Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Love of My Life

The love of my life was born on this day. . . . The only problem is the year was 1846. I would have been a camp follower, thrown my possessions and education and what few morals I possess aside for this man.
Normal girlfriends fantasize about George Clooney, Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt. (Michelle dreams of Stonewall but I find that faintly sacrilegious.)

I dream of William F. Cody.

A Buffalo Bill Combination indeed. Ahhhhh. . . I'm having a glass of wine and retiring to my dreams.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hillbilly Heart Throb

Faron Young was always part of my life . . . . "Hello Walls. . . How'd things go for you today?"

He looked a lot like my dad.


Originally known as "the Hillbilly Heartthrob" and "the Singing Sheriff," Faron Young had one of the longest-running and most popular careers in country music history. Emerging in the early '50s, Young was one of the most popular honky tonkers to appear in the wake of Hank Williams' death, partially because he was able to smooth out some of the grittiest elements of his music. At first, he balanced honky tonk with pop vocal phrasing and flourishes. This combination of grit and polish resulted in a streak of Top Ten hits -- including "If You Ain't Lovin'," "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young," "Sweet Dreams," "Alone With You," and "Country Girl" -- that ran throughout the '50s. During the '60s, Young gave himself over to country-pop, and while the hits weren't quite as big, they didn't stop coming until the early '80s. Through that time, he was a staple at the Grand Ole Opry and various television shows, including Nashville Now, and he also founded the major country music magazine, Music City News. Most importantly, he continued to seek out new songwriters -- including Don Gibson, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson -- thereby cultivating a new generation of talent.
Faron Young was born and raised outside of Shreveport, LA.

While he was growing up on his father's dairy farm, he was given a guitar, and by the time he entered high school, he had begun singing in a country band. Following high school, he briefly attended college, before he left school to join the Louisiana Hayride as a regular performer. While on the Hayride, he met Webb Pierce and in a short time, the pair were touring throughout the South, singing as a duo in various nightclubs and honky tonks. In 1951, he recorded "Have I Waited Too Long" and "Tattle Tale Tears" for the independent label Gotham. After hearing the singles, Capitol Records decided to buy Young's contract away from Gotham in 1952. That same year, he was invited to perform regularly on the Grand Ole Opry.

Just as his career was taking off, Young was drafted into the Army to serve in the Korean War. Assigned to the Special Service division, he sang for the troops in Asia and appeared on recruitment shows; while on leave, he recorded his debut on Capitol, "Goin' Steady." Upon its early 1953 release, it climbed to number two on the country charts and it was followed in the summer by "I Can't Wait (For the Sun to Go Down)," which hit number five. Young was discharged from the Army in November of 1954, releasing "If You Ain't Lovin," his biggest hit, shortly after he returned. The single was quickly followed in the spring of 1955 by "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young," which became his first number one hit, and the number two single, "All Right."

As soon as he returned to the States, Faron Young began turning out singles at a very rapid pace, and most of them charted in the Top Ten. In addition to recording, he began appearing in films, starting with 1955's Hidden Guns. Over the next few years, he was in no less than ten films -- including Daniel Boone, Road to Nashville, Stampede, A Gun and a Gavel, That's Country, and Raiders of Old California -- and was featured in many television shows. Upon his first film appearance, Faron earned the nickname "the Young Sheriff," which eventually metamorphasized into "the Singing Sheriff." Young's career truly began to hit its stride in 1956, as "I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night" and "You're Still Mine" reached number four and three, respectively, during the spring, followed by the number two "Sweet Dreams" later that summer. "Sweet Dreams" was not only his biggest hit since "All Right," but it gave songwriter Don Gibson his first significant exposure. Soon, Young developed a reputation for finding promising new songwriters, bringing Roy Drusky's "Alone With You" to the top of the charts in the summer of 1958 and taking Willie Nelson's "Hello Walls" to number one in 1961; Young was one of the first artists to record a Nelson song.

Young continued to record for Capitol through 1962, when he switched labels and signed with Mercury. In general, Young's Mercury recordings were more pop-oriented than his Capitol work, possibly because "Hello Walls," his last number one for Capitol, reached number 12 on the pop charts. Throughout the early and mid-'60s, Young's music became more polished and produced, yet his audience didn't decline dramatically; he may not have been hitting every top of the charts with the same frequency as he was during the '50s, but he was still a consistent hitmaker, and singles like "You'll Drive Me Back (Into Her Arms Again)," "Keeping Up With the Joneses," and "Walk Tall" climbed into the Top Ten.

