I’m Back

I’m calling this my “I’m Back Blog” because anybody that might have checked in (the vernacular of the medium is probably logged on or clicked) realized I was gone. It’s coming up on a year. The reason I remember is simple: My birthday is July 22, and the reason I will always know is that from now on July 21 and July 23 will also be official holidays in my family. It took someone  very special with exceptional organizational skills to pull this off. Last year on July 21, my now son-in-law, Patrick Gavin, asked permission to marry my daughter, Amy. Kay and I spent the next day, my birthday,  strolling the streets of Blowing Rock in a state of excitement and constant conversation about the upcoming wedding that Amy, as of yet, was completely unaware of. We would be in a shop and after we had stood for so long talking over an object one of us had picked up, a sales clerk would come over–positive they had a sale–only to find we hadn’t even noticed what it was we were holding. The next morning while we were drinking our coffee the call came, and after many tears of joy, the official journey from proposal to wedding day began. No time for blogging.

Larry Spears Live - St. Aloysius Church DC

December 3, 2011

The wedding was held on the third day of December, and then we rolled right in to Christmas. I played several gigs and realized how out of shape six months of traveling up and down the east coast, planning, and decision making had left me. After Christmas we took a tip from the bears and hibernated for the winter to recover. By the first signs of spring I was rip-roaring and ready to go. I had some new songs, new gigs, new students, and a new lease on life when disaster struck on April 15th. I injured my fretting hand so severely that playing the guitar is now only a distant possibility (I did dig out an old harmonica and I’m gaining skill). Since then, my day-to-day activities are arranged around doctor visits, hospitals, and physical therapy.

MerleFest 2012

MerleFest - April 28, 2012

During one of these visits I was reading an article about writing being excellent post trauma therapy. I’ve started work on a collection of short stories, but the catalyst for this blog began with an article I read about Frank Rogers in the Florence Morning News. You can read the article here. There are several previous articles that I was not aware of that you will enjoy (here and here). Below is my letter in response to the July 12, 2012 article:

I read about Frank Rogers speaking at Kiwanis with enjoyment, great admiration, some regret and then I had a personal experience that inspired me to write. I enjoy writing songs too. I’ll sit down in the morning with a cup of coffee, my guitar, pen and paper, and let my mind run wild between my musical and lyrical ideas. When they coincide it’s a thrill that leaves me smiling the rest of the day. It was fun to read how he has taken this feeling to the top. My wife is the innkeeper at Spears Guest House in Cheraw and I’ve been able to turn a pastime of teaching and playing the guitar into Larry Spears Live. While we may be at the opposite end of the scale from Frank, we live a fun and enjoyable lifestyle here in Cheraw (where the Sand Hills intersect the Pee Dee).

I also identify with Buzz’s pride of Frank. Our children lead interesting and successful lives in D.C. and Alaska (although I’m a little envious because I don’t yet have a grandchild). When I sit around the kitchen table too long and it’s time to teach, the song writing thrill can turn to guilt for not “fixing the screen” or whatever needs to be done (I’m also the innkeeper’s handyman). There’s just not enough time in the day. Now I’m having to come to terms with an accident that has left me unable to use my fretting hand. I miss playing but I’m not complaining. My slightest thought of self pity signals similar feelings of guilt.  My injury becomes insignificant when I see wounded soldiers younger than my own children that will never get to begin something that I’ve enjoyed for so long. I’m very fortunate. I can still write, although without my guitar the lyrics seem more like stand up comedy lines than songs.

