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September 15, 2015

Jesse Fuller

Summer ~1964

When I was a teenager (just after the flood), I used to hang out in a musical intrument store in Harvard Square called Folk City USA. The owner put up with me by putting a chair out on the street and letting me practice there in hopes that it would bring in customers.

I liked to go there because I could not afford a 12-string guitar and had a serious lust for one. I never paid a lot of attention to who went into the shop.

One day the owner came out of the shop and asked me if I'd like to do someone a favor. I said I would and he took me back into the shop. A slender black man was standing at the counter.

"This guy knows all the music shops in the area," said the owner, waving at me. "I'm sure he can find you what you need."

The old man explained that he had arrived in Boston that morning and someone had stolen his guitar. "She was custom-built for me," he said. "I won't be able to replace her."

Then he told me that he didn't much care about sound quality, but that by that evening he needed a 12-string guitar. The primary criterion was that the tuning pegs had to be at right angles to the head.

"I've got me some arthritis," he told me, "and I can't twist my wrist around too much."

We must have hit at least 10 stores, and the best we could find was a Stella. Gaaahhh, talk about cheap. But it was okay with him. He was very grateful.

In the process of testing the various guitars, I had played a few of them. I played a lot of traditional blues back then. The old man complimented me on my skills and then offered me a job. "You come out to San Francisco," he said. "You can help at the shoeshine during the day, and we'll play some blues after-hours."

I was 15, shy and not very brave. I told him that I would think about it. "You just turn up there someday," he said. "We'll find you a place to stay."

But I never did.

It bubbles up from memory now and then. One of my handful of missed opportunities. I passed up a chance to learn blues from the composer of 'The San Francisco Bay Blues,' Jesse Fuller.