Monday, June 28, 2010

Otis McDonald, American Hero

Supreme Court rules in favor of gun-owners
by Robert A. Waters

"It is clear that the Framers...counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty." Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., McDonald vs. City of Chicago, June 28, 2010.

Otis McDonald was born the son of a sharecropper in the rural South. He served in the army before settling in Chicago where he worked for thirty years, first as a janitor and later as a maintenance engineer for the University of Chicago. After retiring, his once-comfortable Morgan Park neighborhood became a run-down, drug-infested disaster. McDonald’s home has been broken into three times, his garage twice. In attempting to rid his neighborhood of drugs, the husband and father of three has been threatened on several occasions. His outrage at a system which would not allow him the right to use a handgun to defend himself caused him to take his case to the United States Supreme Court.

In addition to McDonald, co-plaintiffs Adam Orlov, as well as David and Colleen Lawson, joined the Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association in bringing the lawsuit. Orlov, a former police officer, is unable to keep a handgun in his own home. David Lawson works out of town and his wife, Colleen, wishes to keep a handgun in their house for protection. None of the plaintiffs have criminal records--all are law-abiding citizens who only want to be able to defend themselves if necessary.

In McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court ruled 5-4 that the constitutional right to keep and bear arms protects all citizens, regardless of whether they reside in a federal enclave, state, or municipality. “It is clear,” wrote Justice Alito for the majority, “[that] a provision in the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is fundamental from an American perspective applies equally to the federal government and the states."

The decision extends the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruling in which the court decided that the right to keep and bear arms referred to an individual right.

Chicago will no doubt continue to find ways to deny its citizens the right granted by the Constitution. There is already talk of massive taxes on any handgun in the city owned by Chicagoans. (In the Heller case, the District of Columbia has re-structured its laws so that it is still nearly impossible for law-abiding citizens to obtain a license to own a firearm.) In fact, after today's decision, Chicago City Attorney Mara Georges said, "I would urge anyone buying a gun at this time to wait.”

The razor-thin margin of victory in these cases is disheartening. Even a cursory reading of the documents from the founding fathers makes it clear that the Framers intended for American citizens to have access to firearms. And the meaning of the Second Amendment is plain. So when four justices twist and distort the true meaning of the Constitution, it doesn’t bode well for our future.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Top 10 Country Displacement Songs

A Dead-end Ride Down the Hillbilly Highway
by Robert A. Waters

The farm was a killer. Toiling day in and day out to coax food from unwilling soil made a man out of you pretty quick. It also made you dream of something better. So in the 1920s, rural Southerners whose grandfathers had fought the hated Yankees began a migration into the lair of the former enemy. That sweat-drenched southern dirt convinced many a native to pack up a beat-up truck or hit the rails to what they hoped would be a better life.

Once these emigrants landed in Detroit or Chicago or Cleveland or Cincinnati, the dream quickly faded. Manual labor in a toxic factory from daylight to dark six days a week felt more like a nightmare than a dream. It soon dawned on many that there would never be an easy way out.

That’s when the sirens started calling: the bars, the loose women, the drugs. Of course, these displaced souls could have practiced the same vices in the little Southern towns they came from, but family and friends provided a sort of buffer from overt sin. Up north, there was no family and the friends they made weren’t always the best. To many of these southern farm boys, the city was just a soulless stretch of dark streets that seemed to run on to oblivion. Wine, women, and song was preferable to the daily grind of farm or factory.

But then guilt began to tear them apart. Mom and Dad had taught them better, had read Bible stories to them when they were young. They could still hear those ancient hymns clutching for their souls: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”; “Amazing Grace”; and “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” And so began a mortal struggle between good and evil. For some, the cauldron of sin pulled harder than the God they’d left behind.

Some eventually returned home and made good lives. Others married local northern girls and lived comfortably. But a large percentage of these Southern transplants met their doom at the end of the lost highway.

Hillbilly singers were quick to describe their struggles. Here are ten of my favorite country displacement songs.

Detroit City. Written by Mel Tillis and Danny Dill. Recorded by Bobby Bare.

