So I’ll just tell it to you straight. I am
a country singer and fiddler. I travel to Europe and tour and sell CD’s.
It’s not the big-time, but I love my work and I make a living.
In Holland, I am part of a touring theater show.
Leon is the pianist with the show. He has a disease similar to muscular
his muscles are withering away. He has already lost the use of his legs,
and his arms and hands are getting weak. Shaking hands with Leon is
like holding a soft, fragile bag of sticks.
He knows his career will be shortened. Perhaps his life will be shortened,
too. So Leon makes the most of every gig. I have played about 200 shows
with him, and he always seems to be smiling onstage - even when
its cold and he must keep his hands warm with a blowdryer; even when
the steel player is not listening or the producer is pissed off or the
sound is bad, Leon takes pleasure in making music. He appreciates it.
Jony was one of the singers in our show. She adopted me as her little
brother when I first came to Holland and was so lost and homesick. I
love her to bits.
Her mother is a jazz singer and her father was a guitarist. Her uncle
was a famous tenor in Amsterdam. Jony is the most “natural”
singer I know. Her voice is clear and strong, and it never seems to
occur to her to be nervous or doubt herself in any way. Its not that
she is conceited; its just that singing is easy for her.
Jony and Leon, along with their band, “Desperado,”
recorded an album a couple of years ago. The asked me to play fiddle,
and I was glad to do it. I went into the studio and added my fiddle
to tracks which had already been recorded. Most of the band was there.
After I finished my overdubs, it came time for them to record the lovely
song, “Rust,” by the American songwriter, Lynn Miles. They
decided to use only piano and voice.
You must understand that Leon has great difficulty playing a grand piano.
The keys offer too much resistance; his hands aren’t strong enough.
So usually, Leon must play a synthesizer with very soft key action.
But there was a fine full-sized concert grand piano in the studio, and
Leon longed to play it. I felt for him. It would have been as if the
studio had provided me with a Stradivarius.
decided to record on the concert grand. There was some discussion in
Dutch, so Jony had to fill me in: nobody knew whether Leon could even
play the piano, and even if he could, he might get only one pass at
the song before his hands and arms were exhausted. It might even be
painful for him. He would not be able to use the pedals.
Hans, the drummer, lifted Leon from his wheelchair and placed him on
the piano stool. Jony took her place under the microphone. The rest
of us gathered in the control room, and the engineer rolled the tape.
Leon played flawlessly. He made every note count. Jony sang with her
usual ease and confidence, but with a little extra heart; she was singing
for Leon. He let the last note ring for a long time while the tape continued
When the engineer finally pressed the STOP button, we all sat still
for awhile. The silence was like a warm bath. None of us could speak.
Time has no meaning in a moment like that, so I can’t tell you
how long it lasted. Somebody stirred, and I made a stupid joke, and
normal life began again. But we all took something precious away from
the studio that day. It was the finest musical moment of my life, and
I didn’t even have an instrument in my hands.