He ambles to the stage, self-effacing;
when he speaks it’s with a Southern drawl,
putting all the Yankees in
the room, in a Ho-Jo’s with a view of
Kenmore Square grandiosely re-born as
“The Starlight Lounge,” on notice of the contrast
between themselves, wired
for achievement, and him.
He wasn’t a prodigy, didn’t pick up a
guitar until he was twenty-one, but
within a year he was a pro, his
long fingers attracting the name
“The Octopus,” which stuck.
After a decade of playing he put his guitar
down and became—a sign painter.
He’d had enough of the road,
the modest degree of fame that a jazzman
at the top of his game could achieve.
He began to play in local clubs
before smallish crowds, many of whom
must have wondered “Who is this guy?”
The jazz authorities didn’t always know where
he’d escaped to; one claimed he was in New
England, another said it was New Jersey.
After seven years of hiding, as it were, in
a country churchyard, he emerged to
make a few albums, play the big cities
again. Then he slipped off and, like the
will of the wisp over the Great Swamp, disappeared
into the night air, like one of his long runs
of light notes, a ghost of the fretboard.
Tal Farlow, born June 7, 1921, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Con Chapman’s “Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges” is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.