New Epilogue to Monster Hike

This epilogue supplements my 2017 memoir Monster Hike: A 100-Mile Inquiry Into the Sasquatch Mystery. The book details a through-hike along the length of the Lone Star Hiking Trail in Sam Houston National Forest in Texas.

Epilogue – On Kelly’s Pond

I began writing Monster Hike the day after I returned to Austin. It spilled out of me quickly, and in six months I had a draft. For six more months I edited and rewrote it and proofed it again and again, cutting this and adding that, until it felt truly finished. To my surprise, I found a willing publisher almost immediately, and by mid-November — almost exactly a year since I had finished the hike — the book was out.But much had changed in that year.

For ten months, Donald Trump had been president. That was one change.

Another World Series had come and gone, and this time it was none other than the Houston Astros who had prevailed in another thrilling seven-game series, against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Houston had needed that lift, as much of the region had been submerged for weeks in August and September by Hurricane Harvey. Great swaths of Sam Houston National Forest had been shut down by the historic deluge, and as winter approached, the hiking and multi-use trails were being reopened little by little as they dried out and became passable.

In doing research for my book, specifically about fatalities or missing persons reports within SHNF, I had come across a harrowing account from May 2017, six months after my hike. A toddler had gone missing at Stubblefield Campground. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I mumbled to myself as I read the online article, of course thinking of Bob Garrett’s story in which a sasquatch apparently reached into a tent to try to snatch a small girl. All of East Texas was braced for a tragic end to the story, but little Ezra was found in a briar thicket about four hundred yards from camp twenty-four hours after he’d wandered away. He was a little scratched up and thirsty but otherwise fine. The detail that caught my eye from the news accounts of that episode was that an unspecified agency was en route in helicopters with thermal cameras that they just happen to have at the ready, which might detect the boy’s heat signature. They were not the ones who found Ezra, but rather an aunt who had flown to Houston that day from California to join the search.

• • •

I had not been back to Sam Houston National Forest since the Monster Hike — too busy writing and enjoying the privileges of fatherhood. But I had wanted to go back. Of course I did.

Thinking about bigfoots so much while writing the book had made me skittish about going back, and it was time to “get back on that horse” with regard to camping and hiking, and perhaps to check the final box of my investigation — to see one. Since the book published, I was now “out” as a sasquatch believer, and most every conversation started with, “Have you seen one?”

“Well, no I haven’t seen one, but I’ve heard them.” Cue look of skepticism. “And I’ve found tracks.” Cue more skepticism. I wanted to be able to just say, “Yes, I’ve seen one!” Maybe this would be the trip.

Wade messaged to see if we could reinstate our New Year’s camping tradition after a year off. We could go back to Sam Houston — nearly two years to the day since the “Knock-knock, who’s there?” episode, just for a one-nighter.

Yeah, that sounded good.

Wade left it to me to determine where we would camp and hike, and I perused maps for areas with trail loops and primitive camps I had not been to before.

As I’ve said, when you are within their range, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to where you might see one. Could be six miles in and a thousand yards off the trail, or it could be a parking lot, or crossing the highway, or walking over the lake on a bridge. Going into remote areas within their range doesn’t seem to increase your odds, according to the sighting reports.

Indeed, there was one spot that seemed to be particularly “hot,” and that place was not remote but rather one of just three developed campgrounds in the forest, Kelly’s Pond.

At sunrise on New Year’s Day, 2018, we rendezvoused at my house. There was a dusting of rare snow on my windshield. The forecast called for a low of 21 degrees that night. As we were car camping and not backpacking, we loaded the bed of my truck with the dutch oven, my homemade plywood chuck box, camp chairs, firewood, and anything else we deemed useful. Wade, having read my book, this time took his 12-gauge shotgun, and a 9mm Glock pistol for good measure.

The mile-long dirt road leading to the pond was lined with pullouts, and to our surprise every third or fourth one was occupied by a vehicle. Some had pop-up campers, some tents, some were just cars with tarps staked beside them. One of the sites was occupied only by a plain white van with a dent in the side. “Why don’t they just put a vinyl wrap on that thing with ‘pedophile’ in all caps?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Wade replied, “you know that guy’s wearing a clown costume.”

The dirt road passed through an open gate, and inside was a beautiful clearing next to two large ponds, collectively “Kelly’s Pond.” Eight concrete picnic tables, liberally spaced, adorned a gentle grassy slope north of the pond.

