christmas

Christmas Eve

I grew up in a church in North Carolina. I’m not a particularly religious person, but have always found spiritual connection through music. In one of rooms at my childhood church sits a Baldwin concert grand piano. It’s a beautiful instrument. Some of the keys are yellowed and chipped. The wooden body is covered in dents and scratches. Even still, it’s one of my favorite pianos I’ve ever played. I first played this piano when I was only five years old.

My mom worked at the church when I was growing up. I would often spend hours seated at this piano, banging out my little songs. As the years passed I played this piano for various church functions and even the funeral reception for my adopted grandmother Edith Collins. When I return to North Carolina I always make time to swing by and sit at the piano one more time.

This past Christmas Eve, I was killing time before my show and decided to stop  by and spend some time with the Baldwin. The piano sits in what the church used to call ‘’the great hall.” It’s a big circular room filled with lots of memories and reverb. I played nonstop for about two hours. When I finally finished, I noticed an older couple had been sitting in the wings listening.

I walked over and introduced myself. Immediately the gentleman began to praise my playing. I was a little surprised as I had really just been playing rather aimlessly.  He compared my playing to a high performing basketball team. It was certainly an analogy I had never heard. His wife asked if I had a card with my information on it so I quickly ran to my car to get one for her.

When I came back I found the wife standing alone with tears in her eyes. She told me that her husband had Alzheimer's and the first time he had been calm lately was when he sat and listened to me play. She also explained that he was a former NBA and collegiate basketball coach.  Suddenly his words of praise made sense. I hugged her as we walked back to find her husband. I shook his hand and thanked him one more time before they went on their way.

In the weeks since then I’ve thought about the moment with the coach and his wife often. It’s not the first time somebody has come up to me after I finished playing that piano and offered kind words. Growing up I used to sit at the piano and play before church on Sundays. Folks would always sit and listen. 23 years later, the piano is still bringing me and others joy. I think it’s a special instrument indeed.

The End of an Era.

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is off to a roaring start for all of you. Please pardon my absence from writing, I have been ill for a while and then was on the road. I’m now back in Chicago and feeling great just in time for the new year. During my recent travels back to North Carolina over the holiday I was able to stop by one of my most favorite places in the world - 1218 Charlottetowne Ave, better known as The Double Door Inn.

The Double Door has been a Charlotte institution and destination for music fans and musicians alike since it opened it’s doors in 1973.  It has fostered many generations musicians including myself and so many of my colleagues. The likes of Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn have graced the Double Door stage as well as countless blues and rock ‘n’ roll greats. Even before I was old enough to get in the Double Door was on my radar.

From the outside it doesn’t look like much. The worn paint and sagging roof make it easy to overlook. Inside the walls are lined with photos of bands and artists that have performed on it's stage. From Leon Russell to Pinetop Perkins, the Double Door is really a sanctuary of the blues. When I was finally old enough to get in the bar I quickly became a regular on Monday nights.

Photographs of bluesmen cover the walls of The Double Door

Photographs of bluesmen cover the walls of The Double Door

 

Every Monday night for some twenty odd years a group of Charlotte’s best musicians have gathered to form a band that became known as The Monday Night Allstars. Led for many years by my mentor’s mentor the great Charles Hairston, Monday nights became legendary for the band’s powerful mix of classic r&b and soul music. I’ve seen performances on that stage that I will remember for the rest of my life. The band has had a few personnel changes through the years but it has always delivered some of the best music I’ve ever heard.

Over my Christmas visit to North Carolina I set foot in this sacred place for the last time. By the time you are reading this the Double Door will have officially closed it’s doors for good. My last Monday night visit was extraordinary. There was a line out the door as the club was at capacity. Band members from all eras of the band were present to display their talents one last time. As I listened to the music that night I couldn’t help but think of all the incredible nights I’ve spent immersed in the sounds that I love so much.

I remember all the incredible musicians that I’ve met at the Double Door. The great Jim Brock, Ziad Rabie, Chris Allen, Joe Lindsay, Rick Blackwell - several of these characters make appearances on my record. I would always sit in the front row so I could study their every note. The first time I got to sing on the stage I remember being terrified. I remember being moved to tears by an amazing version of “People Get Ready” by Carey Sims and the band. I remember the first time I met my dear friends Pat and Jessica as we bonded over our shared love of music. The Double Door has been a formative experience in my life and I think most every musician in Charlotte shares that sentiment.


The next time I roll into town the old bar will be gone. I’ve heard a parking deck is taking it’s place - there’s a blues song if I ever heard one. Of course I’m sad it’s all over, but I feel so lucky that I got to experience all the things I did thanks to the Double Door. The only thing we can ever be sure of is that everything will change. As we begin this new year we can honor those things no longer with us by being present wherever we are, and taking a minute to appreciate the beauty and talent around us. Check out some video of the Double Door below.