Monday, October 29, 2007

A Song in October

Clouds gather, treetops toss and sway;
But pour us wine, an old one!
That we may turn this dreary day
To golden, yes, to golden!

Autumn has come, but never fear,
Wait but a little while yet,
Spring will be here, the skies will clear,
And fields stand deep in violets.

The heavenly blue of fresh new days
Oh, friend, you must employ them
Before they pass away. Be brave!
Enjoy them; oh, enjoy them!

~Theodor Storm~

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Luvean's Leavin'

Years ago on a Sunday afternoon, Luvean, a neighbor, stopped by my parents’ house to ask if we planned to go to an upcoming revival at the local church.  Brother Joe would be preaching, she said.

“Brother Joe is really a nice man,” Patsy said.

Luvean reared back in her chair and folded her arms across her ample stomach.  “You know what I hard?” she said, “I hard he was fixin’ to leave.”

“What?” Patsy said, “He’s leaving the church?”

She cocked her head, chin at an angle. “Yeah, that’s what I hard,” she said, “I hard he’s fixin’ to leave.”

We all kept our composure while she was there, but when she finally left, we burst into laughter.

“You know what I hard?” I said, giggling.

My sisters chimed in. “I heard he's fixin’ to leave!”

Soon, the whole family was using Luvean’s phrases. Even Suzanne, who was no more than six or seven at the time. “I’m fixin’ to leave,” she yelled as she ran out to play with her friends.

This went on for years.

And then one day, as Mother and I were discussing some of the silly country songs that were popular, we decided to write one about Luvean.

“What about this?” Mother said, “I had a true love, her name was Luvean...”

“The prettiest woman that I’ve ever seen...,” I added.

We threw in more lyrics from time to time, and soon we almost had a song. We titled it "Luvean's Leavin'."

There was only one problem: we were unable to come up with a tune. That’s when my brother, Tim, stepped up to the plate. Mother and I were newcomers to the business of songwriting, but Tim and my oldest brother, Terry, had been writing and singing songs for years; every family gathering included singing and guitar and banjo picking. Daddy sometimes joined them on the piano.

Tim strummed along with us for a while, quickly coming up with an original melody, and we were off and running. Mother and I sang, other family members—even Daddy—joining in every now and then, and we all laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks.

After that, we tucked the song away and thought no more about it until one night in 1983 when Mother and I were having a singing session. She has a beautiful voice, and I had talked her into letting me record her singing some of the popular songs of the day.

After we finished and I was fiddling with the tape recorder, I thought about “Luvean’s Leavin'.  "Why don’t we finish that song,” I said, “And record it for laughs?”

So we dug up the words, added a few more lyrics, deciding Mother would sing lead and I would join her on the chorus. To add a little zip, I would call out, “I’m fixin’ to leave!” in the background at the end of each chorus.

Our recording session began.

It was much more difficult than we thought. We turned on the tape player, began singing, and I started giggling. We turned it off, back on, and Mother started giggling. This did not set too well with Daddy, who was trying to watch the evening news on television.

“What in the hell are y'all doing?” he said.

Since other family members were watching television in the family room downstairs, there was no place to go but one of the bathrooms. So we scurried down the hall like two naughty children, closed the door and perched, side-by-side, on the edge of the bath tub.

There was only one problem. We could not keep our composure. Between each botched recording, we laughed hysterically.

“Well,” Mother said, blotting her eyes with a piece of tissue from the nearby roll, “Are we ever going to get this on tape?”

After many more attempts, we finally got the job done.

“We’ve worked so hard on this” Mother said, “Why don’t we do something with it, like send it to a country music singer?”

“Or singers,” I said, giggling, “Since it requires at least two to sing it.”

Our brainstorming session began. The Statler Brothers? Ray “squirrel-in-the-church” Stevens? Just then, the Oak Ridge Boys belted out the first words of “Elvira” on the radio, and our decision was made.

My sisters and I often spent weekends in Nashville. We loved Music City USA, dining at different restaurants, going to Tootsie’s and other places of interest. The year before, Mary Ellen had interviewed the Hee Haw cast for her weekly newspaper, The Carlisle County Courier, and we ended up on stage at the Grand Old Opry, in the circle where so many country music legends had performed.

Since no one was there, other than the janitors, we decided to take some pictures. (This one of Gina, Patsy and me is faded now, but it was the one I could find!)

One fall weekend as we were leaving for Nashville, I tucked the tape in my purse. “I think I’ll try to find the Oak Ridge Boys’ office,” I said, half joking, “And ask them to listen to the tape.”

Everyone thought that was an excellent idea, and as we were heading down I-24, one of my sisters yelled, “I’m fixin’ to leave!” We sang “Luvean’s Leavin’” on and off, all the way.

It was surprisingly easy to find the Oak Ridge Boys’ record company (can’t remember the name, now). I dropped the tape off with the studio’s receptionist, a thin, bored girl, who said she would give it to them.

“Will they listen to it?” I said.

“People drop off hundreds every year,” she said.

“Will they listen to it?”

She examined her nails and looked up at me, “Well, I guess.”

Mission accomplished, we headed over to the Nashville Palace, which was near our motel. We always had dinner there, watching the dancing couples and wannabees on stage, singing, picking their banjos, and yodeling.