The refrain beats over and over: “I wanna go home. I wanna go home. Oh Lord, I wanna go home.” This is one of the great country songs of all time. Danny Dill had this to say about the lyrics: “About three years before we wrote this, I played a little old club in Detroit... and I saw these people that are in this song. They did go North. When I was a kid, they'd say, ‘Where's John now?’ ‘Well, he's gone up to De-troit.’ I sat there and talked to these people. They were from Alabama, West Tennessee, Kentucky, and they'd go to Detroit and work in the car factories. Now, they had more cash money in their pockets than they'd ever seen in their lives, but they were homesick. And to keep from being so lonely, they'd go sit in a bar and drink. And when they did get home, they'd get home with no money. They wasted, literally, ten or fifteen years of their lives, and they wanted to go home all the time. They'd think they were rich, but they'd spend it. Then, eventually, they'd... catch that Southbound freight and ride back home where they came from.”

City Lights. Written and recorded by Bill Anderson.

This song has been covered by many other artists, but I like the original version best. It has that honest 1950s feel of another lost soul wallowing in the cauldron of loneliness. The irony must have been seen by many: outside the saloon was an endless street filled with city lights, but for the doomed, there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

“A bright array of city lights
as far as I can see.
The Great White Way shines through the night
for lonely guys like me.
The cabarets and honky tonks,
their flashing signs invite
A broken heart to lose itself
in the glow of city lights.”

This is another one of the classic songs in the genre.

Tulsa Time. Written by Danny Flowers, recorded by Don Williams. Eric Clapton has a nice rockin’ version of this song, but his English accent detracts from the lyrics (after all, we’re talking Okies here).

In this song, the singer leaves Tulsa to make it big in Hollywood. Needless to say, he fails and decides to head on back to “Tulsa time.”

Hillbilly Highway. Written by Steve Earle and Jimbeau Hinson. Classic recording by Steve Earle.

Click the Youtube link above and hear it for yourself.

Streets of Baltimore. Written by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard. Recorded by Bobby Bare and many others.

The singer’s wife longs for something better than the Tennessee farm they own, so he sells out and moves her to Baltimore where she falls in love with the night-life. In the final verse, the singer laments:

“Well, I did my best to bring her back
To what she used to be.
Then I soon learned she loved those bright lights
More than she loved me.
Now I'm a going back on that same train
That brought me here before
While my baby walks the streets of Baltimore.”

Two More Bottles of Wine. Written by Delbert McClinton and recorded by Emmylou Harris.

“Years ago I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of people and singing and playing,” Harris once said, “and it was like a spiritual experience, it was wonderful. And I decided then that what I was going to do with my life was play music, do music. In the making of records, I think over the years we've all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect. We've lost the living room. The living room has gone out of the music...” I couldn’t agree more. In this song, the singer and her lover move to Los Angeles, but he quickly leaves her for someone else. Stranded, she sings, “I’m fifteen hundred miles from the people I know...” So, like millions of others, she turns to booze: “It’s all right cause it’s midnight and I got two more bottles of wine.”

Waitin’ for a Train by Jimmie Rodgers. Recorded in Atlanta in 1928 at the beginning of the Great Depression.

In two short verses, this song describes the isolation, poverty of spirit and body, and loneliness of the wanderer. The original version, which features a jazz band complete with horns, is outstanding. In fact, the music sounds a lot like what you’d hear from a jug band. Here’s the first verse to this haunting song:

“All around a water tank
waiting for a train,
A thousand miles away from home
sleeping in the rain.
I walked up to a brakeman
just to give him a line of talk.
He said, ‘If you’ve got money,
I’ll see that you don’t walk.’
I haven’t got a nickel,
not a penny can I show.
‘Get off, get off, you railroad bum!’
and he slammed the boxcar door.”

San Francisco Mabel Joy. Written and recorded by the late great Mickey Newbury.

