Special gift helps 96-year-old bluesman get his groove back

Charles Bristol, 96, of Morganton, North Carolina, plays a guitar that was gifted to him through a holiday effort called "Rudolph's Sleigh." Bristol is admired in the blues community and has performed with the likes of Bo Diddley. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

A 96-year-old Morganton bluesman lost a handle on his source of identity, but the kindness of strangers helped Charles Bristol get his groove back.

"We felt he deserved that, especially in his later years, to have access to something that meant so much to him," said Amber Halliburton, who's holiday effort called "Rudolph's Sleigh" gave Bristol the gift that keeps on giving.

When News 13 first met Bristol, the silence in his room was deafening. Somewhere along the way the resident at Morganton Long Term Care lost something that feeds his soul -- a guitar.

The instrument that once defined his musical career now gives him new life.

"Alright, Mr. Bristol," Amber said. "We're gonna go to the dining room."

Halliburton has helped him rediscover his youth, tapping into something as essential as the air breathes.

"That is his breath, that is his life," Halliburton said.

"Go ahead and plug your oxygen up, Mr. Bristol," she told him right before a music session began.

The foundation of the blues has always been sadness. In this case, the blues strikes a happy chord as he plays to a small audience, including our news crew.

"He just seems almost a different person when he has it," Halliburton said.

As we touched on earlier, just before Christmas, "Rudolph's Sleigh" collected cash to give him the perfect gift with a few strings attached.

"Found out that Mr. Bristol used to play guitar but didn't have a guitar here," Halliburton said.

Local musician Michael Hefner's admired him for years and said Bristol has performed with the likes of Bo Diddley.

He played on stage well into his 80s. Gibson even gave him a Dobro guitar once, which gives you a sense of his skills and his musical legacy.

"In the blues community, he's known nationally, not just locally," Hefner said, who picks his brain as they pick their guitars.

"How old were you when you started playing?" he asked Bristol.

"Fourteen," Mr. Bristol responded.

"I remember I saw you play about 15 years ago out at Legends," Hefner recalled.

Then another musician Dr. Chris Clapp, who's a local pediatrician, joined the jam in the dining room.

"He's still the leader of the band regardless of who he's playing with," Clapp said.

Those famously fast fingers still have plenty of life.

"You were talking to him before he started playing, and his conversation wandered," Chris remembered. "He wouldn't focus, and as soon as you put a guitar in his hand, he was all about the music."

These days, Bristol's guitar licks competes with the hum of the oxygen machine. Both instruments give him a breath of fresh air.

"Definitely a local legend," Hefner said.

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