critique my solo skills – it would be elementary kids who see a guitar and think how cool it would be to play an instrument. Okay, I thought. I’m in.
Music is a huge part of my life. One of the biggest, especially since I picked up a six-string acoustic, and surprise serenaded my wife of two hours at our wedding reception three years ago. Now, a formal guitar player – of both acoustic singer/songwriter, and electric blues varieties – everything I do plays out like a song. If it doesn’t chances are I’m playing one in my head at that moment to make up for it.
Whether it comes to words written on the page, or notes played off the scale, it comes down to how the music makes you feel. The way your music – what comes out of your mouth and your instrument – has the potential to move someone else. That is why we do it. And if that music, that passion you create, moves someone else to try it themselves, you can know you have truly reached someone else – in the most profound way possible.
So I went to Career Day at the school in the evening, and as I set up in a certain classroom, the school came alive, with students, siblings and parents rotating through the classrooms, asking questions and learning about these adults, and their hobbies or careers – what they love doing, and why. I did my best to light up the kids’ faces, get them interested in music. Not guitar, necessarily – music. Playing something, and practicing, growing that passion in themselves, the way hearing others instilled and grew that same passion in me not so long ago. I hope I got through to some of them.
Three years earlier, when I was still learning in secret – while my wife was still my fiancée, and I was keeping my new guitar skills quiet for the big wedding-day surprise – I started attending a blues jam session in Glendale, known as “Tuesday Bluesday” by its patrons. Right away, I was floored. Everyone was so passionate, so soulful in their playing and singing when they went up on stage. They were regular people, and I sat with them before and after their sets, and talked with them, learning all I could about blues music, then going home and looking up the names they wrote down for me.
I knew, I KNEW, that once my secret was revealed, it would be my goal to go up there, to join them. The music they played was so emotional, not to mention everyone there was so welcoming, and patient with newcomers… I would be in good hands. So I did – after the surprise, I started going up with them, jamming alongside them, and learning so much from them all. They welcomed me with open arms, and I thank them every day for it still.
But the emotion that they – that we – leave on stage every week, was given to us by others. No matter who gave us that fire, it burns in us, a passion for music. I got that passion to want to play – to want to pass that music on to others, to make others feel something they never knew they had in them – from blues legends my jam session friends told me about. Like the icon, the legend, B.B. King.
Barely a week after the Career Day this past spring, the music community lost a legend. Blues icon, Riley “B.B.” King, passed away, after a long history of health issues. The last few months were not easy for devoted fans and followers; it was an ending many knew was coming, but it made it that much more devastating.
I had the gift of being in the same room with BB King, my inspiration, only once. I saw him in Chandler, AZ when he came to town. I made the drive, loved every minute of not only his inspired playing, but his humor onstage, and rapport with his band mates. I felt honored to be there. I heard from a person sitting next to me, sometimes he came down after the show to socialize and shake hands in the bar downstairs. I sat at the bar afterward, while King’s drummer sat at a nearby table, sharing drinks with some friends who attended the concert, as I waited to say hello.
Wondering what I would say… wondering what anyone could even say. I sat there. For three hours. At which point, I asked the drummer, ‘…He’s not still here, is he…” No, he said, he’s probably been in bed for a long time. I drove home. I never got to tell him.
Well, if you are still reading, thank you for putting up with my rambling. This means more to me than you know, and I just had to say it all. This man meant more to me than anyone can know. He helped me begin my journey, into this new part of my life, where I can express myself in brand-new ways. I can reach younger people, get them excited in music, get them to want to express themselves, too.
Sir, I never got to meet you, but those close to me and my family will always know how you, the man named “Riley” changed my life.
I hope I got through to the kids at Career Day – because you got through to me. Thank you.
Credit - Mojo Lens Photography