“I guess we’ll see that strutting, catfish-frying singer prancing across the stage again,” I said.

He was the cook there, dashing from the kitchen to the stage, pulling his apron off along the way. We all agreed he would never make it in the music business.

The singer's name was Randy Travis.

In February of the following year, Mother and I were working in Daddy’s office at the courthouse, when my niece called from home.

“A woman from the Oak Ridge Boys’ office called!” Mary shouted, “She asked me when y’all would be home and I told her 4:00!”

We rushed home and eagerly awaited the call.

The Oak Ridge Boys’ secretary called on the dot of four. “I’m calling y’all about your song,” Connie said, “The Oaks dragged box after box of tapes in here and listened to them all. Yours is the only song they’re interested in.”

“Luvean’s Leavin’?” I said, thinking she must have made a mistake.

“Yes, Duane just loved “Luvean’s Leavin’,” she said, “He’s been listening to it in his SUV everywhere he drives. He had me make tapes for all the Oaks.”

She went on to say they wanted us to come down to their office in Hendersonville so they could meet us.

“I can’t believe this,” Mother said.

No one could believe it. But a few days later, Mary Ellen, Mother and I drove to the Oak Ridge Boys’ office in Hendersonville, where Connie introduced us to their lead singer, Duane Allen.

“That’s the funniest song I’ve ever heard,” Duane said, “I’m trying to talk everybody into recording it.”

“Are you serious?” I said.

“I have never been more serious in my life, Brenda.”

He showed us around their large offices and loaded us down with tee shirts and their latest albums.

“We’ll be in touch,” he said when we left, “Joe really likes it. All we need to do is convince Richard and our producer.”

Nothing was said about William Lee Golden, the Oaks’ fourth member, a tall fellow with a long beard and waist-length hair.

We left with high hopes.  But months passed before we got a call from Connie.

“The Oaks are having a rehearsal, like they do every year before they go out on the road,” Connie said, “And they want y’all to come.”

After several more phone calls from Connie, we were all set. Reservations had been made at a motel near the hall where they would be performing, and our tickets would be waiting for us at the door. The Oaks would pick up the tab for our motel.

“Bring your guitars,” Connie said, “They might want y’all to sing ‘Luvean’s Leavin'."

Mother and I looked at each other. Guitars? We didn’t know the first thing about playing guitars!

We enjoyed a great show that night. Thankfully, we were not called up to the stage, guitarless, to sing. But we were invited back stage after the show, where Connie introduced us to cute, curly-haired Joe Bonsall, who was very friendly, and a neat, stiff Richard Sterban, who barely said hello. William Lee Golden, apparently, had left the building.

Duane, as always, was friendly. “We’ll be in touch,” he said as we left.

More months passed. I relocated to Michigan, and had just gotten settled in an apartment in Royal Oak, when I received a phone call from Mother.

“Brenda! Do you still have that tape of ‘Luvean’s Leavin'?"

“Yes, I think it’s here somewhere.”

“Connie just called and wants us to play it over the phone!”

“Over the phone?” I said, “I don’t know how it would come out! Besides, Connie has the original tape.”

“She wants it right away.”

Connie was breathless when she answered the phone. “Duane’s wife just called from ‘Hee Haw,’ and wants me to take ‘Luvean’s Leavin’ over there,” she said, “Could you play it over the phone for me?”

I wondered where her copy of the tape was, and I wondered how well it would record over the phone. “I don’t know if it’ll come out very well,” I said, “Couldn’t I just overnight the tape to you?”

“Duane’s wife wants it now,” she said, “Just go ahead and play it!”

I held the receiver close to the mouthpiece and played the tape. I had not played it in months, so when I heard our voices, I had to grit my teeth to keep from laughing hysterically.

“Got it!” she said, “I’m taking it over there right now.”

“Maybe you should play it back, to be sure,” I said.

“No, I got it okay,” she said, her voice fading, as if she were already departing, “I’ll be in touch.”

I didn’t hear from her that night. Or the next. Finally, I called her.

“There was so much static that you could hardly hear it,” she said, “They couldn’t use it.”

That was the only explanation we got. And we never heard from them again.

It has been over 20 years since it all happened, but every once in a while, we still wonder about it.

“Do you suppose Connie blew it for us?” I say.

“I’ll bet you anything she lost the tape.” Mother says, “She had the original!”

Whatever happened, they never got back in touch.

We had a great time, though, and the experience has neither lessened our enthusiasm nor squelched our creativity. When a particularly funny subject comes up, we’re at it again. A few years ago, when someone mentioned a woman named “Omeda,” Mother and I jumped on it.

“Meet me at midnight, Omeda...” I began.

“Down by the garden gate...” Mother added.

We never finished that one. But we did finish “Mistake.” (I won’t even go into the history of that one!) I sang the chorus (disguising my voice as a man's), and Mother and I sang duo on the rest of the song. It goes something like this:

Marvin and Mabel were sweethearts,
They dated for many a year,
Then one day he surprised her,
And said ‘will you marry me dear’…

Here’s a bit of the chorus:

I made a HELL of a mistake,
Oh, god, what have I done…

We never peddled any more songs in Music City, although we have several more on tape. But none of them came close to being as much fun as the making of “Luvean’s Leavin'."
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley