By Ed Crane
In the far corner of the cramped room, a middle-aged blonde lady sat a table, a look of alarm blighting her attractive face. A man, slightly older than her, returned from the melee by the stage and collapsed onto his chair. In reply to his partner’s whispered question he rested his forehead on clasped hands, closed his eyes and nodded. He was Stef Cokin’s most loyal fan, and his only real friend. After a couple of minutes they slipped out, unnoticed in the confusion.
Ramon, owner of “The Muddy Blues Club,” shoo-d everybody out in minutes. When the ambulance crew walked in, the place was empty. The crimson painted walls looked crummy under the big lights he’d switched on. The band members were packing up and Ramon sat at a table with his waitress, Ciara, trying to console her tears while she waited for the cab he’d called.
Amid a jumble of wires, pipes and oscillating screens, the medics checked Stef for life-signs, ‘He’s in a coma,’ one called out to Ramon, ‘but I’d guess he won’t be coming out of it. Looks like a brain haemorrhage, the heart’s still beating so we gotta take him to ER. D’you know his next-of-kin?
Ramon got to his feet and approached the ambulance crew, shaking his head.
‘I don’t know nothing about his family. Jim Logan always brings him here – he’s my lawyer. Jim got him this gig.’ He looked around. ‘He and Annette were here tonight. . . . That’s weird. I didn’t see ’em when I cleared the place after Stef— y’know.
‘Okay, we’ll be taking him to University Medical, it’s just a few blocks from here. They’ll try to find something, but it would be great if your guy could call in, he might know the family.’
‘Sure they will. Jim was like family to him. If it wasn’t for Jim, I’d have given up on Stef. He was a great singer, but with the. . . . It was a real problem. He should have made it – worked with some big names – got quite a following here in NYC. He’s a – he was – a musicians’ musician. Some famous people come to here to see him. Eric Clapton was in last month.
I think he lives in Queens.’
In a car parked a block away, James Logan sat behind the wheel staring at the empty neon-lit street, tears streamed down his cheeks. Beside him, Annette Logan lit a cigarette and passed it to her man.
‘James, you knew this would happen someday. He couldn’t keep on going that way.’
‘Yes, but right there on stage, in full view. Crap, I never expected that.’
‘He was performing, James. It’s a cliché, but maybe he would have wanted it like that. Much better than you going to pick him up and finding he’d been lying in bed for a week with a needle stuck in his arm.’
‘Couldn’t have been a week.’
‘You know what I mean, James. You always feared that.’
‘He sang Tuesday through Thursday.’
‘Sure, I know. . . . Sorry, Hon.’
‘We’d better get back.’
‘Let’s wait a little longer, just to make sure everybody’s left.’
Annette and James returned a few minutes after the ambulance had reversed out of the narrow alley where the club entrance was located.
Ramon met them at the door, ‘Hey Jim, what the hell happened to you?’
‘I couldn’t take it, Ramon. Seeing him of the floor like that. I had to get some air.’
‘Sure, Man. That’s understood. They taken Stef to University Medical. They asked if you could go over there to help them with finding the family.’
After convincing his reluctant wife she should drive home, James took a cab to the hospital. The doctor who received Stef, informed James death officially occurred shortly after arrival. He asked James to wait until an orderly could be found to take the deceased particulars.
After a forty minute wait in a tiny office lined with brightly coloured, and very graphic, info-posters about the dangers of drug-use, alcohol, dirty needles and poor pregnancy-care, an elderly black guy in a grey uniform entered. James thought he looked a little stoned, then reminded himself it was 3.50am and people had the right to be a little off at that time in the day.
The man introduced himself as, Isaac Hayes. James’s raised eyebrow prompted him to add, ‘No relation.’
‘Great musician. Stef sang in his band once.’ James said, without thinking.
‘Stef. Stef who?’
‘Ah, sorry. Mr. Cokin. . . . The-um, deceased.’
Isaac’s lips formed an “O” and he wrote the name on the paper he’d carried in.
‘Name rings a bell.’
‘He sang blues. He was pretty active in the 70’s and early 80’s.’
‘He worked with a lot of big names, Rufus, Bar-Kays—‘
‘Is that him? Yeah I remember that. . . . Hell of a voice. He sang with Chaka Khan, they were great. I got a coupla albums with him on.’ Isaac glanced at the paper. ‘Says here he’s white. I can’t believe that.’
‘Lot of people said that.’
‘I ain’t heard of him for years. What happened?’
‘Stef’s mother became ill, he stopped touring and came back to Queens to care for her.’
‘New York’s no place for a blues singer these days.’
‘It hasn’t been for a long time. He could only get guest work.’
‘You his brother or something?’
‘No. Just a friend, also his legal advisor.’
‘You some big-shot lawyer?’
‘No, we’re just a small firm. When Mr. Cokin’s mother died I took care of the estate. Stef was in no condition to do anything. He’d gotten into heroin. That’s when I met him. I remembered him from my youth, I was – still am – a big blues fan, mainly because of Stef’s voice. I’ve been helping him find work for the last five years.’
‘That can’t’ve been easy.’
‘Hell no. The habit made him totally unreliable. The Muddy Blues Club was his last chance. I had to go collect him and take him home for every gig, otherwise he’d just sit in his bedroom at his mother’s house and go nowhere.’
‘Seems you a real friend, Sir.’
‘It seemed worth trying to keep such a great talent alive.’
‘That’s a damn shame. I'll have to go dig out those albums when I get home. Well – we better get on with taking these details. . . .’
Stef Cokin’s small and very private funeral took place in “Our Lady Queen of Martyrs” church on a cold grey Tuesday. The good residents of New York City had no idea, Rod Stewart, Eminem, Mick Jagger,` Snoop Dog and several other top musicians were in town that day to pay their respects to a man whose voice they’d all admired.