Al Green to Johnny Cash…Why Arkansas is So Amazing

Arkansas is a strange little state and my home. We constantly rank in the top five for bad things like obesity, teen pregnancy, high school drop outs, poor health care, and poverty. Any outsider might think we were a lowly and pathetic place. What they don’t know about Arkansas is it is an absolutely gorgeous and lush state, it’s also a ridiculously friendly place. Though poor, Arkansas is, per capita, one of the most generous states in America.

But it’s the musical side of Arkansas that always strikes me as most remarkable. We have a population of less than 3 million still the list of famous musicians, singers and songwriters is so stunning. This morning I spent an hour doing research (something you know I rarely do, generally my big fat opinion is enough for me). I made a list of the musicians I like who came from my lovely emerald green state.

The List:    Sonny Burgess, Howlin’ Wolf, Al Bell, James Cotton, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Driftwood (he wrote Tennessee Stud and The Battle of New Orleans because he was a high school teacher and he wanted to help his students understand a history class),Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn, Lefty Frizzell (He wrote If You’ve Got the Money Honey, I’ve Got the Time),Randy Goodrum, Al Green (who is in my top five for favorite singers of all time, just ask my kids),Ronnie Hawkins, Levon Helm, Scott Joplin the King of Ragtime, Louis Jordan (a contemporary of Louis Armstrong but dirtier and a lot blacker. Beans and Cornbread, Choo Choo Boogie, He had something like 14 number one hits),Buddy Jewel, Albert King, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Nichols, Charlie Rich aka the Silver Fox, Sister Rosetta Tharp( she influenced everyone in rock and roll including Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Elvis Presley and fellow Arkansan Johnny Cash)Conway Twitty (super sleazy legendary country singer),Sonny Boy Williamson, Justin Moore, and R&B icon Ne-Yo. And of course TI did prison time right here in Arkansas. The list would have been much longer if I’d included jazz and opera stars.

I looked at other states with close to 3 million residents and they didn’t have near the musical star power and history of Arkansas. Kansas can brag about Charlie Parker, Joe Walsh and Melissa Ethridge, but that’s about it. Then there’s Utah and Nevada, both with embarrassingly shallow musical benches.

So, what is it about Arkansas? Maybe it’s the poverty that inspired so many of our country and blues greats. Perhaps the lack of educational opportunities gave the trifling young men and women time to hone their craft. One observation I couldn’t ignore. Most of the great musicians came from the uglier parts of the state. Maybe they were all just looking for a way out of this beautiful, friendly but often times impoverished state.

In less than ten years there’s another band of Arkansas players who will make my list and yours too. The Natural Outlaws. Big fat fun abrasive southern rock.
Play on boys.

Jack Does The Wild West

My 23 year old son, Jack left a high paying bar-tending job in Manhattan to see stuff on the other side of Oklahoma. This morning he called me from the road. He left Colorado yesterday and was stunned to learn pot is Plegal in that state and you can buy up to an ounce a day!  that’s a lot of pot.  We figured you’d get blisters on your fingers from rolling an ounce of pot a day.

The he told me we have to go see Glen Campbell in concert because he’s doing one more tour before retiring.  Glen Campbell has Alzheimers so this is our last shot. Jack grew up on my Glen Campbell stories. I loved the guy when I was eight because he had blond swoopy hair. I even had his eight track with Galveston and Wichita Lineman. On a trip to Florida I made my mother listen to that eight track over and over and over. Finally, on the Florida Turnpike she calmly rolled down the window of the Lincoln Continental, pulled Glen Campbell out of the eight track player and flug him into the everglades. I wailed as though I’d been stabbed with a steak knife for over an hour. Mom looked at me and said, “sorry Honey, I just couldn’t take it anymore.”  Then she lit a cigarette and ignored me. So Jack has decided we have to go see him in concert, maybe this will help my eight track scare heal.

Then jack told me about his night in Laramie Wyoming.  He went to a really old cowboy bar where there’s a bullet hole from 1888 in the wall. Drinks were five for five dollars and at some point during the night the marching bad from the University of Wyoming walked into the bar and played the schools fight song. Jack found a field to sleep in but for the first time in three weeks it was too cold to sleep in the back of the truck so he curled up in the cab with Ragtime Cowboy Joe still ringing in his ears.

That’s a pretty good night for a Southern boy on the road. It’s also proof that encouraging you kid to travel before he has a wife, a mortgage, a dog and babies is a really good idea.