The day after reading the article I walked into the guest house to greet a family from the Netherlands. I saw the expressions on their faces change when they saw the splint I wear. “We know you play the guitar,” the father said. “Do you play?” I asked. Thirteen year old Anna and ten year old Luke both answered yes (how could they not with names from The Band’s song “The Weight?”). “I can’t anymore,” I said, “but I have a room full of guitars that want to be played if y’all will help me.”  You should have seen the smiles that returned to their faces. This brother and sister gave my guitars a workout they’ve been missing and the “Bad Hand Man” got a chance to hone his one hand harmonica technique. Anna is writing songs and has a voice that reminded me of Tara Nevins. She took the lead playing and singing and Luke backed her, singing harmony and playing a rhythm that sounded similar to J.J. Cale. A toe-tapping and refreshing sound to me. Maybe it’s the European version of Americans sitting around playing bluegrass and blues. I told then about Frank and the article. They aren’t familiar with Brad Paisley but their perplexed looks returned to smiles when I mentioned Darius Rucker…  Because I can’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t love it… I’ve still gotta life even if I can’t play …I gotta get up I’m starting to feel guilty… I gotta go man it’s getting late. Sounds like a  song. Did you kids see my pencil?   Thanks for the article. Wow! Six generations. I’ve been smiling all week.

Music on porch of Spears Guest House

 

Music on porch of Spears Guest House

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Bennettsville, SC – 07/30/11

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Florida, Then and Now: Part One

It was a nice spring night and we were sitting on the porch at Spears Guest House enjoying a glass of wine with a guest. I was drinking red, Kay and our guest Grace were drinking white.

 

Spears Guest House porch

 

Grace was telling us about her plans for her son’s rehearsal party. I almost knocked over my bottle of wine jumping at the chance she offered me. The chance to play on a sunset cruise out of Tarpon Springs, Florida for the wedding party. Luckily, the wine didn’t spill. People will talk about you for spilling red wine, especially if it spills on something of theirs.

 

Somehow or another, Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina became the staging area for the trip. Maybe it was the ghost of my late friend Sydney Hughes guiding us. Sydney and I used to take trips and if we were going North, South or West we would go to Clemson University to start. I’ve never believed in ghosts, but after this trip I’m reassessing my beliefs. There were strange things happening on this trip, some I’ll share and some I believe I’ll just keep to myself.
Tarpon Springs Catamaran

 

The night before, we had packed up the pickup and backed it up into the driveway. With the truck headed in the right direction, we jumped up and left as soon as the sun came sneaking through the blinds. We didn’t even take the time to make coffee. After a quick stop for a couple of cups to go and a newspaper, we were headed down the road. We were somewhere between Wampee and Brittons Neck, South Carolina headed for our rendezvous with I-95 near Turbeville,  when the the coffee started opening our eyes and the cell phone started ringing. On the phone was our daughter Amy who also was headed for a rendezvous with her lifelong friend Katie Moore.

 

Katie Moore serving in Peace Corps in West Africa, 2010

 

Katie was returning after two and a half years of Peace Corps service in West Africa. She had a layover in D.C. and Amy had organized an elaborate  one-person welcoming party. Katie’s plane is late and they will have to settle for quick beer instead of a bottle of wine over a long lunch. Katie’s plane arrives but where is Katie? Maybe Katie is going through customs. It’s time to inquire with the officials about Katie. Where is Katie? It is almost time for her connecting flight to leave. Where is Katie? Katie is going to miss her connection. It’s time to call her parents.  Her connecting flight has left.  Where is Katie? Maybe she is still in customs and will have to catch a later flight.

 

airport sign

 

Where is Katie? Finally Katie’s dad uses his military clearances and connections and is told that Katie’s whereabouts can not be given out but that he should be at the airport in Florence, South Carolina when her plane is scheduled to arrive. We are coming into Amelia Island, Florida, our destination for the day, and have been talking and texting with Amy all this time.The phone rings. Katie is in Florence. Whew! It’s time for a drink or ten. Don’t ya’ think? A week later when we get to talk to Katie in person she says she had to pass through the area where Amy was. How did they miss each other? Why didn’t she see the posters, decorations and all the hoopla going on? Why didn’t Amy see her? Something ghostly? I don’t think so. I think that some times angels pass without noticing each other.

 

Waiting for Katie at Dulles Airport

 

I’m not kidding about the ten drinks—it might have been eleven. We fell in love with Amelia Island. We had drinks at the Palace Saloon, the oldest bar in Florida, and dinner in a courtyard cafe. I remember having a cup of she crab soup, but I can’t remember what my main course was. There is a picture of me holding a empty wine glass with a clam shell in it. I don’t usually eat clams.

