Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Is Red Dirt, Anyway??

           What Is Red Dirt, Anyway?

          It was a few years ago when I bought a couple acres along the shore of Twin Lakes near Shawnee, OK. My wife and I decided to move from our home in East Nashville where we had spent nearly a decade to be closer to her family. I spent the next few months building a small cabin and trying to figure out a way to start earning some income again. I had released a few albums of my original music in Nashville, and had a website and other such marketing tools, but for the first time in a long time, I would also be representing myself and trying to book gigs.

            Starting from scratch is never easy in any industry, but starting up as a musician in a new area is like trying to become a drug lord with a single pot plant and poor people skills. Fortunately, a few places gave me a break right away and I started playing local shows. As I was perusing The Gazette one evening, I saw an ad for a gig I had coming up at one of the local casinos. It read, "Come hear one of the finest Red Dirt Songwriters". "What the hell is a red dirt songwriter?", I thought. I considered myself knowledgeable in many musical forms, but here was a term I had never heard of. Later that night I played an open mic, and when I had finished, the host quickly introduced me to the venue's owner and we booked a few shows. "We love red dirt songwriters!", he said.

            As I drove home, all I could think about was how bizarre it was to be classified in some sort of musical genre and have absolutely no idea what it is or who else is involved in it! Thus, my education into Red Dirt began.

            I researched all the "big players" first. I had heard of Cross Canadian Ragweed because they had signed with Universal South and had done some shows in Nashville, but guys like Stoney Larue, Wade Bowen, Jason Boland, and Randy Rogers were all new to me. In fact, most of the people involved with the "Red Dirt" movement were people I never heard of. It was FANTASTIC! It had been so long since I had been inspired by new music, and here was a whole list of new bands and artists, most of which offered something I liked.

            But, I was still perplexed as to what it meant to be a "red dirt" artist. Some of it was southern rock, some of it was straight country, and some of it was heavily influenced by the great Texas songwriters that I had spent my childhood idolizing; folks like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Willie Nelson, and others. In fact, most of the music I had grown up playing in a little town nestled in the heart of the Appalachians was represented well within this umbrella of music known as "Red Dirt".

            I had been listening to and starting to incorporate some of the "new" music into my sets when I shared the stage with a songwriter friend one night. At the end of our set, we were discussing some of the songs that were regionally popular when I asked him, "So what is Red Dirt music to you?". "It's basically Oklahoma and Texas bands and artists", he said. This response did not sit well with me. I wasn't from Oklahoma or Texas and had only been living in the area a few months when I began seeing the label of "Red Dirt" alongside my name. "Can a boy from West-By-God-Virginia ever really be considered a Red Dirt artist?", I wondered. "Where do I fit into this music scene?".

            Well, that was a few years ago now. I have been burning up the highways and two-lanes all over Oklahoma and Texas with my band Yesterday's Wine. I have shared stages with many of these "Red Dirt" artists, and even wrote a few songs with them. I  immersed myself into the Red Dirt School of Higher Learning as best I could, and I think with my perspective as one who was on the outside looking in, I may just be able to shed some light on this thing called "Red Dirt" to those in other parts of the country.

            Although "Red Dirt" is considered to be a musical genre by many, I think that title far outweighs any musical classification. Granted, you will often hear certain traits within this genre--traditional country, southern rock, folk, singer-songwriters, and even a splash of bluegrass from time to time, but even more important than that is the spirit of independence that comes along with it. And let's face it, this part of the country is no place for anyone but strong, independent people. They raise their families between the tornadoes, ice storms, and droughts! The people who settled this area were willing to take on an untamed, partially desolate place just to have few acres of their own, and accepted all the hardships that came with it.

            I think "Red Dirt" was the perfect word choice for describing the music that grows out of Oklahoma and Texas. Two things come from the red dirt you find in this area---Oil and an Independent Spirit--and neither comes easy. People here work hard and they play hard. They embrace life--the good and the bad, the joy and the pain---for all that it's worth. They don't have time or the patience for anything less than the truth, and that is the language that you will hear in "Red Dirt" music.

