SARGENT’S PURCHASE, New Hampshire — One at a time, a half-dozen cars crept over the last hairpin turn, pulling into a dirt parking lot atop Mount Washington. Each vehicle was stuffed with musicians. They got out, toting guitars, fiddles, washboards and harmonicas. Gathering around a willow-thin, guitar-strumming man on a stool, they began to jam.
The icy breeze made it cold for August. Clouds scudded and swirled above New England’s highest peak. The view was spectacular.
At the center of the throng, leading all the songs, sat Paul Dube, 63, a singer, songwriter and raconteur from South Paris. The pickers huddled around him, blocking the wind. They were there to help Dube cross another adventure off his bucket list. He’s on the downhill side of a cancer diagnosis and doctors have given him less than a year.
There’s still more to do. Dube’s list is unfinished. All his items include music and friends. He wants to make sure he keeps on living as long as he’s still alive — and he’s not done yet.
“It took a couple days to wrap my head around the prognosis, then I put the bucket list together,” Dube said, sitting in his living room last week. “I don’t got time to grieve over it. I’ve got all these wonderful friends. I’m going to enjoy them.”
Blind since the age of 12, Dube can remember seeing Mount Washington’s snow-capped peak in the distance when he’d perch in the branches of a pine tree near his boyhood home in Lewiston. He’d always wanted to play music at the top of that mountain.
Indicative of his irascible nature and penchant for weed, Dube had small stickers made up for the occasion. He handed them out to everyone who came. They read, “I got high with Paul Dube!”
“People say, ‘You’re such an inspiration.’ I’m just me,” Dube said. “I just want to be known as a well-rounded person who has a good attitude and an off-the-wall sense of humor. A sense of humor is the key to survival. It really is — not taking anything too seriously.”
Lindsey Montana of Otisfield has played music with Dube for almost 20 years. Montana drove Dube up the mountain that day and remembers one song in particular. It was the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends.”
“Paul was singing, ‘I got high with a little help from my friends,’ and we were all playing it together and everyone was in tears, you know, wet eyes,” Montana said.
Dube’s been a musical mainstay of western Maine watering holes, nursing homes and gazebos since the 1970s. He’s a familiar figure with his tidy beard and hat pulled down low over his eyes. He’s played thousands of gigs — as far away as Guatemala — by himself and with bands like Trailer Trash, Triple Threat LTD and the Zingo Zango Generic Jug Band. He’s opened for bigger acts, including Alison Krauss and Union Station. For nearly 30 years, Dube made music with his partner Ellen Lindsey, who played upright bass. Lindsey died in 2016.
Dube has a singing voice that’s impossible to forget. It’s gruff and tender at the same time, with both playful yelps and the gravity of years. His original songs often mention Maine. They are rooted in an American folk tradition and baptized in both blues and country music waters.
“He’s not a virtuoso but he knows how to communicate with music,” Montana said. “Paul can communicate through music better than anyone I know. He grabs the essence of the song and doesn’t worry about the other stuff. He finds the part that hits you like Norman Rockwell.”
When he’s not singing or playing his Gibson guitar — which he’s had since the 1970s — Dube is usually telling a joke or a story.
“He’s one of the most positive people I know,” said Sue Elliott, who has known Dube for more than 40 years. “He has a head full of useless trivia, which he’s always willing to share. He knows everybody — and if he doesn’t know them, he will, sooner or later. There’s never a dull moment around Paul, that’s for sure.”
Dube wasn’t always blind or a musician. Both came around the same time, in his early teenage years.
In late 1968, when he was in the seventh grade, he contracted meningoencephalitis, a brain infection. Dube was admitted to Maine Medical Center in Portland on Christmas Day where a priest gave him last rites. He was 12. The same kind of infection had already claimed his older brother’s life.
Dube survived but woke up without his eyesight.
“The high fever cooked my optic nerve,” Dube said. “But you’re really resilient at 12. It’s amazing — and I don’t know the word quit.”
Though he had to learn braille and repeat the seventh grade, Dube eventually adapted to life without his vision. He went on to graduate from St. Dominic Academy in Lewiston. He credits his mother and his large, extended family for helping him through the change.
