Friday, April 3, 2020

Bill Withers was Essential

The word 'essential' is playing an important role in things right now. Most pop and soul music lovers who have been around since the early 70's would agree with me when I say the word 'essential' applied to Bill Withers' songs.

Bill Withers is one of my favorite singers and songwriters ever. I was always spellbound by his songs. Each tune had a way of speaking to me. He wrote about love and family, of social issues, and about hard times. But, his songs also contained lots of positive vibes. He was extremely soulful, and I liked that about him. “I’m not a virtuoso," he said, "but I was able to write songs that people could identify with. I don’t think I’ve done bad for a guy from Slab Fork, West Virginia."

Bill Withers was a factory worker making toilet seats for 747's when he wrote "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone." Instead of a third verse he repeated the phrase "I know" twenty-six times. My first thought on hearing it was "what in the world?" but whatever he did in his songs, and however he'd do it, always worked.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain and we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise we know that there's always a tomorrow, a better day coming. Those words (with some of my own mixed in) made up the first verse to one of the greatest songs ever written.

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean

Lean On Me” is a simple song. It is a love song, but by no means is it a standard love song. It’s a pledge of friendship and support through bad times. Getting those words across to people was the most important part of the song. Like, "Hey friend, if you need anything I just want you to know I am here for you." Someone said the song was a vision of how things are supposed to work.

Life has its difficult moments. Sometimes, it is hard to go it alone. Sometimes it helps to have someone or others to lean on, figuratively speaking right now, of course. Of all the hits Bill Withers had during his career, “Lean On Me” was his only #1 hit, but oh what a song, and what words! "Lean on me when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on." Simply profound.

Bill's first hit record was in 1972. He retired from releasing records and playing live a short fifteen years later. Yet, he lived happily. That's really all that mattered.

Bill Withers died from heart complications today. He was 81. He gave us joy and comfort, and inspiration, when we needed those things most.

"The Essential Bill Withers" is a 34-track anthology released in 2013 that features all of his notable singles, along with other highlights from his albums on the Sussex and Columbia labels from 1971 through 1985.

I highly recommend it.

Click the link to listen to "Lean on Me"

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Hymns of Hope: He Leadeth Me

It was a Wednesday evening and Joseph Gilmore, the son of New Hampshire governor Joseph A. Gilmore, was preaching at a mid-week prayer service. “I set out to give an exposition of the 23rd Psalm," he would later write, "but I got no further than the words ‘He leadeth me.’ Those words took hold of me as they had never done before. I saw in them a significance and beauty of which I had never dreamed. At the close of the meeting a few of us kept on talking about the thoughts which I had emphasized; and then and there, on a back page of my sermon notes, I penciled the hymn just as it stands today, handed it to my wife, and thought no more of it."

Without his knowledge, and using a pseudonym, Gilmore's wife sent the lyrics to the Watchman and Reflector magazine. The magazine first printed it on Dec. 4, 1862.

Three years later, Gilmore went to preach at Rochester, New York. "Upon entering the chapel," he said, "I took up a hymnbook, thinking, ‘I wonder what they sing.’ The book opened up at “’He Leadeth Me" and that was the first time I knew that my hymn had found a place among the songs of the church.”

Musician William Bradbury saw the lyrics the magazine had printed and wrote the melody for it. He added the last line of the refrain to fit his tune. When Ira Sankey, the musician for evangelist Dwight Moody heard Bradbury’s version of the hymn, he included it in several editions of 'Sacred Songs and Solos,' thus assuring its fame.

He leadeth me, O blessed thought
O words with heavenly comfort fraught
Whate'er I do, where'er I be
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me

He leadeth me, He leadeth me
By His own hand He leadeth me
His faithful follower I would be
For by His hand He leadeth me

Sometimes mid scenes Of deepest gloom
Sometimes where Edens flowers bloom
By waters calm o'er troubled sea
Still 'tis God's hand that leadeth me

Lord I would clasp Thy hand in mine
Nor ever murmur nor repine
Content, whatever lot I see
Since 'tis my God that leadeth me

And when my task on earth is done
when by Thy grace the victory's won
E'en death's cold wave I will not flee
Since God through Jordan leadeth me

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Day the Civil War came to Albany, KY, pt. 3 (The Death of Champ Ferguson)

By the spring of 1862 relatively few major military engagements had taken place in Kentucky and Tennessee, yet the Cumberland Mountains, especially along the border, was filled with violence. Roaming bands of outlaws took advantage of the war to steal whatever they wanted with no regard for their victims’ politics. Most of Ferguson family had sided with the Union at the beginning of the war, but Champ, who was known for his rowdyish, fighting ways, as mentioned in part two of this series, went with the Confederacy. Because of that, he moved his family from pro-Union Clinton County to pro-Confederate White County at the onset of the war. Within a few months he had formed his own guerilla band.