            I was raised with that same type of independent lifestyle, only we took coal from the ground, not oil. We embraced the same values, and maybe that is why I embraced the same music at an early age as my red dirt brothers. Our music was an extension of our spirit, not just some nice little tunes that helped pass the time. If it wasn't good enough to pick from the porch, we didn't have much need for it.

            When I think about it in such terms, I guess I have always been a "Red Dirt" artist. I guess that is why Texas Music spoke to me at the earliest of ages. And I guess that is why so many Oklahoma and Texas venues, artists, and music fans have allowed me into the flock even though I grew up just a few miles away from being a "Yankee".

            So now, when I see the words "Red Dirt Songwriter" by my name, I just smile and think to myself....damn straight.
                                                                        By Chad K. Slagle


Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Was Country When Country WAS Cool

I Was Country When Country WAS Cool

There is a scene that keeps recurring in my life. A general observer would see this scene as a simple, harmless interaction between two people. Nothing out of the ordinary. I wish I could put it in the same light as the simple minded observer, but unfortunately, I can't. I know too much-- a hindrance that seems to plague my life in various matters, and this one maybe even more so.

The scene goes like this: I am at an engagement--perhaps a dinner party, social gathering, or media event. Inevitably, someone I am talking with will introduce me to a young person(under 30) as a songwriter or performer. The question that follows is always, "What kind of music do you play?". Now, no musician likes to "categorize" their music, because let's face it, we all think we are special. We foolishly believe that we have created something new and different. And yes, I perform several styles of music, and depending on who is answering the question, a few different terms may come up when describing what I do. However, the person asking this question is not really that interested. They don't want to hear about all the wonderful nuisances of my artistry. They just want a quick, simple answer so they can say something like, "Cool", "Nice", or "Interesting", and then go back to the free booze and hors d'oeurves . Well, the simple answer would be Country Music. However, what that young person understands to be country music and what I understand it to be are so very different, it hardly seems like the right thing to say. So, depending on the location, atmosphere, or my general disposition, I end up using terms like "Americana", "Alt Country", "Folk", or "Red Dirt". This usually satisfies the person asking, but it always feels a bit disingenuous.

The problem comes from the exposure of this mix of watered down pop and rock music that someone with a much nicer studio than me and an address on Music Row calls "Country Music". You see, in virtually any other musical form, when someone changes the format in a drastic way, they simply come up with another name for it. Confusion is then avoided. But somehow, this point was negated on Music Row. (Many points have been negated on that hill, but those are stories for another day) So, if I were to tell this kid that I play country music, suddenly I am grouped into this lump of douche-baggery with the likes of Jason Aldean, Eric Church, and Luke Bryan.

Quick history lesson: Early blues music by folks like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Bessie Smith had a very specific 12 bar type pattern and style. Later on, a more syncopated rhythm style was added with some jazz influence and with the musical change came the term Rhythm and Blues. Take Rhythm and Blues with an accentuated backbeat and some snare, and voila, Rock and Roll. Add another electric guitar or so, and Classic Rock.  And the list goes on, but these distinctions helped audiences to at least have an idea of the musical differences and what they may expect out of an artist.

And, while we are talking music history, lets talk about how the term "country music" came to be and why, and what it truly is. I like to think of country music as "America's music", because although it was influenced by immigrants from the British Isles(Early Folk Music) and African slaves(who happened to also bring us the banjo), the blending of the two happened here. The melting pot brought people from all over together, and ultimately, it brought their music together, as well.

The earliest "stars" of this blend were Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, thanks to Ralph Peer who signed them to Victor Records. These musicians created(and adapted) songs to speak to the hard-working people who were struggling through the depression years. "The Singing Brakeman's" voice brought hope, and with this hope brought the sale of over a million albums. Most people referred to this music as "Hillbilly" music.

As time marched on, guitars became electric, as did the steel guitar. The Hammond Organ was also introduced, and two new forms of music came about, "Honky Tonk" and "Western Swing". In short order, the word "hillbilly" became a derogatory term, and "Country and Western" became the new lingo to describe virtually all southern "white" music.

