Country Music People December 2018 - Page 29

Corner Of Music Row by Stan Hitchcock Billy Joe’s Lost Fingers I was sitting under a shade tree just outside of Nashville one hot summer day in 1987, fingers kinda running over the strings of my J-45 Gibson, flat top guitar, talking to my friend Billy Joe Shaver about songs, about lost romance, about how The Road will wear you out, about… “Billy, how the heck did you lose your fingers, son?” Billy Joe looked down at his right hand, stretched it out in front of him and studied the two short stubs that were all that remained of his two middle fingers. “I got in an accident in a sawmill where I worked...I remember how I realized when it happened, God, I know what I’m supposed to be doin’...when they got cut off, I got down in the sawdust, gathered my fingers together and took them over to the doctor’s office, to see if they could put them back on. Doctor looked at ‘em and said: ‘Naw, man, they all mangled up from gettin’ hung in the chain.’ I remember there was a nurse there and she wanted them...I asked her what in the world did she want ‘em for? And she said: ‘Aw, I’m gonna put ‘em in a jar’. So my fingers are probably still sittin’ up on a shelf somewhere down in Texas... floatin’ around in a jar of vinegar, or something. After I got my fingers cut off I started playing the guitar and writing songs real hard, ‘cause I knew that was what I was supposed to be doing.” Yeah buddy, I reckon you did Billy Joe. Writing “Old Chunk Of Coal” for John Anderson, “Honky Tonk Heroes”, and a whole album full of songs that Waylon recorded, and another one of my favorites, “I Been To Georgia On A Fast Train”. Sittin’ there, kinda ruminating on Billy Joe’s lost fingers, I made a remark about how he and I had seen a lot of strange things happen in this business of music, and ended the thought with, “And, Billy Joe, we didn’t come to town on a truck load of watermelons, no sir, we been around some.” Billy Joe glanced up at me and said, “Nope, it was a truck full of cantaloupes.” I could see he was serious and asked him what he was talking about, and here came another story. As Billy Joe said, “Well, I had left Texas with about five dollars: Heading for Nashville with my songs. I got as far as Memphis when I ran out of money and a ride. I was hitchhiking on to Nashville when a man driving a truck full of cantaloupes stopped and gave me a ride; I had to sit in the back with all them melons. When I got to Nashville, I started knocking on doors on Music Row, trying to talk to people about my songs and they all kept looking at each other saying, ‘What’s that smell?’ I smelled like a cantaloupe patch for a month after that.” Billy Joe Shaver is a man who has lived some and survived to tell us about it in his music. I love him ‘cause he’s real, and what you see is what you get with Billy Joe. That’s what is so fascinating about this world of creative people, yes, they have a special talent but inside they are just real folk, with real stories to tell. As Billy Joe Shaver was getting ready to head off on another adventure, I said, “Billy Joe, I’ve known you a long time, and I’ve seen you go through lots of different phases…I want you to know that I am proud of the way you have grown up and turned out as a man.” He looked at me for a while, and then said, “I’ll tell you how that came about. I had slipped into all kinds of bad habits, drinking to excess, staying out running all night long cheating on my wife…I smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes until my fingers were yellow…my wife had enough of it and had left. I was at the bottom with nothing left to look forward to. I lay down and went to sleep and woke up with Jesus sitting on the end of my bed. I’ll never forget how sad He looked as He stared at me…He stayed there for a few minutes and then faded from sight. I got up and put my clothes on and went out to a place on the river called the ‘Narrows Of The Harpeth’. There was a high cliff there over the river. I stood on the edge and intended to jump off cause I was no good…then I asked God to help me, and give me a purpose. All of a sudden, He gave me a song…I came down off that hill singing, ‘I’m Just An Old Chunk Of Coal, But I’m Gonna Be A Diamond Someday’…My life turned around and things straightened out for me.” Billy Joe headed off and I sat there under that shade tree and just let it all soak in. Wow, Billy Joe, what a story! cmp Stan Hitchcock has been a country music recording artist, performer, songwriter, host of his own national television show and founder of three television networks that celebrate music. He shared the road with legends and gave the country video generation their start on CMT. His book, At the Corner of Music Row and Memory Lane, gives an insider’s history on the business of country music. Today he writes a daily Facebook column on his front porch just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. For more about Stan Hitchcock go to: DECEMBER 2018 - cmp 29