Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Letter Edged In Black - from Zig Gazette - thanks for sharing

The Letter Edged In Black 

Bill would've been 70 this year. He tried to take care of himself; he quit smoking and drinking years ago, not that he was ever much consumed by either. He never cared for illegal refreshments. He'd had a heart attack and a bypass operation. A few years ago he was diagnosed with MS, but it went into remission. A few weeks ago he said he'd been having trouble swallowing, but he ate all that was on his plate. Had I known his family history, I would have said something, but it may have already been too late then. 

He had fallen several times since the onset of MS. Last week he fell in the bathroom, got stuck and burned his shoulder on a heater. At the hospital they diagnosed esophageal cancer, possibly stage 3 or 4. The testing was awful. Tuesday he called to ask "Can I go now?" 

He passed on Wednesday morning January 13. 

He pretended to be a curmudgeon, but he was a kind and sensitive man. Well, he could be scathingly satirical, but he usually asked us not to repeat any of those things. (Hmm. I wonder what he's said about us?) He claims he was bitching about something and someone asked him if there was anything that he would actually like. 

"All I want is a woman that looks like Jane Fonda and plays the drums like Chuck Blackwell." He said. 

Bill may have been THE first rock and roll bass player in Tulsa. He started on Tuba and upright bass, and it's pretty certain he had one of the first electric basses, a Dan Electro someone gave him. There was this guy who watched him closely at some of those early gigs. The guy bought a bass and was soon taking Bill's gigs away from him. That guy was Carl Radle, who unequivocally cited Bill as his favorite player. When Clapton's band inducted Carl into the Oklahoma Music Hall Of Fame, it was Bill who played bass. 

It was Frank McPeters. who suggested we ask Bill to join The Zigs. Drummers and bassists have to click. I never thought he'd even consider it, but he had no shame. We have to admit we're now spoiled for life having played with Bill for the last six years. All bass players must now stand in his shadow by our reckoning. 

He was a brilliant thinker and loved to read and watch science shows. He was quick-witted and often cracked us all up with his comments. 

Bill played with Johnny Cale for most of the last 40 years and probably often before that. They'd known each other half a century. Cale has written a couple of hundred songs and he often doesn't play them the way they are written. Imagine memorizing a catalog and being able to identify the song and recall it. 

When Flash Terry toured Europe he took Bill along. 

The last three years Bill also played with Tommy Crook on Friday nights at Lanna Thai. Trying to follow where Crook is going is no small feat. Crook plays songs with lots of chords and is likely to change key without notice. 

Bill, like Cale, is of the generation that was playing in the early days of rock and roll, so they had to know current hits and a lot of the old standards from the forties and before. 

Bill had the right feel for rock and roll. Some bass players are dubbed 'frustrated guitar players' who play busily. Bill was content to keep it simple and occasionally toss in some incredible lick just to remind you that he knew his axe inside-out. Like many unique players, his tone seemed to be in his hands - no matter what axe he played. 

Humility was part of his credo. He brushed off compliments and disliked having his picture taken. He did not drop names, but occasionally something would slip out. This was usually only if there was a funny story involved. "That was the night Steve Stills sat in." or "Frank Zappa? I had dinner with him in Hawaii." He opened for The Band at Carnegie Hall. He was in the first Clapton's Crossroads documentary and is in the Cale documentary. Last time out, Tom Petty sat in. There's really no telling how many big names played with Bill or how many hugely famous people he met. He knew that was no true measure of who he was. 

He was a good man; kind and generous. He was also very smart, wise and funny. If I can make time, I'd like to go through the Gazette archive and pull out all the funny comments he's made. 

"You know why people play bagpipes? Because they can't play guitar." He joked. 

We loved Bill like a brother. His talent and personality will be sorely missed. 

At Bill's service:

"Vestibule. Isn't that a great word? I always liked rotunda. How about alcove?" –Bill and two other guys talking about words.

            Bill sat in a caf√© with two friends who were doing trick with straws and matches. He said "You guys do more worthless stuff better than anyone I know."

            Once a girl was asking Bill to dance with no success. She asked "If you love music so much, why don't you want to dance?'

            "If you love it so much, why don't you want to play?" he inquired.

            Dale Shipman introduced himself. I talked to gene Crose who said Bill offered to play with him any time he had a gig.  I saw Johnny Williams, Walt Richmond, Tommy Crook, Damon Daniel, and Chuck Blackwell. I got a picture of Danny Cornett and Rob Armstrong. Don White, David Teegarden, Bill Davis, Steve Hickerson, Walt Richmond, Jim Byfield, Richard Coffey, Gary Gilmore, and Polly Ess were there. In fact, I could count the well-known Tulsa musicians who weren't there on one hand.

            Karstein said people always had trouble with his name. They checked into a hotel in Berlin and Bill said "My name is Bill Raffensperger; R-A…"

            The clerk interrupted "We know." Bill was delighted.

Markham called me out; "Where's Jim Downing?" I followed Karstein.

            I wanted to take a picture from the front. I said "I'd like to have a picture of this crowd. I'm the only one here I've never heard of." That got a huge laugh. Bill would've been glad that we were laughing.

            There was a slide of Bill and Jimmy standing outside Carnegie Hall with a poster that said "The Band and J.J. Cale". That slide show is on Youtube, as are many Cale videos with the band of Tulsans including Bill.

            The paper said Bill was donating his body to science. I would joke that science called and said "No, thanks."

            We honored him. He was a honorable man.

            Bill's kids said he was always encouraging them and telling them he was proud of them. Bill taught his kids that it's OK to have cookies for breakfast if mom isn't around. He liked baking cookies and the family joke was that they were known as "Aunt Bill's" cookies.

            There was a jam with Gary Gilmore, Karstein, Byfield, Danny Timms on keys and Johnny on sax.



"His playing lifted me up." – John Hoff 
"He was one of the kindest souls I've ever met...." -Wanda Watson 
"Amen Wanda. He was one of the nicest guys I ever worked with. Everyone who ever knew him will miss him." Michael R. Green 
" I am saddened to think that not enough people knew his genius." -Greg Lew 
"Bill was the best, a great friend, a wonderful person and an excellent musician." –Rocky Frisco

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