Beverly Peyton, dubbed 'an honorary member' of Procol Harum by BJ Wilson, here offers her beautiful tribute to that much-loved percussionist.
When I think about BJ, and I do every day with incredible fondness, you'd think I would say that he reminds me of some Procol Harum song or how great a drummer he was. I certainly don't wish to offend or disappoint here, but what comes to mind is the song An Englishman in New York by Sting. I intend to touch on BJ as a drummer / musician a bit later, but before I do, that particular song is the epitome of BJ in spite of Sting's explanation of it.
If 'manners maketh man' as someone said ...
When I first met BJ, it was exactly that ... first. As luck would have it, I was standing near the door he leapt from. Procol Harum were scheduled to play in concert in West Saugerties, NY. I happened to be guests of the promoters and they asked that I oversee their arrival. Tough assignment! I was more than happy to oblige. To me, PH was everything that music should be. Oh, there were plenty of other bands that I enjoyed, but their music did something to my core. I didn't bother to analyse it: I just wanted to hear it and now I was being given the chance to meet them. As the cars pulled in, the energy was well in tow. I recall vividly as all the doors flew open in unison. There was BJ with an extended hand. 'Wow!' he said, 'this is nice!' with a laugh that became his signature for me. We were standing in mud up to our ankles and he thought it was nice. He was lanky and gangly and, when not in the mud, appeared to walk like a newborn buck trying to get its legs. Everything buckled and yet had a bounce. It suited him perfectly.
He's the hero of the day ...
As our friendship grew over the years, I came to know this slight man with a huge heart. BJ loved curry, as did most of PH. When the restaurant Shezan opened in NY someone had recommended that they try it, so off we went on one of many dining experiences to Shezan. This particular evening, the owners learned that the group dining was indeed PH and requested that everyone sign their autograph book. When it was presented in my direction, I laughingly waved it off and passed it on. BJ stood to reach for it, elbowed me and said, 'Go on, sign it. You're an honorary member you know.' and laughed that wonderful laugh.
It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile ...
In 1973 during the tour for Grand Hotel, I answered the phone to hear, 'Quick, go rent a tuxedo! They're throwing us a bash at the Plaza tonight!' BJ had the best laugh. It wasn't loud: BJ wasn't a loud type of guy. It kind of had this lower register to it and it would roll. It suited him perfectly. The party was nothing short of spectacular. There were hundreds and hundreds of people mostly connected to Chrysalis. The band were all decked out in their penguin suits. BJ was like a kid with his first lollipop. I was milling around the upper level when BJ approached all excited with a man who appeared to have blue hair. 'This is Andy Warhol,' introducing us. 'He wants to put me / us (motioning all the while with his hands) in one of his movies!'
Be yourself no matter what they say ...
BJ was a natural. He loved strawberries and cream and often he would quip, 'I love good march!' Somehow, I think he really meant it. Why not? He loved so many things. After viewing a movie, he'd walk about reciting his favorite lines. He had the capacity to accept all genres of music. He wasn't at all like some musicians I know who think that their music is all there is. He thought Art Garfunkel's I Only Have Eyes for You was the slowest song he had ever heard and that Sting's Russians was remarkable. When my business partner and I opened another salon in S. Fla. the name had the word 'Frog' in it (don't ask) and he sent this joke: Q: 'Waiter! Have you got frogs' legs?' A: 'Yes!!' 'Then hop over there and get me a cheese sandwich!'
Watching Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck do a tap dance pleased him as much as learning how to play his new Kazoo. Young Frankenstein and A Clockwork Orange were two of his favorite films. He would gush when he spoke of Sarah and the arrival of Nicola brought the letter-writer out in him.
The King of Hearts
I think it necessary to mention, from conversations with Diane Rolph, who knew BJ from the time he was 16 and she was 15, that BJ had told her "that he didn't feel he had ever 'worked' for a living." That's how much he loved his years with Procol Harum.
It would also be most derelict of me if I didn't repeat what Diane revealed when their other friend Aunt Maud became very ill with Multiple Sclerosis. BJ had been cautioned as to the fact that her speech had become very impaired and that she could barely form her words. Despite the warnings, it was later learned that he had rung her up and lifted her spirits immensely by keeping her on the phone for ages.
For one who I am with no more ...
For me to expand on BJ as a musician is really not my place, but I must confess I would be foolish to suggest that Procol Harum's music doesn't bring BJ to my mind. The Long Goodbye and Mr Blue Day were the two last songs I remember him speaking so lovingly of before his death; being especially proud and fond of the latter. It was his work with the orchestrations that really seemed to fulfil him the most. On the other hand, BJ never distinguished himself as extraordinary nor did he ever seek praise. He simply loved his craft and everything around him. These were the qualities, aside from his good nature that endeared people to him. Unfortunately, BJ never realized his actual presence ... the likes of which I had never met before and have never met since.
For Sarah and Nicola
Your Dad was one of the greatest men I have ever had the pleasure to have known. Trying to come to terms with his death is highly unlikely in my lifetime. He left a gap that will never be filled again. He was warm and friendly. He was fun and charming. He was thoughtful and considerate and always polite. He was everything you seek in a friend and then some. He was definitely a very talented musician, but that wasn't where his true talent lay. His talent was being the type of human being this world needs more of. His musicianship was secondary to the people who knew him and as much as I miss hearing him play new and innovative pieces, I miss his presence more. I wear a little snare-drum pin in his honor.
I am so very grateful to have known him.