 

Clam Shell in Larry's Wine Glass

 

We made friends with a young couple at another bar and then we all went back and closed down the Palace Saloon. I slept well and woke the next morning raring to go.

 

New friends at Amelia Island

 

I was having breakfast downstairs the next morning when the couple we had met the night before walked up. They were headed to the beach. I told them I had to load up furniture we had bought the day before and didn’t know if there was enough room in the truck. I was surprised they didn’t know about the furniture after all the conversation the night before.

 

To be continued.

 

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A Ghostly Story of Florida: Now and Then

The long hot days of summer get busy, and watering the plants, cutting the grass, and keeping myself hydrated take priority over writing blogs.

Larry's Backyard

Now that I’m finally sitting down to write, I have a lot to say about a trip Kay and I took to Florida in June. We went down to play for a wedding party in Tarpon Springs, with a stop in Amelia Island on the way down, and a visit to the Forgotten Coast on the way back.

SC to Florida Roadmap

Tarpon Springs and the Tampa Bay area are the NOW, and the Forgotten Coast is the THEN. The Ghost???

Stay tuned.

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Tarpon Springs, Florida – 06/23/11

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Florence, SC – 06/11/11

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Red Cross to the Rescue

This Saturday I’m taking my picking partner, Willie Weeks, on a road trip to Florence, South Carolina to pay back a debt I’ve owed the Red Cross for awhile. We’re playing for a benefit at Southern Hops and Brewery. Ten bands are on tap for the Pee Dee Chapter of The American Red Cross starting at 12:00 noon.  We play around 3:45 pm. Y’all come support a good cause. It’s hurricane season and you might be the one needing help. I did one time.

 

American Red Cross Pee Dee Chapter Logo

 

Way back in a previous life, I had to get up and be at a specific place at a specific time. I sure did. I was a lineman for the telephone company. During these years I helped restore service after many storms. The two biggest were the tornado outbreak in 1984  and Hurricane Hugo in 1989. It was during these two storms that I became aware of how much the Red Cross helps after a disaster.

 

Downed Telephone Lines from Storm Damage

 

A basic formula followed after a storm is damage assessment, damage removal, temporary service restoration, and permanent service restoration. During the first three of these steps the adrenaline flows like that of a first responder, emotions run high, and long hours that turn into weeks of hard work are required. I remember the Red Cross crews coming through the neighborhoods where we were working, offering food to the volunteers and people in need. All of us working on the phone lines would always politely refuse. We didn’t feel that we were the ones in need. The Red Cross workers would still stop to offer and a bond of friendship formed as we were all united in the same cause. They are a group of dedicated, selfless individuals.

 

Red Cross Disaster Relief Truck

The temporary restoration part of this process is a lot like improvisation in music. You have to be inventive to get around obstacles in the way. When you’re physically tired, emotionally drained, and can’t reach a consensus on how to do something, tempers start flaring and that’s when accidents happen. One day we were in the middle of a heated argument when our friend from the Red Cross came by. The way I remember it, somebody screamed at him to go help people that need it. He backed his truck up to where we were, got out, and said, “That’s what I’m gonna do”. He became as abrupt with us as we had been with him, and insisted we all sit down, drink some juice, and eat a sandwich. He preached to us about stress in disasters and shared some horror stories.  Soon we were all laughing,  apologizing, and ready to go back to work. Was a mini disaster averted in the middle of the big one? Probably was. After that day we realized that the Red Cross was there for us too, and started partaking in the juice and sandwiches when our friend came around. It’s the little things that get the big job done.

 

I’ll leave you with the Red Cross’ public service announcement that has John Mayer performing his song, “Heart of Life.” Hope to see you tomorrow!

Posted in Benefit, Gigs, South Carolina | 1 Comment

Cheraw, SC – 06/04/11

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How Old is Too Old?

