Publisher’s Perspective

He’s gone country


It’s 1:05 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. I’m sitting in my office writing this week’s column, and all I am thinking about is country music. I can’t get some songs out of mind, and I am at a loss to figure out why today of all days I am obsessed with it.

When I was growing up, my mom was a die-hard country music fan. She listened to WCUZ radio religiously in Grand Rapids, Mich. I grew up listening to Hank Sr., Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and his love song Still (I later learned this was the song my mom and daddy crooned to when they were dating), and Eddy Arnold and Make the World Go Away with the great Floyd Cramer on piano. We were big Detroit Tigers fans in the 1960s, and we would listen to Hank’s greatest hits, Eddy and Whisperin’ Bill on the four-track on our way to Tiger Stadium.

Those were the only three tracks my mom and daddy owned, so for three hours each way from Grand Rapids to Detroit we would listen to those tracks over and over. I was a big fan of Hank Sr., and I could sing all his songs like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Cold Cold Heart, Hey Good Lookin’, Jambalaya, There is a Tear in My Beer, Honky Tonk Blues and I Saw the Light. I loved those songs.

Growing up in my teens and later years, I became an avid lover of rock and roll and the blues. My aunt Gloria and Uncle Johnny lived with us in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and they were huge rock and roll fans of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, the Beach Boys and all the great bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

I didn’t listen to country much in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and today I am filled with regret that I didn’t pay more attention to the music of that time. Now I am listening to country every day, and I want to thank my friends here and the great State of Texas for taking me back to my early years.

On Saturday night, Tyler Carter, Kalen Montgomery, Kyle and Christy Day and I went over to Gruene Hall to take in the Reckless Kelly concert. Those boys from Idaho put on a great show, and it had me toe tapping and grinning from ear to ear. It was hot as heck at Gruene Hall, and I was sweating like a sprinkler. It didn’t matter, though, because the music was great and Reckless Kelly was on top of their game.

So today I am engaged in self-analysis as to why I got away from my roots. And I mean my roots. My first concert ever was Buck Owens and the Buckaroos when I was eight or nine-years old. I am trying to play catch up, though.

This weekend a good friend of mine from the Wolverine State has invited me back for the Faster Horses three-day country music concert at Michigan International Speedway (MIS). His name is Chuck Shaeffer, and he called me a few months ago with a serious message: “Fitz, before I leave this earth I want to party with you one more time. You get back to Michigan and the tickets, camping and beer is all on me. Try and make it.”

Aside from my worry if something is wrong with my dear friend, it only took a millisecond before I accepted. Chuck used to write a weekly column for me when I owned the Midwest Racing Scene, a weekly racing publication that covered Midwest short track racing on dirt and pavement in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. We also covered the NASCAR and IRL Series, especially the races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, Detroit and the legendary Eldora. Chuck was a dead ringer for NASCAR driver Johnny Benson Jr. We camped on the infield at MIS, and at night I would drive the company truck around the infield yelling that Johnny Benson Jr. was in the back of my truck, and if you bought a copy of the Midwest Racing Scene Johnny Benson Jr. would sign an autograph for you. I would like to tell you how much fun we had doing this ruse, but if I did, then I would have to kill you because this is a family newspaper.

So this weekend coming up, at Chuck’s request and because of my longing for everything country, I’ll be winging my way back to MIS to hear Brantley Gilbert, Blake Shelton, Billy Currington and Brooks and Dunn to name but a few on the main stage. In fact, I am convinced Brooks and Nunn are going to sing Neon Moon just for me and to me.

As I sit here, I am listening to the best of Hank Sr live. He is playing all of his great blues tunes, and I have shed a tear or two when I heard Hank sing Cold Cold Heart and I Saw the Light. It made me think of my mom who passed away 25 years ago on my birthday, and I miss her so much.

But it was Judith Diane Fitzwater who introduced me to country music. Today, I thank her and miss her for it. I am feeling sad, for that is what great music will do—ground you in a time and place in your memory. And today, Hank Williams is grounding me in the early to mid-sixties and the memories of my mommy and daddy.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.