Saturday, April 4, 2020

Hymns of Hope: Without Him

Mylon LeFevre was just 17 years old and in the Army in 1963 when he wrote "Without Him" in just 20 minutes. Stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, one weekend he hitchhiked over 600 miles to join his family group, the LeFevres, who were performing at a gospel convention in Memphis. Mylon sung this song onstage, not knowing that Elvis Presley was in the audience. Elvis eventually recorded the song on May 27, 1966 for his album, "How Great Thou Art," which was certified three-times Platinum by the Recording Industry of American Artists in October of 2010. Within a year of Elvis' recording of "Without Him," over a hundred other artists recorded it and other songs Mylon had written. Since 1967, the song has been included in all major hymnals.

Without Him I could do nothing
Without Him I'd surely fail
Without Him I would be drifting
Like a ship without a sail

Jesus, oh Jesus
Do you know Him today
Please don't turn Him away
Oh Jesus, oh Jesus
Without Him how lost I would be

Without Him I would be dying
Without Him I'd be enslaved
Without Him life would be worthless
But with Jesus thank God I'm saved

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.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Talking Chicken

This is a story about a talking chicken that once lived in the Clear Fork community of Clinton County, Kentucky. Myrtle Lewis' hen would not lay an egg unless she could lay it inside Mrs. Lewis' home. Myrtle tried locking her up in the henhouse, but it didn't work. A fellow walking to the store one day passed in front of the Lewis home and noticed the hen standing beside the door, seemingly anxious to get inside. When Mrs. Lewis appeared, the hen went up to her, took ahold of her dress, pulled on it and let go. Twice more the hen did this until Myrtle gave in. Reaching down, she picked the hen up and placed her in the nest, which was to say - just inside the door. Soon, this wonderful talking hen would be raising some nice little children.

Hymns of Hope: How Great Thou Art

Carl Boberg of Sweden wrote the poem "O Store Gud" (O Great God) in 1885 with nine verses. The inspiration for it came when a storm appeared as he was walking home from church. While the church bells rang out, the storm subsided to a peaceful calm, as quickly as it had appeared. The poem was matched to an old Swedish folk tune and first sung in church in 1888, in 3/4 time. A Swedish songbook published it in 4/4 time in 1894, and it has been sung this way ever since.

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul
My Saviour God to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, What joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, My God how great Thou art

On several occasions throughout the years this hymn has been voted the #1 hymn in America.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Kenny Rogers Left His Mark On Country Music

"Kenny Rogers' songs endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world," read the statement announcing the singers' death Friday night at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, where he died from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by family.

He was one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with hits like "Lucille," "The Gambler" and "Lady." He scored several hits, including eight #1 records with duet partners like Dolly Parton, Dottie West, Kim Carnes and Sheena Easton. He was particularly fond of singing the harmony part on the duets. In 2013, he told interviewer Dan Rather that harmonies had fascinated him ever since he first heard his older sister, Geraldine, singing them in church. He said, “I’d never heard harmony before." When he asked her what she was doing, she replied "it's called harmony, where you don’t sing the melody, but you sing something that sounds good with the melody," to which Kenny replied "Oh, I’d like to do that."

I played his songs on the radio quite often. His distinctive, husky voice was filled with warmth and sincerity and it attracted you to him. He showed us what he had at the very beginning of his long stretch of hits when he sang, "You've painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair," the opening line of the 1967 hit, "Ruby," by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition.

Even though his songs crossed music genres many times, he always wanted to be thought of as a country music singer. “You either do what everyone else is doing and you do it better, or you do what no one else is doing and you don’t invite comparison and I chose that way because I could never be better than Johnny Cash or Willie or Waylon at what they did. So I found something that I could do that didn’t invite comparison to them." And, he did it very well. A CMA spokesperson tweeted that Rogers forever left a mark on Country Music's history.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Songs for Social Distancing & Other Sad Affairs

Lonely songs can be a source of comfort when you are sad or depressed because it triggers positive memories that can help to lift our mood. A 2016 study suggested that perhaps we feel better about ourselves if we focus on someone who's doing worse than we are. On the other hand, it might make one feel worse. I hope the latter is not true in this case, as I present you with a top 10 list of my favorite songs that are about being alone or isolated. Maybe, it will help you during this unprecedented time of social distancing. *Disclaimer: I am old school.

