Remembering Michael Meldrum: Michael Sheffield
by Artvoice Staff (@Artvoice) - posted 2:06 pm, May 13, 2011
Michael Sheffield, a long-time friend and music collaborator with Michael Meldrum, remembers the local folk musician, who died last Thursday at age 60:
As I think about losing an old friend, I realize that I took Mike Meldrum for granted. I took it for granted he’d be there yesterday afternoon so I could show him a new guitar I knew he’d love. But he wasn’t. I didn’t think much about it during the 33 years we played, hung out, and on-and-off lived together. Despite the occasional housemate hassles, musical dry spells, and drifting aparts, I could take it for granted that a call for
a gig at Nietzsche’s, or Bullfeathers, or Father’s, or Currans, or the Tralf, or a library, church, park, or backyard shindig would arrive just before too much rust had accumulated or road had unwound between us. I could count on the fact that no matter how long it had been, how little we’d planned, what the setting or other musicians, Mike would set up a groove to lock into with a minimum of fuss. If I thought about it, it might be astonishing to contemplate how little we rehearsed for the hundreds of hours of music we played together across the years, but I never had to think about it, because Mike was an intuitive musician and an intuitive man. Whether a tune was counted off glacially slow or manically fast, in a key or time signature which surprised even him, or was done in a new arrangement which he’d neglected to mention to the band, was often a matter of suspense. That we would end in sync, in tune, together, was a given. Mike didn’t so much lead a band as flow with it; like flirting or schmoozing (two activities which Mike also loved), it was about give and take, not command and control. It was always a kick to improvise a guitar or vocal line and hear Mike absorb it and play or sing it back. We didn’t think about it, we didn’t discuss it, and he probably couldn’t tell you what he did, but we (and later, bandmates Mike Morrisey and Rob Lynch) developed songs together in this unspoken way, adjusting to each other’s cues and rhythms to find what worked. It might have been a year since we played a song but Mike would remember the little hook or riff or turnaround we’d worked out, and so songs acreted like limestone, layer by layer, over years. Mike could do jaw-dropping things on the guitar or mandolin or harmonica, but he (and we) could never be accused of technical perfectionism; it was about music! I am sure he was a wonderful influence on generations of guitar students because he could hear their songs, no matter how stiff their fingers.
We were very different people, and our lives went in very different directions. We rarely had a conversation over a cup of coffee or a meal together even when we shared digs; I often felt that for his legendary sociability, Mike was a deeply private person who guarded his pain and sorrow very carefully, and wore his wounds stoically. He preferred to light a candle than to curse the darkness. He could be a worrier, a mother hen, a fierce protector of his friends, his children, and the things he believed in. I saw him transformed by the stability, home, purpose, and grace his marriage to Diane brought him, and I know he was ever grateful. He was a tireless promoter of other artists. Whatever demons may have fueled his drinking, drinking did not fuel his demons; it brought out an inner sweetness and puppy-dog warmth which was perhaps was hard for him to express and which was hard to resist.
Many people will write about Mike as the glue which held Buffalo’s music scene together for three decades; and will recount the numerous friendships, musical careers, collaborations, romances and even marriages he brought into the world just by being himself. For me, a world without Michael will be a world which no longer holds the possibility of that phone call for the last minute gig which reminds me how important music is. When the news came that John Lennon was killed, Mike was on stage at Curran’s, and he put together the memorial service which continues to this day as John Lennon night, where the The Buffalo Song Project Band played together for the last time in November. It was a beautiful night, and as Mike Morrisey recalled, it was like having the old Mike back, as always, finding the celebration in life, despite his own failing health. So it will be a strange and sad thing to celebrate Michael without him there, but it won’t be lonely, because if any man can be said to live in spirit, especially the spirit of music and fellowship, it is Mike. I heard a song spilling out of the door of Nietzsche’s this cold spring night. I thought of Mike behind that door, as he is behind so many doors in my life. I felt that music was celebrating him. I know I always will feel that way; I can take it for granted.