By Trish Finlay
As I write this, I see Al clearly, sitting across the room from where I held my guitar in the circle we formed each Thursday morning. Roland to my right and Theresa- better known to our group as “The Diva” to my left – Jack sitting in the doorway just in case someone called or came in and Bob with his keyboard somewhere in the middle. Anyone else who was able to make the open jam at Jack's Guitar Garage was more than welcome.
Al's guitar was another appendage- not merely an instrument. Even more than that Guild that he played in his “Al style,” was that voice – deep rich and pure and always in the key of G.
Al sang old time country songs. Many songs we'se never even heard before, but somehow with Al singing they all sounded like we'se known them forever. Like the songs he sang- he had a way about him that made you feel like you had known him forever.
Music stores can be intimidating to a fledgling musician like myself – sitting in on a jam sounded so cool. Too cool for the likes of me, but not with this group. Not only did they welcome me in but helped me to grow in more ways than just playing guitar. We all became like family and Al was my father figure.
Al became the main voice and not in an egotistical way – in the pure love of music way. I's not a performer even though I do write songs. It's a whole different ballgame sitting in with the real musicians. The ones who pick up their instruments and shout out the key they will be playing in. I knew nothing of keys and suspended chords but we all shared a love of the song.
Roland and I would clumsily bump guitars while getting into position and the razzing would begin. But while we set up, Al was always at the ready – coffee on the floor beside him and a smile on his face and the jam would begin, “There stands the glass that will ease all my pain, that will settle my brain…” and the lot of us would join into his big voice and my small voice would try to reach his but never fully made it.
If I dared sing, Al became my focal point because he would wink at me like a father would wink at his own daughter encouraging her to go on. It was like being a little girl riding a bicycle for the first time – without training wheels. He was there pushing me until he knew I could do it on my own.
My Thursday mornings became a sort of private piece of Heaven for me.? But eventually, my work schedule changed and my Thursday morning happiness ended. Others filled the chairs. Once in a while time would allow me to join in like old times and Al always gave me a big hug.
Al and I kept in touch through e-mail and I appointed him my “safe person”. The one I would send my latest songs to and let him hear me sing. I's shy when it comes to singing so I only let a few people in. Al was my choice.
Last week we lost Al. We are heartbroken. No one will fill his place. Al was a part of many local jams and performances. He sang as carefree as he lived. Its amazing how one person can touch so many lives. He sure touched mine.
I happen to be having surgery on the 17th and the last e-mail I got from Al said, “I'sl be thinking of you on the 17th Trish” and you know what? I know he will be.
Al, I promise to sing loud enough for you to hear me and I know you'sl be winking down from the Heaven you helped create.