Stories I’ve Never Told You

(Not) alone on a saxophone

Sun, 05/10/2015 - 8:00am

Some call it fate. Others see divine intervention — proof that “somebody up there” is hard at work directing our day-to-day human drama.

In the end I’m not so sure it even matters where the phenomenon comes from. The point is, this stuff really happens.

The experience I’m referring to begins with a vague feeling that something important is about to transpire. This is quickly followed by a tingling sensation along the neck and a sudden, irrational conviction that, from this moment forward, your life is destined to be permanently intertwined with that of some random person whom you are just meeting for the very first time.

Even if this hasn’t happened to you (yet!) trust me, it’s happened to enough other folks to become a useful plot device in popular fiction.

Holy dramatic foreshadowing, Batman! You won’t have to look very hard to find a novel, play, film or television mini-series featuring: star-crossed lovers; joined-at-the-hip rivals; some minor character whose true significance bubbles to the surface just as the plot begins to thicken; or all of the above.

An excellent example from my own life would be the very first time I met Richie G.

I was in my mid-twenties. Having recently relocated from Portland to Palmyra, Maine, I was struggling to assemble some local musicians to form a rhythm and blues band.

I’d just about convinced myself that all the good players really were already taken, when I began to hear rumors of a “killer sax player” who performed at a nearby health food restaurant.

Apparently this fellow, Richie G. worked solo — playing a saxophone. OK, how many, solo sax players have you run across lately? Yeah. Me too. I decided to stop by and see what all the fuss was about.

As I approached the little storefront restaurant, a low, smoky melody drifted toward me on the warm breeze. Stepping inside, I was amazed to find that there was literally standing room only and they were all staring at a tiny plywood stage in the corner of the room.

There, in a warm puddle of yellow light, wearing jeans and a crisp white T-shirt, head thrown back, knees bowed, eyes closed in deep concentration stood the man himself, Richie G., performing his one man show, “Alone on a Saxophone.”

Hearing Richie that evening was like discovering a new kind of poetry.

“Wow,” I thought. “How can I get this guy in the band?”

It was right about then that my neck started to tingle.

Amazingly enough, Richie actually did join the band, which was terrific. He may have been “from away” but he was the “real deal.” He had stellar musical chops, tons of experience, plus he was from freakin’ New York City, man!

Even within the free wheelin’ parameters of mid-70s rural Maine culture, Richie’s personality took some getting used to. Funny, smart, talented and charismatic, he was also a serious back-to-the-land health food guy with zero tolerance for fuzzy-minded pseudo science. He also had a city-bred directness not often found among the crunchy granola set.

And for me there was something else: he had an unshakable premonitory sense that our lives were destined to be connected, in ways we couldn’t have imagined back then.

Here’s the strangest part. It turned out to be true.

Fast forward a few years. The band has broken up. Richie and his wife Julie now own their own heath food store in Florida. So, who do they ask to design their logo? Ayuh, that’d be me.

Is it a coincidence that I “just happened” to be visiting Richie when I learned of the tragic death of my friend Marshall Dodge? I think not.

Eventually Richie and Julie parlayed their little storefront business (with the awesome Tim Sample logo) into the most successful chain of health food stores in South Florida.

Meanwhile, back in Maine, I continued recording and performing and writing books. We stayed connected as much as time, careers and family commitments would allow. Children were born, grew up and moved away. Four decades passed. We stayed in touch.

There’s a deep connection there. We both know it but I’m not sure whether either of us could explain what it is. We just know that we’re there for each other. Sometimes that’s all you need to know.

When I last visited Richie at his beautiful home in Fort Lauderdale, I mentioned writing this newspaper column. “Writing!” I groused. “It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done!”

Glancing up from his bowl of granola, Richie raised an eyebrow, shook his head and gave me that look.

“Really,” he said. “I take it you’ve never tried digging ditches.”