Dear Mr. Wright,I and my husband met and came to know Harry "The Hipster" Gibson in late 1978. We were a young couple living in St. Petersburg, Florida and expecting our first child. I had a 4 a.m. yen for radishes and sour cream, so we thought we would take a walk to the all night food mart to satisfy my cravings. As we walked along we we discerned a little old man jabbing at the ground with a post hole digger. My husband remarked that the old guy was doing the whole thing wrong, so we approached him and struck up a conversation.He was a short, old wiry guy with a gravely voice sounding very New York. We quickly offered that we were both born and raised in New York. We exchanged a few get acquainted, New York pleasantries, then proceeded to begin instructing him on the proper way to dig a fence post hole. Somehow, my husband wound up with the hole digger. Harry asked him what he did for a living. My husband replied that he was a keyboard player and was actively teaching students about 15 houses down from Harry's house. The old man simply lit up. The post holes were abandoned and we were quickly ushered into his dark, two-story residence.Harry's living room was a junk collector's dream. The place was littered with old newspapers, stacks of books, bags of trash, papers of all kinds...and keyboards. He offered us a joint (which I declined), lit up and proceeded to question my husband about the kind of music he played. My husband told him he'd had classical training for ten years, participated in competitions, won awards, then threw all of it in for Rockn Roll, the Blues and Jazz. Harry grew brighter still and wanted to hear some stuff. So, my husband Charles gave him a sampling of riffs. You would have thought Harry was witnessing the second coming. He fairly leaped to the keyboard and starting boogie woogieing with the skill of a dancer. He started with a kind of drunken, stumbling technique that managed to snap to and find the correct note. He was warming up. He got the left hand doing the same thing. It was Fred and Ginger, after 10 martinis and aware the cameras were rolling. With the joint precariously dangling, he strolled the keyboard like a guy with nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there. As this was happening, he offered a gravely voiced narrative of what he was doing, then kicked the tempo up to fourth gear. The result was some of the most spectacular boogie woogie keyboard work we'd ever seen. Needless to say, both men were smitten. They were both very good and knew it.As the hours passed, both men sat at the keyboard instructing each other - the young man, very fast and with a style all his own, the old man, very fast with a style all his own. Harry wanted to see how Charles did this. Charles wanted to see how Harry did that. "Yeah, man! You do it by rote and note. I'm natural! Look at this." "How'd you do that? Do it again. Lemme see!" As they played, I surveyed the chaotic environment. There were old posters of a young, curly-haired keyboard man squatting on a piano bench, obviously in the throes of boogie woogie nirvana. A caption on the poster read, "He's not normal...not even for a bop musician!" I was in the midst of musical archeological exploration when a figure coming from the darkness startled me.It was Gertie. She was round, soft, bespectacled. Her gray and white chin long hair was thick and uncombed. She had come down to see what he was up to. Everyone was re-introduced. She and I looked at each other with the kind of recognition musicans' significant others know from experience. She went back to bed, and I hung out.The first session ended at dawn.Harry was at our front door later that morning. He wanted to talk. So he talked about how he'd grown up in Brooklyn, how his uncle had a piano store, how he learned to play by imitating what happened to the keys when the piano rolls rolled. He'd worked in Harlem, been 's sideman, married a stripper named Bubbles, went to jail for not paying tax on his "New Jersey weed", was fingered by the warden to be the choral master for the women's prison chorus. He renamed me "Dolly", bent low to my swollen belly and spoke to my unborn child - the kid I had boogie woogieing in amniotic fluid. "Yeah, you're gonna be a keyboard man like your daddy." Harry was almost a daily part of our lives from that point on. He blew a gasket when the baby was born, so over the top happy that he appeared unannounced, played and sang "Max's Blues" (composed for the occasion and the child) and simply honored us for just being a family.Harry had an insatiable thirst for learning new ways to ply his craft. He admired Charles' orderliness and control. Charles admired his ability to make it look easy despite the complexity. Harry admired Charles' neatly penned and complex manuscripts. Charles admired the library in Harry's head and the distance traveled.Harry also showed up heavily drugged on pills from time to time. Downers. Drunk, but not fragrant. Definitely pills. He needed money. Gertie was worried. We were worried. So, an idea was born. We encouraged Harry to start making instruction cassette tapes for aspiring pianists. Leave a legacy. Show the next generation how its done. Within a week, he had placed an ad in one of the musician's magazines offering his "Keyboard Magic" instructional tapes. High hopes. No response. There was talk of a gig and an autobiographical film out in California..."My life story!"When the tapes tanked, Harry headed off to the local community college to "non-matriculate" in some of the music classes. He stole the kids away from the professor and had them boogie woogieing instead of Beethovening. The professors sent him packing. He got gigs out at some beach bars, stayed stoned and lost his way home. Gertie came to us in the early a.m. hours. He wasn't home. She was worried. We were worried. We lost touch. Gertie feared every musician that might lure him toward danger, and Harry exhibited a kind of musical desperation that found no peace. Harry refused to have it be over. When a door closed, he pried another one open. When they threw him out, he found another audience. He seemed to be trying to convince someone, anyone, that what he did was special, worthwhile, worthy of preservation and passing on. This eternal, natural gift had to go on. The torch had to be passed. It had to live, even if he could not. He attended to his craft slavishly, and it was a demanding master. It was a matter of, "See what I did today to keep you alive?"The talent's needs were ever growing, ever seeking expansion. In the process, it and time were diminishing the man.From 1978 through to 1981, we wrestled with Harry and his tempest. He left us with insight into a craft that had been born of an enigmatic quickening, strengthened by youthful energy and endurance, tempered by maturity and self-assuredness. It was taught with equanimity, as a barter and bargain between like kind. He wanted instruction and paid with instruction...trade only musicians understand, and respect.I expect there came a time when Harry realized his investment could not and would not save him. Despite the immensity of the life's work and ambition, the child of that singular talent informed him it would not keep him alive. Who could bear the truth of such and live?Harry is not easily forgotten. Thanks for keeping him and his work alive.Best Regards,Charles and Elizabeth (Dolly) Fichtl
Hey thanks for that. Can I publish it to my Harry page on the web? I think people will like to read it.
Did you see the article I wrote for Blues & Rhythm last year? It's on the web site too.
I wish I had a chance to know Harry he seems like 1 in a million. I'd play drums behind him, that's how you get to know somebody's music, by keeping a beat for them. Did he move to California after you knew him?
Yes, feel free to publish it. Harry was one of a kind and sorely missed.We remember him fondly and often.I still remember Harry and my husband sitting side by side on the piano bench and playing for hours.Yes, he did move back to California after we knew him. He told us he had come to Florida to get away from the "California Scene" for a while.I just contacted his granddaughter, Amber. She has a Youtube website.Here's her site address: http://www.youtube.com/user/incubusgurlieI'm sure she would be delighted to know you care.Thanks again. Harry would be so happy to know his stuff still lives. :-)Best Regards,Liz FichtlP.S. Here's a selection of Charles' music...pardon the audio watermarks. :-)