Country Music's Clutch
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 by Frank Shortt
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Many a country boy from the hills of Appalachia has at onetime yearned to be a country music star. Country music today is not ‘Country’ but instead sounds like Rock and Roll.

In the late sixties, Ed Lee left Virginia in the springtime in a beat-up rattle-trap of a truck that looked as though the least bump would cause it to fall apart. It was a 1950 Ford, containing more bailing wire than a pasture fence. Ed placed his old Stella guitar in back of the front seat as hunters sometimes carry their favorite hunting rifle. All his siblings had learned a few chords on this particular instrument, even his mother had played it now and again. Her favorite singer was Willie Nelson.

Ed hit Nashville, Tennessee with about twenty dollars in change, the clothes on his back, and a determination to make it big at the Grand Ole Opry! As he walked along old Music Row, his love for country music grew. A few events should have told him that getting started in country music was not as easy as he had heard from some of the old timers at the Tazewell flea market. He had played with the best that Virginia had to offer, especially in that region, and they had told him many tales of how Ernie Ford, the Carter Family, and Ralph Stanley, all from that area, had gone to Tennessee and made it big. What they didn’t tell him was about all the heartache, sleepless nights, cold food, hard beds, and the sacrifice each of these had been forced to make to become a star. “Boy, you’ve got the voice and you can sure play that old git’tar, so what’s holding you up from headin’ down to Tennessee?”

But, head-out he did! The trip consisted of flat tires, McDonald’s burgers, and sleeping on the rigid front seat of the old beat-up Ford! The only thing that kept him going was the country songs he heard on the radio, “Thank God that thang works,” he thought a many a time as he bounced around inside the unlined cab of that old truck! It leaked like a sieve when the spring freshets began.

Boy, I must have rocks in my head!” he thought as he woke up after a dark night somewhere outside Knoxville. He had parked in what he thought was a cornfield alongside the highway, to his surprise, it was someone’s chicken yard and he awoke to fowl smells and chicken manure all over his truck. The chickens had decided to roost on whatever part of the old truck that had an opening. He had been so tired he didn’t even notice the gathering of the flock! This was another warning sign!

Ed ran out of gas near Nashville and almost walked himself to death before he found some cheap gas that his nearly deplete wallet could afford. Any sane-thinking young man would have taken this as a sure sign that he’d better find enough work to finance his trip back to the hills of Virginia. But instead, He thought, “Man, since this happened I can’t get country music out of my head!” Fools walk with hobnailed boots where angels fear to tread!

Walking along Music Row, Ed was in surprise and awe, at all the itinerant musicians idling along the busy street. Each had an old beat up guitar and a sign which read, “Will play for food” Each had an old tin cup sitting in front of the sign and as Ed walked along he noticed that there were not any greenbacks protruding from the tops of the cups. “What have I got myself into?” he spoke into the wind as if all the other vagabonds could hear his plaint! Each of them had probably said the same thing as they arrived in Music City. This verse of song came to Ed as he saw the pitiful sight:

Country music’s got a clutch on me

Ever since I hit Tennessee

When I walked along old music row

I could feel my love for country music grow

I don’t feel like I ever wanna be free

Country music’s got a clutch on me.

With his crumpled hat and the old Stella guitar Ed set up shop on the only empty space he could find along Music Row. His twenty dollars had been depleted days ago and he would have starved had not fate taken a hand. He had sung up every song in his repertoire, made a few coins, just enough to buy a burger or two, when a strange thing happened!” Ed heard a shaky, feminine voice saying, “Boy, your songs are up my alley! If I was a mite younger, I’d shuck this town and hit the road with you! Come on over to my house with me and play some of them old sad songs that make me feel so young!”

She had been watching him for a few days and seemed to like what she heard. At this point, Ed would have jumped at any chance to have a bath and a decent bed to sleep in. As it was, the old lady soon grew tired of Ed’s sad songs, and politely asked him to leave. Ed soon found a job helping a farmer shuck his corn, after all it was harvest time by the time Ed came to his senses. As he arrived in Virginia he had changed the verse he had written in Nashville:

Country music had a clutch on me

As I arrived in Tennessee!

As I walked along Old Music Row

My love for Country seemed to grow

Now I know want it means to be free,

Since Country music don’t have a clutch on me!