Some years ago, I was asked to play a song at the funeral of a friend. Those are hard requests to turn down but they are even more difficult to carry out. I reluctantly did a song but have figured out, these many years later, that there was another reason, the real reason, for me to be there that day. There was a piano player who also participated in the program. There was something about the way he played that immediately caught my attention. I was impressed by his skill, was moved by his sensitivity to the meaning of the moment, and was happy that I had the chance to meet him before he left the building.
I have realized in hindsight that I played at the funeral that day so that I could meet Dewayne Creswell.
In the past three or four years, I’ve had the gift of his musical collaboration but, better yet, the gift of his friendship on the road. He is a man of winsome good humor, virtuosic musicianship, remarkable patience, gracious humility, and enviable wisdom. … Given that I don’t read music, and that I further complicate things by using a number of non-standard tunings for most of the songs I write, it takes a longsuffering and talented soul to navigate the depths of my musical ignorance. Dewayne does it masterfully and always cheerfully; he has never belittled by limitations and his musical education has not once interfered with his ability to “hear” and enter into the songs that we do together.
Last Friday illustrates how we work together.
We were to do a concert in Montgomery with good friend, Bebo Norman. I wanted to have a new song with which to open the concert so I started working on an idea late Thursday afternoon. I had a little time on Friday morning to work a bit more on the idea and came up with something that I thought might be usable. When I went to pick up Dewayne around lunch time, I asked him if we could work on the new tune, which was still under construction. Within an hour, Dewayne had learned it, had written out a music chart for it, and had added it to the songbook which houses our repertoire. … When I write songs these days, I do so with confidence that, if a song feels a bit anemic in my guitar-playing hands, he will nourish it to health with his piano. Few musical moments are as enjoyable to me as playing a song for the first time after Dewayne has figured out his part. Pure magic.
I still do lots of events by myself and am thankful that a song on a wee little guitar can still speak to listeners. But any of you who’ve heard me when Dewayne is along can attest to the joy that his artistry and presence add to a concert.
I heard someone tell Dewayne after a concert recently that “it’s like you were hearing the songs and stories for the first time.” I think that they were surprised that a musician who has obviously played songs a many times as Dewayne has mine could still find them at all interesting. (Have you ever been to a concert where the backup musicians, who seem to work on autopilot, appear bored out of their minds by the music they’re playing? The lady who made the comment to Dewayne must have been to a few of those in her day.) But Dewayne is always like that – thoroughly engaged, thoroughly encouraging, thoroughly enjoyable. And it’s because that’s who he really is.
Next week, we are scheduled to record for a couple of days. Here’s what we plan to do. We’ll set up like we’re getting ready to play a concert. We’ll turn on the mikes and do our songs, the ones that we usually play together, as if an audience is sitting there. Whatever we come up with goes to tape (or hard drive) and becomes our next CD. No overdubs and lots of imperfections (all sure to be mine), but hopefully music which captures the spirit of two good friends doing what they love to do.
As valuable as Dewayne is as a musician to me, though, I’ve come to appreciate, as much as anything, the road time that we share en route to work. Music, politics, news, theology and the ordinary business of life make up much of our conversation, and it’s always lively; but Dewayne’s family – Jodie (who is gracious to let her husband travel the country with me), and Samuel, Hannah, Rachel and Abigail – are the subjects of his greatest interest and affection. He is a husband of the highest order, a “daddy who cares,” a devoted follower of Christ, a man who loves the right things, and a good friend. I hope you get to meet his someday.