|Millard "Mel" Pressley|
I used to manage at a retail store called Lucky Brand Jeans. It was a great place to work. The atmosphere was energetic and fun. There was always laughter and the music was loud. For some reason, the merchandising team thought it would be a good idea to have a Fender acoustic guitar in the store. Like, a real one. I would rush to get my tasks done, then when it was quiet, I'd pick up the guitar and strum. It may seem counterintuitive, but I sold my fair share of denim just because people wandered in to listen to me play.
On a sunny day in 2008, an elderly gentleman walked in while I was bangin' out some tunes. He was definitely of the mall-walker persuasion. You know, the people that you secretly pick on because of their amusing gait and stark white walkin' shoes. Mel, as he introduced himself, was wearing a large straw hat, a button down, pleated chinos and New Balance walkers. I was probably wearing tight fitting jeans and a hoodie. "You play?" Mel asked. "I act like I can play," I said. We both chuckled. I took the guitar by the neck and offered it to him and said, "Wanna play it?" He grabbed the guitar, spit on his fingers (which made me laugh,) took my pick and started playing.
At that moment, something happened: Two people who seemed to have absolutely nothing in common... Two people on opposite ends of the spectrum... Those two people met on the sacred ground of song and sparked the initial flame of a sweet friendship.
From that point on, Mel would stroll in every few days. We'd talk about work, family, current events, but mostly of music. He didn't seem to want to share too much. But every time he visited I learned something new. I gave him a cd of some music I was working on. I thought he would say it was too loud or harsh. To my surprise, he said "I love it. That drummer sure does have a nice beat to him. And, your voice is wonderful." I was floored. He regularly commented on how well the guitar in the store played. I told him that I had done a lot of work on it. He asked if I could work on his guitar sometime. We set up a date and I met him at his house. He showed me his collection of instruments: Mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass and guitars. Then, he all but forced me to sit down, pick up his Taylor 414 and play some music with him. Little by little, I got to hear the stories of his glory days. How he used to travel with country and bluegrass groups. How he played on television shows. He'd tell me about all the people he met. He would teach me his favorite songs. He would shout out the chord changes as we played. I could barely keep up with him. I loved every minute of it.
We tried to get together once a month or so. It was always the same agenda: stories and songs. One day in February of last year, we had scheduled a pickin' session but I had to cancel. A few weeks passed with no contact. About that time, Rachael and I were busy preparing for the twin's arrival. I was driving home from church one Sunday and thought to call Mel. The phone rang and his wife answered. I said hello. She said, "Oh Chris. We've been trying to get in touch with you. Mel passed away." I was crushed. I kept thinking about having to recently cancel on him. It was the first time since I was a kid that I had lost someone close to me. I went home and told Rachael. The whole family sobbed over lunch. We visited with his wife that evening. She told us that on his last night here, Mel and his son, Marty sat and played 30 songs together. It was a great evening for them and a touching way to go.
I thought I'd honor him with a song. I chose Patsy Cline's "Gotta Lot of Rhythm In My Soul," because his soul was filled with it and he liked Patsy! Thanks for befriending me, Mel. Thanks for talking and teaching. You blessed my life. I can only hope it was mutual. I love you, brother.
Recorded May 27-29, 2012. The sizzling mandolin playing at the end of the song is my friend Mel Pressley. It was recorded on my iPhone on October 16, 2009. He sure could shred, huh?
"Gotta Lot of Rhythm In My Soul" originally performed by Patsy Cline. Written by W. S. Stevenson and Barbara Vaughan.