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My Brush with Greatness

When I was in high school, in the late ‘60’s, like many other kids I was in a garage band. 

I must have been 17 and had my driver’s license, because I took the guitar player and drummer
with me to Memorial Colosseum in Dallas to hear Duke Ellington play with the Dallas Symphony. 

After the concert, we walked up to the stage, where Catfish, the drummer, met Louis Bellson and
somehow got one of his drumsticks.  I shook hands with John Lamb, and told him I was also a bass player. 
Then I wandered backstage.  There leaning against a wall was the Duke himself. 

I approached him and told him it was a great honor to meet him, and shook his hand.  He smiled with
overwhelming graciousness.  Fast forward a few years, I shook hands with Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead,
Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg (and gave him a bottle of sake to give to Chogyam Trungpa),  and sat next to
Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio as we chanted in an ashram in Oakland. 

Then, early in 1981, newly divorced and at loose ends, I joined a country band to tour the west. 
In a Holiday Inn bar in Harlingen, Texas, we played our usual set which included several rock oldies. 

A man with thick glasses came up after we played “Rock Around the Clock” and shook our hands.
He told us how much he liked our version – “Good job, boys!” he said.  The band leader turned to us
and said, “You know who that was?  That was Bill Haley, man.” 

Sad to say,  the pioneer of Rock and Roll later behaved erratically – he had a brain tumor - and threw his
drink glass on the floor where it shattered, and he was thrown out of the bar.  About a week later I heard
that he had died.  So I have reason to believe that we were the last ones to play his groundbreaking song for him.
 Phil in Bastrop, Texas


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