Some twenty years ago, there was a rough-looking man who used to frequent the Mississippi bars where I once made my living playing music in acoustic duos and trios. I remember him because he always stood in the back and applauded enthusiastically. He would even shout out words of encouragement in between requests. I remember that he liked the Allman Brothers and wished we would play more of their songs.
It is likely that I first met him in 1991. But I didn’t know anything about him until 1993. That was when my singer pointed him out and said he was a heroin addict who was slowly killing himself with his addiction. She said it was a shame that he so rarely made it out anymore. She claimed that he was the best singer she had ever heard. But I had never heard him sing. I only heard him say nice things to the people who sang for him.
One night in July of 1993, I was setting up to play for the very last time in the bar where I had played my first professional gig. The heroin addict with the hidden talent showed up and started drinking before we even started playing. I told him I was going to invite him up to the stage to sing a song before the night was over. He kept drinking and I kept my promise. I’m glad I did.
When he came up and sat down next to me on stage, I started playing my favorite Allman Brothers tune. It was called “Melissa.” He sang it so well I wished the song never would have ended. Then I asked him what he felt like singing. He said he wanted to sing a song called “Please Come to Boston,” by Dave Loggins. But he sang it more like David Allan Coe, which made sense. He looked a lot like David Allan Coe. He had been living a rough life.
When he started to step off stage, a young girl I’d never seen before – she could not have been more than 18 – asked him if he would sing “The Dance,” by Garth Brooks. Neither of us liked the new country music. But we both agreed we loved that song. We probably would not have confessed knowing the song if it wasn’t for George Dickel. So we played the song for the girl.
Before we finished, the young girl had buried her head in her hands as she sobbed uncontrollably. When we stepped off stage, her friend came up to us and thanked us both. She told us the song was the girl’s favorite. Her dad used to love it, too. But he died of cancer just two weeks earlier.