Billy was a true Blues man,
the happiest purveyor of the downtrodden
black man’s art I ever knew.
He riffed licks by the cotton-picking bagful,
bending strings to pitch-perfect extremes
and bending hearts as if caressed
like the body of that Strat
he hugged to his own.
Growling or shouting,
crooning or oozing a low moan,
his bloodshot angel eyes
glowed beatific no matter where he turned
personal hells into harmonic heavens.
The empties, brown and green,
stacked on the Marshall at his back
stood deep like the fans, white and black
who came for the show and left for the better.
They called him Wild Bill and
the wild truly lived in him,
poking and pulling his gentle soul
over the boundaries of too much and too late
into a darkness soon too awful and too awfully soon.
That night my little brother died,
we all floated down tear tracks
to that place I’m told the Blues was born,
a delta of sadness, memory and 12-bar deliverence.
I wrote this poem on the occasion of what would have been my brother Bill’s 56th birthday. He was a brilliant self-taught musician, regarded as one of the best Blues guitarists in our neck of the musical woods. The experts tell me he would be regarded as such outside of upstate New York and western New England, too. He died suddenly and our world is sadder and darker now. This one’s for you, Bill. Hope I hit some of the right notes. I’m not used to solos.