One of the joys of “free time” is being able to think about things. Small things that are observed and usually disregarded can be pondered. That’s what we retired folks do—we ponder.
Our lives are a long series of coincidental lucky breaks mixed in with coincidental unlucky breaks. If we have been working hard, using our talents, becoming the best we can be at what we do, and always trying to learn more, yet never taking our eye off our goals, we can leap over those unfortunate times and cash in on those lucky breaks. You know– the old American Dream thing. Sure, we sometimes have to change our goals based on our situation. I mean you can’t become the next Tiger Woods if you lose a few fingers in an unlucky accident, but you might become the next Brent Musberger commentating on golf.
There was a train rolling through a crossing last Friday and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a young guy hitching a ride in a boxcar. That’s unheard of these days. My first thought was, “There goes Willie.”
That’s what a young guitar player in Texas said over 70 years ago when he saw a hobo on a train who looked like his fellow worker, Willie. This guitar player rolled his car to the side of the crossing and wrote the tune “Box Car Blues.” This guitar player/singer wanted to “make it” and took his Texas band on the road 300 days a year. They were called Marty Martin & The Rangers. He had a great country singing voice and a fine band but they were going nowhere fast. Marty Martin kept writing tunes and honing his craft but was broke. It was the late 60s and Marty Martin was pushing 40 years of age with no money and no future. His wife believed in him and encouraged him to continue.
They were in California playing a small country bar and someone told him there was a talent contest over in San Jose for country singers. He borrowed a friends’ car and drove to “Sam’s Club” in San Jose and went on stage with a new name; he became “Box Car Willie” for the first time. The crowd and the judges loved him and he won the $150 first prize. From that night on, he dressed like a hobo and became Box Car Willie. He was playing in a club in Texas and the great songster, George Jones saw him. George had his agent call Box Car Willie and book him into George’s club in Nashville, “Possum’s Holler.”
The series of lucky coincidences kept happening for Box Car Willie. There was a European agent at the “Possum’s Holler” the night Willie was playing. He thought the sight and sound of a real American Hobo on stage would wow the Europeans. It did! Box Car Willie was a huge hit in Europe. While in Europe, Willie saw an unforgettable advertisement on the television over there. When he got back to New York he filmed a television commercial featuring a double album set of Box Car Willie tunes. While the “big-wigs” of Nashville were calling him a “clown-joke”, Box Car Willie sold over a million 8 tracks (remember 8-tracks?).
Suddenly Nashville and the Opry were interested in Box Car Willie. He became a national country star and was the 60th member inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1985, he opened his own “Box Car Willie” theater across the street from the “Roy Clark” theater in Branson, Missouri. He sold-out shows for the next 10 years. Willie died of Leukemia in 1996.
It’s time for some music on this blog. Here’s my brother, Pat, singing one of the first ever Box Car Willie tunes, the “Box Car Blues.” Enjoy! http://snd.sc/Lyy8t4