Back in the year 1990, I was performing in a duo with a woman named Janet Foos. (She played Keyboards and sang, and I played Guitar and sang.)
At one of our first gigs,we were playing in the Seattle/Tacoma area for a mostly white older crowd.(I don’t remember the venue, but I think it was some sort of Eagles lodge/Elks lodge etc)
Anyways—-seated way in the back, I saw a older black man sitting all by himself. He had on a classic “Porkpie Hat” and was dressed very much in the style of an “bluesman” from the south.
I noticed him not only because he was black, but because he was intently watching us and grinning from ear to ear, laughing at all our “banter”, and clapping vigorously whenever we finished our songs.
Upon noticing him, I brought it to the attention of my partner, and we decided to play a few songs specifically for him.
(Janet sang “Summertime”, I sang “You Don’t Know Me”, and we then played “Scrapple from the Apple” by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and we then ended our set.)
As soon as we finished our set, I walked over to talk to him.
When he saw me coming over, he smiled and said: “You kids are alllllllright.”
I thanked him, introduced myself and told him that I HAD to come over “Since he seemed to be enjoying our show so much.”
He then looked at my partner who was still on the stage and said “That your girlfriend?”
“Oh yeah” I said.
“She’s gooooood. Good lookin too! You a lucky maaaan.” I laughed and agreed.
“You good too. You both do a real nice job. Reeeeeal nice job.”
Naturally I thanked him!
“Well” I said in a slightly sarcastic tone, “You seem to be the only one who is really listening to our music and laughing at our jokes.”
He laughed “Oh yeah, I’m listenin to ya. I hear what you’re doin! Like I said, you some talented kids!”
He then asked me If he could buy me a drink. After the waitress had brought it to me, we both looked up the stage. Janet had just put on some break music, and as the music started, several couples rushed to the floor and started to dance.
As I watched them dance, I was struck by how “Off rhythm” their movements were, and so I said in a very scornful tone:
“Wow. How can these people dance like that?”
The old black man looked at me with a slight grin and said “Dance like what?
“You know—-“I continued,”So off the beat? I mean–LOOK at them!”
I then jumped up and started imitating the “off beat dancing” I was witnessing, snapping my fingers in between the beats and saying “One? One? Two—ONE?”
The old black man started laughing. “Yeah, they not so good when it comes to rhythm.”
I laughed and agreed “It’s embarrassing. ” I said. I then looked at him, rolled my eyes and said “WHITE PEOPLE.” and shook my head.
He laughed and then he said “Well, I tell you one thing they are good at tho. They laaaay some meeeeeeeeean plummmmminnn.”
I laughed, and saw his face was serious as he looked at me intently.
“Let me ask you something Brian——you know how to build a car?”
“Oh hell no!” I said laughing.
“Me neither! You know how to make an air conditioner?”
“Nope!” I laughed.
“Me NEITHAA. Just remember that if it weren’t for people like THEM, guys like YOU and ME would be wipin our ass with a leaf out in the woods.You know what I’m sayin man?”
Well naturally, he was right. I started to laugh as I realized the point he was making.
“You’re absolutely right ” I said to him, not realizing at that moment what an important lesson I had just learned.
“You damn right I’m right” he said laughing “We can’t all be musicians Brian. You and me NEED those people out there. So the next time you feelin superior to them, just remember what I said about the plumbin.”
Well, I shook his hand and thanked him for the drink and the advice. As I looked at the clock, I realized my break was over, and told him I hoped he would stay.
“Well, I might stay a bit more, but its gettin late Brian, so I’m probably gonna have to go soon.”
So I thanked him again for the drink and the advice and went back up on stage and continued performing.
After a few songs, I looked at the back of the crowd and saw that the old black man had left. I never saw him again,but I never forgot his advice, and to this day when I find my self looking down at people “less musically inclined than myself”, I always think of the phrase “They laaaay some meeeeeeean plummmin” and smile.