Although other artists covered this song, I like Newbury’s version best. It has that ancient feel of displacement--“he had fifteen years and ached inside to wander, so he hopped a train in Waycross and wound up in LA.” After falling in love with a San Francisco prostitute, the Georgia farm boy murders one of her johns and is sentenced to life in prison. He escapes and is shot and killed by cops in front of her home. Okay, the ending is kinda hokey, but it’s still a great song about a southern boy trying to make it in the big city.

My Old Cottage Home. Recorded by the Carter Family.

Although this song never specifically mentions that the singer has left the old home-place, it is implied. He remembers his friends and family and the old cottage home.

“I am thinking tonight of an old cottage home
That stands on the brow of the hill,
Where in life's early morning I once loved to roam,
But now all is quiet and still.”

I Sang Dixie. Written and recorded by Dwight Yoakam. Rhonda Vincent also does a moving rendition of this song.

“I sang ‘Dixie’ as he died.
The people just walked on by as I cried.
The bottle had robbed him of all his Rebel pride,
So I sang ‘Dixie’ as he died.”

Even though “I Sang Dixie” was first recorded in 1986, it captured the flavor of those Southerners who fled the farm and ended up as alcoholics in some big city, in this case, the City of Dreams. Thanks to my wife for reminding me of this one.

There you have it. A nice set of country displacement songs. If you have your own favorites, email me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Search for Kyron Hormon

“We know where he’s not”
by Robert A. Waters

Ten days into the mysterious vanishing of seven-year-old Kyron Hormon of Multnomah County, Orgegon, investigators are not only fighting the not-knowing, they’re also addressing the rampant rumor-mill on the Internet. Here’s a sampling of what people are writing on blogs and message boards:

“look at the dads expression he has none...He must know something...”

“Something is wrong it dont add up some teacher said they thought he left with the step mom.”

“i happen to watch a lot of 48 hours myself. i hate to point fingers when i am not ‘on the case,’ however, something smells fishy and i agree that it's most likely the step-mom.”

“WHAT IF Kyron Hormon's stepmom did something BEFORE--not after Friday morning's science fair--and those who happened to see her SO EARLY just assumed Kyron was with her and running around? Then the pic she took at the Science Fair early in the a.m. was doctored to add Kyron in?”

And those are the nice comments.

For those who don’t know, Kyron disappeared from Skyline Elementary School on Friday, June 4. His mother, Terri Moulton Hormon arrived with Kyron shortly after 8:00 a.m. to look at his science fair project. While there, she took a picture of her step-son in front of his Red-eyed Tree Frog booth. In the photo, the boy is beaming with pride. Terri and Kyron then walked through the school looking at other projects.

Shortly before 9:00 a.m., Terri left Kyron a few feet from his classroom. At about 1:15 p.m., she posted the photo she’d taken of Kyron on Facebook. (Another sign of guilt according to some postings--she was trying to cover up the fact that she’d already murdered him.)

At about 3:30 p.m., when Kyron didn’t arrive home on his school bus, Terri called the school and learned that he’d never made it to class that morning and hadn’t been seen all day. The school secretary immediately called 911.

Full-scale searches so far have turned up nothing. Because so many parents have harmed their own children and gone on television to try to sell the public on a kidnapping, people have become skeptical.

In fact, the rumor-machine has gotten so bad that investigators addressed it at a recent press conference. Captain Mike Shults of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office stated that investigators had requested that the family not take part in searches. "We need them to be close and that was conveyed to them from the beginning," he said. "We need them to be right there so that if (investigators) have questions or they find evidence or if they're going in a direction that's totally wrong ...Their information is critical.”

Shults also told reporters that detectives informed the family that they should continue their various daily activities for their own mental health’s sake. "Once we determined that this search could take some time,” he said, “it was discussed what that really meant to them and how long this could be, knowing that the stress was going to be overwhelming and it could be important to keep their minds and bodies healthy. We need them to help us bring Kyron home."

It was an extraordinary press conference. I can’t ever remember cops addressing online rumors.

The ten-day search weeded out a lot of areas, particularly the rugged terrain surrounding the school. As the sheriff said, “We know where he’s not.”

I’ll admit that I don’t know what happened to Kyron. Whatever it is, it doesn’t look good.

