Mckeithan column

Published 3:07 pm Friday, August 8, 2008

By Staff
Young drummer can’t keep pace with Golden-Girl virtuoso
By Ray McKeithan
Editor’s note: This column (with some alterations) was originally published Dec. 21, 2007. It runs again today because — like a traveling preacher who knows just one sermon — repetition can be a good thing. (More than likely it’s because he’s lazy … McKeithan, that is — not the preacher.)
At a young age, I had a dramatic introduction to a different style of worship than I had ever witnessed. I had been hired by the East Laurinburg Church of God to play drums at a special service sometime around 1978 because the “normal” drummer was unavailable.
Having only attended traditional “downtown churches,” I was surprised that any church would want a drummer to play, especially on Sunday. I couldn’t imagine how a drum set would sound during The Old Rugged Cross. No matter, they were paying me good money on this “church gig.”
We had one rehearsal on Saturday night. The band was comprised of an electric bass player, a guitar player, a trumpet player, a drummer and a piano player — not a pianist — there’s a difference. (Think about the difference between a violinist and a fiddler. Are you with me?)
The piano player could barely stay vertical sitting on the piano stool. She must have been pushing 90 — maybe 100. I wasn’t sure if I was there to rehearse with her, or to resuscitate her.
Then it started. There was no warning. No one counted off, “one … two … three … four …” This sweet old lady just suddenly launched into an energetic, double-time rendition of an old gospel tune that I guess I should have known. The band followed her lead and kept playing as they all looked at me. I had no idea what to do.
How we are raised is the biggest factor in what seems “normal” to each of us. If you grew up in a lively church with people dancing in the aisles, then that seems normal to you. These same people might sit through an entire service at my church and wonder when it was going to begin. “Where’s the band?” I can imagine them asking. “We’ve only been here an hour. Somebody throw me a tambourine and let’s get this thing started!”
I awoke that Sunday morning praying that the church’s “normal” drummer would suddenly return. God had different plans.
The service began just as rehearsal had the night before. This Golden-Girl-Liberace was clearly in charge. She was a Christian soldier and was taking no prisoners. She was able to fire-up the congregation despite the over-confident young drummer-for-hire who couldn’t keep up. I managed to stumble-in finally and tried desperately to hang on for the next hour or so.
What a sight to behold! At the first refrains of “Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor” the entire congregation leapt to its feet. All were clapping — some were briefly in rhythm — but they couldn’t keep up with the old lady either.
Hands were raised, feet were stomped, tambourines were shaken and God was praised!
A young boy on the second row was overcome. He fell into the aisle and shook on the floor in what I was sure was an epileptic seizure! It didn’t faze anyone. No one reacted or made a move toward him. “Help him!” I said to myself. (I couldn’t help; I was scared to death — and playing the drums, after all.) As it was later explained to me — the boy was fine, he was just “overcome by the Spirit of the Lord!”
What a sight it would have been if I had thrown down the drumsticks and run to that boy’s aid!
My shock at seeing this exuberant display of unbridled worship was evident to at least one other person that day. One of my Mom’s good friends was a member of the church and was as entertained at watching me as I was at watching them. Apparently, my eyes were as wide as quarters and my face as white as the choir robes.
I recall this “church gig” with a great deal of reverence and respect for all of the members of the East Laurinburg Church of God, and for their dynamo artist-in-residence who humbled me.
For all I know, she’s still there playing to a congregation that’s trying desperately to keep pace.
Ray McKeithan is associate publisher of the Washington Daily News. If you have suggestions of topics, or questions about operations at the WDN that can be addressed in future columns, please send an email to: or call 252-940-4205.