I think if you were looking to understand who John Bartee was... you would have to start down South near Fitzgerald, Georgia. John's father moved often in his job as a telegraph operator for the railroad so it was rare for the children in the family to have time to form lasting friendships with the local kids. But the Summer of 1921 was different, John met Fitz Finney, and whether together or apart they would have a friendship that lasted though many changes in each of their lives.
Fitz was named after his granddad Zion Fitzgerald a former slave of the Fitzgerald Family who had apparently ruled these parts of Georgia at one time, at least until General Sherman cut a path of total destruction from Atlanta to Savannah in 1864 driving the Confederates out on Dec 24, and handing the City by the Sea over to President Lincoln as a Christmas present.
Zion Fitzgerald had seen much pain in his life but at age 72 he had come to find a little taste of freedom & joy even if he was still surrounded by intolerance in a segregated South. He definitely found a freedom when he played on the piano down at Doc Mathew's Place, where John & Fitz would sit out front in the shade of the porch sharing an ice cold Coca-Cola in the afternoon heat. Taking in all the rhythm and melodies from the music the old man would finesse out of the keys of that piano. It was also the summer the boys ended up behind the shed of the Bartee's neighbor Mrs. Ella Chambliss, the elderly widowed daughter of Confederate General William Hardee the guy that Sherman just happened to run out of Savannah years before. Fitz had gotten hold of one his Uncle's hand rolled cigarettes which was pretty much the way the smokes came in those days unless you had some real money.
You get the picture, two little boys curious to see what smoking tobacco was all about. The way my Grandmother told the story it turned out it wasn't that fine Virginia tobacco in this little cigarette as they had thought... You guessed it... It was some of that fine Tanga weed we still enjoy today... just more of a wild southern blend.
John's mother Nell, a gentle woman with a love for music had started her two oldest daughters Julia & Mary Kate off learning the piano at a young age. But, John had just seemed to find his place at the keys naturally. One can image these two boys getting a taste of a special weed on that summer day when Nell called out for John to come on in and play her a song while she fixed dinner. Hearing his Momma call he hurriedly jumped up and parted company with Fitz, who was wearing the widest grin as he sat leaned up against the back of Mrs.Chambliss's shed. "Yeah, go play us some music John-Boy, music would be real sweet right now." Fitz mumbled.
John raced to the back of the house to be greeted by Nell who grabbed her young son as he bolted through the door giving him a hug, "Where you running to John?", she asked. " I got a new song to play you Momma, you really going to like this one." he replied as he slipped from her arms and headed into the parlor. "What you and Fitz been up to today?" Nell asked from the kitchen... "Ah you know Momma, What God invented Little Boys for... Trouble." he replied. "John Lewis Bartee!!" Nell exclaimed as she entered the parlor "You are a little devil." she said to him with a grin. And he started to play a sweet little melody that took on a rhythm and tempo that seemed to grow in volume as he played . Nell just stood there focused with amazement on her oldest boy, Mary Kate came running in wondering what was going on.... and before long seemed like all the neighbor kids were on the porch leaning in through the open windows listening as John's song went on. Even old widow Chambliss had been stirred from her afternoon nap to walk over and see what all the fuss was about. Suddenly the song came to an end and John looked over at his mother. "So what did you think Momma?" he asked. Nell looking flushed but always one to encourage her children's music talent, she answered. "John that was just something special, so very different. What do you call it?" John paused a moment, looking down at the keys in thought , then turned to his mother and said, "I think I'll call it...Tanga".
"Well John, I think that fits that tune just fine... It sounds like a fun name,. Yes... Tanga... sounds like a party." Nell said as she turned back to the kitchen to finish preparing dinner.
More to Come...
(A play on words... Ganja = Tanga & Tanga = Ganja, the song title, Tanga being the hidden message.)