by Matt Marn
Rockford resident Keith Eadie was born blind. But blindness did not stop him from picking up a guitar and learning how to play. And it did not stop him from taking the stage, playing to proud family and excited fans.
“Sometimes I am walking around a store and I am stopped by people who heard me play,” Eadie said. “I get stopped in downtown Rockford or on the White Pine Trail. It feels pretty good.”
Eadie usually has a full schedule, full of performances for bands he regularly plays in, as well as one of the four bands where he fills in for an absent member. He plays in a variety of locations, from restaurants to churches and nursing homes to a local Rockford fire station and the Rockford Ambulance office, often performing four or five times a week.
“Last month, I played 20 days in a row,” Eadie said. “I love doing it, it’s awesome. In bigger places, you still get butterflies.”
As a kid, Eadie found secondhand “flea market guitars,” but when high school rolled around, he wanted to learn to play newer, more complex songs. He got his chance to sharpen his skills when a neighbor asked Joe Kelly, a local teacher, to get him started.
“He taught me scales and fundamentals, and showed me how to put it all together,” Eadie said.
As for Kelly, he is proud of Eadie and his growth on the strings. “It wasn’t real hard to work with him,” Kelly said. “It was obvious he had the ear and the ambition. Once he got his chops down, he fit right in almost everywhere.”
Kelly said they had to try something different, as Eadie couldn’t visually learn the fret placement or sheet music, but Eadie had good coordination, a good ear for music, and a good sense of humor to match.
“He had more of a desire to learn,” Kelly said. “It meant more to Keith than other students. And he’s not down in the dumps, he works through things. His personality helps him deal, helps him fit in anywhere.”
When Eadie’s family heard that he had an ear for music and could hold his own, they were thrilled. Eadie began to play in a gospel group with his aunt and uncle, performing around a dozen shows annually. Those shows got his feet wet, but didn’t fend off the butterflies, he said.
Now Eadie plays regularly at a number of venues, including Maxine’s Family Restaurant in Sparta every Wednesday evening, where local fans and friends fill the room to watch him play with his band, Keith and the Rowdies. The group formed about a year ago and includes Eadie and band mates Terry Winright and Bill Ridley. Friends come by their table before the show to say hello, and some even pick up an extra guitar and join them on stage for a number or two.
“I’m very proud of Keith,” said Karen Eadie, Keith’s mother. “He’s a good guy. He can play. When he practiced, my husband and I would listen. We’d fall asleep to his music. But when he knew we were listening, he’d shut his door. He’s always had an ear for music. He just loves to play. He’d sit and play if nobody’s listening.”