Nashville

The Hardway

by J Raleigh Jones

Brenton Coffee: The Blind Man At The Door

It was a scorching hot August day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield Illinois when I first noticed him. A blind man was sitting at the door of the Exhibition Hall. He was playing his guitar and singing gospel music as well as a few old standard songs. I introduced myself and he said "My name is Coffey with a y not an e on the end."

 

He told me he had worked the State Fair for almost 50 years and planned to continue until that half century mark. As we exchanged small talk, he told me that he works every day of the year downtown Springfield. He sets up at the front door of the Chamber of Commerce office which is across from the historic old Courthouse. Every day he would meet his friend at Hardy's in downtown Springfield at 5 AM for breakfast. He would then go set up his stool and get out the instrument he planned to play that day. You see, he could play guitar, mandolin, harmonica and accordion. 

As I talked to him a couple of things struck me. He made no effort to cover up the sockets of his eyes. He wore no sunglasses nor eye patch. He was comfortable with who he was. In fact he had a great enthusiasm for life. He really enjoyed being a street musician, while most people passing by ignored him and  pretended he was not there. Those who did get to know him knew what an interesting person he was. I am told that one of the most hurtful things for a disabled or handicapped person to endure is being ignored. I left that day with his phone number and the idea to write the song "The Blind Man At The Door."

Soon after that I moved to the coast of Mississippi, still remembering meeting Mr. Coffey. I called him one day and reminded him who I was. I needed more information to write his song so I scheduled a trip from Gulfort, MS to Springfield Illinois. It was a cold and windy day when I met him in downtown Springfield. He walked wherever he wanted to go with a white cane. We met at a restaurant for lunch. I asked him about his life. He said that he had Scarlet fever at the age of 3. His father did not believe in Doctors so he was not taken to a doctor or hospital until the day one of his eyes fell out of its socket. He spent months in the hospital and survived, but of course lost his sight. I asked him if he remembers anything from when he had sight. He answered enthusiastically "Oh yes!" "I know what people look like, and green grass and apples hanging on a tree, cows in the field, and little pigs with their little pink noses!"

After our lunch my brother Phil and my girlfriend at the time walked  him to the front of the Chamber Of Commerce Office where he began to set up to perform for us. He brought his mandolin and a small tape player recorder which he hung on a cord around his neck. We were about to be entertained by the  Brenton Coffey one man band! He had prerecorded some songs on his tape recorder singing the harmony part and playing his guitar. So with his mandolin he played fills and a second rhythm and sang the song. I knew he prepared this just for me and I marveled at what I had just witnessed. We shot some video of him on that cold April day and it is posted on my j raleigh jones youtube page.

I wrote the song "Blind Man At The Door" and recorded a demo of it. I made another trip to see Mr. Coffey and share my demo with him. I wanted it to sound good so we went to a Circuit City store and asked the audio department if they would play the song in their high end audio room. That was an experience for Mr. Coffey. He commented on how beautiful it sounded. As we left the store he said "You know I can't hear stereo because I only have hearing in one ear." I still try to wrap my mind around that statement. 

I stayed in touch with Mr. Coffey. I decided to take my band from Mississippi and hold a concert in his honor for his 50th year playing at  the State Fair. I was not able to set anything up with the fair so I set it up for Douglas Park which had a good stage and outdoor theater setting. As in 2 previous articles that I had written about Mr. Coffey, the Springfield Journal Register News covered the story. Several comments from notable citizens and politicians were made of their memories of him.

 

Not long after that Mr Coffey passed away. I updated my song and recorded the updated version here in Nashville. It is on my "Forever In My Heart" CD. These are the lyrics.

The Blind Man At The Door

For 50 years each summer at the Illinois State Fair

Everyday but Sunday, he'd be playing there

Scarlet Fever took his sight when he was 3 years old

He gave his heart to Jesus over 60 years ago

 

Always sitting by the door of the Exhibition Hall

His guitar case was open to catch the coins that fall

The smile on his face revealed the joy within his soul

and everybody knew him as the Blind Man At The Door

CHO:

And he sang "Oh How I Love Jesus" and "Come Home Its Supper Time"

"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "With His Hand In Mine"

"Jesus Saves" was the phrase written on the cap he wore

And everybody knew him as the blind man at the door.

 

To anyone who asked him he'd tell about his life

He'd paint a perfect picture of his struggle to survive

"Jesus is my strength so please don't pity me"

"Although I cannot see, Jesus set me free" 

 

He said the day is coming when the Lord will send for me.

I'll leave this world of darkness and I can't wait to see

Those pearly gates a shinin, I'll say one thing for sure

St. Peter go tell Jesus its the blind man at the door.

CHO: 2

And I'll sing "Oh How I Love Jesus" and "Come Home Its Supper Time"

"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "With His Hand In Mine"

They'll call me Brother Coffey over on that golden shore

Forever will I never be the Blind Man At The Door

Forever will I never be the Blind Man At The Door

 

CHO: (modified)

He's singin "Oh How I Love Jesus" and "Come Home It's Supper Time"

"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "With His Hand In Mine."

They call him Brother Coffey over on that golden shore

He's shoutin' Hallelujah Praise The Lord

Thank you Jesus, Hallelujah!

I can see, I can see!

copr. James R. Jones

One of Mr. Coffey's friends asked him what he would like to see if he got his sight back. Mr. Coffey responded "I don't want my sight back. The first face I want to see is Jesus."

I will be performing this song at  Nashville Cowboy Church which starts  at 10 AM Central Time, Sunday morning February 9, 2020. I will live stream it on my J Raleigh Jones TV facebook page. jraleigh Or you can watch it at http://nashvillecowboychurch.com online. 

http://facebook.com/jraleighjones.7

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fuvhpy99RKg

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