But for those who doubt that a child can be abducted from a public school, just check out the Tori Stafford case. Tori is the Canadian girl who was abducted about a year ago from Oliver Stephens Public School in Guelph, Ontario. CBC Online reported that “security camera images from April 8 show the Grade 3 student walking away from the school with an unknown woman, who had long black hair and was wearing a white jacket.” A few months later, Terri-Lynne McClintic, 18, and Michael Thomas C.S. Rafferty, 29, were arrested for kidnapping and murdering Tori.

I have little trust in newspapers or any segment of the media, so it’s hard for me to try to determine what’s true and what’s not. Not only that, investigators are certainly holding back information. Even so, this has that eerie “feel” of a kidnapping.

Kyron Hormon is seven-years old, stands 3’8”, and weighs about 50 pounds. He has brown hair and blue eyes. The boy was last seen wearing a black tee-shirt with a CSI logo in green letters. He also wore black cargo pants, white socks and black Sketchers sneakers with orange trim.

If you have information about this case, please call the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST) or the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (Oregon) 1-503-823-3333 or 1-503-261-2847.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ten Mysterious Disappearances and Murders

Leigh Marine Occhi vanished from her Tupelo, Mississippi home eighteen years ago

by Robert A. Waters

1. Tabitha Tuders, 13
Nashville, Tennessee
April 29, 2003

At about 7:30 a.m., Tabitha Danielle Tuders walked down the road toward her bus stop. Nashville investigators confirmed that Tabitha made it there before she vanished. Numerous theories have been floated in the seven years she’s been gone. Was she abducted and sold into the sex trade? Did she run away? Was she snatched by a sex predator? Did she go willingly with a friend who murdered her? Shortly after Tabitha’s disappearance, her social security card was used once in Las Vegas. The individual who used it was never found. Seven years later, no other clues have surfaced. The FBI has posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of Tabitha.

2. Leigh Marine Occhi, 13
Tupelo, Mississippi
August 27, 1992

As the remnants of Hurricane Andrew bore down on Mississippi, a young girl went missing from her home. Leigh’s mother left for work at about 7:50 a.m. She tried to call her daughter around 9:00, but received no answer. Worried, she drove back home and found blood in several parts of the home. Police and volunteers searched the surrounding area for days, but Leigh was never found. On September 9, her eye-glasses arrived at the Occhi residence. They were in a plain envelope and had been mailed from Booneville, a town about thirty miles away. It’s been eighteen years now, and the case has never been solved.

3. Tara Grinstead, 30
Ocilla, Georgia
October 22, 2005

On Saturday, at about 11:00 p.m., Tara arrived home after attending the Sweet Potato Festival and having dinner with friends. Two days later, when she didn’t show up for her job as an 11th grade teacher, police were called. Investigators found that the clothes Tara had worn on Saturday night were on the bed, and her cell phone was nearby. Her car was still in the driveway, but the front seat had been pushed back as far as it would go. To police, this indicated that a male had driven it. Most disturbing, a latex glove was found in the front yard. Two suspects emerged: a former boyfriend and one of Tara’s former high school students who was obsessed with her and had stalked her. DNA was found inside the glove but it didn’t match either of the suspects. After five years, the case remains a mystery. Family and friends have posted a $200,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts.

4. Michael, Mary, and Jennifer Short, 9
Bassett, Virginia
August 15, 2002

When an employee of Michael’s mobile home moving business stopped by his home, he found Michael dead of a gunshot wound in the carport. Mary was in her bed, also shot to death. Jennifer, the Short’s daughter, was missing. On September 25, 2002, the child’s skeletal body was found in North Carolina, about thirty miles from her home. She, too, had been shot in the head. One suspect emerged, but was never charged. Some investigators believe the murders were committed by a disgruntled customer from Michael’s business. But the question remains: why was a young, innocent girl carried away and killed someplace else? The FBI is offering a $67,000 reward.

