Sham-rock

Sham-rock

Something magic happened today.

A buddy of mine, Greg Godovitz, called me and said he’d be jamming with some friends at a bar in a working-class section of town. He’s immensely talented – used to play in Goddo, a successful 70’s rock band – and the thought of seeing him play in an intimate setting was too good to ignore.

I checked my daytimer. Luck was shining on me – Saturday afternoon was completely open. “Yeah, I’ll be there,” I said.

The name of the hotel is the Shamrock, and their claim to fame is green beer on St. Patty’s day. You can’t get near the place when they’re pouring green beer, but the other 364 days it’s pretty easy to find a place to sit and nurse a drink. The entire main floor of the building is a bar and it’s one of those cool old places that doesn’t rely on conventions to fill rooms so it can turn a profit. It makes its money the old fashioned way – from beer sales.

 

Inside, it was dark and my eyes took a minute to adjust. I stood, taking in the room. Ahead was the stage, a cramped space of drum kit, mics, a couple of keyboards and some guitars on stands – all of it surrounded by speakers. Big speakers. Not crappy little tinny things. These were serious ear-crushing bass monoliths designed for cavernous concert halls. Go big or go home. God love the Shamrock.

“Beauty,” I said to Celia, my so-special partner.

She wasn’t so sure.

We sat on stools at a high table for four and took in the rest of the room. The bikers were sequestered off to the right by the pool tables. A guy with leather chaps and a mostly-grey beard was lining up shots with a serious eye. On the wall past the tables was a Prism poster. I like Lady Gaga, but sometimes I wish the hair bands would make a comeback. Plaid did. Anything is possible. A server with bleached hair, tight jeans and a change clicker hanging on her belt came by and took our order.

Two sodas with lime juice. Not a glimmer of irritation at the drinks. We could have ordered a root beer float and a Shirley Temple. The deal is – pay when she drops them and try to remember the tip. Doesn’t even have to be a big one. Man, I love servers who care that you sat in their section and if you don’t have tip money today, maybe tomorrow.

The clientele fit the room. Mostly middle-age guys with Levi jeans and ball caps sipping Molson Canadian. The ubiquitous cute blonde girl, turning heads and smiling when the men noticed her.  I watched the guys when she grinned at them. They puffed out a bit, like men do when they remember younger days. Sometimes the smallest things can mean so much.

I looked around for Greg, but couldn’t see him. A disco ball rotated slowly over the worn parquet dance floor. It didn’t care if the music was on of off, just give it some electricity and it motored on. Good metaphor for the place. It would have been smoky a few years ago, when cigarettes were okay, but not anymore. Not even a trace of stale smoke. That surprised me.

The band filtered in from the back and Greg wandered over to Celia and I. Handshakes and smiles. He was glad we came and that made us feel good. Everything warm and fuzzy – a real Kodak moment. We spent the next few minutes talking about how his fridge died and leaked water everywhere and ruined his cherished sausages he imports from Toronto.

A look of pure anguish sweeps across his face. “I can replace the fridge in a day, but the sausages aren’t so easy. I love those sausages, man.”

Greg’s older now than when Goddo was rocking the big arenas – thirty years older. He still has a bit of the old swagger that drove the girls crazy. Charisma never dies, just mellows a bit. He runs a steady hand through receding hair and points at the stage.

“Band’s ready,” he says. “Gotta go.”

He steps up on the short riser and slips the strap over his over his head. The guitar settles in against his body like a snake on a hot rock on a summer day. He touches the strings and the magic begins.

There’s something about being in a small space with a tight band that makes everything right. The drummer slaps out an edgy 4/4 beat and the harp man drops a plaintive edge on the opening Jimmy Reed tune. Bill Dowey, centre stage with a wicked slide on his pinky finger, puts the band through its paces. Greg lays back on his guitar, mellow like a hungry cheetah hanging out at the water hole. His fingers barely touch the strings and the chords are perfect. The massive speakers talk to the lucky ones in the audience at just the right volume. Enough to say this is the blues, but not a decibel louder.

Wang Chung, baby. Wang Chung.

The crowd is lovin’ it. People tapping toes, the cute blonde on the dance floor with a guy in sandals, the waitress moving faster now – to the music. The bikers are sitting or standing, watching the stage.

Greg puts in his time with the chords, then kicks in with a lead riff. He takes Jimmy Reed to a new place, a wonderful space where you instinctively know every note Greg’s going to play a split second before his finger touches the string. The music isn’t in your ears now, it’s in your bones and your soul. You own this song. You own this moment. And nobody can take it away from you. There’s a great appreciation for that in this room.

The band finishes the song and Billy drawls into the mic, “I got some CDs with me and they’re for sale.”

A voice from the darkness yells back, “You ain’t that good, Billy.”

The room laughs. The band laughs. Billy, too.

More music, more magic, and me glued to my chair knowing that this is going to stay with me for quite some time. I like the simple things, and this is simple. And beyond-belief fantastic.

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to stand up on stage – any stage – and hammer out some music. Rock, blues, jazz, I don’t think it really matters. Just to be there and be part of creating that sound is what counts.

It occurs to me that if you’re a musician, music is a harsh mistress. It never lets you go. New faces, new bands, creep out of the shadows and grab the light. But you never lose the gift – the talent – that got you there in the first place. You still play for the same reason you always played.

Because you love doing it.

And that…..is what makes days like today magic.

I hate the silence when the band stops. It’s cruel on the ears. And I hate the sunlight and blue sky outside the bar as we walk to our car. I want to go back – in time and through the door – and do it all again. I want what I had for such a brief moment. I want to hold tightly to the darkness, drink in the futility and feel the pulse of the bass as it pushes up from the scuffed floor. I want the moment back.

I’ll get another one. Sometime. Somewhere. But this stuff is like chocolate. I don’t want to wait.

I want it now.

 

Special thanks to Cole Grey for the great picture of Kevin, Greg & I.....Jeff


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