Wandering Billy

Auld Lang Syne

A mystery photo from the past and the passing of two Tate Street icons

By Billy Eye

“I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.” — Leonardo da Vinci

Thereís a photograph on my living room wall that I love. But I never gave it a hard look until my sister pointed out that the background had been painted over. She’d been told there was a little girl in the picture who had been painted out. I had no idea who the gentleman in the photo was, or how old the picture was, so that gave me the perfect excuse to visit with Bill and Anna Heroy, the Old Photo Specialists at 320 South Elm. These are the go-to guys who can reconstruct your family photographs, return them to pristine condition. They’re tops in the field, none better in the country.

Bill was able to work his magic on the print, pointing out the high silver content that dates it to before 1940. He also noted this was a blow-up from a much smaller photo, and it appears there was no little girl in this picture after all. So the mystery continues but at least it narrows my search for who this natty gent might be.

Bill and I lamented that everything is assumed to be so simple today when it’s done via computer. One keystroke, a filter gets applied, everything fixed in seconds, right? That’s not possible for the meticulous photo restoration Bill has become famous for. The Heroys have been talking about retiring for some time so I suggest, if there’s a family heirloom you want to pass down that needs extreme retouching, you should act quickly.

***

A Tate Street legend since the ’60s passed away not long ago. Two actually. As noted in last month’s issue of O.Henry, Jim Clark, a towering inspiration to generations of writers, left this world — and a devastating loss to this city it is.

Then there was the very embodiment of stubborn nonconformity, Harry Wilton Perkins Jr., known to everyone in these parts as Electro, who was 70 years old at the time of his passing. A celebration of his life was held at College Hill Sundries where the one comment I heard repeated over and over was, “Electro was the first person I ever met on Tate Street.”

“Electro never met a stranger, he talked to everybody,” Louanne Hicks shared with me. “He was outgoing, fun, entertaining and he was going to do what he was going to do. And that’s it. Period.” Defiantly scruffy, at least when I encountered him, Electro played blues guitar and Dobro for numerous bands, jamming in 1988 on an album with Rich Lerner, whose weekly radio program on WQFS is essential listening. I saw Electro perform at New York Pizza several years ago. An exceptional musician, he was scheduled to play the Tate Street Festival last year but was too ill to go on stage. (Sadly, that long-standing festival is no more.)

A disparate collection of music makers, writers and artists turned up out to say good-bye to this multigenerational icon, including a gal I hadn’t seen in 15 years, Lucy Waldrup, well-known and universally loved as the youthfully cheerful waitress at Boba House when it first opened in 2000. Still as chipper as ever, and as lovely, Lucy was the first person I wanted to see in 2002 after spending a year in London. When I inquired about her whereabouts I was told, “She moved to Asheville yesterday.” Darn the luck.

Ultimately I managed to catch up with Lucy and recently discovered the memory of Electro she holds closest to her heart:

“This was 2001, Facebook wasn’t a thing yet so you couldn’t just know when it was someone’s birthday. One afternoon I came into College Hill at 3 o’clock, it’s my birthday, I want a drink, and [bartender] Pam says, ‘Lucy, you’ve got a card.’ I open it up, it was a birthday card from Electro and it said, ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, Iceland is beautiful, but not as beautiful as you.’ We had talked about Iceland but I don’t think Electro and I ever talked about my birthday or anything about birthdays. He was the only person that year who knew it was my birthday.”

And this, from my pal John Lamb, currently teaching English in Hanoi:

“Rest in peace, old friend. Thanks for all of the great conversations about history, life, your adventures, and music over coffee at Tate Street Coffee or beers at College Hill and the Exchange all of those years ago. Thanks for giving a young metalhead/punk rocker a real love and appreciation for the blues and mostly thank you for being one of my first friends in the town that I lived in the longest of my adult life and still refer to as my hometown if anyone asks. I hope you get a chance to meet some of the legends you liked to talk about all of those years ago now and catch up with some of the folks you met along the way.”

***

Finally, best wishes and speedy recovery to Teresa Staley, the only person you’ll ever meet who’s been in the same room with The Old Rebel and Joan Crawford, as I recounted in last year’s May issue of this magazine. Loyal friend and true supporter of local over-and-underground music, for years she’s been hosting summer house parties featuring the finest musicians this city has to offer, no hyperbole there. You haven’t arrived as an artist until you’ve played one of Teresa’s musicfests.  OH

Billy Eye is at a loss as to what to write here that doesn’t sound too self-deprecating. If he’s bragging, it’s because his life really is that awesome.

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