The rented Mustang was churning up large pieces of the road in south memphis, as the sports car was headed with it's occupant south towards Mississippi.  Tyler "skywalker" Jones had rented the car as soon as he arrived earlier this morning in Memphis - since he had a few days before his concert at the FedEx Forum: and promptly headed south towards Clarksdale Mississippi....Home.

Tyler Jones didn't have the radio on in his car, because the truth was; he didn't need it.  He was hearing music clearly in his head right now, and it had always been that way.  Since tyler could remember, music was always playing in his head. sometimes loud, sometimes soft (like now) in the background - but it was always there.  Even though endless guitar, or piano, or harp, or whatever sounds he wanted to hear could "appear" in his ears at any moment, Tyler knew that  music was always around us.....in the wind, in the rain, in the leaves brushing  against the house in the fall, the birds in the trees, and even the sound of the mustang going powerfully down highway 49 produced a rhythm all it's own.  Tyler knew all this.......and he knew that most people in the north mississippi hill country knew this as well......that was the source, the power, behind the fingers of Tyler "skywalker" Jones and he needed to find some more of this power during his couple of days of freedom in Clarksdale.  

As Tyler exited Memphis and passed through the casinos of Tunica, he rolled down the windows and let the mississippi smells come back.  The heat, along with the smell of the earth brought new music to Tyler - well really it was old familiar music......because even though the music in Tyler's head could be ragtime, pop, soul, jazz at any time he wished it......what Tyler always had going on the background was that pulsating, bass driven beat and thump thump of the blues!  Tyler "Skywalker" Jones, number one music artist of the past 7 years - number one in grammys, number one in concert tickets, - playing what many said was a unique blend of blues - rock: well Tyler always woke up to the beat of Mississippi blues in the morning......and no matter how tired he was at night, when his head hit the pillow, he heard the sounds of mississippi blues.......Tyler heard Son House, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell, Joe Callicut, RL and all of the Burnsides, and countless other musician and singers, just as good who lived in a 75 mile radius from Robinsville Miss (just south of Tunica) down to Clarksdale, and going east to Como, and even past Oxford towards Holly Springs where Junior Kimbrough and all of the Burnsides lived and played. Tyler had heard this old masters in his head, but had played with 100's of others.......farm workers, tractor drivers, barbers, garbage men, moonshiners, janitors, alongside lawyers, doctors, and teachers.  If you lived in the area, almost everyone played some type of instrument.....acoustic and electric guitars, banjos, pianos, harps, drums, flutes, and a variety of home made instruments - anything that produced a note or tone.  Everyone could play and many of these same men, had taught tyler something......and shared something with Tyler he often thought of........Tyler was pretty sure that most of these 100's of men who had played with and taught tyler guitar riffs, also heard the music in their head just the same as Tyler.

After stopping at the Red and White grocery store outside of tunica for a $3.95 barbecue sandwich he had been eating since he was a child, tyler was nearing Clarksdale, and just north of the city, he turned east on Highway 7 and headed towards Batesville and Oxford. But Tyler wasn't going far, he was going just a few miles down Highway 7 where he  turned left at the third graveled road and head 2 miles down that unmarked county road towards a place that everyone knew; "Smith's."  "Smith's" was an old country store that had been converted to a juke joint on Thursday - Sunday nights so many years ago, that no one knew exactly how long it really was.  But "Smith's" had about 12 tables with chairs - a long wooden bar, and behind the bar, 4 large regular kitchen refrigerators where the cold beer was kept.  Smith's served Cold Beer, a set up with a small pail of Ice, and glasses only if you asked for it.  Outside, usually several grills were going where Briskett, Ribs, and Chicken were served on paper plates with heaping sides of beans and cole slaw, and always from thursday to sunday - a band or individual was playing in the farthest north corner of the place, where extra sockets were located, where musicians could "plug in".  But perhaps the most unique thing about Smith's was that on Monday - Wednesday when Smith's was closed, well the front porch that had 4 rocking chairs were usually filled with individuals who had stopped to chat, drink a cocoa cola, and of course, - bring a guitar to play a little bit.  It was here in these afternoons, that Tyler bicycled over the pasture to listen to whomever had stopped to visit and to play - that Tyler had begun to learn guitar......and boy did that "white boy" learn to play.