There appeared to be just two parties within the campground, which was two more than we expected for a night forecast to be 21 degrees. The first we came to was a large RV, a 36-foot Rexhall Rexair, with a car parked next to it. Every such campground has a park host, and I took this to be the one assigned to Kelly’s Pond. Leaving Wade to scout the best campsite, I approached the RV and knocked softly on the door.

A woman in her twenties with hair dyed pink and gray answered the door.

“ ’morning,” I said. “Are you the park host?”

“Nope.” She smiled. “We’re just boondocking — boondocking across the country.” I was not familiar with this term. She descended the metal stairs and explained in friendly tones that there was no host, and that they had arrived three days earlier. Soon, another Millennial appeared behind her in the doorway and likewise came out to visit. This one had blue hair, tattoos down both shoulders and a nose ring that protruded down and out of both nostrils. The free-spirited couple, River and Carrie, respectively, were nomads, motoring across America, camping and making money by doing search engine optimization and other freelance drivers of internet business wherever they could connect to wifi.

From the rearview mirror of the car parked next to the RV hung what appeared to be a sasquatch air freshener. “I like your air freshener,” I said, motioning to the cardboard bigfoot dangling beneath the mirror.

“Oh, thanks!” said Carrie. A few months of promoting my book had left me much less coy about broaching the subject, and I forged ahead. “Have you all seen or heard anything out here?” They had not. But they had also been sealed up in the Rexair every night. I told them about the book. Carrie said they had an Instagram following of 5,000. “I can post about it,” she volunteered.

Wade had settled on a site, and I left Carrie and River so I could help him pitch camp. It was about one hundred feet from the campground’s other visitor, who had set up his or her two-man tent not at an established site with a picnic table but right next to the pond. It was a great comfort to see that campsite, someone having such a laid-back time, just fishing and “kickin’ it” by this serene pond surrounded on three sides by miles of open forest. That site was the very picture of relaxation.

After Wade and I had set up camp, we decided to go for a hike, something modest, maybe three miles out and back. We divested ourselves of all unnecessary weight but kept cameras and water at the ready and set out to the north along the Kelly’s Pond Trail. We navigated past several muddy sections in single file, and eventually we crossed Highway 1375. Then we decided that was enough and headed back to camp. On our way back, a half mile or so from our sight, we decided to veer off the trail and just sit in silence and see what the forest would show us. It was peaceful, and uneventful.

Back at camp, the short afternoon of midwinter told us it was time to get to cooking. In my dutch oven, we fried a pound of ground beef, then stirred in a tub of mashed potatoes, a package of corn, and gravy, then scooped it out into our mess kits over and over until we couldn’t contain another bite.

Glancing at the tent by the pond, we wondered what sort of hike the resident had gone on and when we would see him arriving back in camp.

Now the sun had dipped below the trees, and I talked Wade into taking a walk around pond before we turned in. As we passed near to the other tent, I noticed a couple of towels a few yards from it, and a pair of flip-flops, as if he or she had been sunbathing.

We walked around the pond counter-clockwise, staring into an endless forest to our south, and ended up near the Rexhall Rexair. The young ladies had a healthy fire going, and we stood there in the dusk and falling temperature and chatted with them.

One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were again talking about bigfoot. Carrie said she had read a comment on a Sasquatch Chronicles message board that indicated the location of the Torn-Up Camp. I always figured it was somewhere on Lake Conroe, but that is a huge shoreline, and certain follow-up videos that I remember showing the water had either been removed from YouTube or edited to remove the geographic clues.

But Carrie told us where the campsite was claimed to be, and I figured we would swing past it on our way back to Austin in the morning. Frankly, it freaked me out a little that the purported ‘Torn-Up Camp’ was quite this close to where we just had raised our tent.

We talked a lot about the Bob Garrett school of research out here. “Obviously, I believe most of what he claims,” I said. “I do wonder sometimes why all the helicopters in these stories are Blackhawks. That’s such a conspiracy theory cliché.” Carrie and River and Wade laughed in agreement. “Always Blackhawks!”

“So,” I said at length, “I wonder where that guy is in that tent over there by the pond?”

“Oh, that?” said Carrie, “we haven’t seen anyone over there since we got here, three days ago.”

