In October of 2010, Neal Hutto, fellow member of the Booker T. Washington High School class of 1986 and an integral part of the remarkable whatever that holds our class together, died. I wasn’t able to attend his memorial service in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I did write a tribute for Neal that Will Katz read that weekend, and I’m told that he did it in a memorable fashion. In fact when I wrote the piece, I had an image of Will reading it and conjuring Neal’s inimitable spirit with his words.
Neal Hutto was a brilliant musician who wrote the soundtrack to his life. Perhaps in a way he was haunted by the urgency of his own songs. He didn’t record much of his work – those who were lucky enough to experience one of his extended jam sessions form the bulk of his legacy. But Neal did record a tape called “Riverside Drive” which I was able to get my hands on, thanks to Will and Mike Hurewitz. It took me a while to get the songs in the format I needed them, but I always had in mind to try to record the piece I wrote for Neal over his own music.
This weekend, I was able to pull that together, so now you can hear me read my piece, simply entitled “For Neal,” with Neal’s song “Descent” in the background. With my admittedly limited sound editing skills, I reworked the song by ear to match the rhythm of what I intended to read. I didn’t know what it would sound like over my own voice, but as it turns out, one take was all it took. The equipment I used for this experiment was bootstrapped, but I think Neal would have appreciated both the cobbled together approach and the pretty decent sound I was able to get regardless.
When you create things, you get used to all the times when you are grinding it out on your own, and those rare, magical times when you are not. I won’t get mystical on you here, but when you listen to the recording, I think you’ll understand. There’s so much I want to say about Neal, about the tragic perfection of our reckless youth, about how my own adversities brought me closer to him and the existential struggles he faced, but I don’t know if I can do it.
But last fall, I found the words, and now I’m able to pay a proper tribute to Neal Hutto, artist, adventurer par excellence, shaman of laughter, and friend for all time.
Additional notes: I taped another short recording (right-click to download) over a different song of Neal’s (“Pound for Pound”), describing a bit more about what I did to tape the piece and how shocked I was that the rhythm of the music perfectly matched the recording the very first time I read it. Oh, and I recommend listening to the tribute piece with a good headset, that will give you some additional depth to the sounds on the recording. There’s another tribute to Neal from his friend Dave here. Will Katz has a YouTube music channel of his own work, as well as his terrifically creative bluegrass covers. If you want to know more about Neal, I recommend Will’s extraordinary eulogy that he delivered at the memorial service. Finally, my high school class is having not one, but two reunions this summer. Looks like I’m not going to make it this time, so I hope you all will take this piece as yet more proof that I’m still, as always, yours. Next time…