I was the night watchman in a hotel and that’s where I met my friend John who was the hotel night auditor. He heard me tapping a pencil on the desk where I wrote my security guard notes and asked me if I played drums. He played bass and was looking for somebody to play with to get together with a pretty incredible guitarist he had recently met. The fact is that we were both new players. I had recently gotten my first set of drums from a guy who kicked them off the stage, Keith Moon style at the cat’s cradle at the end of his last gig with a band called Enormous boy , this same drummer, Tom Maxwell went on to play in several other bands before writing a hit song with his band the Squirrel nut zippers later on. So the drums were already infused with the spirit of rock and roll. I had started playing the best music one can play when first learning the drums—Punk—but I wanted to learn other styles and so spent a lot of time listening to the blues and jazz and classic rock. My friend John was into a lot of the same stuff but spent a lot of time listening to Frank Zappa and Traffic and would sometimes pick me up to make the long drive to the Raleigh music store and we would laugh our stoned asses off listening to Firesign Theatre tapes he had. He introduced me to the guitarist named Brad who had recently blown into town like so many others in Chapel Hill—in tow of a spouse who decided to go to graduate school at UNC. He had been living in New Orleans and making some kind of living playing guitar there. Not knowing anybody in Chapel Hill he ended up getting John and I into his studio to be his rhythm section. Brad had been getting some money by giving lessons to people---such as a friend of mine who never returned after the first lesson, due to the fact that Brad played with a testicle hanging out of his shorts during their time together which might have been forgivable if he didn’t also tend to come across like a pretentious dick. Despite that , the guy had skills and came across like Clapton at his electric best and had been living and soaking in the New Orleans music culture for many years. It was there he said that he learned from his teacher Robert Lockwood Junior—aka Robert Junior Lockwood, who learned and played delta blues with Robert Johnson. I always doubted Brad’s story and last weekend while futzing around the house alone I looked up his name on Wikipedia and there was the story of Robert Lockwood.( I need to find something by him and give a listen finally as I now realize my experience with Brad puts me at 4 degrees of separation from Robert Johnson.) All that aside, Brad fired John and I from his band after enlisting the help of a singer who looked like Kenny G and had even more attitude than Brad. There are some old unlistenable practice tapes buried somewhere that are the testament to the oddness that was The Pirate Orchestra. They were not willing to grow as a band and the truth is they were looking for professionals to make a living with right away. This on the surface would look like a great option in a town like Chapel Hill in the late 1980’s that had a very active music scene. But the truth is that it was very much a garage band scene. Everybody who went to see bands at the club were there to support a friend in that band because that same friend supported their band when they got to play out. And so later in true classic Chapel Hill style --John married his girlfriend and moved to Chicago when she graduated --- Brad pretty much did the same thing---but I have no idea where he ended up. It would be a shame if he weren’t still playing. Not long after all of this I had kind of moved on from the blues anyway. It can be a musical purgatory of sorts to be stuck playing drums in a blues band anyway. This memory welled up in me after spending a quiet afternoon listening to the Robert Johnson collection. A rare quiet day full of near total peace. My wife out of town and the weather cool enough to open windows and turn the A/C off--- The only sound was the fan blowing air and insects outside. Rare for August in these parts. This is the perfect setting for listening to Robert Johnson. His music is so intimate. In this setting it’s just me , Robert Johnson and his guitar. I first really listened to Robert Johnson years before sitting up late with my old house mate Doug. He would point out how you could hear the fear in the man’s voice as it wavered in the song “Hellhound on my trail.” We supposed it was mortal fear that came to the man for making his deal with the devil down at the crossroads at midnight. What can be said about the man that hasn’t already been said? For every song that starts with the words “I woke up this morning…” the writer may rest in the knowledge that Robert Johnson was more than likely the first who woke up one morning and wrote this song---feel free to go back to sleep and try again. He is a blues template for so much that followed. There is an intimacy in his music, which is kind of a sacred thing. It takes a lot of paying attention. Or what I’m trying to say---Milli Vanilli for example---busted “live” on stage during their routine when the cd they were lip syncing to started skipping--- And the most fascinating thing that I heard reported was that the crowd in attendance mostly didn’t mind and kept on rocking out to the show until the frustrated / flummoxed performers stormed off stage---and they were grilled and ridiculed in the media for their lack of authenticity like a bad puppet show, which to their credit they basically admitted they were. And don’t forget that the un-credited singer on the albums decided to step forward and identify himself and try to get his 15 minutes before the spot light went out on this industry created train wreck. Ironically, and even more hilariously--- they later went on to tell their story in the famous VH-1 behind the music series, best story in the series in my opinion. ---To be sure though—Robert Johnson is the opposite of that. My intimate moment with him happened in the solitude of my house—alone with my thoughts, and the sound of Robert Johnson’s voice, a great communion between performer and listener. I remembered that I have seen musicians stop playing because they didn’t like the way the audience was behaving. It is as frustrating not being listened to in a musical conversation as it is in a regular conversation. This is different from performance in a way, which can be more of a spectacle which doesn’t necessarily have the same intimate feel ---nor is it supposed to. My favorite conversations ,verbal or musical have all had a moment of mutual appreciation and understanding that felt like magic. It might be a simple chord change or change in rhythm that turns the participants around at once and locks it all together. I felt that listening to Robert Johnson in my quiet house and have been processing it for the whole last week, trying to make sense of my own need for silence and how well this can be supplemented by the sound of music that is able to somehow amplify the silence, and provide a meditative focal point that is such a rare quality in music and conversation within this noisy world. Robert Johnson is not the music I would put on at a party. It reaches out in a personal way and I think is best enjoyed alone. He only left 41 recorded songs behind and an indelible legacy that defines American music. I’m happy I took the time to stop and enjoy the blues again, it’s nice to revisit a friendly memory.