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Saturday, October 16, 2021
Linda Gurney and the golden era of motown
Listening to:Blood and Roses, Smithereens
Reading:Tall Tales & Short Stories from a Singer’s Life & Imagination by Janis-Rozena Peri
Weather:53, first day under 80 in a month
Again a death inspires me to dust off the old blog. Tonight it's Linda Gurney.

I met Linda when I came to WVU for undergrad. I don't remember exactly when, but I'm guessing I was a freshman or sophomore. I found my way downtown, found Maxwell's, both the lesbian lunchery and the weekly nighttime open mic of my dreams, found my people, and found what I'd been hoping college would be like.

I was pretty dang stoked to be away at college. It's the life: liberty and independence but no big responsibilities of adulting yet. Lots of drinking. Boys. Oh yeah, and learning stuff. I had honestly dreamed of nights hanging out with a small group of intellectuals and a professor, drinking wine (I don't even like wine, never did), smoking weed (or cloves!) exuberantly and passionately arguing about heady philosophical and topical shit into the wee hours, Coltrane on the record player. Well, there was a whole bunch of none of that. It was the 80's. Disco was dead, but the coke was still blowing around. That shit is a real mind-closing drug. And a favorite of the little fucks who were at WVU in the 80's to get degrees in whatever would make them fat paychecks and expensive cars.

Though my music theory and other music classes were mostly pretty fun and my crew (the CAC Pigs) was fucking great, nobody was very interested in that deep intellectual exploration that I had been anticipating.

Lucky for me there was the Underground Railroad, a bar that deserves not just it's own blogpost, but it's own frickin docuseries for real. Suffice it to say for my purposes here that it was that place where those intellects gathered. And mingled. And played backgammon. And listened to punk, reggae, blues, acoustic, ska, jazz, pop, thrash, and a bunch of other stuff.

I'm getting to Linda. I don't remember precisely when I met her, but I remember that at open mic at Maxwell's I met Carla Daruda, boogie woogie piano player extraordinaire and lesbian feminist. She was very welcoming and encouraging, and invited me to play bass for her in an all woman band for an upcoming Artemis Sisters coffeehouse event at the Underground Railroad.

I believe it may have been through Carla that I got to be friends with all the cool townie musicians who also blew my mind with their explorations of political theory, philosophy, justice movements, economics, and community. Linda was in this club.

Ya didn't know what to make of her at first. Really thick coke bottle glasses, blond dreads, adorned in beautiful colors, moving a little slowly and with great effort. But it took no time at all to recognize her genuine kindness and care for pretty much all life on this planet. She made you feel like she really appreciated you and was happy to see you. She was a world thinker but a one-one-one actor.

And that voice. That luscious, rich, round, deep, sonorous singing voice of hers. I enjoyed it thoroughly evertime I heard it. But I have very specific memories of two particular times. One, I was walking up Pleasant St heading home to South Park and as I passed the Underground Railroad I heard Linda onstage playing keyboards with a band, I don't know who else was playing with her, but she was belting out After Midnight, the JJ Cale song covered excellently by Eric Clapton. I couldn't keep walking, I had to go in there and listen. She drew me in from the street, I was under her spell. Then another time (before or after, I don't know) she was singing a duo with Debbie the bartender at the Underground on acoustic guitar, and it was Paradise by John Prine. Debbie was on melody and Linda laid down this meandering beautiful harmony counterpoint. Not just the usual parallel thirds most harmony singers thrown in. It was so beautiful. I stole it and have sung it myself at many campfires and living rooms over the years since.

Linda died yesterday. She'd been living on Maryland street for a few years, after coming back from out west somewhere for many of the intervening years since those Maxwell's and Underground Railroad days. She was moving pretty slow but still moving that last several times I saw her either on her porch or sitting having coffee with Ricky at a table on the sidewalk in front of the Blue Moose. She's been playing in a band, she'd tell me about upcoming gigs and shit when we'd have a brief chat on my way to work. I learned about her death on Facebook, where I tend to get my local news, esp during this shitty pandemic.

I have a feeling there are a lot of people who will be learning this sad news over the next hours and days, and who will have wonderful memories of Linda and good times with Linda back in the day and up to now. Wish we could all get together and have a good old fashioned wake and share our grief and good times.

permalink posted by cat 8:57 PM

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Linda Gurney and the golden era of motown