Nine Hundred Miles|
If you can imagine following someone's music for over forty years but never having the opportunity to see either a live or televised performance, then you can imagine the excitement of finding out he was going to be playing in Nashville, a mere 900 miles away, (actually 870). When I first discovered the announcement of the concert on an internet news group, I immediately began planning the trip. After discussing it with my wife Kathy, we thought we'd fly down, stay the night and come back the following day. An expensive and demanding trip to see my personal hero, guitar legend Duane Eddy. Thinking such a tiring travel schedule might take away from our enjoyment of the night, we modified our plans and decided to drive, taking the whole week to get there and get back. We arrived on Tuesday and did a little sight seeing first. We took the tour of Ryman and were surprised to find out how small it was compared to the big, impersonal stadiums that most concerts are held in. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that we had front row seats.
The night of the show we arrived as Muriel Anderson was performing. We weren't aware that there was a pre-show and missed the first few minutes of this remarkable guitarist. Tommy Emanuel was next but played only one song, "Mr. Guitar". The excitement began to build as we noticed a guy in a football jersey bending over to plug in an amplifier. The shirt said "Vinny" on the back. Seeing Amy Grant at the same time confirmed that this was Vince Gill. Then the lights went down and I could see a figure dressed in black with a distinctive black hat reaching for the big orange Gretsch that was waiting on the stage. It was Duane. He opened with "Dance With The Guitar Man", and followed with an hour that included much of the music that I've worshiped for more than 40 years. There were many great moments during the concert that featured John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Willie Nelson, Marty Stewart, Nanci Griffith and more. There was also commentary by Chet Atkins and the mayor of Nashville who acknowledged the governor of Tennessee in the audience as he conferred the title, "Titan of Twang" on Duane.
After being totally overwhelmed by the concert, we walked next door to the Bell South Tower for the reception, hoping to get a handshake and maybe even an autograph. I didn't have my hopes too high as we expected it to be very crowded and it was. Soon after Duane arrived, there was a crowd of about 40 people completely encircling him. Kathy got the camera ready and positioned herself about ten feet away, hoping to get a picture as I shook Duane's hand. With so many people there we decided to wait and retreated to listen to a string quartet playing in the corner. About a half hour later the line had dwindled down to about a dozen and we got in line again. This time Kathy was able to get in position to get a clear shot and after another 15 minutes, Duane finally turned to me as I introduced myself.
"Hi Duane", I said, "My name is Bill Howell, my wife and I drove nine hundred miles to see your concert". With a firm handshake he completely surprised me with the following reply. "Oh, you're the one!... We heard about you". My first reaction was disbelief. Must have been another Bill Howell. At that point Duane retrieved his wife, Deed from another conversation and said, "This is Bill Howell, the guy I was telling you about!". Now I KNEW he had the wrong guy and I was a little disappointed it wasn't me. My disappointment was short lived however as I finally realized he WAS talking about us. "This is the couple who drove nine hundred miles to see the show", he added. Then I remembered that earlier in the day we had lunch at a little BBQ place next to Ryman. While waiting in line several guys wearing what looked like stage passes came in. We could see that they were in a hurry and offered to let them go first. One particularly friendly guy refused our offer. I somehow sensed that he was someone important. I was right. "Can you tell us what Duane's going to play tonight?", I asked. "I could tell you a couple of songs, but we've got things planned that even Duane doesn't know yet", he replied with a grin. We told him about our long drive to see the show and he obviously told Duane. I couldn't believe our good fortune. Needless to say I'll remember that night for a long time. It was so amazing to find out that the great Duane Eddy was also a warm and friendly human being who might also remember us. Duane motioned for Kathy to come over and asked Deed to take a picture of the three of us.
Wow! It's hard to believe that these people are actually celebrities. They were both so warm and friendly that I forgot for a minute I was talking to the "Titan of Twang". I wished I could have talked longer but there was still a pretty full line behind us. I wanted to ask Duane what kind of strings he uses. I wanted to ask where I could find tablature for his songs and maybe tell him I had just finished recording my favorite song, Miriam from his Silky Strings album (for family use only). But unfortunately there just wasn't enough time. So I'll look forward to the next concert and hope it's closer than 900 miles.
Bill & Kathy Howell