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"When I was living in Tibodaux [in south Louisiana], we used to do these one-nighters with Guitar Slim," Shorty recalls. "He would do all this crazy stuff with his guitar. His valet would come up to the stage, and Slim would climb up on his shoulders and have him run through the crowd while he was playing guitar. He'd jump all over the stage and lay on his back and kick up his heels; he'd be on his stomach playing guitar. I thought, 'If he can do that, why can't I?' So I decided to turn flips on-stage."
He debuted his new moves during a Daytona Beach performance with bandleader/saxophonist Barney "Goo Goo" Lewis. After two painful and unsuccessful attempts, Shorty's feet finally connected with the stage. "Oh, it was rough," Shorty admits. "The first two times I tried, I landed right on my head. It hurt so bad I could hardly see, and I had this big knot on my head, but I kept on playing. By this time most of the guys in the band had quit playing, and Barney thought I was going to kill myself. But I kept praying, 'Please, Lord, help me make this, please help me.' And I took a running start, closed my eyes, and managed to land on my feet. People started hollering and screaming and throwing money, so I kept on doing it. That's how I eventually made a name for myself -- by dancing around and doing crazy stuff with my guitar."
Although a 1984 automobile accident kept Shorty earthbound for the next four years, he says he's doing better flips now than he was 30 years ago: "I do kung fu now to keep in shape, and I do my stretches every day. The kung fu helps build up your body. You've got to take care of yourself, watch the food you eat, and keep in good shape. Too many of the people I came up with are gone now. They're just dropping like flies. But being on the road all the time really helps. I like all the scenery and getting to meet new people all the time. And I love being on-stage and making people smile. Seeing the expressions on people's faces when I'm playing makes me feel good and lets me know I'm getting my message across."
According to Shorty, that message is "just be happy and enjoy life. That's what I'm all about."
Guitar Shorty performs Saturday, February 17, at Tobacco Road, 626 S Miami Ave; 374-1198. Showtime is 10:00. Admission is $5.
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