In the early oughts of this century, I played the Friday happy hour show at a Destin restaurant/nightclub called Blues.
I liked the gig. All I had to do was provide background piano and be pleasant to the patrons.
One night, just as I was starting the last set of my shift, a woman walked up to my keyboard and said, “Hi, my name is Susan. My fiancé Hans and I came here for dinner but stayed to listen to you.”
That’s when I first noticed the man standing next to her. I acknowledged him with a nod.
She continued. “He’s an amazing guitarist from Germany and he’d like to sit in with you tonight.”
Hans said, “I can get my acoustic from the car. If you don’t mind?”
I didn’t mind. He seemed a nice guy. I liked his accent, and he was shorter than me.
His girl obviously loved him.
Besides, I thought. How bad a picker can he be?
He plugged in, tuned up, and we started. Forty-five minutes later, I told Hans, “That’s the best set of music I’ve ever played. And, it’s all because of you.”
He laughed and said, “The piano player had something to do with the magic. Don’t forget him.”
Hans didn’t forget me. He came by every time he was in town.
Then he moved to the states and, for approximately a decade, we worked as a duo and I played keyboard in a couple of his “American bands.”
Hans told great stories about touring Europe and backing Sunnyland Slim, Katie Webster and Rick Derringer. In fact, one year, Hans arranged for Rick to share the bill with Pat Travers at our local Club LA.
And Hans booked us to open for these rockers. I was excited.
Then, my feet started freezing. My throat felt tight and I was sick to my stomach.
I didn’t want to do the show. I was out of my league.
I told Hans, “I’ll just let you down on stage anyway. Might as well do it now when no one’s watching.”
Hans laughed and said, “No, you are going to do the show. I wouldn’t ask you if I thought you were going to fail me. You are doing the show.”
I did the show. I even played “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” with Hans, Rick Derringer and his band.
I had a good time.
Afterwards, I told Hans, “If I had bailed on you, I would’ve never realized Derringer is shorter than both of us.”
We laughed a lot, Hans and I. He opened his house to me and I spent a lot of time there.
He loved his family. He was absolutely devoted to his wife and child.
After that first decade, other commitments and unexpected events made our gigs and social time together dwindle to almost nothing. We didn’t talk to each other for months. Once, it was over a year between hellos.
But I was always telling somebody about him. No less than once a week, every week, in glowing terms, I made mention of Hans.
Then, three years ago, thanks to Franko “Washboard” Jackson, Hans and I were together again for a couple of weeks at Stinky’s Fish Camp. We played a show or two with Franko the next year.
The last time I saw him was when he filled in for an Emerald Coast Blues Brothers guitarist in, I think, 2018.
He wasn’t feeling well, just out of the hospital, but when asked to play the last song of the evening, he chose “The Thrill Is Gone.”
Words can’t describe. I wish everyone in the world had been there.
One day, years ago, Hans said, “Joe, we are friends. Friends. We have this communication that is constant. We can live in different towns, different countries, on different planets, fail to meet or talk for eons and still, inside, we will know each other completely. We won’t have to ‘catch up.’”
So, when we meet again, I won’t have to tell him that he was my Dr. John, Dave Bartholomew, Lil’ Buck and Art Neville all rolled into one. I won’t have to tell him that his faith in me made me believe in myself as a musician. I won’t have tell him how deeply I respect and love him. How I’ve treasured our time spent on this earth together, I won’t have to tell him.
I guess that’s why I’m telling you.
Upon hearing of his passing, Billy Garrett stated, “Hans was a Giant.”
Yes, he was. Bigger than a dozen JoE Fingas and Rick Derringers stacked on top of each other.