Andy Mackie Sunshine
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 2013 Synergy, Port Townsend, WA
Engineer: Neville Pearsall
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: Did You (BSR151)
Current Release: Did You (BSR151)
This tune is my only ballad, loosely set to to the tune, You Are My Sunshine. In it I try to be descriptive about a truly remarkable man-- to tell his story. The song does that well, I believe, at least the parts about what he did and how kids came to love him. It doesn't quite capture what a gentle but determined soul he was nor could ever capture the lilt of the soft Scots burr in his voice. He was a man who a made a difference-- one kid at a time. Look his name up on the net.
I played with Andy many times at his “extravaganzous'.” He'd get a bunch of pros and semi pros to perform, interspersed with kid performers, put them up on a flat bed truck donated by Edensaw of Port Townsend and play all day for audiences of 20 or 30 people who drifted in and out. Everyone donated a few bucks. He held auctions of old, donated instruments. The way he looked at it, every buck he made was a buck he didn't have before and another buck he could spend on teaching kids to play.
He had over 20 heart procedures. Until he died, almost ten years after I met him, he still chain-smoked cigarettes and stayed up all night making rudimentary folk instruments with diatonic dulcimer fret scales. He would take these sets of instruments into schools and teach kids to play music. Eventually he got high schools to build them in their shop classes to give to elementary school music programs.
But he was known as the harmonica man. That's where he first started with kids. Like the song says, he couldn't die until he had taught kids to play music. There's thousands of pictures of him doing just that. They loved him. He took his meager life savings, bought harmonicas and gave them to kids. He started a foundation for folks to donate used instruments to help kids get started with guitars and violins.
I helped hook him up with the Hohner Harmonica Company. They sold him harmonicas at cost. He would give them to kids and sell one to their parents so they could go home and learn together. A lot of this was wrapped up in the notion of empowering kids to see a larger world. Where he started, the little town of Quilcene, WA, was a small logging and shellfish community hard hit by low employment, isolation and changing times.
I helped Andy fulfill one of his dreams-- to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. With tons of background work with folks like JoAnn Bussa and mandolinist Matt Sircily, one sunny afternoon at the Seattle Folklife Festival we had 1706 people playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for over 11 minutes. A lot of them were kids. A whole school busload of them from Quilcene got up at five in the morning to go to Seattle, be on TV and play in the band. A few had never been there before, two hours away.
The cameras were certainly running that day. He had become a human interest story. None of that went to his head but he certainly had a sign made up that he pasted to the front of his van-- Guinness World Record Holder. He was very proud of that. He was a man in constant pain but the smile on his face that day, and many after, show none of it.