Back during our years in Covington, GA, one of my many joys was getting to know local musicians and artists. Much like here in San Diego, I developed a musical circuit and tried my best to work it into my schedule.
This included the Newborn Opry, a great old schoolhouse that hosted live bluegrass on Saturdays. It was a one-room schoolhouse that had a stage at the front and seating out on the floors. Most of the musicians were locals and the crowd was, well, elderly.
Shortly after my dad retired from Caterpillar, he and mom bought an RV and hit the bluegrass circuit on weekends. Mom would carry along this old Panasonic cassette recorder and tape all the groups and “live jams.” As I was in college and later in San Diego, I never had a chance to go bluegrassing with them. But I would hear the stories over the phone and in letters. Then after mom died, we had the responsibility of sorting through her belongings. She had so many tapes! The best part was … she would press record and start singing along with the groups. She was so close to the microphone that most of what you heard was mom singing 🙂
I imagine that my parents’ love for bluegrass was buried in my subconscious when we moved to Georgia. Those of you who know my musical interests, know I’m a conflicted man. I love bluegrass but am not a big fan of country music.
I remember the first night I went to the Newborn Opry. I sat in a wooden chair along the wall. It was the old fold-down type that used to be in school auditoriums. Looking over the room, I began to notice that everyone was older than me … way older than me. The place was filled with grandmas and grandpas of all kinds. To be honest, it was a very emotional experience for me as I sat there and could see my parents sitting on almost any row, mom singing along with her tape recorder and dad tapping his foot.
On one particular night, this guy takes the stage and looks unlike anyone else who has taken the stage that night. And the songs that he sang had me cracking up — one was about the problem of overpopulation and how too many people are being born. It ends with a young guy offering to shoot the older proponent of this theory in order to make the world a better place. And the room was filled with old people.
This fellow turned out to be Johnny Roquemore. As we talked, I discovered he had recently moved from Malibu to Mansfield (now that should be song title) and I had moved from San Francisco to Covington (that should not be a song title). I invited him to come play at our church for a series we were doing that summer called “The Gospel According to ‘O Brother Where Art Thou.'” And he did and was enthusiastically received. Our kids still talk about his spelling song.
That was the beginning of a friendship that remained for the next three years. During this time, Johnny got a spot playing at a local bar in Covington called The Depot. Some nights it would be him solo or with a few buddies. I tried my best to make it each week because I got a kick out of his music. On my first night there I had a drunk lady try to get me to dance … and you should have seen her face when Johnny told her I was a preacher. You should have seen my face when she then told me where she went to church!
Johnny became a frequent guest at our church. Our worship pastor brought him for our final Sunday. That’s when he played the song that has now made me semi-famous to my daughters (and does anyone else matter?). Why? It’s on a CD!
I’ve uploaded it here (mp3). It’s simply called “Ken Hensley.” For those of you from the west coast, the reference to “honky tonk” means it was a bar 🙂
Below is where you can hear more music:
Johnny Roquemore and the Apostles of Bluegrass. Another buddy of mine, John Nipper, is also in this group.