In his book, A Salty Piece of Land, Jimmy Buffet has a heroine named Cleopatra Highbourne that is 101 years old. Cleopatra sails all around the Caribbean on a 142-foot schooner named Lucretia that is also over a hundred years old. Reading the book you meet Cleopatra in the first few pages. She sparked my curiosity, but at the same time I remember pausing for a moment to think that this might be a little bit ridiculous. I’m a big Jack Sparrow fan and I am not deterred by a little ridiculousness. I can see through to the truth. I’m such a Jack Sparrow fan that once I only narrowly escaped several chances of being locked up while doing my best impersonation. It was in Tampa, Florida during the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. I wandered through a crowd, lost and alone, infuriating mothers of little children, unintentionally antagonizing the police, helplessly trying to find my way from the docks to a parade reviewing stand.

Jack Sparrow

Jack Sparrow

Still, Cleopatra Highbourne has always seemed a little far fetched, until last weekend. Last weekend Kay and I hosted a party at our bed and breakfast, and among the guests were Annie and her mother, Ann Rivers from Chesterfield. Johnny Cash’s mother was a Rivers from Chesterfield. This should have been seen as a sign. It was a beautiful afternoon and as we enjoyed a cocktail hour it soon became apparent that Ann Rivers was very inspiring and quickly becoming the hit of the party. As cocktail parties are meant to do, ours became increasingly lively till the seafood gumbo was served. After we ate, I brought out a couple of guitars and Willie Weeks and I began to entertain. We all sang and laughed and after awhile the Rivers ladies got up and started going around saying their good-byes. As they were leaving, they were met by two carloads of police responding to reports of an out of control party. Their attitudes of authority were thwarted by Anne Rivers’ spunk. Besides, how often do you think they are met by a 97 year old lady when they raid a party? A lady only four years younger than the fictional Cleopatra Highbourne.

A couple of days later I was on the metal roof over a porch cleaning out gutters. Kay was sitting on the porch and heard the commotion as I fell and slid toward the edge. I had made a stupid decision and stepped on a slick spot. “You’re too old to be on the roof,” she fussed after seeing that I was all right. “How old is too old?” I replied. Getting old is not a problem. Staying smart, that’s the trick.

Staying smart - that's the trick.

 

 

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Turn Your Radio On

You know that smile you get on your face when you put on a coat that you haven’t worn in a while and you reach in the pocket and find a five dollar bill? Well, I got that smile on my face this past weekend. I was headed down to Ocean Isle from Cheraw. My favorite route these days is to take Hwy. 9 out of Cheraw, SC, 177 out of Wallace, SC, get on 74 near Hamlet, NC, off 74 near Hallsboro, NC cutting over to 130, then right at the caution light in Ash, NC and on in to Ocean Isle. Anyhow, this past Thursday just where the speed limit jumps from 60 to 70 on 74 between Laurinburg and Lumberton, NC, I reached up and hit one of the preset buttons on the radio. In my mind I was thinking, “I just punched the wrong button,” but I liked the song that was playing so I didn’t correct my mistake. I was in the process of increasing my speed and passing another vehicle when another good song came on. This wasn’t supposed to be happening because I had hit the preset for 94.9 The Surf which went off the air in January. Imagine my surprise when the  call letters were announced and it was The Surf, back on the air.

94.9 The Surf

My two favorite radio stations—and I think they are the best radio stations in the world—are The Surf in Ocean Drive, SC and WNCW 88.7 out of Spindale, NC. I had punched the preset for The Surf out of habit because where the speed limit changes is also where it comes into range. WNCW comes into range right at the airport in Charlotte as I get off of 485 and onto 85 when I’m headed to the High Country. WNCW plays an eclectic mix of  music that is mostly out of the mainstream but is as good as it gets. The Surf plays Beach Music. Both of them are also available through their websites. Why do I think these are the two best radio stations in the world? Because they provide the momentum to keep styles of music going that might die or remain unknown.

WNCW Logo

Knowing that The Surf is back on the air thrilled me as much or more than I thrilled my Daddy and his friends one day many years ago. I pulled up in front of my Daddy’s grocery store in a new car I had just bought. My dad and his buddies came out to make a detailed inspection and find out the who, what, when, where, and why. They walked around and around, got in and out, and finally burst into laughter when my Daddy said, “You’re the only person I know that would trade cars to get a better radio.”


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