5. Mikelle Biggs, 10
Mesa, Arizona
January 2, 1999

Late in the afternoon, Mikelle and her sister thought they heard an ice cream truck. Their mother gave them money and the girls rode their bicycles to the street corner where they usually met the truck. A few minutes later, Mikelle’s sister rode back to the house. Her mother sent her back to tell Mikelle to come home, but no one was there. Police were quickly notified. All they found was Mikelle’s bicycle and two quarters lying in the road. A massive search was launched, but Mikelle was never found. Interviews with neighbors, local sex offenders, and the usual suspects turned up nothing. There was no ice cream truck--the girls had been mistaken when they thought they heard it. Mikelle has never been seen again.

6. Zachary Bernhardt, 8
Clearwater, Florida
December 18, 2000

Shortly after 4:00 a.m., Zachary’s mother, Leah Hackett, reported her son missing. She told investigators that she left her Savannah Trace apartment and walked around the complex for fifteen minutes. When she returned, she said, Zachary was gone. Police checked and re-checked her story and eventually ruled Hackett out as a suspect. What happened to Zachary? Did he leave the house to find his mother, only to be abducted? Are family members involved? Did he run away, and, if so, why so early in the morning? Zachary has never been heard from since his disappearance.

7. Morgan Nick, 6
Alma, Arkansas
June 9, 1995

It was about 10:45 p.m. when Morgan disappeared. The youngster was chasing fireflies with other children at a Little League baseball park, only a few yards from her mother. A pickup truck was seen parked near the spot where the children were playing--a stranger stood beside the truck. By the time the baseball game ended, the truck, the stranger, and Morgan had disappeared. Police immediately recognized that an abduction had taken place. A days-long search turned up absolutely no clues. The Morgan Nick website states that "at the time of her disappearance, Morgan was approximately 4 feet tall, about 55 pounds, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Morgan had 5 visible silver caps on her molars. She was last seen wearing a green Girl Scout t-shirt, blue denim shorts and white tennis shoes.” There is a $60,000 reward leading to the recovery of Morgan and the conviction of her abductor.

8. Danny Freeman and Kathy Freeman murdered
Ashley Freeman, 16, and Lauria Bible, 16 missing
Welch, Oklahoma
December 30, 1999

Almost from the moment neighbors reported a fire at the mobile home owned by Danny and Kathy Freeman, the investigation was botched. Craig County sheriff’s investigators found Kathy shot dead in a front room but they couldn’t find Danny or the girls. Investigators reported that he’d probably murdered Kathy, attempted to burn the trailer to the ground to cover the crime, and went on the run with his daughter, Ashley, and her friend, Lauria. Cops never sealed the crime scene. The next day, as the Bible family searched the home for evidence about Lauria’s disappearance, they were horrified to find Danny’s body. Like his wife, he’d been shot. Ashley and Lauria, who had been spending the night with the Freemans, were both missing. (A sheriff's deputy had recently shot and killed Shane Freeman, the seventeen-year-old son of Danny and Kathy. He’d committed several minor crimes over the years, and this time had burglarized a home. The Freemans considered the killing a murder, and were contemplating a lawsuit against the sheriff’s department. Detectives had also accused Danny of growing marijuana behind his house, but never charged him with a crime.) Two serial killers, Tommie Lee Sells and Jeremy Jones, confessed to the murders, but investigators claim no evidence was ever presented to back up their confessions. For ten years now, the mystery of the missing girls has haunted the citizens of Welch. Residents have several theories. Did someone in the sheriff's department decide to get rid of the Freemans because their lawsuit would blow the lid off corruption and incompetence in the force? Did Danny’s alleged marijuana operation lead to rivals murdering him and kidnapping the girls? Did a serial killer or sex predator kill the husband and wife to get to the teenage girls? Whatever the case, the circumstances surrounding the murders and disappearances are unusual.