Folks were so divided over which side of the war to take that even idle rumors questioning a man’s alignment could lead to his death. Champ had also heard rumors that soldiers and homeguardsmen who had trained at Camp Dick Robinson, the Union army's training center near Stanford, were out to kill him and he swore to get them first. He routinely came back home to kill those who favored the Union. In most instances he would discuss their assocation with the North before killing him.

Some of the killings were legitimate acts of combat, while others were nothing more than cold-blooded murder. His first victim was his neighbor, and my great, great, great-uncle, William Frogge, whom he had heard was planning to kill him. William had enlisted in Company D of the 12th Kentucky Regiment at Camp Dick Robinson, but had been sent home with the measles. His wife, Ester, was peeling apples at the door when Champ rode up on the morning of Nov. 1, 1861. Because she had known him since childhood, she suspected no ill will and allowed him to enter the house. Champ accused William of contracting his illness at the camp. Frogge tried to deny the claim, but Ferguson shot him in the mouth and then through the brain. The last shot, he said, was to "make him die easy.” William, age 26, and his wife, Esther, age 20, had only been married a year and a half. Their son, James, was six months old.

The murder of Frogge and others, including my 3rd great-grandfather Elisha Koger (Frogge's brother-in-law), would lead the entire population of Clinton County to turn against him, so Champ had no choice but to take his family and flee Kentucky.

On February 18, 1864, Union forces took control of Sparta, Tennessee, where Champ had relocated to. But by August his home had been burned, so Ferguson and his comrades headed south, where they joint forces with Major General John Breckinridge in southwest Virginia. It was in Emory, Virginia, that Ferguson committed his most infamous murder. On October 2nd, Confederate forces he was among were attacked by a Federal cavalry at Saltville, Virginia. The Confederates put up a spirited resistance, and after a sharp fight, the Federals withdrew. The next morning, Ferguson and his lieutenant, Raine Philpot, entered a hospital near Emory and Henry College, where Federal wounded and prisoners had been taken. Ferguson shot Lieutenant Elza Smith of the 13th Kentucky Cavalry, along with as many as seven wounded prisoners with the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry.

Up Highway 84 and left on Plum Creek Road in White County, Tennessee, stands the old Bradley home, where in 1865 Champ Ferguson surrendered to Union troops at the conclusion of the Civil War. The Bradley's were on the side of the Confederacy and sympathized with Champ Ferguson, as did many in White County. J.P. Bradley was killed inside the home while trying to defend his daughter, Dee, from being captured by Union troops during the war. She was a Confederate spy who often rode with Champ. It is said that J.P.'s wife, Nancy, fenced stolen goods for Champ at the home, and that J.P. and Nancy's son, J.P., Jr. also rode with Champ and committed many atrocities with him.

Champ surrendered under a verbal promise of being pardoned for his actions. He was arrested on May 24th and sent to prison in Nashville, but instead of receiving a pardon he was convicted of murdering 53 people, although he claimed at his trial that he had personally killed over one hundred men, all in self-defense.

Champ's high profile trial gained national attention. Esther Frogge and Nancy Koger were two of those who testified against him and then watched as he was hanged on October 20, 1865. Ferguson's last request was that his body be removed to White County to be "buried in good Rebel soil." He is buried at France Cemetery on Highway 84, not far from where his home was.

Hymns of Hope: "It Is Well with My Soul"

Horatio G. Spafford was a successful lawyer and businessman in Chicago with a lovely family - a wife, Anna, and five children. However, they were not strangers to tears and tragedy. Their young son died with pneumonia in 1871, and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. Yet, God in His mercy and kindness allowed the business to flourish once more.

On Nov. 21, 1873, the French ocean liner, Ville du Havre was crossing the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe with 313 passengers on board. Among the passengers were Mrs. Spafford and their four daughters. Although Mr. Spafford had planned to go with his family, he found it necessary to stay in Chicago to help solve an unexpected business problem. He told his wife he would join her and their children in Europe a few days later. His plan was to take another ship.

