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For the Love of Luke

Years ago, the exact date mercifully forgotten, I played a show with Luke White. The show was at Otherlands, sandwiched between tour stints, a bit last minute. I’d been working on an album and Luke was lending lead guitar and harmonies to the songs. I offered him some cash to join me for the set, because if you can play with Luke White, you should.  

Showtime neared. It was increasingly clear that tonight we’d die a musician’s death–playing to an empty room, espresso machines buzzsawing through every song. I told Luke to take the cash and run.  Save yourself, I said. He placidly smoked on the Otherlands back porch and told me, “It’s cool. Let’s play some music.”  

When Luke’s GoFundMe raised $21K in 24 hours, I was heartened but not surprised.  His enormous gifts and bigger heart have made him a treasured member of our community for a long time.  Everyone has their Luke at Otherlands story, or 12, or 100, because he’s that guy. All the time.  

Staying at the studio a little bit longer to try another guitar idea on someone else’s song. Knowing this chorus needs an extra high harmony, full-throated, at the end of a long day; raising his head to the roof and nailing it on the 2nd take. Telling me, “I don’t play much slide” before trying it anyway on a Dylan cover. Laughing after the song and yelling out “woah,” the only person in the club surprised by his brilliance.  Walking into an empty room with me because he simply loves playing music.  

The world knows Memphis music for its biggest names, big shows on the biggest stages, billboards by the highway, whoever’s getting press that moment.

But Memphis music is special because on any given night–rather, every single night–there’s a Luke White playing for a few cranky baristas.

No spotlight, no green room. Just filling our city with something beautiful and real, unseen but felt, thick in our air, note after note, night after night.  

In that way, Luke White embodies everything I love about Memphis and Memphis music.  He shows up. Quietly, consistently, with singular talent and boundless generosity–Luke shows up for us.

Let’s show up for him.

UPDATE: There’s another benefit show July 26, Memphis.  DKDC 6PM-10PM.

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