How I Got Here Musically

(Monte Dutton sketch)
(Monte Dutton sketch)


I remember when I first heard of Don McLean and “American Pie.” It was a little over forty-four years ago. I was in the library of Bell Street Middle School, reading Time magazine. At about the same time, maybe even the same day, I read an article about James Taylor.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

I still tell people I grew up rock-retarded. At that time, my musical idol was Charley Pride, and he still ranks pretty high. When my dad drove me to school, we listened to Wally Mullinax on “660 in Dixie,” WESC-AM in Greenville. The family spent lots of time going to package shows at Greenville Memorial Auditorium, where we saw Pride, the Osborne Brothers, Connie Smith, George Jones, and many others. We saw “The Johnny Cash Show” at Carolina Coliseum in Columbia, with Big John, his brother Tommy, the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins and the Carter Family.

It may have been McLean, who, with “American Pie,” “Vincent,” and other songs (“Superman’s Ghost,” about George Reeves), started diversifying my musical interests a bit. I don’t know why McLean isn’t revered today. His voice is phenomenal. Roy Orbison said his version of “Crying” was better than his own.

McLean is an example of someone who has spent his entire career being too damned good. Maybe it’s just the bitterness that comes with age, but it seems that a song can’t be a hit, particularly a country hit, anymore unless it’s stupid.

Hey, baby, let’s you and me get us a cooler of beer and our fishing poles and take our truck, or, better yet, our tractor, down to the pond and raise some hell!

This is my first sketch of Riley Mansfield because, when I wrote The Audacity of Dope, I didn't sketch.
This is my first sketch of Riley Mansfield because, when I wrote The Audacity of Dope, I didn’t sketch.

I remember when country music was about real people with real problems. I remember when country lived in a real world where babies didn’t think tractors were sexy.

I’ve got only me to blame ’cause Mama tried. … She tried to turn me on to Jesus, but I turned on to the Devil’s ways. … Wine me up, turn me on, and watch me cry for you. … I don’t love you anymore. Trouble is, I don’t love you any less. … I didn’t know God made honky-tonk angels. … Oh, wait. … Turns out, it wasn’t God who made honky-tonk angels. … I spent the groceries and half the rent. I lack fourteen dollars having twenty-seven cents.

This blog started because I had a music channel on, and McLean, now seventy, was singing “American Pie” when he was sixty-six.

Two years ago, I was at a book function. It was at a nearby bookstore, and a variety of authors were there trying in vain to get shoppers to buy their books. One of the other authors was the great arranger, composer, conductor and entertainer Johnny Mann, who is dead now. He lived in Anderson, South Carolina, late in life, and he’d written what I guess were his memoirs. I wish I’d bought a copy now.

Abel Mondell was a character in a short story, one that was based on a song I wrote. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Abel Mondell was a character in a short story, one that was based on a song I wrote. (Monte Dutton sketch)

The Johnny Mann Singers worked with Eddie Cochran and the Crickets. Mann was once the voice of Theodore in Alvin and the Chipmunks.


And Joey Bishop’s music director. Don’t forget that.

We had a conversation, and I mentioned in passing that I wrote songs. Mann asked what kind, and I said, oh, country and folk, and he said, “I bet it’s all major chords.”

“Well, pretty much,” I said. “Mostly.”

“Country music is all major chords,” he said, and I really didn’t think about it much until just a few weeks ago, and I was pondering Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, et al., and I realized what Mann was talking about, and I wished I had a chance to talk to him more.

Unfortunately, he died on June 18, 2014, about seven months after our brief encounter.


(This graphic was designed by Meredith Pritchard)
(This graphic was designed by Meredith Pritchard)

Mostly I hawk my novels nowadays, but what led to my interest in singers and songwriters was the work it took to write True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed.

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

That, in turn, led to the creation of the hero, or maybe anti-hero, of my first novel, The Audacity of Dope.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Then I wrote a novel based on childhood experiences called The Intangibles.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

My current novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, is about a Kentucky football coach who loses everything and reinvents himself in unique ways.

I’m trying to get a fourth novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, published, and I’m writing a fifth, Cowboys Come Home.

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