About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, all of those on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Within approximately 12 minutes, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers including the four Spafford children.

A sailor, rowing a small boat over the spot where the ship went down, spotted a woman floating on a piece of the wreckage. It was Anna, still alive. He pulled her into the boat and they were picked up by another large vessel which, nine days later, landed them in Cardiff, Wales. From there she wired her husband a message which began, "Saved alone, what shall I do?" Mr. Spafford later framed the telegram and placed it in his office.

Another of the ship's survivors, Pastor Weiss, later recalled Anna saying, "God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why."

Mr. Spafford booked passage on the next available ship and left to join his grieving wife. With the ship about four days out, the captain called Spafford to his cabin and told him they were over the place where his children went down.

According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well With My Soul" while on this journey.

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well) with my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come
Let this blest assurance control
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

My sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to His Cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord o my soul

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so it is well with my soul

Monday, March 30, 2020

Howard Perdew Helped Joe Diffie Inspire an Entire Generation

"Joe Diffie possessed one of the most incredible pure country voices on the planet," said Steve Wariner after learning of the singers death on Sunday. According to Diffie's publicist, the 61-year-old Oklahoma native died from the effects of the Coronavirus. He had just announced his illness on Friday.

Diffie, who helped set the standard for upbeat, rock-influenced country music in the 1990's, was born in Tulsa on Dec. 28, 1958. He came from a musical family. His aunt had a country music band, his father played guitar and banjo, and his mother sang. Following in her footsteps, Diffie began to sing at an early age, often listening to the albums in his father's record collection. According to him, his parents claimed he could sing harmony when he was three years old.

After college, Joe had several jobs. He worked in oil fields, drove a concrete truck and ended up working in a foundry. It was during this period that he began working as a musician, first in a gospel, then in a bluegrass. He built a recording studio and began sending demos to publishers in Nashville.

After the foundry closed in 1986, Diffie declared bankruptcy and sold the studio out of financial necessity, divorced his wife and spent several months in a state of depression before deciding to move to Nashville, where, he took a job at Gibson Guitar Corporation. While at Gibson, he contacted a songwriter and recorded more demos, including songs that would later be recorded by Ricky Van Shelton, Billy Dean, Alabama, and the Forester Sisters. By mid-1989, he quit working at the company to record demos full-time. It was along about that time that he met Howard Perdew.

Howard had been writing songs most of his life. In 1978, Kenny Starr and Loretta Lynn recorded a duet of a song he wrote entitled "Tuffy." But, everything up until meeting Joe Diffie was met with minimal success. "Meeting Joe changed everything," he told me on Sunday. "He was my career." Between 1993 and 1995, Diffie had major hits on three songs Howard had a part in writing: "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)," "Pickup Man" and "So Help Me Girl."

"Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die)" was released on July 19, 1993 as the second single from Joe Diffie's album, "Honky Tonk Attitude." Written by Howard, Kerry Kurt Phillips and Rick Blaylock, it peaked at #3 on Billboard, which ranked it #13 on its year-end chart.

"Pickup Man," written by Howard and Kerry Kurt Phillips, was released by Joe Diffie on October 17, 1994 1994 as the second single from his most successful album, "Third Rock from the Sun." The song was his longest-lasting #1 hit, having spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart between December 1994 and January 1995.

Rolling Stone Magazine wrote "Inarguably one of the best truck songs in country music history, “Pickup Man” excels for two reasons: songwriters Howard Perdew and Kerry Kurt Phillips’ fine-tuned wordplay, and Joe Diffie’s charming delivery. In lesser hands, such a song - chockfull of double-entendre - could come off as creepy, but Diffie sang it with a grin, well aware of the absurdity in lines like 'I got an 8-foot bed that never has to be made.' "Pickup Man" became Joe Diffie's signature song.

"So Help Me Girl," written by Howard and Andy Spooner, was released in January 30, 1995 as the third single from the "Third Rock from the Sun" album. It peaked at #2 on Billboard. The song was covered by Gary Barlow of the pop group, Take That, and included on his debut solo album, "Open Road," which was released in England on July 11, 1997 and in the U.S. on September 30th. The single was eventually released in 65 countries around the world and topped the charts in 13 of them. In America, it peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart.

