Please forgive this exercise in sentimentality that may be of limited interest, but I find myself–quite unexpectedly–at an age when many of us tend to begin trafficking in sentimentality.
I have pieced together how I first met Dennis McMurrin insofar as I can. That dates back to the era in my life before the advent of the new and improved Stephen, my current incarnation. The year was 1988 or thereabouts. I maintained an office downtown and rented a space for my vehicle in a lot a couple blocks away from that office. In the middle of that parking lot, there was a bar in a small stand-alone, cinder block building surrounded by the parked cars in the lot. I knew the man who owned the building. He had inherited that little building from his mama who had herself operated a bar in it for many years before her demise. He was sentimentally attached to it, therefore, and somehow had successfully resisted the efforts of the city fathers to purchase it, demolish it, pave over the site, and complete that downtown parking lot. He rented it to a young couple who then operated their bar in the place. The old and unimproved Stephen had to walk by that little bar at the end of every work day to get to his car, which proved to be difficult for him.
The proprietors of the bar booked a duet consisting Dennis on guitar and Dan Johnson on bass every Thursday evening from 5:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m. I roundly enjoyed the eclectic music they played. That is how I made their acquaintance and indeed became a friend. Not too long ago Dan Johnson brought me some old snapshots that he had found. They were taken at my 50th birthday party, which by my calculations took place in early 1997. Dennis and Dan apparently played that gig because there we all were in those snapshots looking young and snappy, obviously in the midst of a raucous frolic of which I have no recollection whatsoever. So it was that upon my return from my spiritually transformative, five-year sabbatical in Mexico to take my rightful place among the local, landed gentry, I was delighted to find those two still alive.
As I have no doubt mentioned here before, Susan Creamer Joy and I–now legally wed as of a year ago–have taken to hosting the occasional Sunday Brunch in the old chicken house on the farm as a short term corrective to the feeling of isolation that can set in over time out here in the middle of nowhere. The chicken house is now quite nicely fitted out for that purpose thanks to the contributions of equipment by many. On some of those occasions we simply invite local amateurs to provide homemade music on the sound system pieced together with found components. On other occasions we splurge and hire professional musicians. Dennis and Dan have played here for Sunday Brunches on three occasions, the last being this past December 4. They claim to enjoy it immensely. There is something about the acoustics in this old structure . . . .
It was prior to that December 4 brunch that I had discussed Dennis McMurrin with another of his fans, Doug Blumer. Doug and his wife, Julie, operate a business called Gamut Productions, a remarkable little multi-media concern. They have, for example, scanned some of Susan’s paintings with their high end equipment and made prints on quality paper for her. Doug and I both bemoaned the dearth of decent videos of Dennis performing. We are all getting old, including Dennis. Decades of cigarettes have taken their toll on his voice. The formerly ever present shades are gone. Some teeth are gone. He has some sort of mental block that prevents him from managing his diabetes properly. He can still play that vintage Gibson® though, a gift to him in his youth from his daddy.
We decided to take some steps toward remedying that shortage of videos. As a consequence, before that December 4 appearance here, Doug and I stationed five of his video cameras around the chicken house. I brought in some old halogen shop lights from the machine shed, and we did the best we could with what was available. As it turned out, there was a snow storm that morning. The musicians made it, however, along with a few hardy country folks with big pickups. The city folks with their Audis and such had to skip that one, and I do not blame them. Here is a sample of the result. The third musician on the other guitar is a fascinating and talented man named Tony Brown. More about him some other time. On this particular tune, “Going Down to Dallas (Take My Razor and a Gun),” Dennis is using a Bic® lighter as a slide, a favorite bar trick of his that always makes me grin. He has traditionally made a big production of borrowing a Bic® lighter from somebody in the audience even though he probably has three of them in his own pocket.