Goodbye, Watermelon Man

I had a dream about an old flame a few nights ago. And that prompted me to contact him to see how he was doing. I knew he’d been very sick, and in fact the last time we spoke, he mentioned he was in hospice. This was earlier in the spring. This afternoon, I sat in my car in the parking lot of the CVS waiting for Robert’s prescriptions, like a chicken-shit. I had Leighton’s contact info pulled up on my smartphone, my finger on the “Dial” button. At least five minutes passed by before I had the courage to press it.

The phone was picked up and I heard a familiar Southern drawl on the other end. “Hello?” “Leighton?!” I exclaimed. “No, this is his brother #####.” My heart sank. I knew then that my call was too late. I introduced myself and I could tell his brother was trying to process the information. He then told me in as gentle a voice as he could muster that Leighton had passed away less than 36 hours before, at four o’clock the previous morning in fact. I was a day late. I’d been trolling the internet in the last week or so, reading the obituaries, looking for the dreaded listing. As recently as the evening before, I didn’t find it. So that emboldened me to go ahead and make that call. I’d felt bad because the last time I called him, around May, it was early in the evening on a Saturday evening, a time when he would normally be up and about (and raising hell). But I’d woken him up, it was very obvious. So I apologized profusely, and told him I’d call him later. And never did. And then started feeling, alternately, ashamed and afraid. Ashamed I didn’t follow up in the next few weeks or months. And afraid that when I did make the call, there would be news I didn’t want to hear.

So his brother and I chatted a few minutes, I brought him up to speed on how and where I’d met Leighton, that we’d lost touch when he moved back to Georgia to care-take his aging parents, and that we’d started talking again on the phone a few years ago. I also mentioned to him a few articles and one video of Leighton playing the blues guitar he loved so much (and played so well). I just sent him an email with that information so that he could share it with the rest of his family. And my closing words were:

I will miss him greatly. And my only regret is that maybe I never made it clear to him what an important part of my life he was.

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Here’s the only known footage of Leighton performing, from the low-budget movie “Of Strange Voices and Watermelon Men.” Say what you want about the silly plot and bad acting. The music was spot-on.

9 thoughts on “Goodbye, Watermelon Man”

  1. I played bass in a band from Austin, TX called “The Root Doctors” with Leighton, and his brother Allen, in the early 90’s. When it comes down to playing traditional “delta” blues, these brothers were the ‘real” thing — nobody could touch them. Above all Leighton was a kind-hearted human being — as was Allen. The world has lost two of the best.

  2. Yeah those Austin days were the best. When I met him he was with the Timbrewolves and Steve Doster. Emma Long Park and Ski Shores was the place to be on a Saturday evening. I will miss him. Email me (hit the “Contact” page on this site) and I can pass Frank’s email to you; he was thinking about a get-together later on down the road, more a celebration of Leighton’s life and music.

  3. I met Leighton several years ago, not long after he had returned home to take care of his parents. My friend had met him at a guitar shop here in Dalton and asked if he could help him out learning a few blues licks. A few months later, Leighton was helping us out at jam nights, and generally teaching us how to be musicians, that it was more than playing the correct notes, but how to interact with one another musically, and how to interact with the audience. I can say with ample authority that if it weren’t for this wonderful man, I would in no way be the musician I am now, and his kind words of encouragement gave hope to a young man trying to entertain others. I am very glad that there is somewhere on the internet that mentions him, and very glad I can share a little about him.

  4. Joni, my name is Jimmy Daniels and still live in Austin. I was a good friend of Leightons and lived in an apartment near his from about 91 to 93. I am pretty sure I met you at his apartment, didn’t you visit him about that time? I miss that guy so much, he was just a phenomenal human and guitar player. He just couldn’t outrun the Blues, which eventually caught him as you know. I cannot get the movie to play, where can I find this? would love to hear it. I used to sit in with the Timbrewolves at Ski Shores and around town, with Leightons encouragement, he taught me so much about the guitar and what it means to hug someone. I hope youre doing well Joni and hope youre the lovely lady I met that time in Austin in about 1993. take care and would appreciate any help in finding this little movie, would love to see it. I still play my Timbrewolves cassettes! ha! Jimmy Daniels

    • Jimmy, yes, that was me, and I visited him in the apartment off Menchaca. I brought my idiot friend with me for one visit but she got off on the wrong foot with a misstatement about Buddy Guy and was miserable her whole stay. I will find that video and repost it here. Nice to hear from you.

  5. thank you so much, wow 20 years ago, I feel for your friend saying that, Buddy Guy was a God to Leighton, ha! good luck in all your endeavors Joni. look forward to the movie, thanks again. jimmy

  6. Jimmy, I posted the video. You can view it now, or click on the link and download it to your computer to watch whenever you want. I’ll email you as well.

    Take care.

    Joni

  7. I worked out at Ski Shores during the mid 90’s for a number of years.. slinging beers and flipping burgers. I got to know Leighton about as well as you can another person. For all his flaws he was about the sweetest guy you’d ever want to meet and he could play like nobodys business… just a HUGE talent. I miss him very much.

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