This Is Carolina: Bonding over the beat of a guitar

“It’s been wonderful. We’ve enjoyed practicing together.”
Published: Jul. 28, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Through the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy to miss moments.

Eighty-five-year-old mall walker Bobby Lee slowed down to listen one day to 56-year-old kiosk owner Axel Jones. It wasn’t his sales pitch that stopped him, it was what Jones was playing.

“Guitar pick just didn’t feel comfortable so, just going like this and making some noise,” Jones said.

“I go butt in and say, ‘Hey son, let me show you how to do it right,’ and he said, ‘Please do,” Lee said.

Lee handed Jones a guitar pick and music was made. That first lesson blossomed into a beautiful friendship at the Coastal Grand Mall.

“In between my business, I get to play my guitar and kill some time and learn. This gentleman always comes by and visits me at least four or five times a week. He’s more than welcome to have a seat there and I’m playing and he’s teaching me,” Jones said.

That’s because Lee is not just a guitar player but a guitar legend. He landed his first gig by being at the right place at the right time, at the world-famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville.

“A gentleman walked in and he wanted a guitar player and I’d been playing five or six songs,” he said.

The gentleman worked for country music singer Billy Walker.

“I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re going to Billy’s house and go over some songs.’ And I said, ‘For what? He said, ‘Well, we’re going to play the Grand Ole Opry Friday and Saturday night,” Lee recalled.

Lee became a fixture in the Tennessee Walkers of the Billy Walker Show and worked the Grand Ole Opry circuit for eight years. He jammed out with country stars like Porter Wagoner, Hank Snow and the one and only Dolly Parton. Lee even chatted with the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, about his spiffy car, after finishing a set with Dolly in Memphis back in 1975.

“I said, ‘That’s the car that I should be in’ and he said, ‘My boy, my boy.’ He’d say my boy my boy if he knew you real well, but I didn’t know. He said, ‘Well get in the car, then.’ So I got in the car and sat down for a while,” quipped Lee.

The musician spent decades teaching folks how to play the strings for free and even made time to get up on stage with his grandson. Now, he, Jones and other musicians star in their own band called, Diamond in the Rough. They sing and strum for another mall crowd at The Different Drum inside the Inlet Square Mall.

“It’s been wonderful. We’ve enjoyed practicing together,” Jones said.

The two said they are now best friends and it’s all thanks to slowing down and stopping for the moment.

“We’re not looking to make a career out of it but just have some fun, and as Bobby says make some people happy,” Jones said.

“When we start getting some bookings and playing places, we’ll call you and tell you where we’re going to be at,” Lee said.

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