Celebrating the Winston-Salem Sound (Live at the Ramkat 2018)

"Dad and Sam and Me" by Peter Holsapple

I dragged my father to Reznick's Records Downtown in Winston-Salem after he got off work at Wachovia Bank one evening. It was raining and mixing with snow, and it was in the waning weeks of December. The slush was high in the sewers, and Christmas lights reflected in the little lakes that lined Liberty Street. Not the nicest night to be guitar shopping, but teenage rock-and-roll fervor was not going to be denied by inclement weather alone.

Since I was a little kid, my father and I had spent many Saturday mornings downtown together, first going to Sears and looking at hardware for him, and then crossing the street to George's Hobby Shop to look at car kits and metal-flake spray paints for me. Or we'd go to Separk Music, down a little further on 4th Street, and poke around in the sheet music. My dad was not a musician although he took some piano lessons after he retired, but he humored me with a lot of time spent in the record and guitar stores of Winston-Salem throughout my youth.

He closed his dripping umbrella that day as we stood in the tiled foyer of Reznick's. We were surrounded by lit glass display windows filled with shiny new band instruments and violins, sheet music books, batons, metronomes and student-quality acoustic guitars. Jimmy Woods was seated on a stool behind a counter to our left. Mr. Woods was the resident guitar expert at Reznick's, having had Gibsons special-ordered for himself from the factory. He was a gentle, reserved soul, a jazz player with whom I had never had much conversation, being in a state of general awe around him. But this evening, I asked him to show me the guitars I'd seen upstairs in the attic there just a few days prior.

Mr. Woods took us past the jeweler's kiosk in the back and up the wooden stairs to the attic. There, among ancient record albums and dusty abandoned cellos, he pulled down two alligator chipboard cases and laid them on the floor where I could get at them. In one, there was a cherry red Gibson Les Paul Junior. I opened the other case, and there was the next model up, the Les Paul Special with two pickups. The price tags read $65 and $75 respectively. Even at thirteen, I knew these were incredible bargains, but it was my task to explain that to my hopelessly naive-about-guitars father, since it would be his money that would be paid out to get one.

This would be a great next step up from the Japanese Kent electric guitar that I'd gotten the prior Christmas from my grandparents. The Kent was fine and dandy, but it was not very cool. This was an actual Les Paul, the kind played by my hero Michael Bloomfield and locally by Sam Moss of Rhythm Method, who could play better than anyone in town.

Sam, who was only three years older than me, seemed grown-up in terms of what one could do with a guitar. He was already a professional in my mind, the local guitar blues master, presiding over a tight band with a horn section. His cool factor was way high. He had plenty of friends and acolytes who listened to his licks and tone, then learned from listening, myself among them.

I pulled out the Special and hit a few nascent blues licks for my father's benefit, without benefit of an amp. The little red Gibson felt sweet, so natural under my fingertips, and in my heart, this was the one for me. Sometimes, you don't have to plug an electric in to know how good it is. But my explanation devolved into primitive riffs: I was losing traction, and my father was growing less interested by the note.

I sensed, and tried to express to my father, that the Les Paul would inspire me to play better, to learn more, to reflect my commitment to the instrument. It may have come out like "Daddy, buy me this pretty red guitar," but I pursued it doggedly. He had always been somewhat inscrutable, and this evening, my father's reaction was pretty much as I had expected. "You know, son, you can lead a horse to water . . ."

It was getting late, and my father was hungry for dinner. I closed the cases, reluctantly bidding what was possibly a permanent farewell to the dream guitar. We descended the stairs, bade Jimmy Woods a goodbye, and opened the door to Liberty Street. And, as if by heavenly dispensation, there, in the foyer of Reznick's, stood Sam Moss himself.

Nervously (I was, I felt, an invisible neophyte in his eyes), I sputtered a hello, introduced him to my father, and then tried to explain to Sam how I needed the Special up in the attic. Sam listened, then he turned to my father and respectfully and clearly laid out how good an investment the guitar would be, what a talented player I was becoming, and why it was such a great match. I listened, stunned.

I could not believe that Sam would take this kind of time and interest in helping me get the guitar I wanted when he really didn't know me very well at all. I would realize later that this was just Sam's nature, encouraging young players who "got it." Sam could talk to parents as well as their progenies, and he could speak their language even though just a teenager himself. It was a neat talent that probably served Sam well eventually as owner of his own guitar store.

Some days after our providential encounter with Sam, my father took me back to Reznick's and we bought the Les Paul Special. I wish I had that guitar today, but it got hot-rodded and then traded away many years ago. Sam was right about it being a good investment, too; had I not messed it up with humbucking pickups and fancy-dan tuning pegs, it might have been worth a pile of money. I can't say that it was his endorsement alone that got me the guitar, but I know it helped. It was the first of a thousand times I was grateful for the attention Sam Moss paid me throughout the rest of his life.

Originally published in Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas, Ann Wicker, editor; reprinted by permission.


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