Tyler pulled into the parking lot around 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon (his gig in Memphis wasn't until Saturday night), and even though the October sun was still strong enough to be in the 60's - Tyler wasn't surprised to find 5 cars and trucks in the parking lot.  As he pulled to a stop, Tyler noticed a checkers game, and an middle age white man strumming an old acoustic, and as he got out of the car, he saw an old black man with his hat titled forward who appeared to be asleep with a batted old tweed guitar case across his laps with both hands on top of the case.  "Lookit Here!"...."Its Skyyyywalker himself".   "heard you might be by here," said Moses Tatum, one of the players of the checkers game and the owner of Smiths.  "How are those magic, million dollar fingers man!"  Tyler walked up to the porch, spread his fingers wide, and said "they feel pretty good to me"...."how are you man?"  After shaking hands with the four men, (the old man in the corner hadn't appeared to move) Moses had gone inside to get Tyler a chair, everyone went about the business of catching up tyler about Clarksdale happenings, which really didn't take all that long.  After a while, the catching up had turned to some songs, with Tyler singing while other took turns playing the old beat up acoustic until the sun had begun to give long shadows in the parking lot..."Man, i didn't realize it was so late, said Tyler" "Sorry if I've kept you guys from what you need to do.".......After a few more minutes, everyone left but Moses and the old man in the corner who still appeared to be asleep.  "Hey, i got to go inside a few minutes before i go" said Moses, can you hang around a bit?" Tyler said "sure man, i got 2 days to spare before i go back to the big city." Moses laughed and said, "well, in that case, i will make it quick."  Once Moses unlocked the door and went inside, Tyler looked on over to the old man, and looked closely at the tweed guitar case while the old man remained motionless except for his rhythmic breathing.  Something was familiar about that case, although the case looked to be about 50 years old.  It looked like a tweed suitcase with faded brown cloth reinforced with leather on the edges....it was torn in several places but there was some small design on the top Tyler couldn't make out, and he could have sworn he had seen that case somewhere.  While Tyler was still thinking, the old man's left hand suddenly moved and pushed this hat back on his head and the old man, tilted his head back and said "howdy."  tyler jumped a little but noticed the old black man had smooth skin , clear eyes, a solid white mustache and goatee, and had on a white shirt with checkered jacket.  "I think most fellers come by here to play a little, so I'm told.......chu wanna play a little for an ole man?" asked the old man.  "yeah that's what i've heard" said Tyler "but I don't have a guitar with me."  "Well, look it, maybe you wanna use Bess here for a minute or two" said the old man.  "well, yes sir if you don't mind, i could try to pick a little." As Tyler was talking, the old man, slowly opened his battered old case to pull out an equally old guitar that had been at one time, dark rich Walnut, but was now faded and chipped, and it looked similar to a les paul with one F hole in the top of the guitar;  The fret board had no markings, and the headstock had no markings either.  He handed it to tyler who pulled out a pick and began to play.....he started with a little bass run, and continued that bass line while adding some chords and single string runs......he kept that up and then all of a sudden he swiftly went to the 12 fret where his fingers flew over the fretboard and just as suddenly he went back to the second fret where he began, and finished with a short flurry.......A "skywalker" moment thought Tyler, as he finished.  But while he was playing, he felt something in his fingers, and he noticed the distinct tone of the guitar......clear with a lotta sustain, but when he dug in with the pick, he "felt" something from the guitar....strange thought Tyler.  "hey man, nice old guitar, what do you want for it?"  tyler handed over the guitar to the old man, who said, "Bessie? It would cost you a million dollars."  tyler laughed at the old mans joke, and said, "really, it is ugly - but man that is one sweet sounding old guitar.  How much?"  "Lookit, yu hard of hearing for a young man? I tole ya, a million dollars."  Tyler sighed, and said, "okay, you don't want to sell her, i understand, - its a great sounding guitar."  I guess i better go and find Moses before it gets dark" As tyler turned to go back inside of "Smith's" the old man asked Tyler "why do you use that piece of plastic to play, you didn't learn that way?"  Tyler stopped and turned, and said" how did you know i didn't learn to play with a pick?" The old man, said "well, you ARE from around here aintchya?  "Who from around here plays with a piece of plastic."  "Its called a pick, and it allows me to play fast, which is what i want. It has taken a lot of practice to get fast with it."  The old man, shook his head and laughed, "shee -it, lots of guys are fast, that's not what matters man.  what matters is feeling what you're playing, and only way you do dat, is to play with your fingers.  Once you learn to FEEL the strings and the sound, your fingers will know what to play. you know that i expect" said the ole man.  Tyler was stunned by what the ole man said, here he was the number one artist in the free world, being told by an old black man, how he was supposed to play guitar.  Instead of saying anything, Tyler turned and went in inside looking for Moses.  "Hey Moses, you in here??  tyler walked around the familiar bar feeling at home, although it had been a couple of years since he had been here, and when he realized Moses wasn't there, he turned and left and went back outside, to ask the old man if he knew where Moses was.  Except, when he came back outside, the old man with his battered guitar and case were gone.  About that time, Moses came from around the corner and Tyler said "Hey Moses, you seen that old black guy who was siting over there in that corner with old guitar case?"....Moses walked toward Tyler and asked "what guy?"

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Comment by Ron "Oily" Sprague on April 17, 2012 at 7:23am
Mike,

I wandered through there a coupla times when coming back to Arkansas from well site logging jobs in Chatom, Alabama, up through Laurel and Jackson.

Oh, and I don't think the old man is either Old Scratch, or Papa Legba. ;-)
Comment by mike hardwick on April 16, 2012 at 10:23pm

"strat"........thanks for the comments!!!!  yeah...a lotta music history and "stories" lying around the north mississippi hill country area.....but no....this isnt the crossroads film with ralph macchio...and the ole man may not be lucifer or his right hand man........but perhaps in the second installment you can still tell me if you know who the ole man is.......

mike

Comment by Ron "Oily" Sprague on April 16, 2012 at 9:23am

Mike,

 

I agree with the other agreeables. This is a great story; being from Oxford yourself, you obviously know the area, people, and most importantly, local feel, and it shows. I've been through there a couple of times, and I could envision almost everything you wrote about.

 

Oh, and I know who the old man is...

Comment by Clock The Wolf on April 15, 2012 at 7:03pm

Agree with Uncle John. Actually quite a classic conclusion.

Comment by Uncle John on April 15, 2012 at 11:52am

Good story, Mike.   I think the story IS Finished and the ending is good.   Let's the reader think who, what and why the old man is.   Makes the reader think.

Lots of atmosphere here.   And I know you've been to those places and felt what was in the story.

Comment by mike hardwick on April 15, 2012 at 12:42am

Uncle John.....Your writings have inspired me to write my own (not very well written) short story....except.....i have a twist and a challenge for you!!!!  my story is not finished.........i challenge you to write the second part!!!  what do you say....do you accept my challenge?

your friend mike

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