I however, passed on the free buffets, and boarded a plane late Friday afternoon heading to Raleigh N.C. to visit my friend, Charles Gurley. It has been my good fortune and my privilege to make this trip each February for about the past five years.
I have known Charles for close to twenty-five years. Over the last half of those years we have established a very close friendship. Charles is a member of the Shaggers Hall of Fame, along with his "sainted" wife, Cathy Jane. Charles has been a serious collector of our music for nearly thirty years, and his collection rivals any that I have ever had the privilege to see. He loves him some little records with big holes. Not only is Charles an avid collector, he also is a true student of our music. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge and recall of information regarding R&B, Soul, and Doo Wop music.
Shortly after I arrived at his house on Friday night, I told him about an obscure song by an obscure doo wop group, that our friend Milton Nowell Jr. had recently called me about. I only told Charles the name of the group, and the information began to flow like whiskey on an SOS Saturday afternoon at the O.D.Pavilion. He told me where the group was from, the label they recorded on, where the label was out of, how long the label lasted, almost the groups entire discography, including which songs were ballads and which were jump. Then he pulled up on his computer every song they recorded, and played them for me. Yes, of course, he played the one that began the whole conversation as well. Was I surprised? Was I in awe? Not at all. He has done this to me too many times.
We spent most of the weekend together listening to music, talking about music, and sharing stories of people and honky tonks from our past. I always enjoy listening to, and laughing at, his stories of record huntin' trips. Charles has but one rival in that department, and that would be Mike Lewis. Mike's stories of record huntin' trips with John Swain will "hurt cha," you'll laugh so hard. But I digress.
Seven years ago in February, Charles suffered a tragic medical catastrophe which left him confined to a wheel chair. I have difficulty, as I'm sure most folks do, fathoming tragedy. We wonder to ourselves, is it fate, is it destiny? Catastrophe can, and may, await everyone, from a false move, wrong turn, or fateful encounter. It's been said that every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether, and how, we ever come back. My friend Charles came back in extraordinary fashion. I love him and he has my unwavering admiration.
I wish that I lived closer to Charles so I could spend more time with him. I always learn so much from our visits, and the best of what I learn has nothing to do with music.