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Joe McQueen

19 August 2012
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Joe is one of Ogden's great Jazz players.  But there's even more to the story, reprinted from the Ogden Independent, with permission.

Step into jazz man Joe McQueen's garage, and you'll see a wheelchair, several pairs of crutches and a wheeled walker – not surprising, of course, as Ogden's legendary sax player turned 90 last month.

Except, the mobility aids aren't his. They belonged to a friend who passed away not long ago. McQueen merely is storing them at the request of his late pal's niece. The hand-held free weights, exercise ball, stationary bicycle and treadmill sitting in the garage and an adjoining shed – these are the tools of McQueen's advancing years.

Those, along with his tenor saxophone, of course.  "That's the reason I exercise all the time. You don't stay in shape, you can't do it," McQueen said, referring to the instrument that has made him an O-Town institution since 1945.
The "shed" in which McQueen does his exercises is a concrete block building that he constructed adjoining the free-standing garage behind his home. In addition to being an accomplished saxophone player, McQueen also was a crack auto mechanic in his day and taught classes on auto repair at Weber State University until he retired.

The garage is where he keeps his car repairing stuff. The shed holds the trappings of the rest of his life – including a piano and a guitar he has never learned to play and a painting that a well-meaning Ogden artist created back in 1946.
"She gave me six fingers," McQueen noted.

He was sitting on a stool topped with a seat that turned as he swiveled his body back and forth at the waist.

"Do this 200 times a day, and it gets rid of this right here," McQueen said, slapping his mid-section. "That's why I don't have a stomach like some guys."

It's true. He doesn't. In fact, nine days before his 90th birthday, McQueen didn't look much like someone who has lived almost a century.

He doesn't act like it either. In addition to what remains an active performing schedule, McQueen works five days a week as a senior companion, driving his 11 clients to doctors' appointments, shopping for them or taking them to the store and performing any other duties that help them continue living at home.

All but one of his clients is younger than he, and 21 of them have passed on since he started working for the program 10 years ago.
We all should be as lucky to live so long and so well. Drawing on his vast experience and with an eye toward the future, McQueen answered a few questions on becoming a nonagenarian:

Ogden Independent: What is best about turning 90?

McQueen: "I'm glad I'm still able to get around and do the things I want to do. You've got to stay in shape. I'm 90 years old because I take care of myself. I try to eat right, and I exercise."

Ogden Independent: What inspired you to become a senior companion?
McQueen: "I've always wanted to help people. We take them to the store and things. It helps keep people out of nursing homes and living on their own."

Ogden Independent: What kind of music do you listen to when nobody else is around?
McQueen: "Jazz. I don't like all that rock 'n' roll and all that (um, 'stuff') they're playing now."

At this point, McQueen recalled a gig he played in Idaho Falls in 1962. He went into a club where a guy he knew was performing, and the fellow was playing country-western music. He asked McQueen to sit in, and McQueen tried to say no. But eventually, he relented.

And ultimately, McQueen played it his way.

"You play the head, then turn it into blues, and then play the hell out of it," McQueen said. "Boy, by the time we got through playing – I had been playing maybe 40 minutes – you couldn't get in there sideways. People came from – I don't know where all those people came from."

Ogden Independent: Ogden has changed a lot since you moved here. Has it been for the better?
McQueen: "Oh, my yes. It is better. When I moved here it was almost like the Deep South. And I just refused to play in places that wouldn't let black people in. Anna Belle (Mattson) had a club, and I could play down there. She never wanted it to be segregated."

Mattson ran the Porters and Waiters Club downtown– named for the jobs most often filled by black workers durin the time. Mattson and McQueen have long been recognized as civil rights champions who, among other accomplishments, led the way for the integration of Ogden's 25th Street entertainment scene.

Ogden Independent: Are there any instruments besides the sax that you wish you had learned to play?
McQueen: "That." (He pointed at an old upright piano tucked along the wall of the shed.) "I've got me a piano, but I don't know how to play it. And I don't have the time to do it, now."

Ogden Independent: Technology – that's something that has changed a lot in your lifetime ...
McQueen: "Yeah, yeah. It's a funny thing. I have a Web site, but I do not have a computer – and I don't intend to buy one. I'm not interested in all that crap. I got enough of my time to be taken up with other things, other than that. I've got a cell phone. I've got to have that because of when I'm with my clients. We've got TVs, and I've got a DVD player, CD players and record players and all that stuff. I can even play 8-track tapes."

Yes, he can. The 8-track player is out in his garage, among the mementos one collects over a life spanning nine decades. It is like a museum in which each item's significance is filed away in the curator's memory.

For example, it would be easy to overlook the tan car-length wool woman's coat carefully draped across one end of a sofa and the plastic grocery bag containing a pair of gold ballet-style slippers lying near the other end. They are the coat and shoes Mattson was wearing last November when the longtime friends were involved in a car crash near Wendover in which Mattson died.

"I'm still not over it," McQueen said quietly as he picked up the bag containing her shoes. "I'll never get over it."
Still, McQueen says the good times have outnumbered the bad. He and his wife Thelma will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on the 10th of this month. He has beaten cancer twice. The couple owns their central Ogden home outright and "have a little put back" to sustain them.

The toughest thing about being 90 is, well, being 90.
"That's the only thing about getting old – all of the people my age are gone," McQueen said. "I don't have any of the old guys around me anymore."

Joe McQueen on turning 90 – and all that jazz
By Susan Snyder

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