Author: Campbell, Bruce

The Neon Silver Mind of Lloyd McCray

I have written often about the bonds that music creates between musicians. It’s a magical thing, really, and it never ceases to amaze me. But I want to bring some more folks into this orbit, because over the years, I have seen amazing binds created between musicians and music lovers. I’ll give you a recent example.

This one springs to mind right now because the gentleman in question has just recently passed away, and I miss him now, and will continue to miss him. I play a long running twice monthly gig in Berkeley with the Whiskey Brothers, and we have some steady listeners. I would call them fans, but I won’t be so presumptuous – they’re just people who attend our shows regularly. For all I know, they’re there every night! But I digress.

This particular gentleman appeared one night and was enthusiastically attentive. His name was Lloyd McCray, and he was an interesting man. He split time between some property up in Penn Valley (where he had a few head of cattle), and Oakland. He liked the Whiskey Brothers’ brand of Bluegrass-meets-country-meets-swing-meets-Mexican Polka, and made a point to meet us all and express thanks for the shows.

One night, he confessed that he was a budding songwriter, even though he was not a musician. But he conceived of some songs, and wrote down the lyrics. He asked if maybe we could collaborate, and I could write some music to go with his lyrics. It
sounded like fun, so he passed me several lyric sheets. He had a gift for a decently clever turn-of-phrase (one of his songs was titled "Neon Silver Mine"), and I could sense the inspiration in his words. I took them home, and tried to create some songs out of them.

The word weren’t written with a meter in mind, so if I managed to come up with a chord pattern and melody to fit one stanza, the next one might not fit at all. So I had to do some chopping and rewording to make it work, rhythmically. It was fun and challenging to create a song in this way, and I recorded some demos of the songs in my home studio and gave Lloyd a CD. He was ecstatic – he wanted me to get a band together and record the songs in a real studio and he had copyrighted logos and such to help market the songs. He was such a wonderful expansive and effusive man; it was hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm. But, we’re all busy, and some months ago, when I saw Lloyd, he said he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I saw him less often after that, and every time I did see him, I was thrilled to see how robust he looked – he never looked like a man with cancer – nor did he ever act like it. I thought maybe he was kicking that cancer’s butt.

But last weekend, there was a call on my machine from his wife – Lloyd had passed away. So the big plans for the CD are on indefinite hold. But I still have a number of his lyric sheets – I will check with his widow to see if she’d like me to return them, or maybe, try and make some more songs. Lloyd was such a nice guy, always cheerful, and he never let on to the fear he must have felt. I’m glad to have met him, and thrilled my music touched him.

Posted:  5/4/2011

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