I moved to Memphis 20 years ago this spring. It was a new city to me, and I liked to wander around downtown on my lunch hour. One day, I walked into Rod & Hank's Vintage Guitars, a magical shop then located just across from the Peabody hotel on Second Street. I loved the smell and the feel of the place, and I loved all the classic old guitars hanging on the walls.
Rod Norwood and Hank Sable were friendly guys and would encourage you to take instruments down and play them until you found one that you had to have — as they knew you would, eventually. After a few visits, I fell in love with an old Gibson J-45 that sounded like thunder when you strummed it and whose high notes rang clear as mountain water. I had to have it, and I dropped some serious jack to take it home.
"A J-45 is the guitar Sid Selvidge plays," Hank said. "A lot of the old country blues singers wouldn't play anything else." I'd heard of Selvidge — mostly from reading Robert Gordon's essential Memphis music and wrasslin' book, It Came From Memphis — but hadn't met him. When Hank told me Sid gave guitar lessons in the shop, I decided to give him a call. I wanted to learn country blues, and I wanted an excuse to keep hanging around Rod & Hank's.
The next week, Sid and I — and our J-45s — met in the guitar shop's upstairs room for my lesson.
"What do you want to learn?" he asked.
"Whatever you want to teach me," I said.
Every Tuesday, for the next couple years, Sid taught me lots of nice licks and cool songs, but mostly he taught me about Memphis music. He had a million stories — about Furry Lewis, Mudboy & the Neutrons, Sam Phillips, the Memphis coffeehouse scene, you name it — and I loved to hear them. Sometimes, we'd talk more than we'd play.
After the "lesson," we got in the habit of going downstairs and playing in the shop for a while. Soon, Hank started joining in on banjo and fiddle. Then, former Commercial Appeal music writer Larry Nager began dropping by with his mandolin. Then Sid's marvelously talented son Steve began showing up and playing Dobro.
The impromptu "Second Street String Band" even played a few gigs, and it was a thrill for all of us to back Sid's amazing voice. But all things come to an end. Rod and Hank closed the shop and took their business online. Sid got a full-time gig running the international radio show Beale Street Caravan. Nager moved to Cincinnati. I became the Flyer editor, and Tuesdays were never the same.
But Sid remained a friend, and he remains in my memory as one of the kindest, most generous people I ever met. His passing last week leaves an irreplaceable void in Memphis music. I still miss those Tuesdays, and, like a lot of folks around here, I'll miss Sid Selvidge.