It wasn’t until that moment that it finally sunk in that there were no cars at that campsite. What’s more, this was definitely not a backpacker. This was a car camper; he had driven in. The tent was one of a car camper. The stove was not a backpacking stove. The overturned chair was a camp chair, not a backpacking stool or hiking chair. This was someone who had left everything precisely where it was, gotten in his car and driven away. At least three days ago. This was an abandoned camp.

Did Bob Garrett not say, “We find this thing kind of thing [abandoned camps] all the time out there”? Three in the same area as the Torn-up Camp? Four hundred dollar cabin tents, just left … people just driving off with their stuff everywhere, abandoned in an instant?

The comfort that the pondside campsite had been to us only minutes earlier now morphed into a sickening dread. What had he or she seen those days ago, when the forest was warm enough for flip-flops and sunbathing? What had burst from among the yaupons? What had he caught sight of while fishing, and summarily decided to put down his fishing rod or stew pot, run to his car leaving his flip-flops right where they were, crank the engine, and never look back?

We had talked to River and Carrie until dark, and now it was time to face the night, not in a locked 36-foot RV, but in the flimsy two-man tent that my sons used on Boy Scout campouts.

Wade set out his audio recorder on the concrete picnic table fifty feet away from ours. Next to the dying campfire, we sat under a full moon as the temperature dropped into the thirties, then twenties, and listened to coyotes going off a short distance away. A barred owl sang the famous refrain, “Who cooks for yooou?”

“Dude…” I said softly, shaking my head and motioning to the abandoned tent, “that is so messed up.” Wade was in full agreement.

A short while later, we startled at a loud bang against the truck. I rose from my camp chair and jogged to it, scanning the ground for whatever it was that was thrown. A rock? A large stick? An acorn? I could spot nothing.

Our tent was not staked down, and before we turned in, Wade and I each grabbed a corner and pulled the tent and all its contents to where its door-flap was within twenty-four inches of the passenger door of the truck.

We zipped up the insubstantial tent door and crawled onto our cots, the loaded shotgun and Glock beneath Wade’s, the G.I. Tanto knife, adorably, next to mine.

We were tired, and the night was still. I was wearing four layers, which packed me into my sleeping bag so tightly I could scarcely turn around in it, and I was sleeping in the same tuque with sewn-in headlamp I had taken on the hike.

I drifted to sleep, and at some point into a nightmare, the kind that splices perfectly onto your consciousness because it starts with you waking up in the same location. In this dream, it was just moments later, and I was awoken by a sasquatch, which was inexplicably already in my tent and holding my hands at my sides with his. I screamed for Wade to help me, but with my lips paralyzed with sleep probably sounded only a weak “ayyyyy! …ayyyyyyy!”

The night passed without further incident. Neither did the audio recording reveal anything suspicious later.

I woke up before first light, rose to sitting, and began lacing up my ice-cold boots, which woke up Wade. “Dude,” I whispered, as he groggily came to. “Dude … let’s go driving around. Predawn is active.” We both knew this all too well.

With the truck heater blowing as hot as we could get it, we rolled the mile out of the campground to the main road, wondering what might have transpired overnight for folks out there along the turnouts. We went north to 1375, then east across Baker’s Bridge spanning Lake Conroe, me narrating the three sighting reports — the husband and wife accounts separated by an hour on the very same predawn morning Wade and I were visited nine miles away, and the poor guy in 2001 who stopped on the far side of the bridge to take a leak, saw one six feet away, shook for two days, and gave up deer hunting for good.

As the forest lightened, we turned back toward Kelly’s Pond but continued south past the turnoff along the gravel Forest Service road. For four and a half miles we descended slowly, bisecting a large peninsula in the lake and scanning the passing forest for shadowy figures of unusual height and build, until the water appeared suddenly before us.

We killed the engine and looked around. We got out and walked in different directions to pee. Some views in the Torn-Up Camp video matched up to what we were seeing; in other regards, it looked quite different. It had been four and a half years since the video was shot in the summer of 2013. The forest certainly takes on a different look summer to winter, but there could have been other forces at work too. The Forest Service might have cleared part of the area, or the rumor mill might have just gotten the location wrong altogether.

We walked around for ten minutes or so, then, satisfied that we would glean no more knowledge from this macabre pilgrimage, headed back up the peninsula to break camp. The Cracker Barrel in Bryan was calling our names.

