John Small Sings it All
In 1979 I moved to Richmond to begin my residency at then MCV now VCU. I did not know a soul here and heard that this place called The Tobacco Company was a fun place to go. I strolled in one Friday night and weaved through a standing room only crowd that was transfixed and singing along with two guys on the stage. The place was going wild and every patron knew every word to every song that these guys were playing. One has a strong British accent and the other was pretty quiet both were masters of their instruments. I perched next to a giant copper cauldron (it’s still there) and enjoyed the madness. Later, I found out that this was John Small and Mark Merritt. Seems these two guys were playing in bars around Richmond and hooked up.
That spot, next to that copper cauldron, in the back of The Tobacco Company became my first favorite place in Richmond and I occupied it many times, not realizing that I would eventually live my life in Richmond. At the time, I thought my being here was merely an academic stepping stone.
So, John and Mark moved around a bit, playing at Steak and Ale on Broad and Glenside and as the years went by, they went separate ways. John settled in as the house entertainment at Potter’s Pub in the shopping center at Three Chopt and Patterson. For years, hot or cold, blizzard or rain, feeling great or with the flu, John Small was there to entertain his fans as they sipped and sang. He was (and still is) the consummate showman, always interactive with the crowd, egging people on and oftentimes inviting them to the stage to sing along. John also stayed contemporary with the ever changing music scene and hearing hip hop music with a strong British accent was all the better.
John had some signature songs that the crowed begged for and stuffed bills in his tip jar to maybe hear it again before last call. “Green alligators and long necked geese, humpty backed camels and chimpanzees” is a John Small trademark, as is “The Scotsman” which is a song about what Scotsmen wear under their kilt. Both of these songs still make my little boys laugh when I do my John Small poseur act before they go to sleep.
Anyhow, after watching John Small do his magic over the past 30 years I told him that one of my long standing bucket list items was to have him over to my house and play some music. I collect guitars and have a stage in my game room so in effect my own venue. When you play and sing as bad as I do, you need your own venue!
So….one recent hot summer night April and I had John and his lady Sherry over for a boat ride, libations and some strumming. After 30 years of watching John perform, I was now accompanying him and basically keeping him off tune and tempo, but none the less having a blast. We rolled through the oldies and did my hallmark “only know the first verse of 1,000 songs”. This was an important night for me as I had waited a long time to be on stage with John Small.
You can see John Small and Mark Merritt at Rare Old Times or The Tobacco Company and find the dates on his Facebook page. I promise you will walk away saying “They still got it going on.”
Thanks for all the good times John.
Joe Niamtu, III DMD
Cosmetic Facial Surgery