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In My Life

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Author’s note: This column is a continuation of my previous column, “The Dance.” All past columns can be accessed by clicking on the link to my archive. That’s what an archive does. It preserves nearly all of my sarcasm for future generations.

That Takamine guitar just sat in the corner of my closet for three years. The bag of Lee Oscar harmonicas sat right next to it collecting dust. Then, one day during the late summer of 1996, I got a phone call from my old friend Harry Wilson. He wanted me to fly out to Columbus, Mississippi – my place of birth – to play in his wedding. The song choice was a no-brainer. It was Harry’s favorite Beatles tune In My Life. It was the one he wanted me to play - and wanted Shannon Ruscoe to sing - at his funeral. Harry always thought we would outlive him. In college, we made sure we practiced playing In My Life at least once a week. We never knew when Harry might go.

I flew out to Nashville and played the song a couple of times with Shannon before we hopped in his truck and headed down the Natchez Trace towards Columbus. The pastor ended up banning our Beatles cover from the service. I guess he was still mad at John Lennon for saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. So we just played something else instead. It was a good time. It was good to be at home with old friends.

It would be three more years before the phone rang with another wedding song request. Chris was getting married in Wilmington. I was living in Chapel Hill. He wanted one of our mutual friends to sing at his wedding. The song, The Power of Two, by the Indigo Girls, was a little more than the singer could handle on his own. He played guitar but did not have that much confidence. So I played as he sang for Chris and his bride. I always loved playing at weddings because the people were always so happy and even the drunks were on their best behavior.

Four years later, I was asked to play at the rehearsal dinner of my own wedding. It was one thing to re-learn an old song for a wedding. But playing for a couple of hours seemed like such a greater challenge. Shannon flew out from Nashville to spend the whole week before the wedding so we could practice all the old songs. That’s the beauty of living at the beach. People always want to visit and they will stay as long as you let them. The ocean breeds flexibility.

Jeff Cummings drove over from Charlotte to join us the night before the wedding. It was just like old times. The trio had a mixture of two guitars and two strong voices. The one who didn’t play guitar shook a tambourine. The one who didn’t sing played his Lee Oscars. The wedding rehearsal gig went off nicely and we all went out to the beach bars afterwards.

Despite the fun we had, that guitar would just go back into the bedroom closet for another six years. Then, the day after Christmas of 2009, something strange happened. I was shopping at Best Buy with my brother David. He was showing my nephew Kevin some camera equipment he wanted to purchase for his recently rekindled interest in photography. It had been nearly three decades since I saw him with a camera. But suddenly he was diving head first back into his old hobby – something he had once considered doing for a living.

Later that afternoon, I headed from the Woodlands down to Clear Lake City. It was the place where I grew up, or at least tried to grow up. I was going to visit my old friend Terry Cohn. I picked up my oldest friend in the world, Jim Duke, on the way to Terry’s house. I had not seen Terry in years.

When we got there, Terry had to show me his new pride and joy. It was a vintage 1953 white guard Telecaster replica built by Big Tex guitars. Big Tex has made about a dozen guitars for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. The Telecaster felt great in my hands and so I hardly noticed when Terry rolled out a vintage Fender tube amp. It was an old 1964 Fender Princeton Reverb fully restored. Terry had two of them and a 1965 Fender Deluxe Reverb. Actually he had more than that. He had more old restored guitars and amps than I could count. We played for a while and then went out to meet some old friends. Most of our friends were also old 1960s models but not all of them had been fully restored. While we were out I almost wished I was back at Terry’s playing that old Telecaster.

Even after I went back to North Carolina, I could hardly get that sound of that guitar out of my mind. In fact, it must have been stuck in my head for at least four months. That was when I walked into a music store and saw her. She was a vintage ‘52 black guard American-made Fender Telecaster. It was one of those moments in life that you can never forget. It was like seeing your future wife for the first time. You can’t be assured it will last forever. You can only hope. But you know you have to have her now. You’ll find some way to get her even if she’s a little bit over your budget.

Fifteen minutes later, I walked out of that store with the ’52 Fender Telecaster and tweed case in hand. I play that guitar almost every time I have writer’s block. In fact, I’m about to go play it now. I have a heroin addict and an old friend I need to bring back into the story. I need some inspiration and I’m hoping you need some, too.

… To be continued

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