The burdens that I carry are so heavy, you see,
It seems like it ain’t nobody in this great big world
That would wanna help old (me).
But I will be all right, people,
Just give me a break
Good things come to those who wait.
Blues Man by B.B. King
I met my personal “blues man” back in the early 70s, when he was working in a Huntington Beach bank—a position he came upon shortly after a hitch as a bouncer at an Orange County venue, where he had the dubious distinction of enduring an Alice Cooper set before the band went big.
You could say that he was everything I wasn’t: easy-going, quick wit, creator of novel phrases and descriptions for people and events of everyday life. Big in stature. A high school and college musician. A drinker, a smoker, an outdoorsman, a man’s man without the hard edges.
Even back then, if you possessed the insight, you could tell this cat was something special. Just a little scratch below the veneer of an everyman, polished and displayed with a quiet ease, could be found a mash-up of John Candy, Ernest Hemingway, and Albert Collins.
Speed across four decades of success, of life, of love, of music: there stands that same humble man continuing to impress me for what he was, what he is, and what he is yet to be. Yes, he accomplished what the prescient would have imagined for him: a lasting and loving marriage, a doctorate, a tenured professorship, acclaim as a noted author and lecturer, Zen Buddhist and, of course, a player with—at last count—a baker’s dozen guitars at his disposal.
Like all blues men, though, it ain’t come easy. He’s had his share of shit hit the fan. Came through it all with that same quick wit, quiet demeanor, and aw-shucks attitude. He remains that way, even now, after learning that he is among the mere 1% of the population struck with a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that morphed into something significantly more serious.
No one could go through four years of this shit without enduring immeasurable physical and mental anguish. Yet, as I said earlier, he is everything I am not; everything most of us are not. To be in his presence, to talk to the man on the phone, you would never know—to paraphrase B.B.—the burdens that he carries are so heavy.
Thanks for a lifetime of inspiration, Rick. I love you.