Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Right Place, Right Time

File this away under "The Story I Would Want To Tell My Kids, If I Ever Had Any Intention of Reproducing (Which I Don't)."

Last Saturday night, I was at Wild Bill's (per usual) enjoying myself greatly (per usual) and hanging out with a great group of friends and an even greater stock of delicious libations (per usual). It was a particularly rowdy night that night, as there were a lot of "famous" local musicians in the house celebrating the birthday of one of Beale Street's best singers, Miss Joyce Henderson, who holds down the stage every Saturday and Sunday at the world-famous B.B. King's on Beale with the Carl Drew Blues Band. (That's the 88-years-young Mister Carl pictured here, one of the oldest woking bluesmen today, doing what he does best.) Anyway, sometime during the third set at Bill's on Saturday, the band called me up to sing (per usual) my staple of songs. I was uncharacteristically nervous, what with all the star-power in the house that night, but it was late and I was properly wound up and so I went and did my thing like I always do.

Much to my surprise (and delight), Miss Joyce came over and talked to me afterwards. She liked the songs I did, and she said she liked my singing, too. Then... wait for it.... waaaait for it... she invited me to come down to B.B. Kings the next day and see her show. "You'll be my personal guest," she said. Of course, I couldn't say "yes ma'am" fast enough.

So, my friend William and I drug our semi-hungover selves down to Beale Street on Sunday, walked into B.B.'s and said we were there to see Miss Joyce. She was onstage at the time, so we took a seat in the back and waited for the end of their set. When they took a break, Miss Joyce came right over, gave a big hug, and treated us both like she had known us forever. Then, she grabbed me and took me over to introduce me to a ton of people. Almost all of the intros started like this: This is Rufus Thomas's dummer... This guy played with the O'Jays... This guy sang with Mahalia Jackson... This guy played keys for Al Green and Peabo Bryson. I was absolutely floored to be meeting the people I was meeting. I felt like I had been "made." But wait... waaaaait for it.... it gets even better.

About halfway through her last set at B.B.'s, Miss Joyce was wiping away the well-earned sweat from her face, and she said: "And now I would like to bring up to the stage an exciting young singer that I heard last night and just knew I had to get down here. Miss Leigh, come on up here and sing these people that song I heard you do last night!"

Yeah, right then, I pretty much crapped my pants.

I really can't exaggerate the confusion on the faces of the audience (or the band) when they realized that I was the aforementioned "Miss Leigh" as I made my way up to the stage. But I steeled myself, climbed onstage and took the mic from Miss Joyce's outstretched hand. The bassist looked at me for some indication of what to do, so I said (shakily): "Twelve-bar blues, in E." He said, "Fast or slow?" I said, "Quick, like a shuffle." He nodded to the drummer, and then we were off...

I couldn't see anything but lights from the stage, so by the time I was done, I really had no idea what to expect in terms of a response. The whole time I was singing, I just kept thinking: I'm onstage at B.B. King's! I'm onstage at B.B. King's! Please, God, don't let me forget the words... But people hooted and clapped when I was done and, as I left the stage, Mister Carl gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, "Anytime, honey, anytime you want to do it again." Miss Joyce got back up, she and the band finished their last set, and after they were done, all the guys came over and said I did good. The bassist (who is Al Green's bassist) leaned over at one point and said that he was a little skeptical when I came up, but that I "sang him out of that nonsense." Miss Joyce asked if I might be willing to sit in for her sometime when she's out of town. It was all utterly, completely, unreal.

I'm still kind of coming down off the high of having sung at B.B. King's on Beale Street with such an all-star lineup of musicians. But, the truth is, as great as all that was, the best part about it is that I made a lot of new friends while I was there. Really-good-people friends. People who love this city and its music the same way I do... only they've been loving it and making it lovable for a helluva lot longer. I'll probably stick to my routine of getting my fill at Wild Bill's (instead of on Beale Street with all of the tourists), but you can bet that I'm sure going to answer my phone in the future anytime anybody from Miss Joyce's crew call.

What a weekend that was. Too bad there are no plans to have kids to regale with the story...

17 comments:

Leslie said...

Holy shit. Holy shit. That's highlight reel material.

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

That is a great story.

Michelle said...

OH MY! I just clicked on that little jewel of a link and thought, "this can't be the Ms. Leigh philosopher I know--she sings??!!!). What a great story. What a great Memphis story!

Aren't you glad you know the joy of loving this place so thoroughly?

KHG said...

Oh. My. God. This is amazing!!!

I am dying here, though... what'd you sing? 12-bar in E/shuffle? I need more guidance than that! Translate, please!

I feel like we got a real bargain all those nights at Moka's when we got you almost to ourselves.

DOCTOR J said...

Ummm... translation of "12-bar blues in E/shuffle" would be something like this.

e. said...

YAY!!! so sad i missed that!

Max said...

That is awesome Leigh! Glad I was part of the start, sad I wasn't there for the finish.

CF-ICT said...

Movin' on up! Not that Beale Street is necessarily "up" from Vollentine, y'understand.

When does the day job get quit?

emma b. said...

Wow...

A star is born...

I'm getting teary. This is SO classic American narrative. I'm already wondering who will play you in the movie!

Marlinee said...

wow!! i think max wanted to go because we were having too much fun. didn't know the real fun was yet to come. can't wait til next time.

amit said...

way to groove in & kick ass, 'miss leigh' (which i LOVE as a stage name)!

Anonymous said...

wow. just wow.
-Kendra

B said...

That is my favorite Memphis story by far! Can't wait to see you at BB Kings. Text me when you head down there again.

petya said...

Well...
I know that everyone is all "This is such a MEMPHIS story"... but it I think it's such a LEIGH story!!! Of all the people I know, it could only have happened to YOU. Otherwise it would not have made nearly as much sense!

Can't wait to see you do it all over again in person!!!

kgrady said...

Awesome! This one's good enough to regale other people's kids with. Good enough that I'd be willing to have a kid just so you can be "aunt Ms. Leigh" and tell this story all the time.

Aren't you glad you knew what to tell the bass player? For some reason, that's the part of the story that made me most nervous.

William H. Harwood said...

I was there. It was alright. Nothing to write home about.

(For those of you who have never heard Leigh sing, the first time I did she made me cry.)

melanie said...

Ditto what Petya said.