Leon and Jony
I have to tell you about one of the finest moments of my life. It’s important to get it right.
The moment was a precious jewel, and I feel that I’m carrying it on a velvet pillow; I don’t want to drop it.

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 dystrophy. LeonGradually, 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.
leon & friendsLeon 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 to roll.

in the control room
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.

You can hear the song here. I hope you will pick a quiet moment to listen to it. Wait until the end of the day and pour yourself a drink. Sit on the couch and turn on the music - not too loud. Listen to Leon and Jony making music like there is no tomorrow. Maybe time will stop for you, as it does for me every time I hear it.