10. "One" (1969) - Three Dog Night. "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Two can be as bad as one. It's the loneliest number since the number one." Written by Harry Nilsson. He wrote the song after calling someone and getting a busy signal. He stayed on the line listening to the "beep, beep, beep" tone while writing the song. The busy signal became the opening notes of the song.

9. "Eleanor Rigby" - The Beatles (1966). She died and nobody really noticed! "Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name, nobody came." "All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?"

8. "Lonely People" - America (1974). This song was written by Dan Peek as an optimistic response to the line in "Eleanor Rigby" that I mentioned above. He said "Lonely People" is a message of hope. "This is for all the lonely people thinking that life has passed them by, Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup and ride that highway in the sky." He said "It's possible to drink from another's well of experience and be refreshed."

7. "Hard Times (Who Knows Better Than I?)” - Ray Charles. He sings the song with a kind of distracted dejection about the problems in life. Originally recorded in the 1950's, the song was released in 1961 after he’d left Atlantic Records for ABC Records and worldwide superstardom. "My mother told me 'fore she passed away, Said son when I'm gone don't forget to pray 'cause there'll be hard times, Lord those hard times, Who knows better than I?

6. "Ain't No Sunshine" (1971) - Bill Withers. Stephen Stills is playing guitar on the recording. Instead of lyrics for the third verse, Withers repeats the phrase "I know" twenty-six times. He was a factory worker making toilet seats for 747's when he wrote the song.

5. "The Sound of Silence" (1964) - Simon & Garfunkel. A demo of the song led to the duo signing with Columbia Records. Written by Paul Simon. Art Garfunkel summed up the song's meaning as "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other." "Hello darkness, my old friend. I've come to talk with you again."

4. "Are You Lonesome Tonight” - Elvis Presley (1960). My favorite Elvis version is the live one where he forgets the lines in the recitation. On April 4, 1960, Elvis recorded two takes and then, dissatisfied with what he heard, requested the song be ditched. When producer Steve Sholes refused, Presley tried it once more. That third take became the master for the single. RCA executives thought the song did not fit Elvis' style. In 1992, it was certified double platinum.

3. “All by Myself” - Eric Carmen (1975). Carmen said "There's not nearly as much fuel in being happy as there is in being miserable. Being miserable is a great catalyst for songwriting.” An interesting twist on being alone and miserable.

2. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (1949) - Hank Williams. Elvis introduced it by saying, "I'd like to sing a song that's probably the saddest song I've ever heard." Hank sang it with unshakable conviction. I've never heard a robin weep, but imagining it makes me sad.

1. "Alone Again (Naturally)” - Gilbert O’Sullivan (1972). From the singer contemplating suicide after being left at the altar by his deserting bride to telling about the death of his parents. He ends up saying, "We may as well go home, as I did on my own. Alone again, naturally." It sold 2 million copies and spent 6 weeks at the top.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Minford Stearns was a Prisoner of War

What is the Test of a man?

The Korean Conflict resulted in different emotions being brought back home to some Clinton countians. Six months after the fighting began on June 25, 1950, Private Joe Elmore's family was told he was missing in action. His partial remains arrived back home 68 years later. James Morrison grew up not far from Elmore. At Heartbreak Ridge, the Master Sergeant saved another soldiers' Iife and performed other courageous feats to earn him enough citations to make him the Korean Conflict's most decorated soldier from Clinton County. And then there was the telegram that William and Dorothy Stearns received saying their son, Minford, had been captured during a battle on July 14, 1950, just three weeks after the conflict began. He would remain a prisoner of war for thirty-seven months, or until after the conflict ended on July 27, 1953.

Minford L. Stearns was Clinton County's only POW during the Korean Conflict. Upon his return home a celebration, organized by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars group, was held in his honor. October 3, 1953 was declared Minford L. Stearns Day in Albany. The headline in the Clinton County News said "2,500 WATCH PARADE GIVEN IN HONOR OF CLINTON COUNTY'S ONLY EX-P.O.W." Most all businesses shut down for the celebration that day. All of Clinton County's veterans marched in the parade and the Albany Nazarene Church Band performed. Sgt. Alvin C. York presented Stearns with gifts totaling around a thousand dollars. Superintendent L.H. Robinson delivered the welcome home address. Another speaker was State Senator Ed Warinner.

