The Continuing Legacy of Leroy Virgil’s Guitar

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Leroy Virgil of Hellbound Glory

The following story is a guest post by Mike Fiedler, proprietor of the Shore Road Tavern in northeast Philadelphia.

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Back in October of 2012, Leroy Virgil and the boys from Hellbound Glory flew into New York City for a handful of East Coast shows including one at The Shore Road Tavern. We run the place like a true roadhouse by maintaining a third floor apartment above the bar, which is reserved strictly for the touring musicians that play our venue. It has become a welcome stop on the road as it allows musicians a chance to relax after their set, hang out with the crowd, or chill in the apartment, and to not have to worry about loading out until the next day. This was to be our third time hosting the ‘scumbags’ and, needless to say, we were really looking forward to their company as always. But this trip held a special purpose for Leroy.

Jimmy Lloyd, host of NBC’s The Jimmy Lloyd Songwriter Showcase, had chosen Leroy Virgil, along with singer songwriter Sean Walsh, to participate in the inaugural episode of his “Live Songwriter-in-the-Round Series” at Hill Country BBQ, located near 26th and Broadway in New York City. The event was being taped by NBC Digital Networks for a future broadcast, and immediately after the hour long taping, Hellbound Glory was to play a full-band set.

Leroy invited us to come up for the Thursday night show. Since it was going to be such a big night for the band, and we live a very convenient 90 miles from Manhattan, we didn’t hesitate to say yes. Plus we had a large case of Hellbound Glory shirts that were shipped to the bar, in advance of their upcoming Philly show that Saturday, so I figured they’d come in handy.

The “Songwriter Showcase” followed a format that saw each songwriter perform one of their songs, one after another, followed by a discussion about the meaning of the song and how it evolved. Throughout the evening, Leroy was the clear standout.

After Hellbound Glory finished playing at Hill Country, the guys opted to ride back to Philly with us that night instead of taking a train the next day, but they had a 1am show to do somewhere in the East Village first. We started to load their gear into our SUV, and as Leroy was putting his guitar case in the back, he muttered “I’m tired of dragging this thing around” “I’m gonna’ leave it in Philly”. “Yeah, yeah, right Leroy”, I said. With a camera crew in tow, that had apparently been following Leroy around New York City all day, we squeezed in to a few vehicles and set out for the East Village.

After a late show, and an uneventful ride back to Philly, we pulled up to the bar and started to unload the truck. As Leroy pulled his guitar case out of the back, he reiterated, “I am, I’m leaving this thing here, I’m tired of dragging this thing around”. “Yeah, yeah, right Leroy”, I said. We dropped them off at the apartment and went home to crash. We returned to the bar later that afternoon because, as willing as they were to rely on Amtrak for this handful of shows, they were equally willing to accept the offer of my truck to run down to DC for a show that night. As they loaded up the truck, Leroy again repeated how he was leaving his guitar “here at the apartment in Philly”.

By now, knowing how mischievous Leroy can be, and how much he loves fucking with people, I am pretty much dismissing him outright as ‘Leroy just being Leroy’.

leroy-virgil-guitarThey came back from DC Saturday afternoon and pretty much laid low in the apartment until showtime. The boys once again played to a packed house, throwing down another raucous three hour show that we’ve become accustomed to whenever they play Philadelphia. We hung out until well after closing and, since they really had no place to be until they flew back to Reno on Monday, they decided to stick around for another night. We surely didn’t care as long as they didn’t mind sharing the apartment with the acts scheduled to play that Sunday night, James Hunnicutt and Filthy Still (which, at the time, featured Jared McGovern and Liz Sloan as touring members). Of course they didn’t mind.

With a lighter turnout on Sunday night, and so many musicians milling about, the night broke out into some spontaneous music, both in the bar after Filthy Still’s set, and well into the night as James Hunnicutt, Jared McGovern, and Liz Sloan continued to work on some things in the empty floor above the bar. At one point, I walked in to see Leroy sitting in the corner, leaning back in a chair, watching them play with that shit eatin’ grin of his. I pulled up the chair next to him, sat down, and said “yo, that’s Django Reinhardt they’re doing”. He just grinned even wider as he slowly nodded his head. We just sat there for the next 5-10 minutes or so, watching these three virtuosos without saying a word.

The night wound down shortly after that and, as we were socially preparing for the inevitable parting of our separate ways, Leroy once again reinforced his desire to leave his guitar at the apartment as the “house guitar” and to “let everybody play it”. By this point, I was a bit worn down by his dogged persistence and single-mindedness, and for the twelfth time that weekend I said, “yeah, yeah, right Leroy, OK”. We hugged, offered our salutations and well wishes, and went our separate ways until our paths would, inevitably, cross again.

Everybody had left the apartment by Monday afternoon and I didn’t have a chance to get down there and clean until Tuesday morning. As I walked up to the third floor apartment, sure as shit, there it was just like he said. Sitting at the top of the staircase, leaning against the wall with the case open was Leroy Virgil’s beat up old Esteban guitar. I shook my head and thought to myself ‘that’s Leroy being Leroy’ and, with a slight smirk on my face, I picked her up and then just let out a sigh as I placed it into one of the closets. As I was cleaning up the apartment, processing all the events of the last couple days, I kept thinking about one thing in particular that Leroy had said, “let everybody play it”. I then thought about how he had left me in stewardship of his old guitar, an instrument that, from my perspective, already has provenance and should rightly wind up in a museum one day. I decided that, to honor that trust he had in me, I would continue to add to the instrument’s already storied life by doing a running portrait series of every musician that plays his old guitar.

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