by: Jon Worley

I’ve died twice in my life: once as I was being born, and once in a car wreck when I was 9. I’ve been baptized twice in my life, once by my grandfather when I was 8, and once by Wallace Coleman in a Waffle House when I was twenty-three. One gave me the strength to save my own soul, the other gave me the courage to crawl down the hole and suck and blow. [That’s a harmonica reference.]

Wallace Coleman. Photo by Judy Dixon.

Wallace Coleman. Photo by Judy Dixon.

The day I met Wallace Coleman started like any other. I was up early with the consequences of the night before making me wish I didn’t have a head to ache, when my next door neighbor began frantically beating my door and screaming for help. The lady was in a bit of a hurry to move out of the apartment next to mine, and in the hustle of the move, her 20 pound cat, Snuggles, had crawled 20 feet under the staircase and had some sort of kitty coronary. The cat was unresponsive and to be honest I thought it was dead. She emphatically insisted that I do something to get the cat out. I calmly explained that the only way we could remove the cat from under the stairs was with a Louisiana gator noose. She sobbed and nodded her head. For those of you who have never had need of a Louisiana gator noose, it consists of a long straight sturdy branch with a noose and a rope attached to the end of it.

gator nooseI calmly unpacked my Swedish Sven camp saw and hacked a limb off the willow tree behind the apartment complex. I dragged it to the tailgate of my Fox to begin working on it. The elderly woman’s daughter walked up and started sobbing and yelling at me to hurry. I asked her to please calm down before I saw my hand off. Of course, that was the point where I sawed a good 2 inches into the web of my hand in between my thumb and my fore finger.

The lady’s daughter began screaming hysterically as blood began to spurt a good 6 inches into the air.  I calmly asked her to go get me some paper towels, I then turned to my then wife and asked her to grab me a roll of duct tape, a tube of Neosporin, and some super glue. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Rambo First Blood, but hillbilly triage is something closely akin to that.

rambo knife

I cleaned the cut which required stitches that the uninsured can’t afford, so I did the next best thing: I proceeded to lather it up with super glue to suture the wound. I wrapped it in ductape, put a glove on, got the cat out from under the stairs, and proceeded to meditate like a madman to cope with the pain of having severed a tendon or two in my right hand.

Snuggles survived!

Snuggles survived!

I got cleaned up after the lady thanked me, and I tried not to think about the recovery for a musician with an injury like this, without insurance and no extra money. I put on my uniform and went to start my first day at my new job, the west end Waffle House.

Obviously showing up late on your first day at work with an severe and debilitating injury isn’t the best way to join the new crew, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, seeing as how the manager Earl and I had established a working relationship over the course of the many years of hanging out all night chain smoking and talking about Jesus, the Devil, and eastern religions. Earl told me to just put on an extra rubber glove and try to not touch anybody’s food…

Photo by Jacques Gautreau.

Photo by Jacques Gautreau. Used with permission.

       By noon my hand started hurting and swelling. I was beginning to reconsider my epic new career at the Waho, so I went into the bathroom and took out my trusty c-harp and wailed a while, not a lot, just enough to make me smile. I put it back in my pocket and walked out into the dining area only to see an extravagantly dressed older black couple had just sat down in my section, and as I walked up to greet them, I heard the older gentleman shout, “Hey, you are that funny little white boy that Edna’s been telling me about ain’t cha? Come on over here and talk to me for a second when you get a chance.”

Wallace Coleman CD cover.

Wallace Coleman CD cover.

I immediately made a b-line for the booth reached out my good hand and said, “Mr. Coleman, I’m Jon Worley and I’m a big fan of yours.” He looked me straight in the eye and sized me up while asking me if I really wanted to play the blues.

Wallace Coleman's hands by Charlie Shuck Photography.

Wallace Coleman’s hands by Charlie Shuck Photography.

I replied, “Of course sir.” He then gave me another squint eyed stare and began with, “Well son you know what that means don’t you? You see a big black cloud is gonna roll up over ya and cover you up everywhere you go. You’re never gonna have a car that runs, a woman ain’t ready to leave you, a dime in your pocket, or a house to lay your head and call your own. Do you really wanna play these blues now son?”

I said, “Yes Sir, I do.”

The life of a bluesman. Worley with a fan and a baby possum.

The life of a bluesman. Worley with a fan and a baby possum.

That’s when he laid it on me. He says, “Well then son you are truly gonna be a rich man. You see son, all you need is a small hole and the will to suck and blow. The secret isn’t in what you play; it’s in what you don’t play. You have to learn to bend like a reed in the wind and understand that it’s all just tension and release. As soon as you learn to tickle and gnaw you can be one of the greats. When someone is singing or doing a lead you just get up underneath ‘em and tickle ‘em up. When somebody throws you a bone, son you know you’re a starving dog, and what do we do with a bone son, we gnaw on it, play every note like it was the last note you’re ever gonna play.”


Worley with Aram Takvoyan and Todd Bryant at Sweet P’s BBQ & Soul House “Smokin’ Day.”

I immediately felt the tingly sensation you begin to feel when you’re young and in a missionary hell fire and brimstone church where the preacher has gotten particularly excited. That cold chill that warms you up from the inside out. I knew then and there why I was here. To proselytize these blues like they were some long forgotten language or some lost gospel that the world needs to hear. I was going to spend the rest of my life living in a van and being just a step away from a manic street preacher. The thought would scare the hell out of most people, but not me.

I was ready for it.

I bowed to Mr. Coleman, turned and yelled at Earl, “ I’ll catch you later brother,” clocked out, went home and played my harp for nearly 20 hours straight trying to unlock all of the mystical secret a ten holed piece of Chinese copper and plastic would allow.

Jon Worley’s music and performance dates can be found on Reverbnation.

© Jon Worley, 2013.



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