January 25, 2024

Country music sings to your soul


     When imaginary quarters tumble down the slot, I can hear that familiar metal-hitting-the-bottom clunk of my youth. The jukebox inside my head is forever spinning a tune.

The playlist is packed with beach music — the Four Tops, The Tams, the Drifters, The Temptations and the like.

     But there is plenty of country music, too. In 1968, I bought an eight-track tape player. And the first tape to get shoved inside that under-the-dash mount was Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." When he launched into "Ring of Fire" and "Orange Blossom Special," I was hooked.

     As Barbara Mandrell sang, "I was country when country wasn't cool."

     One of my "cool" memories was seeing the Man in Black on the Grand Ole Opry's stage. Elvis had "it" and Johnny had "it," too.

     He was stronger than new rope or three acres of onions.

     Every now and then, I imagine that I’m back at the Ryman, listening to Johnny and June wail, "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout." And I smile.

Years later, I was flying with Gov. Zell Miller to visit industrial prospects. We were sitting toe-to-toe, his cowboy boots touching my tassel loafers.

     I leaned in and asked, "Governor, who's your favorite country artist?"

     Without hesitation, he fired back, over the roar of the twin props, "George Jones!"

     I’m a Possum fan, too.

     Perhaps my favorite Jones song is "He Stopped Loving Her Today." If you listen carefully, the words will pierce your heart. If you're up for a three-minute sermon on life, listen to "Choices" — nothing but the truth.

     I dare you to not laugh if you put the jukebox needle down on "Hotter Than a Two-Dollar Pistol."

     I’m with the late Zell Miller. Give me more Possum.

     But my taste doesn't stop there.

     After reading Paul Hemphill's “Lovesick Blues,” I bought a box set of everything Hank          Williams ever recorded.

     He may have drowned in whisky at age 29, but his genius lives on. Wipe off the decades of dust and see the stars who sang his lyrics — including Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles.

     When I hear Ray moan, “Take these chains from my heart and set me free" or "I'm so lonesome I could cry," I know the origin of those words. Hank was hurting and probably drunk, baring his raw soul.

     Who made country music "cool?"

     I suspect artists such as George Strait, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Kenny Rogers, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Clint Black, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Reba McEntire, Travis Tritt, Dolly Parton, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn and dozens more in Nashville got America's toes to tapping, country-style.

     I can’t forget “Elvira” and The Oak Ridge Boys, who jumped from the gospel-choir loft into cowboy boots and Stetson hats.

     Randy Travis has that old-school twang.

     I absorb every word of "He Walked on Water." I didn't have a grandfather or great-grandfather like his. That’s why Randy inspires me to etch memories for our grandchildren.

     Daughter Emily cries when Alan Jackson sings "Daddy (For Daddy Gene)."

     She remembers her pigtails bouncing as I let her drive an old Jeep on our dirt roads. The country artist from Newnan is a storyteller supreme. Listen to "Little Man," and I'll bet you, too, will say, "Amen!"

     As my friend Larry Walker says, "AJ puts it down where the goats can get it."     

     A song that gets me is Reba's "The Greatest Man I Never Knew."

Daddies, if you don't know the gist of this classic, add it to your must-listen-to list. And push the repeat button often.

     I started out to name my top 10 country artists and songs, but I can't.

What I can do is drop another quarter into the slot.


     Ray is singing my No. 1, "Georgia on My Mind,” my No. 1 favorite.

     Tanya Tucker tells us what to do, “Turn the jukebox up and throw some sawdust down.”