Joe Diffie was a country star who was treasured by many of his peers. Several of them took to social media to praise Diffie after learning of his passing. "He was a singers singer," said Marty Rabon of Shenandoah. Tim McGraw said he was "one of the most influential vocalist of our time in country music." "Joe was a great singer, songwriter, and entertainer that left his mark in Country Music," said Ricky Skaggs. "His clear voice and unique singing style made him immediately recognizable." Billy Dean said "Joe Diffie set the standard for our Country sound back in the 90’s. He was just a regular Joe, as he would put it, but he also will go down in history as one of the greats, I do believe.”

By the way, the two Joe Diffie albums containing songs co-written by Howard Perdew, "Honky Tonk Attitude" and "Third Rock from the Sun," both shipped a million copies in the United States and were certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. Diffie was inducted into the Grand Old Opry in 1993.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hymns of Hope: 'Til The Storm Passes By

I was awakened by the thunderstorm that passed through the area during the wee hours this morning. Thankfully, as soon as the winds ceased I was able to go back to sleep. Later, I noticed on Facebook that my friend, Darrell, had posted the words to the chorus of the Mosie Lister song, "Til The Storm Passes By."

Lister wrote the song in 1958, perhaps inspired by the story found in the Bible, in the book of Mark, where Jesus was with His disciples in a boat when a vicious storm hit them. Chapter 4, verse 39 says, "And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm."

Perhaps he was thinking about John Wesley’s famous storm experience aboard a ship heading toward America in 1735. He and his brother, Charles, were with a group of Moravian immigrants from Germant, who were in the middle of a worship service when the storm hit. John wrote, "the sea broke over, split the main sail in pieces, covered the ship and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up." While the storm was boisterous, the Moravians continued to sing, while the English people on board were terrified.

Although it never reached her, Lister intended for the song to be recorded by Mahalia Jackson. From his own background of having grown up among minority groups, he had an idea of Jackson's background and wanted to write a song that would be a prayer for a person who has undergone struggles in life. The reality is struggles go hand in hand with most of us, who are always either in a storm, like the current global Covid-19 pandemic, have been in a storm, or are heading toward a storm. Thankfully, Jesus promised He would never leave us nor forsake us, and He hasn't, and He won't. He is holding us fast as we stand in the hollow of His hand.

"In the dark of the midnight
Have I oft hid my face
While the storm howls above me
And there's no hiding place
'Mid the crash of the thunder
Precious Lord, hear my cry
Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by

'Til the storm passes over
'Til the thunder sounds no more
'Til the clouds roll forever from the sky
Hold me fast, let me stand
In the hollow of Thy hand
Keep me safe 'til the storm passes by

Many times Satan whispers
There is no need to try
For there's no end of sorrow
There's no hope by and by
But I know Thou art with me
And tomorrow I'll rise
Where the storms
Never darken the skies

When the long night has ended
And the storms come no more
Let me stand in Thy presence
On that bright, peaceful shore
In that land where the tempest
Never comes, Lord may I
Dwell with Thee
When the storm passes by"

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Great is thy Faithfulness

"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness."
- Lamentations 3:22-23

A lot of hymns are born following a traumatic experience by the writer. Horatio Spafford, for instance, wrote the words to "It Is Well with My Soul" after the tragic death of his children in a shipwreck. But, some hymns merely spring up in the midst of the daily routine. Such is the case in the writing of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," one of the greatest hymns of the 20th century.

Thomas O. Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. He was teaching school by the age of 16 and then became editor of the local newspaper. Beginning in 1903, he was a Methodist minister, but only for a short time as his health began to decline.

In 1923, Chisolm sent a collection of his poems William Runyan, a musician with Moody Bible Institute, who also worked for a hymnal publishing company. He was immediately taken in by the depth of meaning and lyrical beauty of the words found in "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," which Chisolm had written in 1893. He prayed his tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and it certainly did. Yet, it was slow to catch on in churches until Billy Graham began to include it in his crusades. Click on the link provided to you in this story to listen to a beautiful arrangement of this 'Hymn of Hope' by the Victor Voices in Billy Graham's Crusade Favorites, directed by Cliff Barrows (1966).

"Great is Thy faithfulness O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness mercy and love

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside"

Tiffany Jothen of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wrote that Chisholm could have easily given up and lived a life of discouragement throughout his years of poor health, but he didn't. This song is a testimony to the way God carried him through hard times, just like He does for us. She said, "It’s a reminder that we aren’t forgotten. That God is consistent. That He provides 'strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.'”

A special thanks to Regina Scott for letting me use her beautiful photograph.

Bill Withers was Essential

The word 'essential' is playing an important role in things right now. Most pop and soul music lovers who have been around since...