The Virtuoso

The boys played Merle Haggard’s anthem, “Are the Good Times Really Over.” The young man singing was not yet thirty. He had a dark beard, his eyes were closed, and he was testifying.

It was late. The bar was overrun with good-timers who were out past their bedtimes. The night-crowd was dwindling.

Bartenders were ready to go home.

I’d just gotten off work, I stopped by to see the band.

The boys played Merle Haggard’s anthem, “Are the Good Times Really Over.” The young man singing was not yet thirty. He had a dark beard, his eyes were closed, and he was testifying.

The bar fell silent while he sang.

The old man next to me stared into his beer glass at his own reflection. “That boy’s the real deal, ain’t he?” he said.

Ain’t he though.

When he finished singing, he picked up a banjo and nearly tore off the strings. The whole establishment stomped its heels on one and three.

“God, he’s good,” said the man next to me. “That kid is something else.”

I ordered a beer, but forgot to drink it. I was too carried away watching the virtuoso fly through the Great American Songbook.

During a break, I introduced myself. He was standing outside, looking at the stars. I told him how much I liked his music.

He smiled, but said nothing in return.

So, we stood for a few uncomfortable minutes, silent. I decided I must’ve said the wrong thing—as is often my custom.

Another man joined us. He was staggering, slurring his words. He lit a cigarette. He stood beside us, too.

“Damn son,” he said, slapping the kid’s back. “You were fabu-lificent.”

Nobody talked.

The young man finally answered, “Thanks.” Then, he wandered inside and picked up a mandolin.

Later, the young man switched to guitar. Then electric guitar, then banjo, the list goes on. And I’ll bet if you handed him a Campbell’s soup can and a number-two pencil, he could’ve played Brahms’ Symphony Number 4.

Years later, I saw him again. He was a little older. He was even more accomplished than the first time I’d seen him.

Someone in the audience asked him to sing Merle Haggard. He didn’t want to. People insisted. So he stepped toward the microphone and launched into a tune.

He sang to a woman in the audience who held a young boy in her lap. On break, that same child hugged his leg and called him Daddy.

Afterward, we talked a little, but not much. And that was the last time I ever saw him.

It was a Sunday afternoon when I learned that he’d passed. I was riding in heavy after-church traffic. My friend told me over the phone. I pulled into a gas station just to think about the Alabama boy who died too young.

Truth told, I don’t have the right to say much. We weren’t quite friends. I don’t even know why I’m writing this—there are those who could write something better. But his mama asked me to.

Tomorrow makes two years since he left this world. And I don’t want his mama to think I’ve forgotten about him.

Nobody could ever forget Marcus Buckner.


  1. Diane Enloe - July 21, 2017 1:37 pm

    So touching~ ?❤

  2. Connie - July 21, 2017 1:44 pm

    Thank you. I didn’t know this young man, but I grew up listening to my uncles and my dad and my brothers pick and sing, and I can tell you, not every master musician goes on to be rich and famous. I’m sure your words help him mama to know he’s not forgotten. Bless you.

  3. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - July 21, 2017 3:07 pm

    You’re a good man.

  4. Debbie Knight - July 21, 2017 4:05 pm

    A legacy is what we leave behind…sound like he left a good one.

  5. Norma Williams - July 21, 2017 6:33 pm

    Mamas everywhere are loving you for keeping memories alive for them. Your writing touches so many strings to my heart. May God continue to bless your efforts, they are awesome.

    • Lucretia Jones - July 23, 2017 4:38 pm

      Yes. . .

  6. Kathy Lane - July 21, 2017 9:03 pm

    You never know the impact you leave -or the folks that you touch, even for a brief moment- sounds like he was one of those rare people -how lovely to share your memories of him

  7. Pat - July 21, 2017 10:17 pm

    Sean,my daughter introduced me to you.thank you, you have a southern soul.

  8. Melodie - July 21, 2017 10:38 pm

    Both of you have made a great impression. Thank you.

  9. Libby - July 22, 2017 12:09 am

    I won’t forget Marcus Buckner after your short story. Thank you, Sean. You make my day?

  10. Dan - July 22, 2017 4:19 am

    Sean, I think that your writing makes more peoples days than you will ever realize. Being from Merle and Buck’s home town makes me appreciate good Country Music Singers and Great Writers.

  11. Jack Quanstrum - July 22, 2017 4:49 am

    Absolutely beautiful story Sean. Playing on the chords of my heart. Sad, but a diamond of a man and you to, the one who wrote it!

  12. Carol van Peelen-Cosper - July 22, 2017 3:10 pm

    Sean, some families have a special person who has talents beyond imaginable. We had one person. He passed. We all still think about him and wonder sometimes if he was the re-incarnation of Mozart. Your lucky when you meet these people.

  13. Dot Wells - July 22, 2017 4:05 pm

    I tell you nearly everyday I love you. More folks should tell others. I live you Sean Dietrich! Your writings make me FEEL everyday! Thank you and I love you!!

  14. Esther Scott - July 23, 2017 12:01 am

    How touching. Wish I had known him

  15. Lucretia Jones - July 23, 2017 4:35 pm

    Honor in remembrance. . .

  16. Ernie Tompkins - July 24, 2017 12:53 am

    Sean, I’m new to your writing and am totally enjoying it. My niece who still lives in AL introduced me. I live in NC now not my AL roots are firmly planted. Your writing is both a joy & and an inspiration. Thank you for acknowledging “small things & small people”.

  17. Jon Dragonfly - July 28, 2017 2:17 pm

    I didn’t know Marcus until I read your memoir. Now, I do.
    The hear Marcus, go to YouTube:


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