The Big Bad NRA

Nobody in their right mind is advocating the prohibition and confiscation of guns in American.

There are, studies show, more than 300 million guns privately owned in our country. Think about it. Nobody could get rid of that many guns even if they tried.

Nor should they.

In addition to those who are willing to fight to the death to own firearms, I’d hazard to guess that there are millions of Americans who feel about the say way I do. Guns are deeply embedded in our culture and besides, if someone wants to keep one in their home for protection, or likes to hunt, or maybe just enjoys collecting firearms for a hobby, more power to them.

I repeat. Nobody in their right mind is advocating the prohibition and confiscation of guns in America.

But next time you catch a guns’ rights advocate make their case, check how quickly they raise the specter of prohibition and confiscation Watch how they go from reasonable and sensible gun control to the abolition of guns in America faster than a Lamborghini can accelerate from 0-to-60 miles an hour.

Because without that tired, overused canard, they have nothing to defend their extreme position, a position that there’s really nothing legislatively our elected officials should – or even could — do about guns to stem the epidemic of mass shootings raging in our land.

Twenty five good folks were gunned down this week while at worship in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A month ago 58 were slaughtered and 546 wounded at a country music show in Las Vegas.

It’s hard these days to turn on the television without being bombarded by more breaking news of another mass shooting in America.

Let’s concede every sane and responsible citizen has a right to own a gun in America. For that, I have no problem. But don’t I have a right to attend church or go listen to some good music without being gunned down by some crazy with a weapon of war in his or her hands?

We elect our politicians to solve these kinds of problems. Our president certainly didn’t waste any time advocating the policy solution of tighter immigration when a deranged soul originally from Uzbekistan plowed over bikers and crashed into a school bus in New York City.

But the next time there’s a mass shooting – and I’m conditioned to expect that it won’t be long – check out the reaction from the politicians currently in power.

First they’ll maintain that it’s “too early’’ to comment, and by doing so would only “politicize” the tragedy.

Then, of course, they’ll offer their “thoughts and prayers’’ to the victims and their loved ones.

Not to say there’s anything whatsoever wrong than extending thoughts and prayers – as far as that goes.

The problem is, then they do absolutely nothing

If they were to follow up by advancing reasonable and sensible solutions to the problem – and here we’re talking about expanding background checks, closing the loopholes that allow the bad guys to get guns, keeping weapons of war such as high-powered, rapid-action assault rifles out of the hands of the general public – then all that would be well and good.

Instead, the powers that be just keep on keeping on accepting and cashing their checks from the NRA and other extreme guns’ rights organization and doing nothing to stem the epidemic.

But I have to think that at some point, either here or in the hereafter, they’re going to have to answer for their deafening silence.

And good luck with that.



 By nature I’m not a materialistic guy. The only two possessions I own that I would bother to chase somebody down the street to take back would be my Bolivian Sombrero and my 1967 Gibson J-45, affectionately known as Buckshot.

I love my Sombrero, partly because it’s a great show hat but even more for knowing that my fearless daugher Rebecca lugged it home from her post-undergrad back-packing hike through South America.

But I love Buckshot even more. We’ve been partners in music ever since I liberated her from a music store in Galax, Va. about 30 years ago.

Now’s the time I should mention that I’m not a patient guy either. But the one instance when I managed to control my impulses came following a heaven-sent financial windfall of around $900. I knew I finally needed a good guitar, and I knew I couldn’t spend the entire largess on one.

So I budgeted half the amount — $450 — and spent the next year looking for the guitar of my dreams. Not being all that confident in my musical abilities, I wanted a name brand, the kind of guitar that people would take note of when I pulled it from the case. So I knew I’d have to go the used route.

On every trip I made while covering football and basketball for the Winston-Salem Journal, I’d scour every music store and pawn shop I came across. I came close to pulling the trigger a couple of times. There was a Guild in Atlanta I almost convinced myself was the right guitar.

But I knew it really wasn’t, so I waited.

Then one day my cousin Rick Morris from Cherokee — an accomplished guitarist in my own writ — called me to say my search was over. He had gotten to know a couple of brothers who vacationed regularly up on the reservation, and they had mentioned how they had a guitar hanging in their store up in Galax with my name on it.

With great alacrity, I sped across Fancy Gap to find Jennings Music. And there, sure enough, was the guitar of dreams, just hanging there waiting on me. I knew she was the one as soon as I strummed the strings. And when I asked the price, I knew the search was successful.

She cost $450, of course, which proved to be the best $450 I ever spent.

All this reminds me a bit of the wonderfully haunting song by Guy Clark called “The Guitar,”  but I swear it’s all true. For the past 30 years we’ve been through thick and thin together as I chase my dream of making some kind of mark in music.

Our son Nate grew up to be a professional musician. He’s a classically trained percussionist living in Dallas who teaches on the side when he’s not playing with all kinds of orchestras, symphonies, musicals and ensembles throughout the Lone Star State. And Nate, like so many fine musicians, is particular about his instruments. He’s not big on others playing them, and I respect that.

In that regard — like in so many ways — I’m different. My take is that a guitar was made the be played, and the more people who have played Buckshot over the years the happier both she and I have been.

For 4 1/2 years I coordinated an Open Mic down at the Garage in downtown Winston-Salem. For the past 3 1/2 years I’ve ram-rodded an Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe down in Bethania. I’m partial to Open Mics. To me they’re communion.

Over all those years, whenever somebody showed up with a busted string, a dead battery on their pickup or maybe without the ax they conveniently forgot at home, I’d shove Buckshot in their hands and say “Play her.” She’s never happier than when being played, and she comes through every time.

