“My parents were born in the 20s and 30s and grew up with big families on cotton farms in northeast Alabama. My dad’s family had a house with a phone, but no electricity. They were close enough to the city to see the lights. In 1935, my grandfather bought the family farm and they moved out there with no phone or running water, and no hope for electricity. They even slaughtered hogs. My dad said it was like moving back into the 1800s. He was drafted in 1942 and went to Europe to fight in World War 2. He returned home and worked for the TVA. I was raised in Huntsville and liked the city. There was often a disconnect when we visited relatives in the country.
I was a straight-A student until I picked up a guitar. I was also distracted by girls and cars. I had an Austin Healy that I still own. It is in a friend’s garage, but it doesn’t run anymore.
I played trumpet in the band, but I wanted to be good at guitar. I practiced a lot and tried hard. As a teenager, I was into Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers and Steely Dan.
A couple of years later, I stayed with my parents for a while in Scottsboro. It was a rural community and I got to know my relatives who lived there. I did genealogy, visited the cemeteries and researched my roots. That started my interest in bluegrass and playing the mandolin. I checked out a box set of Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs from the library and that was it. I started writing songs a few years ago that reflect my genealogy and where I grew up.
I always followed in my big brother’s footsteps. He was a graphic designer, so I thought I was going to be a graphic designer. I had some artistic ability, but I never developed it. I was always looking for shortcuts. We were supposed to draw a tree from life. I drove around and found a dead tree with no limbs. Now I tell my students not to be that lazy.
I started dating Shelly in college at Montevallo and realized I didn’t want to major in art. I read a lot of history and took the back roads on the way to gigs to see anything different. Shelly and I got serious and she told me we needed to move forward, or see you later. I got my degree in history. She is from Mobile, so we moved here. I worked at Peaches Record Store for a while. I became a substitute teacher at McGill and then a full-time history teacher. I have been there for 25 years.
I lose myself when I am driving the backroads and taking pictures or playing music. When I started gigging all of the time, I stopped playing music for fun. The best times were the bluegrass jams we used to have.
I got sober 18.5 years ago. Drinking was an escape from things that were hard or that I didn’t want to do. Shelly gave me the ultimatum and I quit. My wife is the reason I do all of the positive things in my life. I learned to play gigs sober. I was just a guy with a guitar in the corner playing cover songs. It was ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Man of Constant Sorrows’ over and over. I started doing it differently and played covers of vintage country songs that my parents played on the record player when I was a kid. I learned to make myself happy in the corner.
Deluxe Trio started and that was fun with its own vibe and identity. We played original songs and developed an audience who wanted to hear them. Steve Varnes was playing at the Mellow Mushroom and it evolved to Stan Foster on bass and me on mandolin. It was an outdoor gig and the weather made it too iffy. John Thompson had cut out Wednesday night music at Callaghan’s and we made him a deal he couldn’t refuse. Our Wednesday nights at Callaghan’s became the best gig in town. We kept it going with Phil and Foster. We started having special guests and it was incredible. We had some great things planned for 2020, then COVID hit. We are trying to find ways to safely play and keep it going.
COVID hit full-time musicians hard. I am lucky I have my day gig. Musicians have to eat and pay bills too, so many went back to playing in public situations and got COVID. I haven’t gotten it yet and don’t want it. I am ready for our music community to return and to see our friends again.”