I first met Rodd Willings in the summer of 1970 in a small neigborhood in Pittsburgh called Shadyside. I had just moved from Chicago and didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh. I lived on Elmer St. and he lived right around the corner on Summerlea. He had recently moved from Warren, PA to Pittsburgh. My sister who was vistiting at the time was out walking one warm night and came back and said she had met this really cool guy who lived around the corner who played guitar. She said his name was Rodd and he was out there on his balcony playing and singing with his guitar right now and I should go over there and meet him.
Heeding my sister Melanie's advise who had unfailing insight into people, I grabbed my guitar and headed out the door to meet this guy Rodd. Who knows I thought he could be a Folksinger like me and be into Bob Dylan and maybe even Townes Van Zandt or Loudon Wainwright III. Maybe he even wrote his own songs? Sure enough when I got there there he was singing and playing on his balcony. I hollerd up that his music sounded great and that I was a guitar player too could we maybe jam? He crawled down from the second floor balcony in his bare feet and with a big smile and introduced himself. That night we became life long friends. I played him some songs he played me some songs. One in particular, "Blackberry Wine" really got me. He was indeed a folksinger and a songwriter of the first magnitude. And he knew of Townes Van Zandtand Loudon and John Prine. We formed a duo and played all the little coffeehouses that were around the area at the time Loaves and Fishes, Crumbling Wall and Skibo Hall at CMU and at University of Pittsburgh. Plus every bar in Pittsburgh till they were sick of us. Having burned out Pittsburgh we headed for New York City to find our fame and fortune and got lucky and played at Gerdes Folk City by invitation by a headlining act named Elizebeth (Thank you Elizebeth). After playing some more clubs as a duo in Greenwich Villiage we both came to the conclusion that the world really didn't need another Simon and Garfunkel and we packed it in and went back to Pittsburgh. In our minds though we had conquered New York. Just young men he was 19 and I was 21.
Once back in the Burgh Rodd decided that he was lonesome for his hometown Warren, Pa and he was going to head back. (He did that a lot - headed back to Warren after he'd come down to Pittsburgh to stay "this time") We said goodbye each of us promising to visit each other and we did. And thats the way it sort of went for 33 years. We wrote songs together (even on the phone) and wrote letters and stayed in touch all that time. Yes, our frienship had some bumps along the way but till the end it endured.
I could write a book about our adventures but I'll end with this. In 2002 I was working on one of my home made albums and thinking about recording a song for it that me and Rodd wrote together 30 some years ago called "A Winter Serenade". I hadn't heard from him in about 3 years and I had no idea where he was, the last phone # he gave me was bad. Then one day the phone rings and its him! He told me he was back living in Warren and playing in a band called China Phrog and how happy he was to be back home and playing in this great band and near his kids. I told him about my recording plans and about our song of long ago "Winter Serenade". We made quick plans. I drove up to Warren got him and we spent a great weekend recording and just hanging out. "Winter Serenade" was in the can and one evening out on my back balcony he played "Blackberry Wine" .
I drove Rodd back to Warren and we stayed in touch weekly by phone until I got the word that he had suddenly passed away. He went out playing music which he loved. Thats an honerable way to go in my book.
While on that drive back to Warren in my old Subaru we had talked about how lucky we were to have been friends for so long and to have stayed true to what we were doing and what a gift it was. I'm very greateful for that and that's what I'll remember.....