9. The Floating Feet
British Columbia and Washington State
2007 – 2008

What are the odds of a foot clad in sneakers floating up on shore anywhere in the world? How about seven feet? All in the Strait of Georgia between Washington State and British Columbia? It’s a mystery that’s stumped every investigator who’s had a crack at it. Is a serial killer stalking sneaker-clad people? Are the feet the remains of victims, all of whom wore sneakers, of some unknown airplane crash? Or are they drifters from across the sea--did the seven feet float across thousands of miles of ocean and land in one spot? Some of the theories seem ludicrous, but the fact is: no one knows. In all, there were five men’s feet and a pair of women’s feet. The women’s feet match, and one pair of men’s feet match. That makes a total of five bodies. Only one foot has been matched to a known missing person, a man whom authorities think committed suicide. Who are the other victims and why did their feet end up on isolated beaches across the northwest? One other question: are there other feet that were never found?

10. Sheryl Levitt, Stacy McCall, 18, and Suzanne Streeter, 18
Springfield, Missouri
June 7, 1992

How can three people disappear from a suburban home in the middle of the night and never be seen again? That’s what happened in this case. Stacy McCall and Suzanne Streeter had been partying with friends in celebration of their graduation from high school. At around 2:00 a.m., they arrived at Suzanne’s home. Sherrill Levitt, Suzanne’s mother, was also home. The girls planned to sleep in that night then go to White Water Amusement Park in Branson the next day. None of the three were ever seen again. For more than fifteen years, there has been no trace of the missing women. The only clue was a frightened dog and a broken light bulb on the front porch. Because of the high school graduation ceremonies that night, police initially thought the women were staying with friends. By the time they reacted, any clues that may have been in the house were destroyed. There are no suspects in this case and everyone seems baffled at their disappearance.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Girl on the Eight of Spades

Murderer of Sylvia Mangos Still Walks Free
by Robert A. Waters

It’s been twenty-two years since eight-year-old Sylvia Elaine Mangos was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Her killer, like smoke in the wind, vanished and was never caught. The San Bernardino County, California Sheriff’s Department recently issued a set of playing cards listing 52 of their 600 unsolved cases. Sylvia's photo is shown on the eight of spades. Investigators have also turned the girl’s clothing over to the state lab in hopes of obtaining DNA evidence.

The crime happened on March 27, 1988. Her family was attending the Yucca Valley Swap Meet when Sylvia disappeared. Eight days later her fully clothed remains were found in nearby Johnson Valley. She’d been sexually assaulted and died of what is clinically called “blunt force trauma,” meaning she’d been beaten to death. According to the coroner, the girl had been in the desert for only two-to-five days.

Where was she the rest of the time?

At a news conference, Sheriff Floyd Tidwell said, “It appears that the motive for this tragic case is sexual...Sylvia was apparently a random victim of opportunity.” She died from multiple blows to the head, he said.

Clifton Eugene Mitchell, a 33-year-old truck driver, was named a suspect. The ex-con had just been released from prison after serving time for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 14. News accounts of the day stated that Mitchell lived in the desert not far from where Sylvia’s body was found. His car, which was allegedly spotted near the swap meet on the day of the abduction, was impounded by investigators. Despite their suspicions, Mitchell was never charged with the crime.

Other convicted sex offenders in the area were questioned, as well as everyone detectives could locate who'd been at the swap meet, but no one was ever arrested.

The murder stunned the small community. Sylvia attended Oasis Elementary School in Twentynine Palms. One of her teachers said that she was “very outgoing, loving, happy, friendly, and full of life. She was well-liked by everyone [and] she had a sense of humor.” She was an A-student with a talent for writing.

Unless he's dead or in prison, the killer has walked free for more than two decades. Here’s hoping Sylvia’s clothing will yield a DNA profile that can be matched to the murderer. Or maybe an inmate will look into the eyes of this innocent girl on the eight of spades and remember something that will bring her killer to justice.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Whatever happened to hillbilly music?

“Murder on Music Row”
by Robert A. Waters

I grew up listening to country music. For the first eight years of my life, I lived with my grandfather, grandmother, mom, and two brothers on a farm in Fellowship, Florida. Some of my best memories are of listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the family radio. In her teenage years, my mom had been a singer in a local group called the Orange Grove String Band. My granddaddy loved Jimmie Rodgers (the Blue Yodeler) and Uncle Dave Macon. He would bounce me on his knee and sing songs like “Hobo Bill” and “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad.” Occasionally, he’d pull his banjo out from under his bed and fram a tune or two.

