A Toast to Old Friends and Mercedes Benz

There’s a batch of cherished pictures on my office wall. Most of them are no big deal, artistically, although there’s a noirish Bert Hardy shot that is like a still from a documentary based on Graham Greene and John Le Carre.

But the best picture, artistically and topically, is one that arrived totally unexpectedly as a Christmas gift a few years ago. You may have seen it, though it’s not as famous as it ought to be. Most of the picture is black space. At top center is a single spotlight and as you follow the line of light, you come to the bottom left hand corner and suddenly confronted by Ray Charles, his head thrown back with one of his great laughs on his face. There’s no visible microphone, let alone a piano. It’s just Ray, in his glory, dominating from below.

Dick Waterman took that picture. He sent it to me a few Christmases ago, totally unexpectedly, and if I’ve thanked him for it, it wasn’t — couldn’t be–enough. He’s a fantastic photographer, and his book, Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive, ranks with Ernest Withers for pure fascination and insight into the music and the musicians and singers. (The Ray Charles picture is in it.) Every day, though, I look at that picture he sent me and think of two great men: Ray Charles, who I had the pleasure of meeting on a few occasions, and Dick Waterman, a friend with whom I have had many long talks, and from whom I’ve learned much about blues and several other things. We’ve  even jousted together at a windmill or two, sometimes successfully.

You want to walk into work in the morning and be inspired. I sit down with Ray at my back, because the light would be wrong if it were in front of me, and he and Dick have taken care of the day’s first task.

I didn’t know until Chico Harris’s daily ••<(o)∆(o)>::AFFLATUS::<(o)∆(o)>••  e-newsletter pulled my coat to it that Dick was doing a blog. (Afflatus has some of the finest story-telling in my world, Chico shares my affinity for the Yankees [after the Tigers for me, but what are the odds?], Springsteen and dogs, and Afflatus also keeps me up to date on all worthwhile things in Oxford, Mississippi. It’s a mailing list, so I can’t link to it. You need to know somebody in Mississippi–if you don’t, there’s a worthwhile project in itself. Within limits.)

Dick has lived a long time in Oxford, and I sometimes get to see his columns from the paper there,. The blog is an assortment of riches. The blog has the best Father’s Day story I’ve read since… well, actually since his one about Father’s Day in ’63, which involved finally locating Son House, and driving hell bent from Mississippi to Rochester as Jim Bunning pitching a perfect game on the radio, then stopping for a break and calling home to his fahter, who told him of the murders of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. This year’s Father’s Day tale is sweeter, though the end is bittersweet.

Dick not only helped re-discover Son House, he also played an important role in the late careers of other bluesmen, perhaps most notably Fred McDowell and Skip James. He worked for years with Bonnie Raitt.  He knows as much about country blues as anybody I’ve met, and has been around the music and the performers almost all his adult life. He’s also on my (ultra)short list of honest people I’ve met in the music business.

His latest column, about a Mercedes hot rod he owns, came along at a perfect time for me,  just as I was succumbing to the reality that my ’90 XJ6 was no longer fit for everyday use. It’s not as fast as Dick’s ’86 560 SL but it served me well for its entire life and when it goes, I shall find some way to salute it, even if it did break down on the Hudson Parkway about three hours before an Alejandro Escovedo show three weeks ago.  (I made it on time but that was thanks to a remarkably congenial AAA tow operator.)

So two noble lives, then, the car and the man, and the man even better than the vehicle.

The same cannot be said nearly often enough.

You can find Dick Waterman’s Music Photo blog here.

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One Response to “A Toast to Old Friends and Mercedes Benz”

  1. Dave says:

    Gerry,
    My sources for what? In this item, basically I’m relying on 40+ years of being a music critic/journalist/historian, a pile of old friendships, a stack of Jag repair bills and what I see when I get to work (at the far end of the hallway, as it happens) every morning.
    And sometimes, as today, well into the evening.
    but maybe you had something more specific in mind?

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