“I did everything my cousins did — I couldn’t hit a baseball very well but I could still play football,” Dube said. “I did what I had to do. That’s all. It’s no big mystery. I just worked hard and continued.”
About the same time, he discovered his sister’s guitar.
Her boyfriend showed him his first few chords. When they married and moved away, she left the guitar behind.
“I adopted it and she eventually sold it to me for 10 bucks,” Dube said. “I had a lot of time on my hands. I could just sit there and work on it.”
In high school, he formed his first band with keyboardist and friend Paul Pinette. A cousin got them their first paying gig. It was at the Windham Social Singles Club.
“It was on Dec. 22, 1973,” Dube said. “I was 17 at the time.”
After that, they played lots of wedding receptions and local bars like the L and A Workingman’s Club on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.
“Yeah, we set a record down there,” Dube said. “We played four weekends in a row and no band members got beaten up — which is saying a lot. That was my senior year in high school. I was 18.”
Then, Dube went to the University of Maine in Farmington for a year. It didn’t stick but while he was there, he took a big step toward finding his own, true voice.
Back then, Dube was really into Bob Dylan and would play his songs, harmonica and all, in the big, empty basement of his dorm. One night, a custodian wandered in and listened for a while.
“He said, ‘That’s really good but, you know, there already is a Bob Dylan,'” Dube said. “And it stuck with me. I decided I was just going to sing, and whatever came out was me. I found I could sing with more heart, more feeling, because I wasn’t concerned with trying to sound like someone else — and people actually liked the way I sounded.”
Dube met the love of his life, Ellen Lindsey, at a bar in Lewiston called The Cage in the late 1980s. It was tequila night.
“It was love at first sight, as crazy as that sounds,” Dube said. “It was like I got hit with a 2-by-4.”
Introduced by friends, they talked for a long time. At one point, Dube pulled out his braille pocket watch to check the time and heard Lindsey quietly ask a friend, “Why is he looking at that thing?”
“She didn’t know I was blind after talking to me for an hour,” Dube said.
Not long after, in 1987, he moved in with Lindsey and her 10-year-old son in South Paris. They remained together until Lindsey’s death, 29 years later.
Now, Dube lives by himself in their mobile home on a dead-end, dirt road — but he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by the same warm circle of friends that stood around him on Mount Washington in August.
They’ve helped him take a few more things off his bucket list since then — including two food-centered gatherings. First there was a giant feed of country-fried steak and then a big boil-up of his own shrimp gumbo recipe. Both parties, of course, included jam sessions.
“Music, that’s his priority,” said Elliott, who attended both.
Another thing Dube wanted to do was take a ride in a motorcycle sidecar. His friend Scott Simcock helped with that at the end of the summer.
“That was fun. What a beautiful day we had for it, too,” Dube said. “He took me to a gig up in Fryeburg at the Bell Point nursing home.”
These days, Dube is continuing his cancer treatments and taking one day at a time. He’s booking gigs and looking forward to crossing more off his bucket list in the spring. He wants to to jam aboard a boat on Casco Bay when the weather clears.
Dube’s sense of humor is still intact, as well.
“We’re not going to do everything he wants to do,” Montana said with a laugh. “He wanted to go up on Streaked Mountain, put a kite up with Christmas lights along the string and make people think it’s a UFO. I don’t think we’ll be doing that.”
In November, out for a bowl of fish chowder at a local diner, Dube waxed philosophical about his life and his situation.
“We all have an expiration date. It’s been an incredible life — you know, the music. It’s been an incredible life — the people I’ve met, from all walks of life,” Dube said. “I’ve played for bikers as well as big-money weddings two compounds over from Bush in Kennebunkport. I’ve found out over the years that people are just people.”
He went on.
“My philosophy of living is: water. It conquers all. Water made the Grand Canyon a drop at a time. Water gives life. Water follows the path of least resistance — and that’s how I try to live my life,” Dube said. “Butting your head up against a wall is fruitless — but flow along the wall, find the weak spot, you’ll get through.”
Paul Dube and Lindsey Montana will play Lenny’s at Hawkes Plaza in Westbrook at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15.