Now, I could go on about the variations that followed, but the point here is, when you make significant changes to a style of music, the Christian thing to do is call it by another name. So, since none of the "Christians" on Music Row have stepped up, I have taken the liberty of stepping up to the proverbial plate.

In my opinion, there are 2 styles of sounds(I am slow to call it music, but I digress) coming from the so-called "Country" Radio Stations these days. The first is the "I am a badass country boy who drinks, drives trucks, and hangs out on the farm and backroads" while a series of bad rock music lingers in the background. This type of music shall forever be known as "Backroad Pop" (and thunder sounds in the background). The other pervasive style is the ladies or vocal groups singing pop songs with the occasional banjo or fiddle thrown in. From this day forward, all in the land shall use the term "Glam Twang" (more thunder!).

If you notice, in both instances I leave out the word "country". Country music from its inception in the twenties has always been about real life--hard work, struggle, love, loss, family, drugs, God--whatever the average guy or gal was dealing with. From pain to joy, hatred to love, life to death, country music made you feel something. It was poetic words set to simple music that captured the feelings and trials that most of us go through on this journey we call life.

The family farm was home, a sacred and respected place, not somewhere to just drink cheap beer and turn up dirt with our new truck. We drank  and took drugs because we hurt, not because we were just out for a good time and looking for a buzz. We put women on a pedestal, even after they broke our hearts, instead of just chasing tail and putting another notch on our belt. We were simple people, but we weren't dumbed down--we played hard, loved fully, and felt pain in the deepest part of our soul.

Maybe America has gotten too dumbed down. Maybe it isn't Nashville's fault. Maybe they are just a reflection of what we have become. The answers are beyond my pay grade, I guess, but at the very least, we can honor what was America and it's music by renaming the new stuff on the radio. It is the honorable thing to do.

--Chad K. Slagle

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How NOT To Write A Song

 How Not To Write A Song

As someone who regularly stands or sits in front of a group of people to bear his thoughts and soul through songs, I am often asked about how I go about writing songs. This, of course, is like asking someone how to make love or how to raise a child. The topic is so broad and diverse, that a simple answer is nearly impossible. Besides the years of learning instruments, understanding basic music theory, gaining a better understanding of rhyme and meter, and trying to actually learn the craft of songwriting, there is simply the time it takes to write plenty of bad songs before the good ones start to come. There are books written on the subject, and if I ever get the notion, I may write such a book. But, something that I don't see much written about is how NOT to write a song. There are several things that I see over and over again in songs, especially in newer writers, that if avoided would make a song that is more memorable to the audience.

Now, for those of you wanting to write the next pop hit or new country single, some of these will not apply. You see, there seems to be a "formula" used now that shows up over and over again in such music. I will highlight some of these as I reach them in this discussion, but these are not the type of songs that I wish to write, and I am hoping that if you are reading this you too are hoping to stretch and grow to be a more prolific songwriter. (However, writing a few crappy hit songs is a good way to make some income and then concentrate on the stuff you really want to do, so don't completely write that off just yet...)

So, here are a few things that learning to avoid will make your songs stand out in the crowd. If you are simply trying to be a songwriter and not necessarily perform your songs in public, some of these may not be as applicable, but you may still want to keep in mind during your writing sessions.


How many times have you heard a "country" song  by one of these new "artists" that when simply read is just one country cliché after the next... EX. Driving my truck down to the river, drinking beer, high school football, young love, hard work, etc... Literally, they will string one country cliché' after the other about country living, sing the chorus about 5 times, and call it a day.   Country music is a great example, but rap music is just as bad.  How many hoes, strong blunts, stacks of cash, and gold teeth are necessary?? The classic rap songs that I think will stand the test of time are the ones by folks like NWA, Tupac, and Tribe Called Quest-- groups who may have mentioned such things in their songs, but were actually making valid social commentary, and not relying on such clichés to make up the song. Not to mention, since they were some of the first to talk about street life, it was far from cliché at the time. My guess is that if such groups were to start now, there message would be the same, but the content would be more diverse.

  Now, that being said, the idea that no clichés should show up in your song is not what I am saying. Using a saying or catch phrase in whatever genre you write in can serve you very well as chorus or "hook" in the song. Just try not to use too many in one song, and when you do, try to phrase it or present it in a different way.


