Have You Heard My R&B Record?

I thought we’d start off with a nice, smooth R&B song to set the mood.

Pretty good, right?

Yeah, it’s actually an old record from down South. Late ’90s. This group called Mirage.

Oh, you’ve never heard of Mirage?

Don’t feel bad — they were pretty obscure. High school friends. Only recorded one album and then went their separate ways. You know how it goes: one guy heads off to college … one guy goes solo … one guy enlists in the military … one guy moves to Georgia for a 9-to-5 job …

… and then another guy becomes an All-Pro NFL linebacker.

Yup, that’s me. Or, if you want to get technical, that’s us. That’s a song called “Sometimes,” by Mirage, my old band; I’m the one singing alto. A lot of people don’t know this about me. I’m not even sure why — I guess either they only want to talk football or they just don’t ask. But music has always been my first love.

I grew up in a big family in Alabama. One of my uncles, Uncle Willie, used to play the guitar really well, and that’s how I first got exposed to music. Every now and then, Uncle Willie would come over to our house, and we could usually count on him to walk in carrying his “famous” guitar. He’d sit down somewhere comfortable, he’d make sure it was all tuned up right and then he’d just play. I mean, for hours. He’d just … play.

Of course, this being family, there’d be some cookout going on as the backdrop. And all of those other family activities would be taking place alongside: us kids would be tossing a ball around, or playing hide-and-seek or pin the tail on the donkey (or whatever we’d decided that day). But Uncle Willie’s music was always the constant. It’s how we bonded. Grandparents, parents, cousins, friends — we would all gather around, listen to that guitar, eat a little food and just enjoy each other’s company. It was that nice, relaxing, backyard music. It was fun.

While my uncle fell in love with music through his guitar, I fell in love with it through my voice. Sometime around grade school, I started singing. I’m not even totally sure when, or how, or why. But it was one of those things where, once singing entered my life, I suddenly couldn’t remember life without it. I couldn’t get enough. Church, school, the shower, you name it — if I was there, I’d be singing.

Eventually, I made a few friends in high school who loved music as much as I did: Travis, Rod and Sammie. And as soon as we found each other, we knew what we wanted to do — had to do — almost instantly: form a group.

We called ourselves Mirage.

Every single day at school, we’d be inseparable. First, we’d sit together during class. Then, after class, we’d go out to the courtyard and work on our songs. Pretty soon we started entering some local talent shows — and doing well at them, too. We could tell right away: The audience’s response to our stuff was positive. Our music wasn’t just ours anymore; we were onto something. It was a great feeling.

The next step was the big one, though: cut a record. I remember those initial attempts of ours to record like it was yesterday. We couldn’t afford to rent time in a studio, so somehow, out of thin air, we had to “make” a studio. Man, we were tenacious. We tried the low-traffic bathrooms at school — spent hours putting towels up, down, around and on the floorboards, trying to find “good acoustics” (like we’d been told you were supposed to). We tried out-of-service elevators — spent hours trying to get that echo just right. Honestly, we tried every amateur trick in the book.

Finally, though, we each saved up enough money and put all of our savings together, so that we could afford a little bit of recording time at this small studio near our neighborhood. It was in the basement of this guy’s house. Looking back, it probably wasn’t much. But at the time? Wow. After all of those courtyards and talent shows, and bathrooms, and elevators — to get to perform our music in a real studio space? We felt like kings. For those couple of hours in that studio, we weren’t just classmates, or friends.

We were Mirage.

But then “life” happened, as it so often does. After high school, we all sort of just went off and did our own things — forged adult paths for ourselves. For me, it was college at Troy, where football dominated most of my time and energy, and music really had no choice but to take a backseat. And it stayed that way, for a while — all the way to my career in the NFL.

A few years later, though, Uncle Willie got sick. And not long after that, he sadly passed. It was a difficult time for me and my family. Loss can be tough to process. But when a loved one leaves us, we try to remember the good things. We try to hold onto those moments of happiness, of joy, that they brought into our lives. And with Uncle Willie, a lot of those moments centered around music. They were about the bonds we shared over something as simple as the notes from a guitar.

It was in that period after Willie got sick that I realized how much I missed having music in my life. And I also realized, that, as much as I loved singing, the way I was meant to fill that void, this time, was by taking up the guitar.

I bought a Gibson Les Paul, and I got to work.

When people think of “DeMarcus Ware,” I imagine they think of this tackling machine, this ferocious linebacker. And to a large extent, that’s true. To be successful in the NFL, especially at my position, and for as long as I’ve been at it, you need that ferocity. But that’s only 60 minutes of the week … for less than half of the year. The rest of the time, I have all of these other sides to myself. And music, for me, is a big part of that.

It’s release. I may be coming off an intense workout, or a grueling practice, or a big win, or even a bitter loss, but as long as I have music, I have that oasis from it all. It doesn’t matter how “hot” my day’s gotten — if I can just pour a glass of wine, sit down somewhere comfortable and put that guitar in my hand … there’s my “water spot.” I can go to another place entirely.

And the best thing is, whatever mood I’m in, I can always find some music to help me stay in that groove. Maybe one night I want to rock, and I’ll put on some Stevie Ray Vaughan. Maybe another night I’m feeling the blues, and I’ll throw on some B.B. King. And then maybe the next night I’m even feeling a little of both, and I’ll play some Buddy Guy. But there’s always something. Whatever emotion I might be feeling that day, whatever mindset I’m in — I know that somewhere out there, at some moment, someone’s felt that same way before.

And if I’m lucky enough, they put it to music.

Out of all of my favorite parts about music, that’s the one I find I come back to most: how it just has this way of simplifying things. We all have a million thoughts running through our heads, a million stresses weaving in and out of our lives. But you put on the right song, at the right moment, and it doesn’t matter where you are. I could be at the cookout with my family, in the backyard, or at band practice with my friends, in the courtyard, or on the road for work, in a hotel hundreds of miles away — it doesn’t matter. The right song, at the right moment, and I’m back where I want to be.

The right song doesn’t take me home.

The right song is home.