Larry Bernard

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Published: Oct 30, 2020

Terrisa

During 1971, Larry played in thirteen different blues clubs in Chicago. He drummed over 300 nights, behind many greats like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, gaining a ton of skill through all the live practice. It wasn't much most gigs but he did get paid.

Along the way a young woman began appearing at show after show. She had tall hair and brown eyes, large hips, and a smile that made Larry feel at home. During a break one night, she stood by him until he said hello.

"My name is Terrisa," she said with a soft voice.

"Hi," he said again.

"I love your drumming."

"I've seen you at a number of shows."

"I thought you might." She smiled, and they remained peacefully silent.

Published: Oct 29, 2020

First Show

The first time Larry Bernard played the drums in front of a crowd was the late 1960s, in a club on the South Side of Chicago. He was under 18, and had to lie about his age to be admitted inside. His brother new the bass player in the band who backed Junior Wells. An arrangement had been made to let Larry play for a song or two in place of the regular drummer, as a favor from one friend to another.

The air was smokey and smelled heavily of marijuana. It was loud, almost enough to make him turn back. But Larry tightened into himself, a kind of self-hug, that brought him a little comfort, and he pushed through several clumps of people yelling at each other. Not yelling from anger but because that was the only way to be heard.

He liked the music, it had a solid beat and a simple riff. His brother was at the bar, and couldn't be missed because he always wore a snake skin Trilby.

Published: Oct 28, 2020

I Want to be a Drummer, Too

After the show we sat at the bar; I was only drinking water and had returned to sobriety. He had over fifty years of experience playing on stages, making the drums thump, splash, and rumble. I was hoping to learn about getting started.

"I played the drums once with a neighboring band, 'Brown Eyed Girl'. I was twelve I think," I said.

Larry smiled. "Sure," he said.

"I want to learn, to get started, this is what I want to do with my life." I sounded a bit whiny in my ears.

He sipped from a warm beer. "Look, son, I really want to pass on my tricks, my knowledge, but I doubt you're it."

"How can you know?"

"No reason, just a feeling."

"What about a chance? A tryout?"

"Go play."

"Now?" I hesitated. "It must be four a.m."

He was silent, but his eyes said it all.

Published: Oct 27, 2020

Whisky and Water

Larry had agreed to talk with me any time after a show, I'd just have to stop by the bar and see him play first. I was drinking whiskey sours because I was afraid of what I might not say, but as the second and third one flowed into my head, I wondered what I would say, which was easily more dangerous.

He sidled up to the stool next to me, between sets, and said in a scratchy voice, "You're that kid, right?"

I could have been any kid. "Yeah, sure." I looked up at him, his head tilted to the side like the photos.

"Get him a water," he said to the barman. To me he said: "Stay here and don't fall off your stool."

He toweled off. With a beer in one hand a water in the other, he shuffled back to the drum kit. He sat down, laughed, and began to play again.

Published: Oct 26, 2020

The Drummer

Behind the drums he looked short. I had been meaning to meet him for weeks now, but this or that thing in life had kept me from entering the bar. For some time I watched as he flicked the sticks from one drum to a cymbal to another drum, with precision and speed. The dexterity of his wrists was much too fast to see with the eyes.

I had heard he was very tall, having to duck through door ways. The pictures I had seen of him when he was younger, in old magazines, his head was always tilted and his back slouched. But at the back of the stage, seating at the drum kit, he sat straight and bobbed his head while keeping time. He looked much younger than his 72 years despite the gray hair, probably due to the smile on his face.