Back in camp, Carrie and River came across from the Rexair, cups of coffee steaming violently into the chilly air. “Thank goodness!” Carrie said. “When we got up early and saw your truck missing and your tent still here, we thought you’d abandoned your camp too.” We all had a good laugh at the misunderstanding. We could laugh, now that we were headed out of the forest and they were safe overnight in their wheeled fortress.

I gave Carrie a copy of Monster Hike I had thrown into the truck at the last minute in case we ran into anyone who might have been interested. We finished breaking camp and heaved the plywood chuck box and the rest of our gear into the bed of the Silverado. But I had one last thing I wanted to do. As I walked toward the abandoned campsite, I unclicked my phone from its belt clip, turned it horizontal, and began shooting video. I effortlessly channeled Bob Garrett himself.

“Hello in the tent,” I said. I walked to the red canvas camp chair lying on its back, panned to the flip-flops near the beach towel. A thermos sat on the grass with a pot balanced on top of it. I lifted the lid to find a dried residue of stew and a dirty spoon. There was the fishing rod and tackle. The high-end camp stove.

I approached the tent door. “Hello, the tent.” There was no response. “Hello, the tent.” I was genuinely concerned about opening the door. Would I find a dead body? I exchanged glances with Wade, swallowed hard, and unzipped the flap.

To my great relief, there was no corpse. But I did confront a strange sight: in the corner an empty sleeping bag. And directly in front of the door, a stack of plastic bins, several of them laden with new batteries. Was it a deer hunter replenishing the batteries on his trail cams? Was it a squatcher doing the same, one who got more than he bargained for? We would never know.

We pulled onto the highway and noted the blue metal sign: “ADOPT A HIGHWAY – NEXT 2 MILES – NORTH AMERICAN WOOD APE CONSERVANCY.” A few miles away, another read, “ADOPT A HIGHWAY – NEXT 2 MILES – SOUTHEAST TX BIGFOOT RESEARCH TEAM.” It wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just Bob Garrett. There were now so many researchers out here they were competing for highways to adopt.

When I got home, I became Facebook friends with Carrie. We messaged back and forth, expressing mutual gratitude we had met. She had enjoyed the book.

On January 6, she messaged again: “Hey Avrel! So today we were driving around out near Double Lake Recreation Area and saw three Blackhawk helicopters flying around over a wooded area before departing over Lake Livingston, I believe. It was the first time I’ve ever seen one of those in real life … I was surprised to see them! It was in broad daylight, around 3 p.m.”

—A.S. June 2018

Monster Hike: A 100-Mile Inquiry Into the Sasquatch Mystery is available here.

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New Book: Monster Hike: A 100-Mile Inquiry Into the Sasquatch Mystery

It’s impossible to believe it’s been more than two years since I’ve posted on my blog. But there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy. And I’m very happy to announce the release of my ninth book: Monster Hike: A 100-Mile Inquiry Into the Sasquatch Mystery, published by Anomalist Books.

MonsterHikeFrontCover

From the back cover:

This is the true story of two journeys — one of the mind, one of the body.

The journey of the mind was from curiosity to belief to knowledge of one of the enduring mysteries of our time: the existence of sasquatches. I had read about them for years, but wanted to see for myself. So I undertook a second journey, a 100-mile solo expedition across one of America’s hottest bigfoot sighting areas, Sam Houston National Forest in East Texas.

This personal memoir — at turns frightening, funny, and philosophical — explores the fundamental questions about this persistent mystery: What are these creatures? Why, after thousands of encounters with humans, do they still go unacknowledged by science, government, and mainstream society? And what does all of this tell us about the dangers and the rewards of believing in something mysterious?

Available on Amazon here. The ebook should be available shortly. Here’s my book trailer:

Writing this book and getting it published represents two huge items off my bucket list. It’s also required more courage than just about anything else I’ve ever done, which is the reason I ultimately decided to go forward with it. I will likely write about this phenomenon in the near future.

I plan to build out a page on this blog with photos and possibly sound files to enrich the experience of the book. I hope you’ll give Monster Hike a try, and let me know what you think.

Be safe out there!

The Song

My father lies upon his bed in afternoon sun
Hands on stomach, fingers splayed as if still holding the oboe
Eyes closed, chest rattling his coda of half notes and half rests.

A year on, and my son sits in his cafeteria,
Holds the euphonium, breathes his first note.
Is that his own breath in that brass,
Or is he some new mouthpiece of my father,
Invisibly tweaking his embouchure
Adjusting his posture
Dilating his airway
That the Song might go on
Another verse if not forever?

