Author: Compton, Cliff


I had to drive to Stockton today, and then on to Modesto. I had the ipod on shuffle, and music was the perfect companion. My tastes are eclectic, everything from John Prine to Segovia, and that can startle you out of your reverie, when Alison Brown is followed by Big Mamma Thornton, or Ralph Stanley by Watermelon Slim. All of my friends with C.D’s are scattered throughout the play list and it’s generally a sweet surprise when I hear the voice of a dear friend filling my car with the magic of his/her song. Today it was Snap Jackson, and then the stump town rounders, and then Rags Raglan…

When Rags started to sing my heart kinda jumped. It was a voice from beyond. My old friend. The dapper old swing guitar player who always tipped his hat and winked at the ladies whenever he walked in a room. He died last year. One of a procession of musicians that I picked with and cared about and have missed, as life without them has continued. And here he was singing about how every tear would become a rose….

I continued on down the road, and somewhere around Lodi, I heard the sweet sounds of Ernie Hunt and Bob James, those old rascals from “Hoof-hearted”, who sang the sweetest harmony since the Louvin Brothers, and I thought about how Bob is no longer here with us, and how my friend Ernie almost died this year as well., and I remember them asking me on stage with them at Wild Iris and how privileged I felt to sing with them back when I first began to play this wonderful music.

And a few songs later, it was “Western Lights” and I remembered how we almost lost Gene, the wonderful banjo player within the last couple of years and….

Believe it or not, this is not an obituary column. Life is what it is, and death comes to us all, but lately I’ve been thinking about a video I have. A precious video of a dear departed and close friend. Lloyd Butler. I’ve written about him before, and I’ll probably write about him again, but this video is the one that got me thinking. Thinking about Youtube.

Lloyd was a couple of weeks from the end of his life when Jim Johnson, Betty Nolan, and my wife Trudy went up to see him. He wanted to pick and we wanted to pick with him. We recorded “I’m a pilgram”, and Wayne Nolan’s favorite, ”I’m crying my eyes out over you.”, and Lloyd is singing and playing with his whole heart, and I’m soooo glad I have those videos.

When I watch them, tears usually come to my eyes, not because he’s gone, but because it seems as if he’s still here and I’m getting to pick with him all over again.

So I Got me a Youtube channel. Nancy Zuniga helped me set it up, and my wife Trudy has been shooting videos of me playing with my friends. Now part of that is vanity, I guess, but there’s a sense of urgency to it. I want to keep my friends with me as long as I can. I want to relive the joy that we’ve shared. I don’t want them slipping out into the night and disappearing from my life. That all happens too quickly anyway. I’ve got good times wrapped around so many of you. Accapella harmonies at 3:00 in the morning of a campout in Turlock, An eclectic jam at grass valley with monster group of fine pickers and the unexpected cameo of a trumpet player ripping through some wonderful something. The Boston boys singing high lonesome harmonies that would make Bill Monroe Jealous. Randy Morton singing a hunting song about a killers lullabye up on lovers mountin. Bean creek singing unaccompanied four part gospel in the middle of the night at Plymouth. Pure magic.

I missed all of those things. Untaped video’s living only in the coils of my fragile memory. I wish the camera had been rolling.

So if you see my wife with a camera, please sing from your heart. I’m gonna play that video and maybe post it. And I’m gonna think about you while you’re here and after you’re gone. And my hope is that my children will play those videos after I’m gone, and remember me as I am now and the friends who helped sustain me while I lived.
Posted:  2/11/2011

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