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Happy Birthday, Ghost Groove

In the time of Bootsy Collins and Curtis Mayfield, Ghost Groove was born. My dad, a funk bassist with 70's soul, Groove could slap the bass like a madman. As a kid, I would say he looked like he was “tickling it with two hands” the way his nimble fingers would flutter over the frets and strings. When my dad went to his job or worked on the car or took out the trash, he was Gerald Garth, Sr. But when he would pick up his bass, there was no doubt Ghost Groove was there.

Our old house had an open carport that was my dad’s makeshift studio. The car was always parked on the street to make room for my dad’s paints, clays, easels, and air compressor. But the carport was not just his art studio, it was also his music studio. At least a couple nights a week, my dad would make his way to the carport and Ghost Groove would emerge.

One day, my dad surprised me with a light blue, Kelly green trimmed bubble vest, and on the back he spray painted (another of his many talents) in bold royal blue and orange letters from shoulders to waist “Ghost Groove #2.” Superman’s cape ain’t have nothing on that vest.

I remember jumping around wildly strumming my plastic kid-sized guitar as my dad thumped out melodies and chords and even played along to songs on the radio. My dad would call out, “Groove #2, you ready?” as he dragged out the amp, bass in tow. I knew what that meant as I would catch eyes with my mother in silent petition. And with a simple nod and smirk, she released the Groove #2. I would run to my room, toss on my vest, and barrel out with my guitar.

Tuning up, playfully and with vigor as if I weren’t there, my dad would ask, “Where is Groove #2?” That was my cue to “thump out” on my guitar. In my four-year-old delight, I would jump up and down, hands “tickling the strings” just like Daddy. After my scratching and twanging, my response was always, “And where is Daddy Groove?” Daddy would pluck out the most complex, soulful melodies and chords in ultimate showmanship—eyes closed, eyebrows lifted, his body contorting with zeal.

And I could never forget my mother making her way to our sessions-- clapping, swaying, and dancing along. Oftentimes, she would shimmy over to my dad to kiss him; and quite often his right hand quickly became… occupied.

“Ma!” I would whine as she interrupted the groove.

“You can’t have Daddy Groove or Groove #2 without Mama Groove,” she would quip. Daddy would shoot her a wink.

Those nights happened for years, Ghost Groove and Groove #2. And those times I will remember forever.

Even before I outgrew the little blue vest, I vowed I would keep it forever. And for years, it was the uniform for a stuffed bear that lived in my bedroom. Even when I moved away from home, being able to look at this little garment, imagining my body being that small, and remembering the innocence and joy that was manifest in the little heart behind the zipper always gave me solace. It kept me connected to a simpler time. It kept me connected to my father.

Years ago, a historical hurricane took my vest and many other things away. But the memory lives on. The Groove lives on. Happy birthday, Gerald Ray Garth, Sr. I will always say your name. The Groove will always live on.

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