I had one granddad who had a feed store outside Memphis and another who, when I landed on this earth, was just about to retire from the paper mill in Monroe. He had some years left in him but smoking two packs of Camels a day and having worked in the paper mill for all those years, we weren't doing a lot of running round. But in the years we had together he passed on a fair hand of life lessons. A lot just by example. He was one of those gentle and kind sorts, soft spoken, and he lived for fishing as far as I could tell. Fishing and smoking.
Now, I was of course just a kid. Inhaling life. Getting formed as a human. And besides sleeping at the camp and fishing day and night, back in town what I remember like-it-was-yesterday is him giving me money to go get smokes for him. Always with change for a Slurpee or something. Those were different times when a ten year old could walk down to the 7/11 and buy a couple packs of Camels. I felt real grown up. And learned how to sneak one or two for myself.
There was something comforting sleeping in a rundown cabin on the bayou, standing barefoot on the dock, wondering, God-damn, grandpa, how many fish do we need? But the bayou was quiet. In between the cypress and the moss and those winding estuaries where you didn't know how in the world you'd ever find your way out, you could hear stuff. It was some sort of music. You just had to be quiet and listen for it. That's why he liked fishing with me, 'cause I was quiet. But truth was I was just taking it all in. Always. There was music in the silence, in the calm of water, in the up and down of the bobber, waiting for something to strike.
We travelled between Louisiana and Tennessee pretty regularly and my granddad in Memphis owned that feed store and would would take me for the day and just kind of have me sit around. By the time I was eight or so he started having me move around some of the heavy feed sacks and all, as best I could. Which probably wasn't too good actually. That didn't seem all that great. But I usually always got a Coke out of it somewhere during the day. And maybe a dollar. Sometimes I'd go on runs with him or one of his men in some old pick up truck. He reminded me of that old movie actor Edgar G. Robinson, with this ever present cigar sticking out of his mouth. He didn't have all that much to say to me except maybe the occasional, "Over here, boy." But, man, it was Memphis. There was music all around. Everywhere. I'd hear stuff at the store, on the radio or at some restaurant, at someone's house or wherever, and sometimes be thinking, "What the hell is this? Someone can play that? They can? Who are these folks and where do I find more of them?" One day driving down the highway you might hear some Scruggs doing that old Jimmie Rodgers number "T For Texas," and you're wondering how many fingers he actually has. It was amazing.
That's how music started for me. Just in love with the magic hush of some Louisiana bayou, or needing to capture that feeling I had when first heard some sounds in Memphis. Like a junkie. I just started chasing it. That feeling. But I learned I wasn't getting it by playing others music. I had to write. Which has always been my musical downfall. Whenever I learned a new chord or had some new broken heart, man, it got me writing a new song. So I didn't practice so much as continually write songs. And then write some more.