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Kiss the GuitaristCopyright Bix Smith
Many years ago I found out about the delightful New Year's Eve custom of kissing your sweetheart when the clock strikes midnight. I was at a party playing piano/ukelele duets with a beautiful (but shy classmate when I noticed that the guys were drifting away from the ping-pong table toward the corner where all the girls and the class egghead were playing 20 Questions. (I hung out with very hip people as you can see.)
Dot and I had just finished playing "You Go to My Head" when the class Romeao suddenly turned the lights out and someone yelled, "Happy New Year!"
I admit I was a pretty dumb 16 year old, but I got a lot smarter when those lights went out. I KNEW Romeo and everybody else was kissing, so I leaned over toward my pretty companion on the piano bench ... just in time to catch an elbow in the eye as she launched into "Auld Lang Syne". Recovering quickly, I chimed in on ukelele, thus starting an unbreakable New Year's Eve traddition. I have YET to be kissed at midnight December 31/January 1. I have yet to MISS playing "Auld Lang Syne".
Musicians often have miserable lives. Beginning every year just a little bit heartbroken is very bad for morale.
I abandoned the ukelele years ago, but I have played guitar accompaniment for New Years Eve kissers in many different (and often strange) places. After that first sad experience in Pierceton, Indiana, I played in Chicago nightclubs with a Dixieland band. Then I was with a blues band in Southern California. (The Marine base at Twenty-Nine Palms one year and a Hell's Angel party the next. There wasn't much difference.)
France was my next stop. I played with 'Robert Didier et Son Orchestra'. 'I was the only American. One New Year's Eve, my amplifier didn't want to work on what passed for electric current in the dungeon like ballroom of a 300 year old hotel in Limoges. I referred to my amp with some rather colorful language which our French speaking bass player repeated over the microphone. There was a smattering of British diplomats and their wives in the crowd. The uniqueness of my American phraseology was ... uh, lost on them.
Back in the States, I recall a sleazy Indianapolis hotel ballroom where the management diluted the "all you can drink" champagne with ginger ale. At midnight everyone was only about half buzzed. It was a rather pathetic sight. Another memorable year it was a coffee house with folk singers. (Try playing "Auld Lang Syne" behind a kazoo/dulcimer/tambourine combo ..it's a thrill, believe me).
My first New Year's Eve gig in Arkansas was with Anita Milgram's country band at the Hoxie American Legion (I hid in the cotton patch out back during the first two of three fights, then kinda got used to it) and for the last 15 years or so I've spent the waning hours of each year in various clubs in Northeast Arkansas, the Missouri Bootheel, and Memphis.
To musicians (and cops, waitresses, cab drivers, firefighters and fry cooks) New Year's Eve is just another night's work. And even if the joint is jumping, it can be a little lonesome for us. The tears I've shed have formed a tiny stalagmite of salt on my guitar.
Just once I'd like to be one of the dancers. Just once I'd like to wear one of those funny little cone shaped hats. Just ONCE I'd like to toot the little horn and throw confetti and ... kiss a beautiful woman.
I'm not sure just where I'll play this new Year's Eve, but I'll be out there. And at midnight, you will start to smooch and I'll start to strum.
So I beg you Fair Ladies; wherever you may be this New Year's Eve, when the lights flicker and dim, and the crooner croons "... should old acquaintance be forgot..." slip away from your sweetheart for a few seconds and ... kiss the guitar player.
Hairy Larry blogs music and more at the Delta Boogie Tumblr