And does my son hear the ancestral call
Of Wagner, fox hunt, shofar, didgeridoo
Back and back and back to the first
Who stood clad in the ram’s hide on a hilltop
And blew through something louder than his throat,
That the stars might know
We are here.

 

Cows. Who knew.

We all thought the end of days
Would be a flash and then
Encircling ash and nuclear haze
Would spell the end of man

Or maybe it would be a virus
Taking us out by billions
Returning Earth back to the reign
Of unfeeling reptillians

Who would have thought that in the end
It would not be a battle
But the apocalypse that brought us low
Would come from gaseous cattle?

A mushroom cloud would have been
A damn sight more dramatic
Than this quite lame extinction
From bovines aromatic.

I think that I can safely say
That even nuclear accidents
Would have been more fitting
Than death by heifer flatulence

Where in the Bible does it say
That Armageddon would be
A bunch of livestock breaking wind
And raising up the sea?

Such an epic history
Cannot have an ending
That is so very juvenile
And something so offending.

What can we do to stem the tide
Of this bacterial comeuppance?
Perhaps the only answer is
Bean-O in great abundance.

Angus, Hereford, Jersey
Charolais and Holsteins too —
Who knew that the Four Horsemen
Would actually say “moo”?

Can’t we invent a vehicle
Perhaps a fancy airplane
Or some efficient automobile
That runs on Elsie’s methane?

We can name it Taurus
In honor of the brutes
That threatened to end the world itself
With unceremonious toots.

Can all of civilization
Be wiped out by a toxin
That emanates astern the legs
Of volatilized oxen?

No, we cannot be done in,
This cannot be our parting.
The history of humanity
Can’t end with some cow farting.

 

For Time Is Short

And now, my sons,
Let us speak of weighty things,
For time is short.
Let us not speak of weather, but climate.
Let us not speak of fish, but whales.
Nor of celebrity, nor sport, nor even bodily health.

Let us speak of history, or better, mystery.
Let us speak of prophets and their promises.
Let us speak of what we see in clouds,
For these are visions, and visions are the future.

Time is short so let us turn from screens that filter reality,
And instead hurry to the forest to hear the owls echoing at dusk
And see the night wood sparkle with fireflies,
A galaxy writ low and close
That we might fly through it
With our feet on the ground

Time is short so let us climb the nearest mountain,
Not the highest,
And speak of nothing.
Our footfalls crunching out our purpose and meaning are enough.
Let us float down the widening river and submit to its pace
And surrender to its wisdom.

Time is short, so behold the arc of history,
Then seize your segment of it, and twist.
Do not be passive or soft or incurious,
But keep a fierce heart within a hardened chest,
And a restless mind within a bowed head,
That you might matter beyond your suburb,
And at the end of days the Maker might say
We were worth the effort.

My sons, let us speak of weighty things,
For I am dying.
As are you.
As are we all.
Oh my sons, time is short,
So let us live.
And when we speak,
Then let it be of the only wisdom:
Let it be of love.

Son! (My Journey to Jerry Reed)

 

In 1986, I was a freshman at The University of Texas and had just undergone something akin to a religious awakening after hearing a little-known local guitarist named Eric Johnson. I was ravenously learning dumbed-down versions of every song I could off his debut record Tones and going to hear him in concert at every chance.

My friends and I were listening to him at the Austin Opry House late one night when he switched off the distortion pedal and proceeded to play a magnificent country instrumental that left us all practically in tears of astonished joy. I remember him calling it “Tribute to …” to … to someone or other. I couldn’t quite remember the name because he had said it before the song, but I thought the initials were J.R.

It’s a reminder of how long ago this was that I couldn’t just pull it up on my phone with a Google search that guessed the title before I could finish typing it. Nor could I look it up on the internet when I got home because, of course, said internet did not exist. In those days of yore you got tipped off to great new music by phone calls from buddies, from scanning magazine racks (which is how we discovered Eric), from late-night conversations at Whataburger, from concert reviews printed in these things called newspapers. That is to say, if you didn’t hear a title clearly the first time, you weren’t guaranteed immediate or even eventual clarity.

The 1986 magazine cover that started it all.

Moreover, Eric has always had a practice of playing songs in concert years before he records them. (Never one to rush in, he would not commit this particular composition to a recorded medium for two more decades, when at long last he included it on his 2005 record Bloom.)

