Cancer — it’s one of those words no one wants to hear and one of those subjects nobody wants to talk about. Right now that six-letter word dominates my life. A family member battles the dreaded disease and probably will be OK, but an old friend probably will lose his fight with it soon.
Sitting around the dinner table these days we’re talking about chemotherapy, hair loss, infections, dealing with dietary issues and appetite loss. They’re just matter of fact conversations about what lies ahead and how we deal with the future — not some dark and dreary laments. The future for my family member looks bright, and a full recovery is expected.
Not so with my old friend, David. I first met his older sister, Shelley, back in 1968 at the Catacombs, a coffee house in central Fresno run by the Council of Churches. I was the new guitar slinger at the place.
One night Shelley asked me if I would give her younger brother guitar lessons. He’d been playing in a rock and roll band, so he knew how to play guitar, but she wanted me to teach him how to fingerpick the way the folkies do.
I told her I’d be happy to give him some lessons, and a few days later he showed up at my house, guitar in hand. The lessons began with the old standards — Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family — and then progressed to the more modern stuff such as Donovan, Dylan, etc. Giving David lessons turned out to be a very weird experience for me because before too long he could play just like me. That can give one pause, let me tell you.
David was a few years younger than I, so it took a while for our friendship to grow. He was always hanging around trying to fit in with the older players. I became friends with his family, got to know his parents and his other brothers and sisters. I’ve known all of them since I was a teenager, and they’re the kind of old friends who are just about as close as my real family even though they’re not.
When David got old enough to play in bars, he and I formed a duo (Sam and Dave), and we played around California from Santa Barbara to Sacramento to San Jose to Fresno and everywhere in between.
We used to play in a little basement bar up the hill outside of San Jose that Neil Young frequented because he liked their famous buffalo burgers. But he never came in on any of the Friday or Saturday nights when we were playing. Not once. I always wanted to play my “Cowgirl in the Sand” impersonation for him!
Believe it or not, back in those days I’d drive my green 1950 Chevy pickup from Fresno to Davis Friday morning to pick David up. That afternoon we’d drive to San Jose and then up into the hills to do our show. We’d usually crash at the house of a friend who lived in the mountains toward Santa Cruz on Friday night.
Then on Saturday night we’d head to Danny Chauncey’s house in Alameda. He’s famous now as the guitar player in 38 Special, but he was a smart-alecky little teenager back then (we were friends with his older brother, Bill). Danny always had that famous old red Gibson SG of his leaning up against his Fender Super Reverb amp with a shock of effects pedals and cables cluttering the floor in his little bedroom right off the kitchen. We’d tease him about how he should be a real musician and play acoustic guitar instead of electric, and he’d always tell us to shut up because we were keeping him up in the middle of the night. (He was right. We’d usually arrive there about 4 a.m.) Look who’s making he big money now!
It’s hard to imagine now, but David and I would go through all that for like $50 or $75 each, all the beer we could drink and a couple of free meals. Still, round and round we went, weekend after weekend, year after year.
But now it’s even harder to imagine my old friend might not be around too much longer. So if you’ve got an old friend, take the time to tell them how much they mean to you — you might not have another chance.