I'm nervous, an anxiety I am fighting because I just sat in the driver's seat of an unfamiliar car beside a stranger. For all practical purposes he is a stranger. Other than earlier in the night when he sat down on a wood chair, front center of a concrete floor and filled a room full of more life than I've seen in one small space since walking into Junior Kimbrough's place many years ago. The old place on Highway 4 that burned down.
I only went there twice but tonight I have been reminded of what going to a real juke joint is. Tonight I am at the Rendezvous in Holly Springs, MS. It is 1am on a Saturday morning, and I'm in a dimly lit parking lot seated beside a legend in his car.
My Daddy would not approve. I don't necessarily like to do things my Daddy would not approve of, but let me tell you, if he had met Little Joe Ayers tonight like I did then he would want to be in that car with him, beer in hand, listening.
Although Little Joe and I have never said as much as a word to each other before five minutes ago I have assessed this man as an upstanding member of our humanity. Don't get me wrong, I still at times doubt my own judgements. We hear stories all the time of women who put themselves in places where they trust someone only to find out that maybe they shouldn't have trusted afterwards. But I'm living right now and living involves trust.
So here I am next to Little Joe. Angie's camera bag and camera around my neck. I have already shot over 800 pictures, and I can't help but feel a little sad that there is no way I have enough photographic talent to get a shot in this car. You know, a shot showing what this is.
Little Joe has a fine car. Don't ask me make or model. All I can tell you is that it is clean like my Papaw's Silver Streak and he's most likely my Papaw's age if that fine man was alive today. In this sweet, sweet familiarity I place my fingers in the shiny wood grooves of the steering wheel, breathe and listen.
I want to listen like Connor listens, cause I know what Joe has to say is important.
So I tell him the first time I ever experienced the Blues was when I walked into Junior's place and he smiles. One of the most beautiful smiles you'll ever or never see. I hope I caught it on film, but I don't know if you can catch that on film. And I don't have it on audio, but I wish you could hear his raspy voice as he chuckles and tells me These younguns don't play it like we used to. I can play you some. I got one of my guitars right here.
This is when he reaches behind me and pulls back a polished green guitar. It is an impressive instrument.
I can't even tell you how graceful he was doing it, like he had practiced that move a million times. I would have knocked both him and me upside the head trying to get that guitar from the back to the front. He didn't even so much as graze me.
In order to get us where we need to be he begins a story about his son, about a night when his boy who plays in a white blues band was riding back from a gig in the Delta and how the car got out of control and how it flipped at least four times and killed the driver. How his son had heard his friend's, fellow band member's, last gasp. One last gasp, that's all he heard.
Then Little Joe plays. He starts strumming his guitar with his fingers and it is both the sweetest and saddest music I have ever heard. I look at Joe, then out the windshield into the parking lot. He starts singing with that guitar. I watch the scene, the people, the faces, the laughter. I feel safe, warm, connected. Honored.
Joe and I sit in that car for at least an hour. He tells me how he began driving a bulldozer at 12 years old. And he was a good bulldozer driver. People were amazed at what he could do, and he could make three dollars a day, fifteen a week. That was good money back then, and, like my Daddy, ain't no amount of work ever scared him.
He bought his first guitar from his uncle with money he made driving that bulldozer. His uncle never went to church, and Little Joe would skip Sunday school to watch that man sip moonshine and play guitar on the porch. In fact, when Joe made the deal for the guitar his uncle questioned how fast he was able to get the $4, and Joe's Mama and Daddy were there to explain that Joe worked for his money.
He retired years back from bulldozing and working for the school district, a good state retirement. His wife passed on a couple of years ago, and he lives alone not having the fun he used to before when he was drinking and smoking.
I tell him he's a sweetheart, and he tells me he's too old to be a sweetheart but he sure does remember those days when he and Junior used to ride around the square in Holly Springs picking up women. How he had a guy, who did signs, paint on the sides of his car If you smoke cigarettes put your butts in these seats.
Again he laughs. Laughs at me, at the memories, at the work, at himself. And he plays me another blues song. Serenades me. And I don't know what I could have done in my life to deserve this, I couldn't have done enough, yet here I am in this moment filled with complete gratitude.
There ya' go, my sweet Slater.