Something happened 41 years ago today that totally and radically changed my life and I mean that in all sincerity. To understand the import of it all, I need to go back a little bit earlier.
In August of 1978, I was deep it a rut, where one day was much like the one before. I worked day after day cooking at a restaurant and I had no long-term goals. I was mostly existing rather than living.
Beginning in early August, by chance, after work, I went in to have a beer and to shoot some pool at a tavern named The Roundup. My normal hangout after work was a tavern across the street and just to do something a little different than usual, I went to The Roundup that day, not realizing that it would prove to be a very important decision.
The Roundup had a small stage with a few instruments, such as a couple of guitars and a bass guitar. An impromptu jam-session was going on and a long-time friend, a Klamath Indian named Eddie, was playing a lead guitar. Eddie didn’t like to sing, so it was a half-hearted solo lead guitar. Several times, he asked if anyone could come up and play accompany and perhaps sing, while he played.
The bar only had about 20 people in it, less than a third of capacity, and nobody was taking Eddie up on the offer. I grabbed a beer and the bartender, a man named Leroy, leaned over and said, “Don’t you play guitar?” I’d only seen Leroy a few times before and had no idea how he knew that, but I told him that I did play, but not for the public.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” he said. “I was going to offer you free beer if you’d go up and play with Eddie. It’s his birthday.”
Being something of a sentimentalist and definitely interested in free beer (or anything else that I didn’t have to pay for), I put down my beer, swallowed my pride, and walked up to the bandstand, and picked up a guitar. Eddie grinned ear to ear.
“What do you want to play?” he asked.
“Anything country that I know the words to,” I answered. He laughed, knowing that I’d answered his question without answering it at all.
“How about this. You start a song and I’ll jump in?” he said.
I started playing “House of the Rising Sun“. Eddie knew it immediately and joined in. Shucks, it actually sounded good, not because of my playing or singing, but Eddie was really good. He could have played professionally.
We played a number of songs and while we did, more people entered the bar until it was about 3/4 full. Afterward, Leroy called me over and asked me to run a jam-session every Friday and Saturday night. He said he couldn’t pay me, but that he was the manager of the tavern and that beer would be “on the house” for me.
How could I refuse? Leroy had just mentioned two of my favorite things in my sorry existence; free and beer. It had been in one sentence, too!
I ran the jam every week from that time and the number of people in the bar gradually increased. I was sure that was from the novelty of having live music and not because of anything I did. In late August, I went in to play, though it had been a very bad day and I was in a foul mood.
That was when I noticed her; a woman at the end of the bar wearing a red dress. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
When it came time for me to play and sing and request other players to join me on the stage, I noticed my friend, Eddie, sitting at the back of the room. I was having a hard time concentrating on anything except ‘that woman’, but I literally called him out, asking him up to the bandstand and saying, “You owe me, Eddie.”
Technically, he didn’t, but he did join me. I whispered to him what I wanted to play and he nodded. It was a Marty Robbins hit. A lot of you might not know who Marty was and might not have heard of the song, so this is what I sang (provided that the site software will render this correctly):
I sang it specifically to the woman, though there was no way for her to know it, and for whatever reason, Eddie and I did it flawlessly. It was the best I’ve ever sung that song. By the time we finished, the bar was totally packed, yet so silent that you could have literally heard a pin drop. That was the first time I ever had a standing ovation, but the bar erupted when we finished.
There is a lot more to the story, but suffice to say that I began dating the woman, who turned out to be Leroy’s little sister. I had an instant connection to her and she felt the same way. Eleven days later, on September 9, 1978, she and I got married in Reno, Nevada. Leroy was my best man and his girlfriend was Ella’s Bridesmaid. My mother and Ella’s mother were also there.
Today is our 41st wedding anniversary, though sadly Leroy and both our moms are no longer alive. In fact, The Roundup burned down some years ago. Despite many troubles and hardships Ella and I have had since that day, we’ve faced them together and she’s always been there when I needed her. She is my best friend. Her presence gave a purpose to my life and she has helped me to be better than I am. I simply cannot imagine my life without her in it.
Happy 41st Anniversary, Ella, my love!