Buckshot and I will be back at it tonight down in Bethania at our weekly Open Mic at Muddy Creek Cafe. We have a time every week, and would love for you to come be part of it.

And if you ask just right, I’ll even let you play Buckshot.

The Kid From Waycross

Of all the great bioflicks never made, right at te top of the list is story of one of my heroes, Gram Parsons. He never found fame, never had a hit, but if you love music honesty compels you to admit how much you owe — how much we all owe — the Kid from Waycross. He also discovered Emmylou, and for that alone he deserves Sainthood.



The Great Renaissance

The most compelling evidence I’ve come across that we have a say in when we begin our ride through space and time is my birthday, August 16, 1952.

For a guy whose life would not be worth living without music, I could not have come up with a better time of arrival.

Think about it. My earliest musical memories were of Hank Williams, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis, Carl Perkins and the one and only Elvis “The Pelvis’’ Presley laying down the asphalt on that magical, mystical musical highway to the Promised Land.

Then, at the tender age of 11, I sprawled out in front of our black-and-white Philco on Forest Avenue in Franklin, N.C. to watch four mop-top weirdos from someplace called Liverpool, England do their thang on The Ed Sullivan Show. I was transfixed. I was pole-axed. I was never, ever, ever, ever the same.

My mother, seeing my wide-eyed wonder, prayed for my soul.

She meant well, but she was too late.

All my life I’ve heard people debate which was the greatest decade of music. The two leading candidates seemed to be the 60s and 70s. Finally, after mulling the question for years, I realized the start and end of a decade is way too arbitrary for a line of demarcation.

Did music suddenly start to suck on Jan. 1, 1970. Of course not. American Beauty showed up in at the Record Exchange on Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street that year, as did Live at Leeds, Let It Be, Layla, Sweet Baby James, After the Gold Rush, Moondance, Bridge Over Troubled Water and CSNY’s Deja Vu.

And did the explosion continue to rock our world all through the 70s? This is just me talking, but I found less and less I really, really, REALLY wanted to listen to by the time the calendar finally turned to 1980.

There’s no doubt in my mind the Beatles hitting our shores in 1964 begat the Tsunami that deluged our musical consciousness for at least the next dozen years. And if I had to pick a time when it all started to peter (as in a verb, not a noun) out was when John Travolta disco danced across our theatre screens in Saturday Night Fever and the whole scene became less about the art and the soul and more about the clothes and what anyone could find to sniff up their nose. Style trumped substance, and we all suffered for it.

But oh those 12 years, from 1964 through 1975, what a time to be coming of age, to be cutting your musical teeth, to be alive. Oh what a lucky boy I was.

One of these days I plan to get around to writing a book about that period, and again, I’m halfway there. I already have my title:

The Great Renaissance.

I defy anyone to name a richer, more vibrant, creative and mind-expanding cosmic period of musical history than what I experienced (and yes, Jimi, I was experienced) from ages 11 through 23. Even the sub-groupings work out so perfectly in that if 1964-75 was the Great Renaissance, then the five years in the middle, 1967-72, was the High Renaissance. And if the double entendre escapes you, you obviously weren’t there.

And what great occurrence transpired right smack in the middle of the High Renaissance, in August of 1969 on a bucolic landscape in upstate New York.

That’s right. Woodstock.

My daughter Rebecca grumbles and rolls her eyes when I go on and on about our period of music. I’m actually proud of the way she champions and defends her music, the music that came along after she was born in 1990. And I’m not too lunk-headed to see that there have always been great musicians making great music. We danced our behinds off this June at Nate’s wedding to a 90s band called, appropriately enough, The Clinton Years. A rowdy and rollicking time was had by all.

But even Rebecca, in a weak moment, will acknowledge that there has never been and likely never will be a band like the Beatles.

As a former journalist, I was trained to qualify and quantify my assertions, to attribute, to deal in facts and not just fly by the seat of my pants. To that end, I spent the morning scrolling through Rolling Stones’ Top 500 albums of all time.

Now none of this is to say that Rolling Stone is the be-all, end-all arbiter of all things to do with popular music, but it is one source worth at least checking out.

And my suspicions were indeed confirmed. Of the list of Top 500 albums of all time, a grand total of 222 (or 44 percent) were released from 1964 through 1975. And that’s not even counting the Greatest Hits collections from artists of that period released later by Rhino and other retro-labels.

What also became apparent was that the concentration of albums from the Great Renaissance got heavier and heavier the higher up the list I went.

Of albums ranked 500-400, 31 were from the GR.

Of those ranked 400-300, there were 34.

Of those 300-200, there were 44.

From 200 to 100 it was 54.

And of Rolling Stones’ Top 100 albums of all time, 59 were from the greatest 12 years of music we’ve ever known.

But listen to this: Nine of the albums ranked in the all-time Top 10 were from the Great Renaissance.

No. 10 was The Beatles’ White Album (1968), No. 9 Bob Dylan’s Blond on Blond (1966), No. 7 The Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street (1972), No. 6 Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? (1971), No. 5 The Beatles Rubber Soul (1965), No. 4 Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (1965), No. 3 The Beatles’ Revolver (1965), No. 2 The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) and No. 1, of course, The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

With the one and only Billy Shears.

I know you’re wondering what was No. 8. It was the Clash’s London Calling, a call I have absolutely no trouble with.

How I would love to live through another period to match the Great Renaissance but I suspect one of those come along only in a Blue Moon of Kentucky.