Music has suffered greatly in the last couple months.
Who, you might ask, has left this earthly plane and created the deafening silence?! Your mind reaches for Beatles still living and bluesmen still groaning and hope they continue.
But the men I reference were not necessarily in the spotlight you see every day. Still, their influence may have been just as strong.
I’ve told you the first: George Marshall. George was a force of nature on percussion. I met him the first time when I ran a jam session in Omaha, Nebraska and every drummer in the house was simultaneously jealous of his ability and scared to hit the stage after him. Our jam that night only ended when the man broke a snare drum head and we had no replacement. It was a fitting end to the night. George was Moon, Bonzo, Peart and Krupa rolled into one body. He wasn’t ill that we knew and in far better shape than I am, which scares me.
George was always pushing: pushing to play, pushing to gig, pushing to tour. He was a great friend to my brother, who was finishing his solo record. George had already made preparations to hit the road on tour. That man pushed more than my playing or Adam’s. He said little but his percussion spoke volumes. He was gone and we all felt the missing beat in our hearts.
Tommy Hiett was the second. I worked with Tommy at the CBS station in Dallas, Texas. That link up there is their tribute to him and it’s worth a watch.
Tommy played with the likes of Elton John and Huey Lewis. But I remember Tommy as the guy who ran our IT department and then realized I played guitar. He never asked me how well I played he just assumed, since I didn’t play it up too much, that I must have a modicum of talent. When I met Tommy I barely played. I had a Dobro in my living room and I plucked along on my electrics here and there, but all my Stratocasters and amplifiers were relegated to a closet. I had 2 small children and would eventually make that four.
But Tommy wouldn’t be satisfied with that.
“Dude, you need to play, man.” That was what he would say, regularly. “I’ve heard your stuff, you and your brother, just strap on the Strat and go, man. That’s all it takes.”
Eventually Tommy convinced me to join he and our News Director in playing at a festival that honored those playing and building G&L Guitars. I had a Stratocaster, which he said was close enough. We got to the outdoor venue, in the heart of Dallas’ revitalized old market, and the place was teeming with people. I plugged in right as we were about to count off the 3/4 time of Hendrix’s Manic Depression only to find my amplifier was sorely low on output. Tom’s PRS guitar wasn’t working at all.
Tommy grinned as I said it wasn’t pushing hard enough and simply said “just play, Dave” and laughed as he counted the three and the waltz hit. I cranked the amplifier, Tom grabbed a Les Paul from somewhere, and suddenly the band was screaming like Jimi with our slipshod crew. Somewhere out there someone did videotape it, though I never saw the performance.
I remember that night because, my entire time at KTVT, Tommy reminded me that I did just want . . . and need . . . to play. I found out over the weekend that Tommy’s battle with colon cancer, something he fought for the last couple years, had finally ended. I wish I’d told him how much more I play and how my daughter is joining the ranks of the musicians of the world herself. He’d have smiled and nodded his head and asked how many Clapton tunes she knew.
Tommy was a good man. That may sound like it’s short of the mark, but he was good in the best sense of the word. No foul words about people, no sadness, no demeaning talk. He was always smiling, had a joke or a laugh and a story about trying to show up BB King and getting schooled by the King of the Blues.
He’s up there tonight, wondering who this George Marshall guy is behind the drum kit and being told he knows this guy down there, Dave, who he played with in a band. They’re counting off that waltz and Tommy’s serenading the angels but tearing it up like a hellhound is on his trail.
It’s a vision not all may agree with, I suppose, but I hope it’s true.
No, they weren’t world famous men. But they influenced and pushed the lives of so many people their influence couldn’t be overstated. My brother, me, those around both these men are better people for having known them.