  This is one that I have had issues with in the past, and I see younger people having similar issues with all the time. Let me give you an example from my own experience and then I will give you examples that I see regularly.

Some years back, I had gotten some great press about my songwriting from an "authority" in the music business. He had gotten a copy of my demo tape and did a great write-up on me in order to promote a showcase I was doing in Nashville. I went on stage to a packed house and the first few songs went great. But, as the night progressed, I could feel my audience slipping away. After the show, I met the journalist who had written the article and thanked him for the kind words. His response was , "Had I known you were so young, I probably wouldn't have written the article". You see, I was writing very mature songs, and they didn't match the baby face that was standing on the stage. The audience had a hard time believing what I was saying. How could someone so young speak of hard living, drinking, drugs, lost love, and other adult topics?

You see, I was emulating the songwriters I admired---Townes Van Zant, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc. And, although I was writing of true experiences in my songs, much of it was as an observer of other people I knew. Yet, I was writing in the first person as though it had happened to me personally. That may be fine on a demo tape to pitch for other people to record, but for me to promote myself as a performer, those songs needed to be written in the third person and interspersed with more age appropriate topics like chasing teenage girls or getting drunk for the first time.

  If you are 25 years old, write about things a 25 year old should be concerned with--things like leaving home, trying to find your way as an adult, relationships, etc. It needs to be believable to the audience that what you are singing about is something you know or have lived through. Again, you can write other songs if written as an observer in third person, but they need to be done sparingly throughout your set.


How many times have we heard someone say about a band or artist, "All their stuff sounds the same". Granted, some of the greatest bands have created a "signature" sound and are immediately recognizable (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, etc...), but still have managed to diversify their catalog. Many times I hear a young new artist who I think is fantastic, but 4 songs into the set I have lost interest because they have a similar meter and phrasing in nearly every song.

            It takes time to study and learn different styles of music and then incorporate what you have learned into your own music. If you starting writing songs after hearing Jack Johnson or Dave Matthews on the radio, you may have a hard time diversifying your songs while still emulating the artist that inspired you to write, especially early on. So, here are just a few simple things you can do to change it up.

1) Buy or download a metronome app and USE IT! One of the easiest things to do to diversify a bit is to change the speed of your songs. Play around with it---see how fast or how slow you can make a song and it still work. If all your songs naturally find themselves in a meter of 60 beats per minute, see which ones can be changed up and do it.

2) Change your key! Another simple way to make your songs different is by using varying keys. If you are new to guitar, the use of a capo is a fast, easy way to change keys while still using the basic chords you have learned. If you are more of an intermediate or advanced player, there are some great apps or programs that can easily transpose your song to another key. If you write pop songs in major keys, try switching to a minor key.

3) Change your song structure! Another great way to get something different is to create different song structures, or different rhyming schemes. Here are a few rhyming patterns you could try for instance:

A,A,B,B   A,B,A,B    A,A,B,A  A,A,A,B

Also, try switching up the order of a song structure. You shouldn't always do a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus. Try starting with the chorus, add a bridge, modulate they key on the final chorus, or do two verses before you hit the chorus. It is a good idea to identify your rhyme sequence and overall song pattern so if you do decide to try something different you can outline it easily enough and see how it works.


            When I first heard the words "Will the real Slim Shady please stand up...please stand up...", I couldn't help but smile. All to often in our over-played Top 40 world, we hear the same trends and topics so much that we begin to think that if we want to make music and write songs, they have to be within the constraints of a certain subject matter. Bullshit. If there is a topic you like, or a hobby you are involved in, there is a group of people out there just ready to be your audience.

  Some years back, I had gotten tired of some of the "business" aspect of music and wanted to stretch myself a bit. I had recently rekindled my love of traditional archery and hunting, so I was devoting a lot of my time to that. So, I decided to write a few songs about that experience, and about the people and places I had been reading about. After singing them around a few campfires, I realized there was an audience for my new songs. I went into the studio and cut an album, found ways to market it to my audience, and since have sold over 10,000 albums and downloads. If it means something to you, it means something to someone else, too.

