We thought Jim was a redneck. He was certainly no city boy. He supported his wife and kids by working part-time as a fireman for Santa Rosa County, and part-time as a butcher at the Barnes Grocery Store in Milton, Florida. That’s where I met him. He had graduated from high school in the early 1960s, and continued to wear straight-legged pants when most of us were in bell-bottoms. His reddish hair was close-cropped and his face cleanly shaved. He was thoughtful, likeable, and always in good humor, but he had one serious flaw: he liked Country music.
Jim controlled the only radio that the store manager allowed. It sat on top of the lunchmeat display case and filled the store with that nasally, twangy stuff. To me and the other stock boys, it was intolerable. I played drums for a Rock-n-roll band. This was the mid-1970s, the peak years for bands like the Doobie Brothers, Chicago, and Paul McCartney and Wings. All that great music was available for free on FM stations, but Jim kept us on a strict diet of Freddy Fender, George Jones and Hank Williams, Jr. We begged him to let us hear the Rock stations. On his days off we did, but it didn’t last long. The assistant store manager, Mary, was a redneck too. She made us tune it back to Country.
Then something unusual happened. Jim began to change. It wasn’t just the radio. He was evolving. He started wearing more colorful shirts with wide collars. Bell-bottoms soon followed. He was getting to the barber less often, and even grew sideburns. Jim was getting hip. It may have been due to a mid-life crisis, or maybe his wife told him he’d become a stick-in-the-mud. It was a metamorphosis. Inwardly he didn’t change. He was still kind and fun-loving. His deep-South accent was still there, but he began to look cool. And he seemed to enjoy our Rock stations. The new music that filled Barnes’ Grocery made it a more enjoyable place to work.
Today, more than thirty years later, I still enjoy Rock-n-roll, but my car radio is tuned to the Country music stations. Country music has evolved, and so have I. When I drive my wife’s car, I tune her XM station to Channel 14, the Bluegrass station. There’s plenty of nasally, twangy stuff, and I love it. Why? Because in 2003, when I launched Banjo.com, I began listening to Country so I could hear the banjo. It quickly grew on me. The progressive Country music of today sounds a lot like our Rock bands of yesterday. Bluegrass music today is more like the Country music of yesterday.
Unfortunately, I lost track of Jim many years ago. I can’t even remember his last name, but I hope he’ll see this essay some day and find me. I don’t wear bell-bottoms anymore. My hair is short, and the collars on my shirts are relatively small. It’s funny how things come full circle.
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