During the winter break, I returned from Austin to my hometown of McAllen and erelong found myself at La Plaza Mall sifting the wares of the only music store in the greater metropolitan area, Musicland. There, I made my way back to the cassette wall and thenceforth to the country section, a place I had not visited since my “kicker phase” in junior high school. I located the R’s and began digging for the person to whom Eric had made such a magnificent sonic tribute, for surely his recordings would be life changing. Remembering the initials as J.R., I soon was walking excitedly to the cashier with purchase in hand: The Greatest Hits of … Jim Reeves.

I returned home to my parents’ house and with nervous anticipation tore the cellophane off the box and popped the cassette into my tiny silver jam box, pressed play, and waited. A lush string section swooned into motion and a gentle baritone voice began to croon sentimental lyrics from the mid-century. OK, I thought. Artists can be multifaceted. Patience is the better part of valor. I’ll wait for the guitar solo. It never came. The second song began, more mellow and devoid of guitar riffs than the first. At one point there might have even been a warbling organ solo.

I began using the fast-forward button to scan each track, hoping against ever-receding hope that the very next song would be a shredding guitar instrumental. When the final song, titled “Is It Really Over,” really was over, I conceded defeat. I had opened the package and played the tape; there was no returning it to Musicland. I shook my head. With a deep sigh I chunked the tape into a junk drawer and put my Tones cassette back in. To this day I harbor an irrational, undeserved bitterness toward “Gentleman Jim Reeves.”

I do not remember just when I learned the true object of Eric’s tribute, but it was several years later, and probably after hearing the song two or three more times in concert, listening ever harder to Eric’s introduction of it. Yes, it was clear now. It was “Tribute to … Jerry Reed.”

I knew a Jerry Reed, of course. We all did. But he wasn’t really a guitar player. He was a supporting actor in low-brow comedies. He was “Snow Man” in Smokey and the Bandit. Oh, I knew he was a recording artist, but he was mainly a singer, right? Or more like a proto-rapper, speaking the words to as many songs as he sang. At any event, he had way more in common with Ray Stevens (“Guitarzan,” “The Streak”) than he did with the cerebral and virtuosic Eric Johnson. Reed was a novelty act. Upon discussion, my buddies and I remained firmly convicted that Eric was referencing some other, lesser-known Jerry Reed, probably some picker from the 1940s long forgotten by the mainstream, not this over-the-top hayseed comedian.

The epiphany came about 1992, when I came across an album by Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed, and there it was, visual confirmation, Jerry Reed, the Snow Man, on the CD cover. These two Jerry Reeds were one and the same person. I’ll be damned. I mildly enjoyed the Chet Atkins collaboration, Sneakin’ Around, but there was not much on this record to commend him as an axe god. It was highly produced easy-listening country, with a lot of “We’re so old now!” banter between the two. I didn’t get it. (It’s more endearing to me now than it was then.)

As the years rolled on, I moved from electric guitar to nearly exclusively playing acoustic, and became enthralled with the solo-acoustic master Tommy Emmanuel. As I read and listened to interviews with Tommy, I learned that his principal influences were Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and … Jerry Reed. He even named one of his songs “Ol’ Brother Hubbard,” after Jerry’s real surname. It was confirmed. All roads led back to Jerry Reed, the one I had grown up knowing only as a clownish redneck, folding up his straw cowboy hat and yelling “WHEN YOU HOT … YOU HOT!!!”

JerryReedScooby

Jerry as featured in Scooby Doo

 

Finally, and with the awesome empowerment of YouTube, I turned my attention squarely upon this late man from Atlanta, he who had figured in popular culture one way and in music history another. What was it about his playing that had such a deep effect on virtually all of my musical heroes?

As I started to explore his catalog I discovered that there were not two Jerry Reeds, but three. The first was the one I had always known, the one who paid the bills with the talking blues and basically a country comedy act: “She Got the Gold Mine, I Got the Shaft,” “Tupelo Mississippi Flash,” “Amos Moses,” and “East Bound and Down.”