  Write about what you know. If you are a rich white kid living in the suburbs throwing parties and taking xanac, then rap about that. You have no street credentials. You don't sell drugs in order to pay your baby's momma. You are just an angry white kid looking to score women and a buzz. That's OK. There are millions of other ass-wipes just like you who will identify and buy your songs.


  This past year, I hosted a songwriter showcase for a few young songwriters. I visited with all of them before the show and gave some words of encouragement. One young man was exceptionally well-mannered, intelligent, clean-cut, and good-looking. Now, I had not heard any of their music prior or spoken with them in detail about their musical tastes or influences.

  The clean-cut songwriter performed 5 songs during the showcase that night---all written with a backwoods gruff, mostly about running from the law, drinking moonshine, hard drugs, and women. At the end of the show I told him he did a nice job and said," I bet you like Hank III". "He's my favorite", the kid said.

  You see, the kid's appearance in no way matched the type of songs he was singing. In fact, his high, clear-toned voice was not a good fit for the rough, low-living music he was creating, either. One of two things had occurred--either the kid yearned to break free of his straight-laced life, or he didn't find his own life worthy enough of writing about. But, he was wrong. You see, know matter what our circumstances are, someone else has been in, is currently in, or knows someone in that circumstance and will potentially relate to your song.

  Also, if you are a performing songwriter, look and act the image you want to portray. Hank Williams didn't sing about drinking because it was cool, he did it because he was a drunk. Know who you are. Write about the things you like and dislike about yourself. Often, what we may see as a weakness in ourselves is actually one of the great strengths in songwriting.

--By Chad K. Slagle                

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Etiquette of Smoking

            Our conforming American society has found yet another subject in which to loathe, pass judgment, and if all goes as planned, eradicate. And why not?! By many standards, smoking is a disgusting habit. But, so is eating in many circles…. I suggest taking a booth next to the All-You-Can-Eat buffet at your local Shoneys if you would like to question this statement. When can I expect legislation to be passed against self-induced obesity??

            I could go on about such inconsistencies in our modern world, but that would require several chapters. I haven’t the time or diligence to write such a piece—nor do I have the desire to do so. Hate smokers if you want. Hate Muslims. Hate Africans. Hate whoever you damn well please. But before you do, I suggest educating yourself enough about the matter before passing final judgment. If you are going to hate someone or something, you should at least be expected to having a working knowledge of the subject…

            Now, before I begin, let me just say that I am NOT a smoker---at least not as one is generally defined. I despise cigarettes--primarily due to the fact they leave such an odor. As one who goes to great lengths to rid himself of human odors to get closer to game, I could never take up smoking cigarettes. Besides, I have spent years playing music in smoke-filled bars, and like the butcher who has lost a taste for meat, I have simply had my share.

            However, just as I do not see how a balanced, organic meal can be compared to a pile of utility steaks and butter-fed mashed potatoes at your local slop shop, I can see no comparison between Bobby Joe’s 4 packs of Lucky Strikes addiction and the pleasure that can be derived from the feel and taste of an aged, wooden pipe. Still, there are those who would simply classify Bobby Joe and me as “smokers”. Therefore, I guess it is prudent that I consider all those who eat at Shoneys as---well--- Fat Asses.

            The truth is (according to me, of course) that there are glaring differences between the filthy barbarism of the tar-filled cancer stick that has become a staple of Bobby Joe’s diet, and the naturally-grown, additive free tobacco of which I partake in from time to time. And, just as glaring are the contrasting ways in which Bobby Joe and I enjoy our fire-driven pleasure.

