On a bookcase in my guest room, there’s an old brass bell that found its home with me after my Grandma and Granddaddy Brooks passed away. I remember the bell being passed around in my grandmother’s dining room at Sunday dinners all throughout my childhood. Grandma Brooks would let the grandkids ring it vigorously at the start of that formal Sunday ritual, before my Uncle Chuck said the blessing and before the lima beans and roast beef started getting passed around.
The bell itself has always felt a little sacred to me; I remember being told that it came all the way from Saudi Arabia, where my dad’s friend Steve’s father was once stationed with the Army. The actual bell inside of the brass piece fell out a long time ago – probably the result of too many grandkids giving it a ring – and so it sits silently in a corner of my house these days. When nights are quiet and still on the street where I live, I’d swear I can faintly hear it ringing.
Silent bells and other ghosts seem to follow us into adulthood, like song lyrics long ago committed to that place in our memories that can’t be written down or printed out or framed. I was visited by one such “ghost” last Friday when I caught a live performance at Howard’s on Main of three Greenwood greats: Will Thompson, Ronnie Goldman and Ashby Stokes. In a happy and familiar place in my memory I can remember being a kid with Will Thompson and learning firsthand what I still hear these days: the kid can harmonize like one of The Four Seasons.
Will Thompson is a very familiar face in the local music scene, and what I didn’t know as a child was that Will is also the master of rhythm. These days he’s racked up some serious street cred, having played drums with local bands Bad Weather States, KRAWfish, Honeybone and Brown Sugar Substitute, and often backing up local guitarists including Keller Ridgeway, Stan Lockaby and Ashby Stokes.
And it’s no wonder Will is getting so much stage time, because his drumming doesn’t just keep time for the lead musician. Listening to Will play drums is akin to hearing a classic rock song for the first time – it sounds like something you might’ve heard before, only a lot better.
Will’s timing is outstanding, and his subtle changes in percussive intensity add depth to every song I’ve heard him play. Last weekend I heard his work on Eric Clapton’s “After Midnight” and Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.” If I had one criticism to offer, it’d be that Will’s always pushed to the back of the stage – like every other drummer, ever – and it can be hard to see everything Will’s adding to the song.
Last Friday, the band also treated the crowd to “Tea in the Sahara” by The Police and Clapton’s “Change the World.” Ashby, Ronnie and Will held the crowd at Howard’s with crazy-good harmonies and mastery of drums, acoustic guitar and bass. Next time you read that the immensely talented trio is playing live, don’t stay at home.
The weatherman says it might rain this weekend, which means it just might get quiet enough at my house to hear old bells ring and new songs float down the street. Get out there this weekend and hear something that will follow you home.