Jamming with Joe…

After the 1010 split up and I eventually started Moss Hill, opportunities to make music became scarce. The few times I did play drums with other musicians were disappointing.

Joe Kelley and a number of other friends and acquaintances were living in a large old Victorian house in Downers Grove. The basement was set up with drums, amps, and a sound system. While visiting there one evening, I was invited to make music.

It was a spontaneous event. Besides Joe, a couple of other musician friends of mine were there. Gerry Asp, my good friend and neighbor several years older than I am, plays piano. He liked to hang around us enjoying our enthusiasm for music. My Hinsdale classmate Darryl Jones was also there. He plays bass guitar. I’d played with each of these guys before but this was the first and only time we played together.

The four of us gathered in the basement. As I adjusted the drums, Darryl tuned his bass, and Gerry began playing an upbeat jazzy blues pattern on the keyboard. Darryl quickly backed him up. Joe was tuning his guitar. Nobody spoke.

Satisfied that the drums were positioned to my liking, I started playing a simple shuffle beat with brushes. The very instant my brushes established a supporting rhythm, Joe lit up his guitar with a rich bouncy melody comfortably dancing on top of the solid groove Gerry, Darryl, and I were into.

We instantly united in one accord blissfully enjoying the total sound. The jam took on a life of its own growing to great swells of crescendo, falling into quiet long strains of patience as Joe’s guitar issued sensitive colorful innuendo, rising to passionate expressive moments challenging our hearts to behold the wonder of it all over and over again.

I did my best to lend rhythmic support to the incredible music emanating from Joe’s guitar. With typical abandon, Joe’s guitar mastery brought forth astonishing sounds deep from within his soul. We were united in sound as of one spirit.

Uplifted by Joe’s guitar playing, I became oblivious to what I was playing on the drums. I was on “autopilot”. Mystified and in love with the sounds heard, my heart fluttered as I played on through tremendous highs and lows, rushes and drags, tears and joys. I was totally lost in the experience.

Playing freely without effort, executing complex unexpected fills, I held back conscious attempts to intrude with convention, proving again to myself that less is more. The jam lasted only several minutes but it may just as well have been ages. The thrill of being part of such an experience is what musicians live for.

I was floating in the rare atmosphere of the “groove” that musicians speak of. Pure expressive music poured forth from each of us that night. I suspect this is where Joe Kelley lives all the time.

The jam lived, thrived, and flowed. As if scored, we came to a close neatly tied in a tight knot with a pretty little bow. Bam kazoom batta boom and it was over!

I was amazed to find myself part of such an incredible jam. My ears were trained on Joe’s guitar from the very first moment so as to not let my heart miss even one millisecond of the glorious experience.

To my astonishment, when we concluded, Joe’s first words were “Hey John, you were playing such cool stuff that I had no idea what I was playing. I was on “auto pilot” just grooving on your drumming.”

Goose bumps flooded my skin.

I was only a visitor that night but the experience gave me a perspective teaching me a lesson that has lived with me ever since

P.S. to this story...  Spring of 2004, Oz invited me to party at a "dry bar" owned by the Chicago AA group.  The event was in celebration after a group of AA biker guys spent the day at a Chicago prison passing out AA literature.  The bar was a typical store front place sans alcohol...  there was lots of kids and family attending...  the Harley guys would soon return from their mission at the prison and a jam session was planned. 

The place was already packed when I arrived at 6:00 pm with son Cameron.  Friend, Scotty Peterson had his fab set of drums set up on the little stage.  The bar was all set up with tons of food, stuffed roasted pig adorned the bar...  sister Mary Jane was there with husband Jeff Peterson  who would be playing with the band along with his brother Scotty. 

Cameron had fun playing with the dogs and mingling with other kids and played pool. 

I knew Joe Kelly was going to be there and I printed out this story about "jamming with Joe".  He had never read it before... 

Soon all the bikers returned from their mission at the prison and live music began.  I was totally blown away with Jeff and Oz and friends music. 

After their first break I was invited to sit in on drums as Joe was about to take center stage.  It had been decades since I played with Joe.  I was nervous and excited.  Joe sensed that.  He said to me "John, just play like you did in the story." 

I was greatly relieved and also so blessed that Joe had ready my story and taken it to heart.  Joe launched into his classic hit with The Shadows of Knight, "Gloria"...  it was other worldly to find myself playing the intro drum beat to that anthem song.... then to find myself soaring along with strong musicians confidently pounding out that familiar song...  I played along confidently knowing every single beat so well by heart. 

Joe transitioned into "Sunshine of your Love" and I intuitively followed...  I played hard and strong as I watched all those present leap to their feet...  cymbals crashing and drums thundering I did my best to support Joe's guitar and vocals... the end of the jam came all to soon but with great rock and roll crescendo...  cymbals still ringing as I left the stage my dear friend Oz challenged the audience to "give a big round of applause to my best friend John Hora for some of the best world class drumming you will ever hear". 

I felt like a rock star that night.  Thanks to my dear friends, Joe Kelly, George Ostrum, and Jeff & Scotty Peterson. 

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