Old School: Class of 2011

I'm known as a battle-hardened, dour curmudgeon around the office, but I actually came close to crying a couple of times during our photo shoot for this week's cover. As when Jackie Gray, the tallest and maybe the sweetest man in the room, grabbed Little Joe Washington's hand and said, "Joe, it does my heart good to see you, man. It's been too long."

When I arrived at The Big Easy, they were already there, some dressed in their everyday, some in their gig duds, all sitting quietly like a pride of lions in the shade, reminiscing, joking, laughing, renewing their acquaintance — dignified men growing old, but filled with accomplishment and an undeniable beauty of spirit. I'm sure they all raised their share of hell in their day, but now a powerful sense of grace, peace and meaning seemed to shimmer like an aura around them as a group. I'm not certain they all understood our purpose, but they definitely understood that this was something special.

Shimmering in a black sequined blouse and diva hairdo, Trudy Lynn swept in with a small entourage, and suddenly we were ready to pose the group. It was easy to place Miss Trudy in the center next to the man who has recently been accompanying her on her gigs, the always classy Milton Hopkins. And of course there was Little Joe, front and center, trading wisecracks with Eugene Moody and Johnny Brown that broke everyone up several times.

Afterwards, Big Easy owner Tom McLendon broke out a cake. I sat at the end of the bar with Texas Johnny Brown, chatting about his red Les Paul Gibson, when Little Joe walked up. I said, "Joe, are you going to have some cake?"

"I already had my cake, but you know, it looks like chocolate cake but it didn't taste like chocolate cake," he said.

Without the slightest change of expression, Brown said, "Mine tastes like Shiner Bock." We all cracked up. It was a bluesman thing to say.

So there it is on the cover, a historic class photo of one classy group of cats the likes of whom we will probably never witness again. It still chokes me up.

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