Beal Street Saved My Life!
Beal Street Saved My Life! By Willy Senkiwsky
I don't know why I ended up on Beal Street that night. I can't remember how I even got to Memphis. I was cold, drunk and contemplating suicide. My life was not a life at all. Sure from the outside looking in it may have seemed like I had everything. Big house, sure, but empty rooms in a broken home. Lots of stuff, yeah, but little peace and no time to enjoy them. Plenty of gadgets and toys, obviously, but they complicated my life not simplified it. I was tired of walking in a world of wealthy giants with small moralities. I was tired of growing my financial portfolio while destroying friendships along the way.
I don't know why I was on Beal Street but the sound of a harmonica drew me in like a rat in the old Fable drawn out of the village. Only, this time the rat was drawn into the village. The village of Black man's rock and roll and blues. A place where legends stayed true to their character and craft while my craft and character sank under the desire for material gain. I stumbled through the night in search of the harmonica that sought my soul.
Sun Records, I smiled as I read the sign above the old studio door. Sun Records, I smiled as I remember the great rocking blues of the fifties that Sun Records produced. Music that wasn't fit for a white boy, so I was told. Oh sure, Elvis cut a record out of this studio but there were so many great black men before him. Great black men true to their craft but not easily sold to white men controlled radio stations. Black men that were lost in time but knew always who they were. I walked on toward the sound of the harmonica. I walked on, lost in time not knowing who I was.
I walked on with each step leaving a piece of my desire to continue etched into the concrete sidewalk. Each exhale leaving a part of my soul evaporating into the cool night air. Each beat of my heart pounding upon my head begging for me to collapse on the curb in despair. I could have collapsed but the harmonica kept calling me closer.
That was when I saw the man who saved my life. He sat in a small park off Beal Street, W. C. Handy Park. The park had more statues of blues legends then it did trees but it was a park just the same. His harmonica called out in loneliness for a friend in the dark void of night that sank deep into my soul. I sat on a park bench and looked deep into his haunting eyes and listened to his mournful song.
When he finished, he turned my way, looked me in the eyes and smiled. Before I could applaud his playing he said, "You kind of feel it in your gut don't you?" I nodded, before I could open my mouth to say anything he put the harmonica back in his mouth and played but one note, I was marveling at how he could hold that note so long. Then using his hands he made that thing warble like a butterfly, I just stood there totally mesmerized by this gentle giant of a black man who was playing for me alone. He held that note, adding wobbles and flutters, for what seemed an hour. When he finished I couldn't find the words to my questions. He looked at me and a smile lit his face asking, "You new in town, huh?"
"Yes, sir," was all that managed to pass my lips.
"Well, be careful 'round here, there's many tough guys here. But you'll be all right with me." He declared, and I believed him. "Why don't you sit down here?"
And I did. And for the next two hours he put on a show, and I mean A SHOW. He didn't stand, without an amplifier, guitar, or anything else he blew my blues away. At one brief break in his playing I asked him, "Where did you learn to play harmonica like that?"
"We call it Harp. I guess I been playing since I'm a child." And he lit into another number. I guess he played all night, I remember falling asleep to a song he called "Easy." And that's the way he made it look, sitting there under the trees.
The next morning I woke, alone, on a park bench. I vaguely remembered the previous night and it all seemed more of a dream. As I walked from the park toward the street I looked at one of the statues. I looked at a face that seemed all too familiar. The plate at the base of the statue read; Walter, Shakey, Horton, Easy. I smiled at my friend cast in bronze. The greatest Harmonica player and pioneer of the Memphis blues sound. I thanked him for his visit and for saving my life. It was time to go back home. After a brief good-bye to the statue, I pulled up my collar against the brisk wind and threw my hands into my pockets. A smile jumped to my face beneath eyes of surprise as I felt a Harp resting in the pocket of my denim blues.
The Walter Horton in this story is a real life Blues Harp giant. He was later called Big Walter. He made a famous recording of Easy at Sun Studios; I've heard that there is a statue of him in that park, but don't know if that's what it says.
Here's the link to my site, now I definitely have music, and me singing "That's Just the Way That I Am," an original, there and pics too. Don't just stop at the front page scroll down and check it all out! Keep checking back it just been updated... I made a new page, "Me and Evilbay (A work in progress)." There are pages "How to Know If you're a New Yorker," by me and "Willys Jokes." A little humor on the serious side! Sign the guestbook too y'all!