While the nation continues to mourn Michael Jackson, J.D. Salinger, and Sky Saxon, many of us are still mourning the death of one of the greatest country singers of all time, Vern Gosdin. Known as the voice of country music, Gosdin died from a stroke on April 28, 2009. His was a pained and tortured voice singing some of the saddest songs in the world, and when he died, we truly lost one of the voices of the ages.
Forget the current crop of Nashville pop crooners. Gosdin was a man who had the wrinkles of Merle Haggard and, like George Jones, knew what it meant to weep. With his album, Chiseled In Stone, Gosdin created a country music masterpiece. It's virtually impossible to get through the thing without having an emotional breakdown.
Skeeter Davis sings "The End of the World" as the desolate landscape of Waynesboro sucks up dying shopping malls and hopeless bikers
By the time I was in the 4th grade, I had left the flat Oklahoma landscape behind and was living in East Tennessee in the suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee. My father was a preacher and my mother was an English teacher, and there we sat at the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.
Unlike in the Land of the Buffalo, folks actually sang in East Tennessee, and had some of the purtiest voices ever imaginable. My mother was from a small town in East Tennessee, and like Dolly Parton, mother's voice was crystal-clear, pure, unblemished by popular trends.
In Knoxville, I began learning to play the violin in a symphony orchestra funded by the public school system. I sang regularly at church and was taught vocal discipline by mother as she accompanied me on show tunes, folk songs, and hymns. And I even began to learn the acoustic guitar.
In short, I had entered Tennessee, the most musical state in America. (When I make this statement even today, nobody ever seems to argue or disagree with me, so it must be true.)
Needless to say, even though I was listening to pop, folk, and rock, I was not collecting music on record. I don't even remember buying any records the whole time I lived in Knoxville. Perhaps that was because I was creating, performing and learning the music itself rather than trying to keep some part of it as a plastic product.
Although I don't remember the experience of buying vinyl in Knoxville, Tennessee, I do remember the voice and presence of Cas Walker.
Harold Lloyd Jenkins–or Conway Twitty, the name WE knew him by–was one of the America’s most successful country music performers. Until 2000, Twitty held the record for the most Number One singles of any country act, with 45 Number Ones on all the trade charts!
Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City. It was famous for its lavish Christmas decorations and display of lights, and included the Conway Twitty Mansion and Memorial Garden. Conway and his wonderful tourist attraction were once even featured on the then-popular program “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
Sadly, Twitty City is no more and now called Trinity Music City, USA. Since the great country singer’s death, it has been converted into a Christian music venue owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Perhaps you have seen their TV programs while channel-surfing.
Me, I went to Twitty City once on one of my many sojourns to Nashville (next to Memphis, the holiest of all cities). There the wind whipped through the cultural debris of the once mighty fortress of a country legend, and I stood in memory, waiting for the ghost of Conway.
Things happen. Heroes die and fade. But maybe you can still look at this great tourist brochure and dream of things gone by.
I can’t remember the exact date, but it was after one of those Nashville Fan Fairs that I used to love. My cohorts in product development for Time Warner were with me. I know that much.
We were heading north of Nashville to find this barbq truck we’d heard about. (We found the thing, actually, and there is a great picture of the three of us–Joe, Charlie, and me–with the sauce dribbling down our swag T-shirts [on mine, it looked like Merle had blood dripping down his face]).
Anyway, after the food break, we decided to locate this guy Freeman Kitchens, who had been contacting Charlie for awhile to see if our repackaged oldies biz would release a Carter Family set for TV direct-response sales.
Of course, the sound of ancient Carter Family recordings on TV would have put us out of business–not to mention the fact that there wasn’t any real footage. I mean, A.P. wandering the Virginia hills with a handheld camera behind him, wobbling as his depressed thoughts meandered, would have been great, but…..that’s the real problem with the media overload: all the good stuff was long before YouHooLookAtMeTube even existed.
And so, we find Mr. Freeman, who turns out to be a great host, and he’s surrounded by reel-to-reel & cassette tapes of the Carter Family with tons of memorabilia & stuff all over the place. He sure had focus, I’m telling ya. He was a really kind and thoughtful gentleman, and we stayed for an hour or so, but didn’t really promise him anything. Nevertheless, we came to believe in the Carter Family even more.
But not enough to put them on TV, mind you.