Recently while in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country music, we were walking to the Bridgestone Arena. I noticed quotes engraved in stone on the walls of a building. In giant squares were words from country music stars like Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, and Merle Haggard. Later I learned the building is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Since we were in Nashville for a conference and the schedule was jammed packed, we were not able to visit the Hall of Fame. Another trip to Nashville will need to be planned obviously.
Growing up, our favorite uncle on my Mom’s side of the family was Uncle Doug. He was from a large family and everyone loved to sing while he played his guitar. It was a special treat to visit on the weekends with him and my Aunt Nome. At their house we drank coffee, ate sweets, and listened to country music. He would play country music on his guitar and we’d sing along, harmonizing and belting out the lyrics. I remember he had a technique of sliding his lit cigarette into a place on the guitar neck held there by the strings. We didn’t smoke even though he did.
While our roots were deep in the hills of Kentucky, these memories are from the time we lived in sunny central Florida among orange groves and hurricanes. Maybe because we were removed from our roots the music took on special meaning.
Hank Williams’ quote on the Hall of Fame building is “You ask what makes our kind of music successful. I’ll tell you it can be explained in just one word; sincerity.”
I remember, and you might also remember, his hit Hey, Good Lookin’. The simple rhyme pattern and the catchy tune made this easy to learn and sing along with the guitar. As I listen to the original recording I now can hear the fiddle part which was totally lost to me before I started playing the fiddle.
“Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys ‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone Even with someone they love” Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings crooned those words. Jennings quote is “Country music isn’t a guitar, it isn’t a banjo, it isn’t a melody, it isn’t a lyric. It’s a feeling.” The words of that song bring a certain feeling to me even after decades of listening to other music. How many of you could join me in singing “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys Don’t let ‘em pick guitars or drive them old trucks Let ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such! It’s the feeling, Waylon.
“Country music songs are the dreams of the working man,” said Merle Haggard’s quote. One of his hits, Okie from Muskogee, became a family theme song when my grandfather changed two words. As teenagers we’d sing along with him “I’m proud to be a fella from Mudella, A place where even squares can have a ball. Yes, sir, We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse, And white lightning’s still the biggest thrill of all.” I’m not sure I knew what white lightning was when we sang.
“Country music is music with a lot of class. It’s just ordinary stories told by ordinary people in an extraordinary way.” Dolly Parton said that. I might question what she means by class. However, I do agree that country music is about ordinary peoples’ stories told in an extraordinary way. Two doors down they’re laughing and drinking and having a party. I will always love you. I’ll be there before the next teardrop falls. Jolene (substitute a different girl’s name), I’m begging of you please don’t take my man. Jolene, please don’t take him just because you can. Who of us hasn’t lived at least one of these stories?
Because of the route we took from our hotel to the Arena, I am not positive I saw all the quotes on the outside of the building. The final quote that I photographed in the dead of night was Conway Twitty’s. He said, “Good country song takes a page out of someone’s life and puts it to music.”
That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Think about your favorite country song — either old time or current. I Hope You’re Happy Now, Chasin’ You, Even Though I’m Leaving, and More Than My Hometown made the top country songs in 2020. I don’t know any of those songs but it seems the trend continues — ordinary lives, lost love, home.
Mary Reid is a Haralson County resident who dreams of writing a memoir of her family’s time in Africa.