When I was eight, my dad and mom (who’d been divorced) re-married and we moved away from the farm. But the seed had been planted and one of my passions was always country music. In the 1950s and 60s, there were lots of great singers and songs. My favorite was Hank Williams. As a kid, I remember sitting on the front porch of my granddaddy’s home, beating my mom’s old Kalamazoo guitar, and trying to sing Hank’s novelty song, “Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To Do?” Many years later Johnny Cash recorded a song called “The Night Hank Williams Came to Town” that captures the flavor of the 1950s in rural America as well as any song I’ve heard.

During that time, the music was as likely to be called “hillbilly” as country. But sometime in the 1970s the powers that be decided hillbilly wasn’t good enough and watered down the music I loved. They even gave it a name: the “Nashville Sound.” They were horrid, those recordings, but for a while, there were still good singers and good songs making the charts.

As the decades ticked away, political correctness gained sway in country music. I remember Hank Williams, Jr.’s song, “If The South Woulda Won (We’d Have Had it Made).” That may have been the last politically incorrect song to score on the country charts.

Through the years, the songs got worse and worse, and at some point, like a bad divorce, I had enough and left behind the music that had nurtured me.

I know lots of people like the new stuff and won’t agree with me. Doesn’t matter. I like my country hard, with a touch of gospel to soften it a bit. An example is “The Titanic” by Roy Acuff. “God with power in his hands showed the world it could not stand,” he crooned. “It was sad when that great ship went down.” Not politically correct, of course, even in the 1940s when it was recorded. But a great song with a powerful message.

Cheating songs have always been popular in country music. In the 1950s and 1960s, a cheating husband or wife in rural America had a good chance of ending up dead. Like it or not, that’s just the way country people were. In the old Harlan Howard song, “Miller’s Cave,” the protagonist catches his wife with a lover named Big Dave. “They laughed at me and then I shot them,” the singer says. “I took their cheatin’, schemin’ bones to Miller’s Cave.” Again, not politically correct. But who cares? It’s a great song with an ironic twist at the end.

Today I read on a CNN website that “the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded a posthumous special award to Hank Williams, who died in 1953 at 29, for his lifetime achievement as a musician, praising the country legend for ‘his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force...’” Hank may be the most unlikely person to have ever won a Pulitzer Prize.

A few years ago, I shelled out twenty-five bucks for a book entitled, Hank Williams: Snapshots from the Lost Highway, by Colin Escott and Kira Florita. Rockabilly and country music historian Marty Stuart lent the authors his stunning collection of Hank Williams memorabilia, allowing them to publish hundreds of photos of Hank and Audrey and his second wife Billie Jean as well as pictures of some of his hand-written lyrics. The title of the book comes from “Lost Highway,” one of Hank’s songs: “Just a rolling stone, all alone and lost. For a life of sin, I have paid the cost. When I pass by, all the people say, ‘Just another guy on the lost highway.’” That song, more than any other, summed up the life of the greatest hillbilly singer of all time.

It was a different era back then, a time that provided some of the world’s greatest music. But it was also a time that literally ate country singers alive. In his last days, Hank was a morphine addict, prescription drug addict, and alcoholic. He died in the back seat of a 1952 Cadillac somewhere on the road between Knoxville, Tennessee and Canton, Ohio as he tried to make a show in the middle of a blizzard.

The song “Murder on Music Row” describes my feelings about modern country music. It was written by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell and popularized by country traditionalists Alan Jackson and George Strait. Here’s the first verse:

“Nobody saw him running from 16th Avenue.
They never found the fingerprints or the weapon that was used.
But someone killed country music, cut out its heart and soul.
They got away with murder down on music row.”

If you like traditional hillbilly music, you’ll love this song. As the lyrics state: “Hank wouldn’t have a chance on today’s radio.” He wasn’t smooth enough or slick enough or politically-correct enough. All he did was write and sing songs that changed people’s lives.