The second Jerry Reed, ironically enough, was not far removed at all from Gentleman Jim Reeves. This one, more in evidence on his earlier work, was earnest, had barely any accent at all, and layered his songs with the “Music City” sound fashionable in Nashville in the 60s and early 70s — lush string sections, drowning reverb, warbling female back-up singers, and plenty of extraneous instrumental layers (I need more harpsichord!!!), all courtesy of the producer who discovered him, Chet Atkins. This Jerry’s lyrics spoke earnestly of love and of life, as in “Today Is Mine”:

When the sun came up this morning
I took the time to watch it rise
And when its beauty struck the darkness from the sky
I thought how small and unimportant all my troubles seem to be
And how lucky, another day belongs to me …

Then, there was the third Jerry Reed, the one I had been searching for, off and on, for three decades, and had finally found, present but widely dispersed among the Scooby Doo cameos and Smokey and the Bandit clips. This Jerry was nothing less than a musical savant, and now I heard the source of all the musical references accruing down the years. Now I could hear the influential runs and chord structures curated in Eric’s “Tribute” and in Tommy’s covers. This Jerry Reed had dexterity, yes, but his real gift was a seemingly effortless mastery of and blending of country and funk. To achieve this, he shifted with endless creativity between pentatonic and mixolydian modes. He would relentlessly work and rework double-stop runs, deftly forging the sickest, funkiest breaks in the history of the genre, endlessly massaging the flat-5, flat-7, and minor-to-major 3rd blues notes, ingenious counterpoints that featured simultaneously ascending and descending lines, chromatically and rhythmically building up monuments to funkiness and then harmonically breaking them down piece by piece just as deliciously. The best, most representative works of this Jerry are “Honkin’,” “Jiffy Jam,” “Pickie, Pickie, Pickie,” “Swingin’ ’69,” “Alabama Jubilee,” “The Claw,” and not one but two completely different songs both titled “Struttin’.”

True geniuses usually are not fully aware of their gift, and there’s a telling vignette I love related by Craig Dobbins, author The Guitar Style of Jerry Reed song book: “At the 1990 convention of the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society in Nashville, I stood in a small group next to Jerry as we listened intently to French guitarist Jean-Felix Lalanne play an impromptu note-for-note rendition of ‘Funky Junk.’ As we applauded Jean-Felix, Jerry scratched his head in disbelief and said, ‘Son! Did I write that?!’ ”

The truth is, as I’ve grown to love one Jerry, I’ve grown to love all three. He found space in his career and life to express all three sides of himself, and in so doing he’s taught me once again, if from the grave, never to  judge a book by its cover. The mind of a Vivaldi can indeed glow from within a Ray Stevens. The court composer and the court jester can share the very same skin.

Sir, for all of that, I salute you with the exclamation you loved best: Son! 

JerryReed

New book release – Staggering: Life and Death on the Texas Frontier at Staggers Point

Dear Trailhead readers,

I’m happy to announce the release of my latest book, Staggering: Life and Death on the Texas Frontier at Staggers Point

247 pages

 

Here is the back cover blurb:

“In 1829, recent arrivals from Ireland began moving to a patch of wilderness near the Brazos River in Mexican Texas. They came seeking freedom and fortune. What they found was malaria, war, the constant threat of gruesome Indian massacres, wolves, panthers — and an abiding happiness that has kept many descendants there to this day. At Staggers Point, near modern-day Bryan, Texas, they collided and coexisted with four other cultures: Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, and enslaved African Americans. These families bore witness to the greatest political upheavals of nineteenth century America, and their lives spanned the full range of human experience — from scratching out a living on a primitive frontier; to fleeing and fighting bands of Comanches and other American Indians, the Mexican army, and common criminals; to the joys and sorrows of raising children beyond the reach of civilization. Though they were common pioneers, to us their experiences, their feats, and their very survival are staggering.

“Driven by a desire to understand his heritage, essayist Avrel Seale has unearthed nuggets of little-known history from diverse sources and blended them with social commentary to produce a revealing and fast-paced history of nineteenth century Texas.”

This has been a fantastic journey of discovery about what life was like for those living here in Texas in the not-so-distant past. I hope that readers of this book will learn something and enjoy the ride. The book is available in print for $14 at:

http://www.lulu.com/shop/avrel-seale/staggering-life-and-death-on-the-texas-frontier-at-staggers-point/paperback/product-21947330.html

and the Kindle eBook is available for $4 at:

http://www.amazon.com/Staggering-Death-Texas-Frontier-Staggers-ebook/dp/B00QW3ADYM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419002253&sr=8-1&keywords=avrel+seale&pebp=1419002254845