Andrew Dys

Beating's pain felt by many

This beating on Tuesday was personal. Cuts and bruises and cracked bone that hit musical notes of pain and fear, anger and memory.

The memories were of the 1950s, when a Rock Hill teen a shade under 5 feet tall, shy, named Johnny King, would show up at performances and rehearsals of the top black gospel group called the Stars of Zion. He would stare up at the dynamo guitar player named Bill Ratchford, a young legend already known for throwing his guitar in the air and mean licks.

"This little guy just wanted to play so bad, so I helped, taught him what I knew," Ratchford said. Although 75 now, Ratchford remembers all. The name Johnny disappeared. "Boggie" was born.

"He would have the people in the audience raising their arms, calling out for him, 'Boggie!'" said Ratchford. "The cat could play!"

Ratchford and Boggie in the late 1950s and '60s played in regional groups, and a Rock Hill kid named Jerry Tillman, who dreamed of playing guitar, whose father owned a music store on Main Street where the black musicians would come for instruments, would watch and listen.

"Boggie, the inspiration for my whole life," said Tillman, who still runs a family music store on Anderson Road.

Tuesday morning, Boggie, 67, was beaten by an intruder at his Rock Hill electronics repair store. Ratchford, 75, had a problem with a compact disc player that same afternoon. He went to Boggie's shop and he found the place closed. A sign on the door said, "Closed. Illness." Somebody next door told him of the beating.

Ratchford wept.

"I hurt like I was beaten myself," he said.

Jerry Tillman heard, too, as the word spread among the old players, the music men who live in a parallel universe of notes that is not part of the Internet age. They come from an age of shooting the breeze. Stop to talk and stay three hours. Listen a lot, learn.

Tillman recalled he last saw Boggie about two weeks ago. Boggie stopped in to see Tillman, who as a boy worshipped at Boggie's feet, as he had done hundreds of times.

"Same Boggie that day," Tillman said. "Quiet. Didn't want any praise. I was telling somebody in the store, like I usually do when Boggie comes in, that the man in front of us changed my life. The man, simply, is my hero. And not just for the way he plays music. The way he lives his life."

Local musicians including Victor Plair, who plays with his father's band -- a band Boggie played with starting in 1959, and still plays with sometimes -- hope to put together a tribute concert for Boggie once his beaten face heals.

Word of Boggie's beating spanned oceans. Boggie stayed under 5 feet tall but reached dizzying heights. Family members have received calls about Boggie -- who has recorded a gold album and toured many times overseas -- from England, France and more states than the family can count.

Yet in his hometown, Boggie also is the repairman. Boggie's West Main Street electronics shop, where he has fixed anything with a plug on it for years, is as much a place for conversation as business. Blacks and whites together hang among the gadgets. The guy who found Boggie beaten Tuesday, who helped him first and then ran for help, is a 64-year old white retiree named John Cox. Cox started out as a customer a decade ago and kept coming back for years to get stuff fixed. Or just to talk, and listen.

A 19-year-old man, out of jail just a few hours Tuesday, is being held without bond in jail again after police charged him Friday with the beating. The brutality against Boggie has enraged people such as Ratchford and Tillman, gentle men who are fearful of what violence is doing in their city.

"We are hearing of this kind of stuff way too often," Tillman said. "It makes you just hope the world isn't going crazy."

Boggie is staying with family until he can heal. Ratchford, a legend like his former student Boggie, said he hoped Boggie can heal. And he hopes Rock Hill can heal, too.

"Isn't the same world, the same music, without Boggie," Ratchford said. "This beating hurt Boggie. It hurts us all."