Faron left the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, deciding that it was more profitable for him to tour as a solo artist instead of being restricted to the Opry. Following his departure, Young began to explore a number of different business ventures, including a Nashville-based racetrack and helping to run the country music publication Music City News, which he co-founded with Preston Temple in 1963. By the end of the decade, he began to return to honky tonk, most notably with the hit "Wine Me Up," which reached number two upon its summer 1969 release. For nearly five years, Young continued to reach the Top Ten with regularity, including such hits as "Your Time's Comin'," "If I Ever Fall in Love (With a Honky Tonk Girl)," "Step Aside," and "It's Four in the Morning." During this time, Young continued to appear on television shows and he made the occasional appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. During the late '70s, his hits gradually began to fade away. In 1979, he left Mercury for MCA, but none of his singles for the new label reached the Top 40.

For most of the '80s, Young performed concerts, maintained his business interests, and appeared on television; in short, he was acting like the country music statesman he was. In 1988, he briefly returned to recording, signing with the small label Step One, and had two minor hits on the label. After that brief burst of activity, he retreated to semi-retirement, occasionally making concert appearances.

During the '90s, Young was stricken with a debilitating emphysema. Depressed by his poor health, he shot himself on December 9, 1996, and passed away the next day.

He is missed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Big Hair, Big Read

Yes, Dixie Lee picks you!

On Sunday, my cousin, Dixie Lee Jackson, made sweet potato sonker for the folks at the Topeka/Shawnee County Public Library. Actually, she demonstrated the sonker-making and Monica from the Millennium Cafe made the sonker. Folks back home would have been proud. Monica did a fine job on the sonker and sweet tea. Moon Pies and RC Cola were also passed among the crowd. Dixie Lee is writing a cookbook, Sugar, 'Shine, and Sermons: Dixie Lee Jackson's Guide to Southern Mountain Living.

Y'all have some sonker!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Leslie's Laurels

The lovely Leslie Shelor posted this photo of Mountain Laurel and it made me so homesick! We literally lived in a laurel thicket as children. We cleared the forest floor and had "playhouses" underneath the thick canopy. Those are sweet, sweet, memories. My niece is Jathina Laurel after Granny and the laurel, and my granddaughter is Laurel Grace.

Thank you, Leslie, for this beautiful photo and visit her site link on this page, At the Top of Squirrel Spur.

May all y'all be graced with laurels!

Michael Burlingame

. . . was wonderful at the Dole Center in Lawrence Tuesday night. We saw lots of friends (nerd convention), and Ken and Terry Hobbs and I joined Michael at the legendary Eldridge Hotel for drinks afterward. It was an inspiring evening. Look for Michael's new book, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, the seminal work on the 16th president.

Terry, Ken, Lincoln, Michael. I''m the short one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wild, Wild, Abe

Today is the birthday of that great western actor, Lee Marvin, born this day in 1924. . . in NEW YORK CITY! His performances in Cat Ballou and Paint Your Wagon place him in the pantheon of Western characters. He passed away in 1987.

Speaking of Western characters, how about that Abe Lincoln? Sure enough, he graces the cover of this month's edition of Wild West magazine, with the title, "Boss of the Plains." He's wearing a cowboy hat. It's a priceless image! We tend to forget that the 16th president was a "western man," as Jefferson Davis said (in explaining why it would not do to kidnap him; he was a "Western man" and would thus fight to the death something Davis would not risk).
Another really great article is the real story of the classic movie The Searchers--one of our favorites. Greg Michno, a first-rate historian, did a fine job on this research. You simply won't be able to put it down.
You have your assignments!
Frederick Douglass

On this day in 1895, Frederick Douglass died. He was 78 years old. From the website

The son of a slave woman and an unknown white man, "Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey" was born in February of 1818 on Maryland's eastern shore. He spent his early years with his grandparents and with an aunt, seeing his mother only four or five times before her death when he was seven. (All Douglass knew of his father was that he was white.) During this time he was exposed to the degradations of slavery, witnessing firsthand brutal whippings and spending much time cold and hungry. When he was eight he was sent to Baltimore to live with a ship carpenter named Hugh Auld. There he learned to read and first heard the words abolition and abolitionists. "Going to live at Baltimore," Douglass would later say, "laid the foundation, and opened the gateway, to all my subsequent prosperity."
A truly remarkable man.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jeff, Abe, and Michael

On this day in 1861, Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as provisional president of the Confederacy. Thousands of people gathered in Montgomery, Alabama, and watched him utter the historic acceptance speech that many believed, and some hoped, would take us into a full scale war. Notably absent from those observers was his wife, Varina, who was still in Mississippi deciding what to take with them and what to leave behind. Jeff loved being the center of attention; Varina wanted them to live quietly and "tend roses." That would never be.

