The Gallatin News
Happy Birthday, Jesse!
To paraphrase a popular Barbara Mandrell song title from back in the day, my brother Mike ‘was country, when country wasn’t cool.’ While most teenagers in the Greater Nashville area in the late 1960s were tuning in to WMAK for the latest hits from the Beatles and Tommy James and the Shondells, Mike was tuning into WSM or Madison’s famed WENO Radio Ranch to get his Merle Haggard and Conway Twitty fix. Since he is four years older than me, Mike controlled our shared radio so I fell asleep most nights of my pre-teenage years listening to the Ralph Emery overnight talk show on WSM with Ralph interviewing country artists like Marty Robbins and Tex Ritter, spinning their tunes and keeping the nation’s over-the-road truck drivers awake.
Mike even worked at WENO, known far and wide for their pseudo western-themed ‘Frontier Town,’ where they staged gunfights, and scenes from the old west. After he finished his job of emptying the trash and cutting the grass, Mike enjoyed spending time with the evening deejay, Early Williams, who befriended the 14-year-old neighborhood kid and let him sit behind the control board and even push in the ‘cart’ to play commercials. At that time, the country stars would visit the radio stations to encourage the deejays to play their tunes. Mike would come home on occasion telling the family who had stopped by the station that night.
So when bluegrass legend Jesse McReynolds called me last week to invite me to his 83rd birthday party, I knew two things immediately. One, I was going to do everything I could to make it to the party and, two, Mike was going to be my ‘plus one.’
I met Jesse in an unusual manner. Somewhere around 1995 or 1996 I was going to the Gallatin Post Office most every day and I would spot the Grand Ole Opry star there on a regular basis. I made sure I spoke to Jesse but I never let on that I knew who he was. Growing up in the Nashville area, I learned to respect the country music stars that are our neighbors and have never bothered them for an autograph or to ask them anything related to their career. I figure they would like to shop, eat a meal or visit the Post Office in peace like the rest of us.
But I had heard that Jesse was a nice guy and I kept thinking of ways that he might be able to help me generate tourism for the county. Finally, I officially introduced myself to him and explained my role as Tourism Director. I found out that people were right, he is a nice guy. We would visit on future stops to the PO and he shared his dream of building a performance pavilion on his property in downtown Cairo. I immediately committed to help promote it if he could make it happen. Turned out, I changed jobs before it happened but his dream is now called the Pick Inn (as in ‘pickin’ the mandolin).
When Mike and I arrived at Pick Inn Sunday afternoon we were greeted by the Mayor of Cairo, Homer Bradley. Inside was a good-sized group, mostly folks I didn’t know, all gathered to help wish Jesse a great birthday. As we mingled we would introduce ourselves to the other guests. Several of them are in the music business; pickin,’ promoting or producing. Privately, Mike would tell me a little history on each one that we met; what band that played with or what songs they performed. On the way home, Google proved him right in every case. Among them was at least one Bluegrass Hall of Fame member (not counting Jesse) and others with noted accomplishments.
It finally dawned on me that most of these folks were probably our Sumner County neighbors. Turns out I was right. I look forward to sharing their stories in future editions. And I plan to tell more of the Jesse story very soon as well. This space certainly isn’t big enough to begin to tell his story. He still plays shows all over and after he returns from trips this month to New York and Denver, he’s promised to sit down and have a chat with me.
So for now, let me just tell you that Jesse McReynolds is cool. He came in wearing a sharp hat, sunglasses and that famous smile he has flashed at adoring audiences for more than 50 years. He thanked everyone for coming to his “38th birthday party.”
Happy birthday, Jesse!
See you next week.