Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The 11 Saddest Country Songs of All Time
by Robert A. Waters

Rolling Stone magazine recently released what it called the “40 Saddest Country Songs of All Time.” On the premise that “even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while,” they found a few good ones. Unfortunately, there were too many modern-day songs and not enough older and alternative tunes. Those who have read my blog for very long know that one of my passions is old-time hillbilly music. It's what I grew up hearing and what I still listen to. So here are 11 songs the Rolling Stone article left out.

Hank Williams III
Hank III does his best to live up to his grandfather's name. Hard living, hard drugging, and hard drinking seems to be the norm of the Williams clan, but they have country music embedded in their DNA. This song is straight country, and straight-out sad. No wonder it never made a blip on the modern CMT charts.

Hank Williams
Written by the blind country songwriter, Leon Payne, this song is the defining statement about Hank's life. It's ironic since Hank wrote most of his own songs. In many religious songs, there is redemption for sin, but in this song, there is no redemption—the singer is going straight to Hell. This is real country music written by real country people who had, fortunately, never heard “Imagine” by the Beatles.

Amber Digby and Justin Trevino
These Texas-based singers nail this old “cheating” song. Their version has the feel of, shall we say, authenticity. In other words, it sounds like they've been there, done that (not saying they have, just saying the song has that “feel”). Written by L. E. White, numerous country stars have recorded it, including Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, and Tanya Tucker. But their versions are too commercial. I like the Digby and Trevino raw, gritty version best.

Johnny Cash
Ted Daffan, a honky-tonk singer and songwriter, penned this song in the 1940s. It's been recorded by more than 100 country singers, including this version by Johnny Cash. “Born to lose, I've lived my life in vain/Every dream has only caused me pain...” Any song with those opening lines has to be sad and has to be country.

Stonewall Jackson
Rolling Stone would NEVER admit that a descendant of the great Southern General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson could be a great country singer. But that he is. “Leona” is written from the perspective of a cuckolded husband and the tragic conclusion is right out of today's headlines. Stonewall Jackson, the singer, had many hit songs, including “Waterloo,” which crossed to the pop charts. Written by the well-known Nashville songwriter, Cindy Walker, “Leona” never became a hit, but is still one of my favorites.

Dwight Yoakam and Ralph Stanley
Penned by country songwriters Jack Anglin, Johnny Wright, and George Peck, this song is about a soldier going off to war. If he comes back, he is reminded to meet his sweetheart “down where the river bends.” Dwight Yoakam and Ralph Stanley perform this bluegrass version of the song, and Stanley's high tenor is guaranteed to send chills down your spine.

Hank Williams
Written by Hank, this song became a number one country hit for him, then crossed into the pop charts to become Tony Bennett's first number one song. Hundreds of singers have recorded it, and the song has become a standard, usually delivered with minimal feeling.  Not so, Hank's version.  The pain of his loss is raw and vicious and we know there'll be no happy endings here.  (How Rolling Stone could miss this song, I don't know.)

Vernon Oxford
This song is a lament about a life gone wrong by the singer who was called “too country for country music.” While modern “country” singers listen to the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and rap, Oxford cut his teeth on real hillbilly music—mostly Hank. God is the last resort for many a former reprobate, and the title of this song says it all.

San Francisco Mabel Joy
Mickey Newberry
Any songwriter who can come up with a title like “She Even Woke Me up to Say Goodbye,” has to be good. Add to that “San Francisco Mabel Joy,” about a Georgia boy who falls for a prostitute, kills her lover, and ends up doing 99 years in prison, and you've got the makings of real country music. It's a long, rambling song that could never make it onto the country music charts.

Texas singer/songwriter Clark begins this song with these lines: “That old time feeling goes sneaking down the hall/like an old gray cat in winter keeping close to the wall...” Need I say more?

Hank Williams
This is arguably the greatest country song of all time. Hank allegedly wrote it about his cheating wife, Aubrey. Of course, the cheating was mutual, but... This song has been recorded by almost every country singer in history. The pain is palpable as Hank sings, “Your cheatin' heart will tell on you.” Hank, who grew up dirt-poor in Alabama, achieved fame and fortune beyond his wildest imaginings, but was tormented by physical and emotional pain all his life. His songs have been recorded by almost all country singers, and many pop crooners. Going barefoot while selling peanuts during the Depression, he could never have imagined the musical influence he would exert. The writer of the Rolling Stone article should be canned for not including this song.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Songbirds Stopped Singing at Shiloh
by Robert A. Waters

On a gloomy spring morning in southern Tennessee, the songbirds stopped singing. It was April 6, 1862. Scattered gunfire erupted, quickly becoming a continual roar as two armies slammed into each other. The weather was cool and the rain unrelenting as the thunder of war drowned out thunder from the skies.

Soldiers fell by the hundreds, then thousands, on muddy battlefields, their screams, their dying gasps overwhelmed by the din of fighting. A blog entitled Oddly Historical described the scene: “The bloodiest battle up to that point in the war, two days of fighting produced 23,000 casualties on both sides. The battlefield itself was a boggy, mud soaked hellhole. Medical services on both Confederate and Union sides were woefully unprepared for the scale of the slaughter, and many wounded were left to fend for themselves among the watery morass.”

