Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, January 30, 2017, 6:59 p.m.
It was about ten years ago, at Robert’s Western World in Nashville, where I was working on a chapter of a book called True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed, and the subject of the chapter was Jesse Lee Jones, who owned Robert’s.
I was sitting by myself, up near the front, taking a few notes while I enjoyed the show. A rowdy bunch sat at the next table, and one, Mike Reynolds, was at the edge of their table, next to mine. We started talking. Mike said they were from Booneville, Kentucky, and they were all in a band that played around those parts, and I mentioned that I played, and before long, they told me where they were staying – it was a Best Western up the hill a few blocks from Lower Broadway – and my guitar was behind the seat of my truck, so I went and got it, and hoofed it to the Best Western.
That’s when I learned that one of the unique characteristics of Nashville is that a bunch of drunks can stay up in a hotel room, playing music till three or four in the morning, and no one will get upset.
Mike and “Tex,” a.k.a, Donnie Baker, are the only holdovers now.
One more time, I met the Mike Reynolds Band in Nashville, at which point we had a similar time. Then I went to see them in Kentucky. I slept on the couch at Mike’s house, which was up on hill overlooking town, and went to gigs with them. Once or twice, I played my songs while the band took a break, but most times, I just went onstage and sang several songs with them.
Mike and I spent lots of time at his house, playing music. Both he and Tex, then and now, are so much better guitarists than plunk-away me that, while I have a difficult time playing with them, they are adept at enhancing me. I often sing harmony.
For a decade, I’ve taken occasional road trips to the hills of southern Kentucky. Mike has lived in three places. At all three, I have slept on the same couch. Some of the adventures have inspired chapters in my novels. It is both my refuge and my exile. Nothing refreshes my soul like a few days playing music with friends. Most of my music is sitting alone in my living room.
It had been more than a year since I had dropped in, so to speak, and a lot longer since I’d had the time to stay for a few days. Early last week, I felt down and out. I had to get away. I sent Mike a text. He texted back.
I drove up on Friday. It takes about six hours. I arrived at about 7:15. Mike has sort of a recording studio over on one side of his place. It’s sort of a recording studio because studios don’t normally have a billiards table. It qualifies as a recreation room, and music certainly qualifies as recreation every bit as much as pool.
I carried the bags to the aforementioned couch, which is three-sided, and I generally sleep on the wing with the cushion at the end, and fetched my guitar, and even though I hadn’t eaten since early that morning at home, Mike and immediately commenced to playing. Mike’s friend, Dave, was there from the start. He sang harmony and brought a, let me think, uhm, craft beverage, and, as it turned out, a couple others also brought such custom-made concoctions, and it became something of a tasting.
Joe Spencer arrived at about 2:30. Some of you may know that I am talkative. I can’t get a word in edgewise with Joe, who, as well as he talks, plays keyboards much better. He is a virtuoso. The first time I met him, he played a kid’s Casio keyboard, and I felt like I was playing guitar behind Jerry Lee Lewis.
Sometime in the wee hours, pizzas had arrived. I went to sleep at about four, a bit the worse for wear.
On Saturday, Mike, Joe, and Tex played a gig at the Sag Hollow Country Club. They were supposed to start at eight, but this would have been ridiculous because Kentucky was playing a basketball game against Kansas. Most of the people there were wearing blue and white. The Wildcats lost to the Jayhawks at Rupp Arena, and almost everyone to whom I talked about the game guaranteed me that Kentucky was going to get a lot better between now and the NCAA Tournament. The band then started up. South Carolina at Missouri was now on TV, sound muted, and I’m pretty sure I was the only person there paying any attention at all to the Gamecocks.
The sound was exceptional. Mike has grown as a singer since I last saw him, and he was a fine singer then. I went up and sang “Folsom Prison Blues” with them, and it went great because it is probably about the 25th time I have sung that song with Mike and Tex. The band played till about 12:30, and then we all loaded the equipment, returned to Mike’s place, set it back up again, and pretty soon it seemed as if there were as many people there as there had been at Sag Hollow. In truth, it was probably about half as many, but the night grew even longer than the one before.
I might have driven home on Sunday, but I had swapped my sleeping habits from up all day, sleep all night, to close to vice-versa. Mike’s cousin, Earl, and his wife, Kim, came over so that Kim could use the wi-fi, and Earl and Mike could play pool. For most of that time, I played music in the bedroom, half watching the phenomenal basketball game between Virginia and Villanova. Then Mike and I drove to nearby Beattyville to eat Mexican food, and, that night, we watched a recent remake of The Magnificent Seven that, in my opinion, was more concerned with being pretty than it was with being good.
I thought about riding on down to Newberry to watch the Clinton High JVs, but nah.
For most of four days, I was intentionally out of circulation in the hills of Kentucky. When I left home, I had been considering a side trip and a little sightseeing, but I hadn’t factored in the likelihood of all-night jams. This morning, I caught up a little with our new president’s latest adventures on NPR, but by the time I hit the Smokies, I was back to music by Gretchen Peters, Willie Nelson, and Reckless Kelly. I left my driveway last Friday listening to John Prine, and I was listening to him again when the garage door opened.
Now I have much to do, but it actually seems possible that I’ll do it.
If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Cowboys Come Home, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at montedutton.com. (montedutton.com/blog/merchandise)
I’ve written five novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.
The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.
My new novel is a western, Cowboys Come Home. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.
I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.
I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.
I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).