To a kid growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970s, guitarist Joe Negri was a celebrity. His face became familiar through his regular appearances on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which was filmed in town at PBS affiliate WQED Channel 13 and broadcast twice a day. As the proprietor of a music store, Negri introduced host Fred Rogers to musicians that, over the years, included Kenny Burrell and Ellis Marsalis. In the Neighborhood of Make-Believe segments, “Handyman” Negri served as the straight man/voice of reason to irascible characters like King Friday XIII or Lady Elaine Fairchilde. His duties in the Neighborhood often required the use of a guitar that dispensed some jazzy licks, too.
For years, my family attended the annual picnic of the Musicians Union Local 60-471. When I was about seven years old, Negri was scheduled to perform at the picnic. I was ecstatic. A few years earlier, I felt a charge upon visiting the Sculpture Hall at Carnegie Museum of Art—standing in the place where Negri posed for the cover photo of his Guitar With Love album. But the chance to be in the same room with him seemed like too much to handle.