It wasn't until he became a prisoner of war that the Army learned Stearns had been under age when he enlisted, and being a prisoner of war didn't stop him from staying in the service. He went on to serve two tours of duty in Vietnam, spendings most of his career in military intelligence, serving as captain while stationed at Fort Bragg and Sergeant First Class while serving with the First Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas. His final promotion was to the rank of Major. When he retired in 1975, Stearns had served in the Army for 26 years. Sixty-six months of that was spent in combat. He earned numerous awards and citations.

Major Stearns was only 47 years old when he died on Feb. 3, 1980, forty years ago today, in Oakdale, Louisiana, where he had lived for several years. A poem engraved on his tombstone, entitled "The Test of a Man," accurately describes Elmore, Morrison, Stearns and all other men or women who ever served in the armed forces.

The test of a man is the fight that he makes, The grit that he daily shows, The way he stands upon his feet and takes life’s numerous bumps and blows. A coward can smile when there’s naught to fear, and nothing his progress bars, But it takes a man to stand and cheer while the other fellow stars. It isn’t the victory after all, but the fight that a brother makes. A man when driven against the wall, Still stands erect and takes the blows of fate with his head held high, Bleeding and bruised and pale is the man who will win and fate defied, for he isn’t afraid to fail.

Regardless of whether or not the soldier won or lost the battle, he stood with valor and determination. He passed the test.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Haircut

I came across a word the other day:

Presumptuous [pri-zuhmp-choo-uhs], adjective

It means failing to observe the limits of what is permitted or appropriate. It reminded me of a haircut idea I had when I was about eight or nine years old.

It was a rainy Saturday morning on Third Street. I was inside my house watching the Three Stooges on TV when I heard mom say she was leaving to go buy groceries, which meant dad would be charge of us five kids. He was given one chore to do while she was gone....haircuts for us boys.

At that moment a grand idea came to me. So grand, in fact, that I couldn't wait to do it. I wanted my hair to look like Moe Howard's hair. As soon as mom left, I went to the kitchen and searched until I found a bowl that fit on top of my head, right down to just above my ears.

"Perfect," I thought. "This will do!"

With the bowl still on my head, I went to my dad and asked him to cut my hair really short up to the rim of the bowl. "Okay, if that's what you want," he said laughing. When he finished, I realized quickly that, just as I had predicted, it was nothing short of a masterpiece!

I was so happy...and then my mom came home. Let's just say I had two haircuts that day. I also learned something pretty valuable. Surprising someone with something is not always a great idea.

Eventually, my mom relented and I was able to wear a bowl cut. Well, sort of. It was more like a burr with bangs, but that's a story I'll save for another day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I Know Whom I Have Believed

"But I know Whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day"

This great hymn published in 1883 and written by Major Daniel Webster Whittle has been in my head pretty strong the past couple of days. Usually that happens it means it is something that I need to hear. I want to believe this is God's way of speaking to me. Is this something that happens to you?

Major Whittle wrote over 200 hymns in his lifetime, including "There Shall Be Showers of Blessings." Born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 22, 1840, he worked as a cashier for Wells Fargo bank beginning in his teenage years and in 1861 joined the Union Army, where he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant and later rose to the rank of Major.

In the summer of 1862, as the Civil War began to intensify, his unit was called to go South. At his departure, his mother placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack she'd arranged for him. A haversack is similar to a backpack, but with one shoulder strap. The New Testament would have a vital role in his life.

Wounded in battle, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp, where one of his arms was amputated. It was while in this POW camp that he began of to read his New Testament. One night a nurse informed him that a dying soldier from his unit was begging for someone to pray for him.

"I dropped to my knees and held the boys hand in mine," he wrote. In a few broken words I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God's promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ's precious blood and find pardon. I hope to meet him in heaven."

Years later, Major Whittle began to write lyrics and, at the encouragement of D.L. Moody, entered into music evangelism. It was during this time that he wrote the words to "I Know Whom I Have Believed." The refrain is a direct quotation from II Timothy 1:12: "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."

