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"Our Rogues Gallery: The Piano Man"

   Jackie Ball was a great pianist and a wino. He looked like a skid row bum and played like
Art Tatum. He used to wander in and out of Hollywood bars, playing for wine and maybe a
buck tip.
    Once, when a bar patron moaned that his wife would give him hell for coming home late, 
I heard Jackie mumble, "I wish somebody cared that much about me."
    The story was that Jackie's wife was addicted to men and left him for a bunch of other 
guys. Jackie loved the wrong person too much, and hit the skids.
    He became a mean, sarcastic old alcoholic who gave the townspeople a daily surprise by 
being alive while looking dead.
    He lived in his old Dodge convertible which had no top, and in rainy weather he slept 
in water. He consented to give me a few advanced piano lessons because I was "the only
sonofabitch that ever asked."
    Somehow age had slowed down his ex-wife's activities and she agreed to try again with 
him. He quit drinking, got some teeth, took a bath, and rejoined her in Buffalo.
    He was becoming a model citizen, when he died six months later during a hernia 
operation.
    I never did get the lessons. He knew some tricks, chords, and technique that I would 
like to have learned. Too bad he never made any records. The world missed out.
    I guess the moral here is: Genius alone doesn't make you lucky.

Copyright  January 11, 2001 by Jack Blanchard.

 

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