In Memoriam~Bill Kreckman

Bill joyriding


Bill Kreckman, A Dear Friend, has Died.
He was a man who some have said
was an “ornery old cuss,”
But I can honestly say
that I knew him well
And I know that there was more
to Bill Kreckman than most people knew

When we met in the fall of 1969
we were about as different as two people could be
but early on we realized we had at least one thing in common:
we were both outcasts
Two messed up teenagers
left out, kept out, pushed out, uncool, two fools
never quite in synch with anyone or anything else
utterly mystified by how the world worked
missing some important part of the puzzle
that everyone else seemed to have figured out

But outcasts tend to find one another
And as fellow outcasts, we helped each other
through the gauntlet of high school

I remember someone at the time asking me
“How can you hang out with someone like that?”
He was bad news, they said, someone headed for bad things
I suspected that they were probably right
but our commonality trumped everything else

Everyday after school we sat in his parents’ kitchen
before they got home from work
listening to his Steppenwolf and Black Sabbath records,
or WLS AM radio,
drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes
& talking about how rotten the world was
while drawing a cartoon story we passed back and forth,
trying to convince ourselves
how glad we were that we didn’t fit in.

We liked all the usual music at the time,
Jimi Hendrix, Stones, Beatles, CCR, Janis Joplin,
as well as the odd single
that caught our ear on the radio,
like “Little Green Bag,” or “Spirit in the Sky,”
and Frijid Pink’s version of “House of the Rising Sun”

But early on we realized
we were both drawn to quirky music
recorded by weird, edgy people

Stuff that made most other people say
“Yewww! What’re you listening to?”

Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa,
Iggy & the Stooges, Velvet Underground,
Roxy Music (the stuff with Eno), The Sex Pistols, and so on
from the late ’60s through the ’70s & ’80s and onward
We began a race
to turn each other onto bands
and performers we’d discovered on our own
or through my friend Steve, or
our mutual friend Gary Matthews

But for both of us,
it was the classic Blues
and old time Country guys
that really did it for us,
records made by people like
Leadbelly, Hank Williams,
Big Bill Broonzy, Buddy Guy,
John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters,
Howling Wolf, J.B. Hutto,
Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson
Hound Dog Taylor,
and last but certainly not least,
Robert Johnson.

If Bill had a religious impulse at all,
a sense of the holy,
it was articulated for him
by those old Blues songs,
like when Muddy sang
“There’s two trains running,
and neither run my way,
one runs at midnight,
the other just before day”
or when Beefheart sang
his tangled vegetative portraits
of sonic beasts in motion,
perfectly expressing both his
and Bill’s true religion:


Bill loved & respected Nature
maybe more than anyone I know
even though I think he may have doubted Nature
included human beings
(or maybe other human beings)
And I know Bill never felt as good or at home
in this world as he did when he was wandering
far afield, or in the woods, lost in the
embrace of lonely spaces


He loved animals, especially his little Cat,
and greeted Spring each year
like the return of an old friend
& he loved the Earth like a lover,
just so long as She didn’t expect him
to make a big deal about it on Valentine’s Day


He was his own creation
a wholly original person,
untrained in music or art,
and other skills,
like carpentry or car repair
but he never let lack of formal training
stop him from doing whatever
he took a mind to do


If he needed a chair
he made it out of discarded wooden skids;
If he had to replace his spark plugs
or put in a gas pump,
or fix his brakes, he did it himself
He once built an entire fence from
old railroad ties, and a beautiful china cabinet
from wood he bought at Walmart


He only took one art class in high school,
didn’t know Van Gogh from a Chevy Van
but with a style that was completely his own,
could draw or paint
whatever subject was on his mind,
usually something or someone
that he admired
or had pissed him off
with a desire to
pay them homage
or to exorcise them
from his mind and soul,
a primitive impulse
that savages and artists embody


Whatever he needed to do
he would invent a way to do it
and make it his own


I remember when he decided to take up guitar
He never learned how to play
the way people usually do,
with chords & charts & scales,
he just played
And if he didn’t know how to play a song
that never stopped him from playing it anyway
which I admit could be really annoying
until I relaxed and quit fighting it
and just played, too
It didn’t always sound very good
(I have the tapes to prove it)
but sometimes (again with the help of our friend Gary Matthews)
we hit the Good Groove,
that elusive THING that can’t be repeated or pinned down,
but you know it when you hear it
(I have the tapes to prove it)


One of the few things he ever copied outright was
that famous Elmore James riff, which he could do to a ‘T’
but everything else he made up on the spot
& I swear to this day
that I have never heard anyone else
get the sound he could make
with just an electric guitar and a Silvertone amp


