The dossier is already on my desk when he walks through the door. I've been expecting him, passing the daylight hours reviewing the facts, piecing together the story. The years in the Phoenix Boy's Choir, that explains the voice, smooth yet powerful, a crooner's contralto.
Time passed quietly until he formed Indigo Swing in the early 90’s and hit the dance-band circuit, bringing boogie-woogie and jump-blues music back from the recesses of memory to a nation crazed with jitterbugging and two-toned shoes. This is when and how he learned the textured arrangements and evocative compositions that were pure jittersauce. That instinct for packing the dance floor remains, but no longer dominates.
By 2000 though, the swing revival was all dried up, and all those hepcats had some tough choices to make. The pretenders were the first to bail out, taking studio gigs or straight jobs to make their nut. It was the true believers, the old souls, who struck out on their own, taking their classic pop influences with them. Boyd was one of them.
In 2001, he released Last Word In, a collection of 12 original tunes whose varied styles marked a departure from his years with Indigo Swing, a look inward to his many influences, a stronger desire to connect with his listeners...and a deeper relationship with "The Muse".
There's a moment of pleasant small talk, invitingly genuine, as he settles into the chair across my desk. It's not the probing jabs of a prizefighter looking for a weakness; those I know well enough. He speaks of the parquetry in the lobby, the history of the building...this man is a poet, not a palooka.
The inspiration for the architecture is a genuine segue into his reason for coming to see me. He's looking for something, like everyone else who hires me to shadow a mark or dig for evidence...but this is different. The lead in this case isn't a smoking gun or an icy dame...it's the After Midnight Sessions LP, a classic 1950's recording by Nat 'King' Cole. The album inspired 13 new songs for Boyd, and he's looking for words from an outside source that express what makes those songs similar, despite their many different styles and tempos.
It's new ground for me. I'm an expert in the bad reasons people do bad things. Figuring out why this modern minstrel wrote these particular songs, helping to find the theme...it's nothing like discovering a cheating spouse or nabbing a blackmailer. Whose trash should I sift through? Whose fingerprints am I after? Who do I follow?
And then it hits me...
I peer from behind the folds of the Chronicle as she emerges from the frame shop, an original lobby card from "Roman Holiday" in hand. I recall his stories of their trips to Tuscany, how the sun shone every day, even when it was raining, the story of their breakfast at the Palace Hotel that lasted until the candles were lit for dinner. It's romance...but that's not all.
Her next stop is a quiet bistro. I wait until the hostess shows her to a table set for two before I move to a better vantage point. I notice a bouquet of flowers on the table as I make my way to the bar..."Sincerely Yours" on the card, no other words, no signature. These aren't the flowers of apology, or even to celebrate a special date or event; they're the "just because" flowers sent by a man who knows how to show appreciation for his good fortune.
It's not the first time this phrase has come up on this job, and it's now that I see why he hired me. There's a gracious, genuine thankfulness in these new songs that comes naturally to him, but it’s a revelation to a jaded old gumshoe like me. We've both sat in the darkness to hide from the light, both had to drink to forget...and as for me, I know I'll be in that place again, probably soon, and surely more than once.
But since he met The Muse, Johnny Boyd is writing a new chapter to his story. In this one he's never been shallow, never been cynical, never been afraid.
Never Been Blue.