Here’s the fifth installment in a short story derived from one of my songs.
“This’ll be as good a way to get this started as any,” Red said, and picked the intro to “Folsom Prison Blues” on his Martin.
Wade took the cue and started brushing up the snare. Todd and Joey teamed up for the old Tennessee Two “boom-chicka-boom” sound that Cash originated. It was just right.
“Now, friends and neighbors, a long time ago, I used to do imitations when I covered other artists,” Red said. “I mean, more than just trying to duplicate the sound, I really tried to do imitations …”
He sang four lines, Cash-like. The audience ate it up.
“But then, the first time I sat down with one of them pros in Nashville, him and me trying to, what’s that word, collaborate, we’s just getting started, and I did some of my imitations. He was a fellow you’ve heard of, but I ain’t gonna tell you who it was. Anyway, I thought I was pretty slick, and he didn’t say nothing, so I got through showing off, and he said to me, ‘That’s good. Now what does Red Hawthorn sound like?’
“Well, that got under my skin, and pretty soon, I tried to put my own stamp on every song I done. It was a good lesson.”
Red proceeded to put his own mark on the song, and the crowd loved it. Now that he had them paying attention, Red faced the band and performed the chord progression to one of his recent songs, one that hadn’t been recorded yet by anyone, himself included. He raised his eyebrows, as if to ask, “you got it?” and when they nodded, he performed “Hell to Pay”:
Hell to pay / Tears to cry / Days and nights to sit and wonder why / Back before we lived together / We could bear the stormy weather / Now nothing remains but hell to pay.
Next was Dwight Yoakam’s “Readin,’ Writin,’ Route 23,” which the Unborn Calves didn’t know but picked up fairly quickly. Red noticed an electric guitar, his son’s, joining in. Good. Andy knew the bridge. He was going to be okay. It sounded good. He looked at Andy and smiled.
Then Red sang Merle Haggard’s “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive.” They were all clicking surprisingly well.
“How about a round of applause for Bobby Willard and the Unborn Calves?” When it quieted down, Red said, “Well, boys, what y’all want to play?”
Bobby looked at him. “’Wagon Wheel’?”
Off mic, Red said, “Tell you what? I doubt I can get all the lyrics straight. How about you sing the verses and I’ll harmonize on the chorus?”
Bobby nodded, and somebody, likely Todd, joined in on harmonica, basically filling the role played by a fiddle in the original version by Old Crow Medicine Show.
“Isn’t that great? I might should’ve been the opening act, huh?”
Noooooo. We luuuvvv you, Red!
“I think these boys might need to take a break and towel off or something,” Red said. “They done played a whole gig before me and Andy even come out. We’ll let these boys get their breaths back. Andy, pull me and you up a chair.
“I wrote this here song about Andy’s mother,” Red said. “If I’s a-writing it now, it’d be a good bit different.”
The song was called “A Wild Side of Me.” At the end of the first verse, Red said, “You see, that gal and me and ain’t married no more.”
A girl I used to date was sitting over on the side / I dropped by to see her just to pass the time / She said her marriage hadn’t turned out / Quite the way she planned / A fact that I suspected / Since she wore no wedding band / Most times we wind up living just to keep the wolves at bay / The dreams of adolescence just dry up and fade away.
“Aw, we lasted till Andy here was about, oh, ten. That’s when I wrote this song, ‘Slip Away.’”
Sitting on the front porch in the rain / Wondering what became of me / And why I can’t make things the way they used to be / I don’t know why she don’t love me / Don’t know what she wants / Try my best to show my love / Even as I watch her slip away.
The band started straggling back. Wade was back first and added drums as Red completed what he called his “Heartbreak Trilogy” with a comedic take, “Uh, Huh.”
Well, the women who fall in love with me / Are the ones with whom I can’t agree / Making love is great, of course / But not getting’ broke like a horse / Uh, huh / It’s not the same as uh, uh / No, baby, it’s uh, huh / Just nod your head / Uh, huh.
A fellow wearing a pearl-snap shirt and tan vest arrived with a couple shots for Red and Andy. He looked at the boy, and his first thought was how in the hell had he managed to slip off and get high, but then he realized that he had touched the boy singing about his mama, bitter and satirical as it had been. Andy was weeping just a tad, and it made Red have to hold back the tears, too.
“Down the hatch, son,” he said, and they both knocked them back.
TO BE CONTINUED