I've been working on and off for years on a book on Mary Lincoln and Varina Davis, and last night, listening to Michael Burlingame inspired me to get back on it. He is a remarkable man and such a generous scholar--a man of many layers, and incredible insight. With the publication of his Lincoln biography, Michael has been much in demand for public appearances in this month of Lincoln. On two occasions, he and President Obama have been on the same slate. If I get in gear and get this book finished, perhaps Hillary and I could be at the head table together. . . or not.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ranking the Presidents

I was watching nerd tv on Sunday afternoon and absolutely enthralled by Richard Norton Smith when I realized he was discussing CSpan's ranking of the presidents (in which I participated). It's a fascinating project and I have to admit, I was so honored to get a letter from Brian Lamb that I framed it, dorky as that sounds. That man has done more for America and the furthering of democracy than any other person, in public or private office. Surely someone will realize, if they haven't already, that Lamb deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ken and Terry Hobbs and I are off to the Dole Center to hear Michael Burlingame tonight. Michael is a dear friend and such a generous scholar.

Oh, just in case you were wondering . . . . I ranked Washington the highest among the presidents, not Lincoln, and I didn't put Andrew Johnson on the bottom as did most of my colleagues.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hippie Makes Good

Kudos to my old friend and former boss, Tom Joyce, on his awards at the recent North Carolina Press Association meeting. See for details.

Looking good, Tom! You look like part of the "establishment" now and so unlike that skinny, rebel, radical, long-haired, kid who wore fatigues every day. Ah, the good ol' days at Patrick County High School! Speaking of hippies, Tom, do you recall that I dated Richard Rorrer? (Richard was the photographer for the high school paper, The Liberator; I was editor.) I can still remember Jackie Beeler screaming at Richard because the staff camera was dangling around his neck and banging against the water fountain when he stooped to take a drink.

Congratulations, Tom. The News is lucky to have you.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Sunday is the birthday of William Tecumseh Sherman--not high on my list, but not nearly as low as Nelson Miles or Phil Sheridan. . . .
The future pyromaniac was born on February 8, 1820, in Ohio. When his dad died, he was adopted into the prominent Ewing family. He and his foster brother, future general Thomas Ewing, Jr., would have an equal passion for torching Southerners--Ewing in Missouri and Sherman in Georgia.

Sherman did have a couple of redeeming qualities, however. He kept his troops from burning Raleigh in the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination, and he hated Edwin Stanton. As near as I can tell, these are two more than Miles or Sheridan.

Ironically, Nick Nolte was born on the same day in 1940. Hmmmmmmmmmmm...............coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Army Strong

While at Fort Leavenworth on Tuesday, I became acquainted with the story of this little soldier, Evan Pirtle. Evan is a patient at the Shriner's Hospital in Memphis and loves soldiers. When the guys at the Command and General Staff College were made aware of his situation, they began a relationship with him that is truly amazing. Yesterday, I spoke on the phone with Evan's mother and she just wants America to know how much the military has done for her little boy and what big hearts they have. Tomorrow morning, Evan and his mom, Rachel, will join me on Topeka Talks. Join us at 9 a.m., and in the meantime, visit Evan and sign his guestbook at This photo shows Evan happily wearing the uniform sent to him by Col. Bob Burns. Bob and Ed Kennedy told me about Evan and Rachel could not say enough about the generosity of these two men.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Life Is Good

Folks, the new year is in full swing and perhaps my schedule is becoming more manageable. Thus, I promise each of you, faithful and whiny readers, to blog regularly from this day forward.

The radio show is going very well; ratings are up, I'm getting the hang of it, and I'm getting great guests. In fact, just last week I interviewed President Lincoln. Photos to follow.

Life is good.