He could do lots of things
with natural ease, but
when it came to telling you
he cared about you
that seemed to be a bit harder for him to do
If you glanced around you, though
and took another look
at the bookcase he’d made, just for you,
or the cassettes or CDs
he’d meticulously recorded
of rare old Blues and Country & Western songs,
just for you
the notion would dawn
that there’s other ways
to say the words
that the mouth won’t form


I’m sorry that difficult people have to die
before you can say you love them
But I did love him like a brother
and brothers fight, sometimes bitterly


I could also say I loved him
because of who he was
and what he could do
But who he was, and some of the things he did,
could also be the reason we fought


I loved it that he
wasn’t afraid to do some
spur-of-the-moment crazy idea
that he or someone else had


But some of these things could also get you into trouble
and to be his friend you needed
to be ready to accept the consequences
and take the bad times in stride
because the good times
were so good


Did he hurt friends and family? Yes
Was he a big pain in the ass sometimes? Oh, yeah


There were times when his closest friends
and family couldn’t stand it anymore
and had to take a break from him.


But there is a tight circle of people
who bonded with Bill down in their souls
and a bond like that
is forever


A bond that couldn’t be broken
even if you were really, really mad at him.


With Bill in time the bad memories
faded into stories you tell
and make room
for better memories
to come back
like rain after a long dry spell


and the good times flood your mind
like magical tales of olden days
you actually got to take part in


Like the time we pulled up
to a drive-through liquor store window
and barked and howled like rabid dogs
at the terrified guy behind the counter
then drove off laughing


Or the day we took my Dad’s ’68
Chevy to go fishing
above the main dam on Lake Decatur
with two other friends
& hit a pothole on the access road
which threw out the transmission linkage
and stuck the car in reverse
and we drove all the way
to the Shell station in reverse
crossing Highway 51 in traffic
with Bill looking out
for other cars (and cops)


But one of my favorite memories
was the time Bill & I were out walking in a farmer’s field
south of Decatur, and he just reached down
and picked up something,
which turned out to be
a six-inch Indian spearhead
artfully carved from white flint, perfectly balanced
and as deadly a weapon
as it was a beautiful work of art,
created centuries before
when it probably had been used to bring down a bear,
or a deer, or an enemy.
And he’d just plucked it up out of the dirt clods
like it was a cigarette he’d dropped


Bill may have been hard to deal with sometimes
but truly original people are hard to deal with
And Bill Kreckman was a True Original,
and a Dear Friend,
lost to this world
one heart-breakingly beautiful day in early June.


*    *    *    *


Bill liked to memorize Beefheart’s songs
off of Troutmask Replica, like “Old Fart at Play,”
and “Well,” and there was another one he really
liked that I couldn’t remember the name of.
I wanted to include it here, so went on Youtube
to try to find it, and was shocked to find that
the one I couldn’t remember was named “Bill’s Corpse.”


It brought back a memory of saying to Bill one time
after he recited it for me,
“Doesn’t that creep you out, a song title that?”
He said, no, not really. He said he liked the line:
“The only way they ever all got together,
was not in love but shameful grief,”
and said that was pretty much how he felt about funerals.

Bill’s Corpse, by Captain Beefheart

Quietly the rain played down on the last of the ashes
Quietly the light played down on her lashes
She smiled ‘n twisted, she smiled ‘n twisted
Hideously looking back at what once was beautiful
Playing naturally magically
O’ her ragged hair was shinin’ red white and blue
All and all the children screamin’
Why surely madam you must be dreamin’
You couldn’t have done this if you knew what you were doin’
When the gold fish in the bowl lay upside down bloatin’
Full in the sky in the plains were bleached with white skeletons
Various species grouped together
According to their past beliefs

The only way they ever all got together
Was not in love but shameful grief
It’s not the way I’d like it to get together
That’s not the kind of thoughts I’d like to keep
The rain played lightly down down on the formal heap

O’ lady look up in time
O’ lady look out of love
And you should have us all
O’ you should have us fall






  • Oh Joe you got this so right!! Thank you! Love you

  • Your tribute to Bill is brilliant. I never met Bill, I only knew him via is sister, Pat, and now Sue and through this amazing homage to a difficult man that you loved like a brother. Hats off to you.

    • Thank you, sorry it took so long to get back to you.

    • Thanks Toni, I’m sorry this took so long to get back to you, thank you for your kind words. We just had a memorial service for Bill last weekend. Pictures from that can be seen on my facebook page by going to Joe Henderson.

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