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My dad was a Blues Man. That’s with a capital “B.” Before he was an artist, before he was a husband, before he was a father or a grandfather, he was a Blues Man. Anyone who knows a Blues Man knows that the blues isn’t something you do. It’s something that you are. Some folks are just born with the blues in them. They can’t fight it. They can’t hide it. If the blues is in them, sooner or later, it will come out.
My dad must have understood that, because he never fought the blues within him. He embraced it, and by the time I was born he was already well and truly a Blues Man.
I grew up listening to my dad, and the many bands he played in, rocking out the blues every Sunday night. We had stacks of blues records in the house. Blues CDs piled on every surface. There were magazines, songbooks and biographies of all the great blues heroes. We had blues on the radio and the TV. The man kept a guitar pick on his keychain and a harmonica in his glove compartment, for heaven’s sake!
Dad loved the blues. It was who he was. The only thing he loved more than the blues was sharing the blues. Especially with his son.
Most of my happiest memories of our time together centered around music. Many was the school night that I spent out late in a bar listening to the blues. We traveled the country together selling and trading — but mostly buying — vintage guitars, spent hundreds of hours looking for treasure in record stores and pawn shops — so many pawn shops! — and of course, the weekly guitar lessons that we shared. We were a great team, a Blues Man and a Blues Man’s son. Except that my dad never had a son.
By the time I came out to my dad as a transgender woman, he was already very ill. He was living in a nursing home and we had been separated by the pandemic for many months. He had difficulty speaking on the phone, and I wasn’t sure how much of what I’d just told him had been understood. I didn’t know if he understood what my being trans meant. I definitely didn’t know how he felt about it because, for all of the fun we’d had and all the time we’d shared, the two of us weren’t great at sharing our personal stuff. We didn’t talk feelings. We talked blues.
Parkinson’s disease is a terrible thing to watch. As my dad’s illness progressed I watched as his musical skills declined. It broke my heart to see. Not just because he was a gifted player, but because my dad was a Blues Man. Music was his life, the air he breathed.
Eventually, he wasn’t comfortable performing anymore. It wasn’t long after that that he came to my house and gave me his hat.
Somewhere during our adventures my dad had come into possession of a stately, and quite deeply bluesy, black fedora hat. This hat was the tall, wide brimmed, variety of fedora. The sort of hat Al Capone would have respected. He began wearing this hat during his performances. I remember seeing my dad in that hat, that Blues Man, up on the stage, blowing thunder out of his harmonica.