Primitive medical methods consisted mainly of amputation. There were no antibiotics and no anesthesia. Before their limbs were sawed off, soldiers would take a swig of whiskey, then “bite the bullet.” Shock killed thousands, and infection even more.

But as the Battle of Shiloh ebbed, a medical mystery began to play itself out. Overnight, hundreds of soldiers from both sides, lying in those marshy pools, miraculously began to heal. These soldiers noticed that their wounds would glow green, and then the healing would begin. The grateful men called the strange-colored healing agent “Angel's Glow,” attributing their miraculous cures to divine intervention.

Historians and medical researchers of later years discounted these claims as legend. But a grain of doubt always clouded any assertions that the healings were false. Why did hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers suddenly recover from their wounds at Shiloh when less severely wounded men died?

Enter microbiologist Phyllis Martin. When her teenage son visited Shiloh Battlefield, his curiosity was piqued. At the time, Martin was researching the healing properties of a bacteria called P. luminescens. With the help of her son, Bill, and his friend, John Curtis, Martin made a remarkable discovery that might explain the historical mystery. P. luminescens lives inside nematodes of the soil. These nematodes eat insect larva and P. luminescens releases toxins that kill the larva. The toxins of P. luminscens also inhibit the growth of deadly bacteria. And P. luminescens glows green as it does its work. Martin theorized that this “glowing bacteria entered soldiers' wounds when nematodes attacked the insect larva [that] are naturally attracted to such injuries. The resulting infestation would wipe out any of the normal, disease causing bacteria found in wounds.”

On the battlefield, wounded soldiers likely cursed the mud-soaked misery of impending death. What they didn't know was that the very conditions they found abominable may have been the conditions that healed them.

Some of these soldiers survived the war and told their families about “Angel's Glow,” and how it saved their lives. While scientists scoffed, the stories became part of the folklore of war. Now there seems to have been a basis of truth to the bizarre assertions.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Army Veteran John Hendricks Stopped a Mass Shooting
Victims' Lives Matter
by Robert A. Waters

The lives of innocent victims matter. That's why almost 13 million Americans now have permits to carry concealed weapons. Many would-be victims, going about their day-to-day activities, have used guns to successfully defend their own lives as well as the lives of others. Here a few of their stories.

In Chicago, an Uber driver with a permit to carry a concealed weapon stopped a mass shooting. At approximately 11:30 p.m., Everardo Custodio opened fire into a crowd of pedestrians. John Hendricks, the Uber driver, who just happened to be at the scene where the shooting took place, pulled out his own gun and fired six rounds at Custodio. Hit in the shin, thigh, and abdomen, the shooter collapsed on the street. He was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening wounds. No one in the crowd was hit by gunfire. Hendricks, an army veteran who has a concealed carry permit and valid firearms identification card, was not charged. Custodio, however, will be indicted on numerous counts, including attempted murder.

In Augusta, Georgia, two long-time crooks attempted to hold up the Subway restaurant on Gordon Highway. Howard Maurice Harris and Cornelius Lamar Harrison allegedly entered the sandwich shop armed with crow bars. One of the suspects ordered a 14-year-old customer to go to the back of the business. The suspect then struck the teen in the back of the head with the metal bar, injuring him. The boy's mother, an employee, retrieved a handgun from her purse and fired at the assailant. The robbers fled, but the employee ran outside and fired again. At some point, Harrison was struck in the abdomen. He died a few hours later. Police were soon summoned to a local hospital where they found Harris and arrested him. The injured teen received numerous stitches to close his wounds. Both suspects were wanted in North Carolina for various crimes. Police told reporters that the employee, who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, will not be charged.

A 91-year-old Eastpointe, Michigan man parked his car in a Rite Aid store parking lot. As soon as he stepped out, he was approached by Richard Ashford who, according to the intended victim, was acting “erratically.” When the victim attempted to retreat back into his car, Ashford approached in a threatening manner, carrying a “piece of metal fashioned as a weapon.” After shouting several warnings, the intended victim opened fire. Prosecutor Eric Smith told reporters that “this elderly man’s self-defense is an entirely appropriate use of force. Facing imminent assault, he announced that he was armed, made attempts to withdraw, warned again that he held a weapon, and fired only when completely necessary.” The intended victim had a concealed carry permit and was not charged. “This is a textbook case for why concealed pistol licenses are issued in the first place,” Smith said. “American citizens have the right to protect themselves in the face of clear assault.” Ashford faces several charges.

In South King County, Washington, Steven Blacktongue, wearing a mask, entered a 7-11 store and attacked a customer with a hatchet. He then moved behind the counter and struck the clerk in the abdomen with the deadly weapon. The customer, who had a permit to carry a gun, shot Blacktongue dead before he could cause serious injury to the clerk. Blacktongue had a long criminal history of felonious assaults, and had served time in prison for assault and drug offenses. The customer who stopped what could have been a brutal murder will not be charged.

And so it goes. Day after day, law-abiding citizens who have permits to carry concealed weapons stop violent criminals. And day after day, the New York Times and other major news organizations refuse to carry their stories.