My best buddy and music mate left this world at about 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 12, 2010. Raoul took the great gig in the sky where the whiskey never stops flowing and smoking bans don’t exist, in that special place where no one ever stiffs the musicians on pay and the audience loves whatever you play.
Of course every show was like that, right Raoul? Did you hear the belly laugh and the cough after? It seems like I just did. For our beloved friend Raoul, music was his calling. He heard it, listened and played along.
Born in Decatur to musician parents, our fallen hero spent his youth surrounded by music and parties. His father, Charles Neese, a professional trumpet player, died when Scott (it’s okay to tell his other name now, he said that was fine) was only eight. His mother, Mildred, an accomplished pianist, raised him as best she could, but certain country songs spring to mine when thinking of his younger years. Raoul once told me his mother had a load of rocks dumped in the back yard and set out a sledgehammer for Scott to knock rocks when he felt frustrated at life.
Right after high school his mother died. With no other living relatives he inherited the family house, promptly sold it, bought a Camaro and the party began in earnest. He went to California with a band called White Heat then returned home in the mid-80s. One night after partying in Decatur where the bars close at 2 a.m., he and his pal Marty Agans, who was also a friend of mine, logically figured a trip to Springfield’s 3 o’clock bars would yield a last call at least. They stopped at the Aloha for a couple of Suffering Bastards (a fine drink in its day) then headed out to my house. Marty walked in about 4 a.m. with this big friendly fella, who promptly fell onto my couch with a thud, breaking a sofa leg in the process of passing out. That was my introduction to Raoul.
During the ensuing 25 years in the Springfield scene he played guitar in several bands including Raoul & Company, Elvis Himselvis, the Cheezy Messiahs, Rock Quarry, Dr. Feelgood, Black Magic Johnson, Sarah Schneider Band, the Hired Hands, Springfield Shaky and for whoever would hire him for a night of music with drinks and pay included. While others worked jobs and played the weekends or refused to come out of the house except for a guaranteed price, Raoul made music because that is what he did and he did it no matter what he had to do to do it. He drove old vehicles, sometimes went hungry and often wondered if he’d make enough cash playing his guitar to pay the rent, but he never wavered in his way of living for the moment, for the music and for the majesty of life.
For the record, he had a broken hip his last few months and being poor with no insurance had some trouble getting decent medical attention. By the time Raoul made it to the hospital with assistance from his dear friend, my sister Sara, he was unable to walk. They found advanced cancer when testing for hip surgery. He received a six- to eight-months life sentence on Monday and was gone by Friday night. We sang songs to him in his last hours, watching for a bushy eyebrow to raise in acknowledgement of a welcome tune and familiar voice. He went peacefully and passed on out on Neil Young’s birthday, a nice touch by a beautiful person, well loved and universally respected not just as a heartfelt musician, but as a friend, mentor, party pal, father figure, brother-in-arms and blessed soul.
To the wise and wonderful, round mound of sound Raoul Brotherman: Long may you run. And to the rest of you all, if you’re still sucking air, have one for the ditch.
Contact Tom Irwin at email@example.com.