"I Know Whom I Have Believed" is about many things, such as faith and how the Lord paid the price for our redemption. Most folk, including me, identify with verse four's theme of assurance. Assurance that, no matter what the days may hold, in heaven, I will eventually see God in all His glory.

"I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me
Of weary ways or golden days
Before His face I see

But I know Whom I have believed
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day"

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

1956, the Year of Elvis

Elvis Presley was born in East Tupelo, Mississippi on Jan. 8th, in 1935. His music career began in 1954 when he made his first recording at Sun Studio in Memphis. By the time 1956 had rolled around, he had scored his first #1 hit with "Heartbreak Hotel."

1956 was a year like none other for the 21-year-old singing sensation. Before "Heartbreak Hotel," he had only been a regional star. Both he and his new Rockabilly sound were unknowns outside of the South, but by year's end he would become a phenomenon, both nationally and internationally, like nothing anyone had ever seen before. His first two albums for RCA had both been million sellers. He appeared on national television eleven times that year, each one a pivotal event for America, considering the fact that his unconventional looks and his style of performing caused nationwide controversy, outraging adults and mesmerizing teenagers. Soon, Elvis would become the leader of a cultural revolution sweeping across the country.

His song, "Love Me Tender," came out on Sept. 28th that year. It hit \#1 on Billboard the week ending Nov. 3rd, where it remained for five weeks. Earlier that year, Elvis had signed a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures and because of the songs' popularity, his first film, was named after it. Released on Nov. 15th, "Love Me Tender," starred Richard Egan and Debra Paget, with Elvis listed as a co-star, the only time in his acting career that he would not receive top billing. The movie was originally to be titled "The Reno Brothers," but when advanced sales of Presley's song passed one million copies sold, the title was changed to match.

What was the phenom surrounding Elvis all about in 1956 and why did he take the nation by storm that year? In reality, a close look at his schedule that year suggests it was because of his work ethic. The man worked very hard, performing ninety-four concerts, making controversial landmark national TV appearances, including Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Milton Berle, beginning a movie career and recording songs like "Love Me Tender," "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't Be Cruel." But for Presley's female fans, his catapult to stardom in 1956 was based on something else: his deep, rich and incredibly sexy voice, his thick hair and his dreamy eyes, all combined with the way he performed on stage. It was a sentiment echoed by girl fans all across America and around the world, even here at home.

Speaking of which, on Nov. 25th of that year, with a new song hot off the press, and just ten days after the release of his first movie, Elvis appeared for two shows at the Louisville Armory. For anyone in this region who had been wanting to get a glimpse of the future king of rock and roll, this was their opportunity. Four members of my aunt, Patsy Speck, and her cousins, sisters Johnnie, Fay and Betty Means, and their friend Neta Owens, attended the 8pm show.

Four days later, on Nov. 29th, the Clinton County News wrote that the four ladies spent the day in Louisville, first seeing the movie, "Love Me Tender," and then the live performance that evening. When asked to comment on his performance, the girls replied: "It was the most thrilling show in our life. We will never forget it as long as we live. Elvis was just wonderful. We all had a nice time." The girls reported that they had made pictures of Elvis on stage and standing beside his Cadillac. They remained Elvis fans the rest of their lives, the biggest by far being Johnnie. A visit to her home will easily tell you that.

For those four, and millions of others, the excitement level over Elvis Presley in 1956 was way off the chart, so excited that they probably never stopped to realize that there was barely a moments rest for the 21-year-old kid from East Tupelo, Mississippi. It definitely was a year like none other.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


The dictionary defines 'motive' as the reason which causes a person to act in a certain way, or do a certain thing; an incentive, or the goal or object of a person's actions.

We need motivation, and I pray that in 2020 we find it.

Motive to live,
motive to laugh
and a motive to love.

Motive to listen,
motive to learn,
motive to lead
and a motive to follow.

But most of all,
a motive for others.
If we live for others we will have lived for God.

Find what motivates you in 2020!

Hymns of Hope: Without Him

Mylon LeFevre was just 17 years old and in the Army in 1963 when he wrote "Without Him" in just 20 minutes. Stationed at Fort J...