If you have some time, I would like to share with you my introduction to country music, its lyrics and its lasting influence in my life. I may even dispel some notions about this genre as it applies to me–just me–not all African-Americans–just me!
My appreciation of Country Music was due to the friendship I had with “Rusty” Mulligan and Billy D. Taylor. I had been exposed to, and enjoy (no, it’s more like an obsession) most genres of music, but it took our cross-sharing of music collections/knowledge and a “few” beverages for me to gain some insight into country music. I in-turn, exposed them to some popular R&B, Smooth Jazz, and 1980’s dance music. I dare say, their exposure to my collection has not been as long-lasting as theirs has been on me!
I was introduced to such stars as, The Outlaws, Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Bonnie Raitt, Crystal Gayle, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Alabama and many others. (Wanted! The Outlaws is an album by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, released by RCA Victor in 1976, and consisting of previously released material. Released to capitalize on the new outlaw country movement, Wanted! The Outlaws earned its place in music history by becoming the first country album to sell a million copies).
One my all-time favorite artists was, and still remains, Don Williams. Especially the hit song, “I Believe in You.” I have to admit, Billy D could do a pretty good karaoke of this song (same deep voice).
I was drawn to country primarily because of the lyrics. Not the oft-mimicked or stereotyped phrases like, “The horse died, my dog ran off same day as mah wife, and dah pick ’em truck is broke!” Au contraire! True poetry was hidden in this music! For instance, if you heard,
“They were farm kids way down in Dixie
They met in high school in the sixties
Everyone knew it was love from the start
One July in the midnight hour
He climbed up on the water tower
Stood on the rail and painted a 10ft heart
In John Deere green”
(Joe Diffie, John Deere Green)
Would there be any doubt what color that was? Can you see it! Got another one for ya,
“If I could make a livin’ out of lovin’ you
I’d be a millionaire in a week or two
I’d be doin’ what I love and lovin’ what I do
If I could make a livin’ out of lovin’ you”
(Written by Alan Jackson, Artist: Clay Walker; If I Could Make a Living)
Son! Say that to the one you love and it’s on! Powerful!
Over the ensuing years, I continued to be drawn to Country Music to add to my collection and found the channels I liked always programmed into my Sirius/XM radio or on my Itunes playlists. In addition to various CDs of course, I still have 1,169 vinyl albums of many types and sub-types, listed alphabetically by last name of the artist/group from left-to-right.
However, this post isn’t about the music as much as it is about words.
Somewhere around 1992, I was introduced to Red Steagall’s poem, “The Fence That Me and Shorty Built.” (Red Steagall has been inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, and was the 2006 Poet Laureate of Texas). I have since read it numerous times for audiences from 30 to 300 as a motivation piece in either “big-box” store meetings, regional recaps or REALTOR® conferences under-scoring “Integrity” or “There Are Only Two Ways to Do Things: The Right Way and the Right Way.”
I would always try to read it (as I imagined Billy D would sound*), with his low, smooth Texas drawl, a stool, a dirty, straw cowboy hat molded like his was, with the sides rolled inwards. Kinda like the way Don Williams was sitting in the YouTube piece. I seem to remember him telling me how he got it to form that way–some beer and another liquid–but my memory ain’t what it used to be–you’d have to ask him.
When appropriate (thanks to my friend Rick Boulter), a picture of a “bob” wire fence like the one below with the words of the poem would be scrolling behind me as I read. Go ahead, take a moment to let that visual of me in that get-up sink into your head…I’ll wait.
*Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (Charles Caleb Colton)
Similar to the O’Jays line, “There’s a Message in the Music,” I offer, “There’s a Lesson in the Word–the Almighty Word.” Let me introduce to some, and re-acquaint to others, the inspiring, motivational words of Red Steagull.
The Fence That Me and Shorty Built
We’d picked up all the fencing tools
And staples off the road.
An extra roll of ‘bob’ wire
Was the last thing left to load.
I drew a sleeve across my face
To wipe away the dirt.
The young man who was helping me
Was tuckin’ in his shirt.
I turned around to him and said,
“This fence is finally done,
With five new strands of ‘bob’ wire
Shinin’ proudly in the sun.
The wire is runnin’ straight and tight
With every post in line.
The kinda job you’re proud of,
One that stands the test of time.”
The kid was not impressed at all,
He stared off into space.
Reminded me of years ago,
Another time and place.
I called myself a cowboy,
I was full of buck and bawl
I didn’t think my hands would fit
Post augers and a maul.
They sent me out with Shorty
And the ranch fence building crew.
Well, I was quite insulted
And before the day was through,
I let him know that I’m a cowboy,
This ain’t what I do.
I ain’t no dadgummed nester,
I hired out to buckaroo.
He said, “We’ll talk about that son,
When we get in tonight.
Right now you pick them augers up.
It’s either that or fight.”
Boy, I was diggin’ post holes
Faster than a Georgia mole.
But if a rock got in my way
I simply moved the hole.
So when the cowboys set the posts,
The line went in and out.
Old Shorty’s face got fiery red
And I can hear him shout.
“Nobody but a fool would build
A fence that isn’t straight.
I got no use for someone who ain’t
Pullin’ his own weight.”
I thought for sure he’d hit me
Glad he didn’t have a gun.
I looked around to find a place
Where I could duck and run.
But Shorty walked up to me
Just as calm as he could be.
Said, “Son, I need to talk to you,
Let’s find ourselves a tree.”
He rolled a Bull Durham cigarette
As we sat on the ground.
He took himself a puff or two
Then slowly looked around.
“Son, I ain’t much on schoolin’,
Didn’t get too far with that.
But there’s alot of learnin’
Hidden underneath this hat.
I got it all the hard way,
Every bump and bruise and fall.
Now some of it was easy,
But then most weren’t fun a’tall
But one thing that I always got
From every job I’ve done,
Is do the best I can each day
And try to make it fun.
I know that bustin’ through them rocks
Ain’t what you like to do.
By gettin’ mad you’ve made it tough
On me and all the crew.
Now you hired on to cowboy
And you think you’ve got the stuff.
You told him you’re a good hand
And the boss has called your bluff.
So how’s that gonna make you look
When he comes ridin’ through,
And he asks me who dug the holes
And I say it was you?
Now we could let it go like this
And take the easy route.
But doin’ things the easy way
Ain’t what it’s all about.
The boss expects a job well done,
From every man he’s hired.
He’ll let you slide by once or twice,
Then one day you’ll get fired.
If you’re not proud of what you do,
You won’t amount to much.
You’ll bounce around from job to job
Just slightly out of touch.
Come mornin’ let’s re-dig those holes
And get that fence in line.
And you and I will save two jobs,
Those bein’ yours and mine.
And someday you’ll come ridin’ through
And look across this land,
And see a fence that’s laid out straight
And know you had a hand,
In something that’s withstood the years.
Then proud and free from guilt,
You’ll smile and say, ‘Boys that’s the fence
That me and Shorty built.”