            Bobby Joe began smoking at the age of 13 in order to be cool. I started as an adult—at a time when I could care less about being “cool”.  Bobby Joe smokes more when things are bothering her—like when wondering whom the father is. I only smoke during times of relaxation and contentment. Bobby Joe smokes constantly to get through her day. I smoke at the end of mine. Bobby Joe smokes in her house, car, bars, restaurants, bathrooms, and behind the diner. I smoke around campfires, in my canoe, or sitting on my dock. Bobby Joe smokes because her body thinks she must. I smoke because my mind enjoys the rest.
            You see, I don’t smoke often. I smoke when the time is right---like enjoying a fine wine or group sex. Timing is everything. Also, it is rare that anyone else is around when I smoke. My smoke time is a personal time. (Unlike the group sex)

            My smoking is not one of addiction, but of affliction---generally caused by dealing with the same modern mentality that caused me to write on this subject to begin with… The process of smoking a pipe CORRECTLY is, in of itself, a great healer---much the way the antiquated method of washing dishes by hand can be. In both instances, an organic rhythm is created, and soon only the rhythm exists. The mental baggage is released, and action suddenly replaces thought---a rarity these days.

            In contrast to the uncivilized cigarette wielder, the pipe connoisseur takes great care in what goes in his or her mouth (a lesson Bobby Joe still has yet to grasp). The pipe is meticulously cared for—the tobacco chamber scraped clean of any char, the smoke tube properly brushed with a cleaner, and a fresh filter put in place. For those who choose the pipe, it takes more than an expiration date to judge freshness. No—the tobacco must show a perfect blend of fragrance, texture, and flavor. The tobacco has been hand selected—even to the point where one has found the perfect mixture of 2 or even 3 tobaccos—producing the perfect “breed” (much like crossing a Labrador and a poodle).

            Then, and only then, is the pipe properly prepared to be enjoyed. Next, the true aficionado will light the blissful mixture with one of only two options—the ageless chrome zippo that has been handed down from another “keeper of the flame”, or for those without parental guidance, the perfectly balanced butane option for an even burn.

            And lastly, and perhaps most important, like Mr. Clinton, the person behind the pipe should NEVER inhale. Inhaling into your lungs is like chugging a bottle of 60 year old scotch! When one has reached this level of maturity, they realize that the flavor and aroma should be cherished—carefully tasted, absorbed into the palate, and then released like a flock of doves at the Macy’s Day parade—a sign of grace and freedom.

            Now, as the facts have clearly shown (my facts, as stated previously), calling one who cherishes the time with a properly aged and prepared pipe is far from “a smoker”. I do, however, realize that there are those of you out there (generally less educated, racist-types), who will continue to group me in with the brash, foul-smelling, flam-hacking, chain smokers who reside on Lot 12. So be it. But remember, the time is coming when the politically-correct will turn against you and your ways of eating. It is only a matter of time.

            And, I will be there to tell you “I told you so”---FAT ASS!

By Chad K. Slagle 

Weekend Shows

Excellent times this weekends at Joyces UniqueClub in OKC..what a GREAT CROWD !!!  We really appreciate Mr. John "Doc" Holiday for sitting in with us, Truly an honor.  Yesterdays Wine Band is already booking into 2014, so call and reserve your date TODAY.
Took Katie and I almost 3 hours this Friday to drive to OKC for the gigs...very slick, plus it didn't help getting stuck on I-40EAST for 1 1/2 HOURS due to an accident, but we made and glad we did.
We appreciate everyone's SUPPORT, Thank you so very much 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another GREAT Weekend Ahead for Yesterdays Wine Band

This Friday at Herrons Opry Theatre in Collinsville, Oklahoma, show starts at 7pm...hope to meet NEW FRIENDS...

Saturday...Halloween Bash at Sug's Anchor Inn in Nescatunga, Oklahoma.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Black Knight

The Black Knight

Like other various "outings" that my wife has felt it necessary to subject me to, the one today came in just above the painful mark and way below joyous. She will be the first to tell you that anytime I am forced to spend money, I find it to be somewhat painful. However, this particular investment hurt not only for the monetary sacrifice, but also for the emotional sacrifice. You see, today I purchased a new truck. I know that for the majority of the human male species with even moderate genitalia, this should be a moment of jubilation. But for anyone who has owned a vehicle as dependable, tough, and downright supernatural as the one of which I am about to describe, you will understand my grief. (I assured Jen that I will grieve just as deeply the day I have to trade her in for a new model, but she didn't seem to get the punch line) Neither my driveway nor my insurance premium has the capacity for two trucks, so it is time to say goodbye to an old friend. I can only hope that the following words can somehow pay homage to one of the toughest old S.O.B's to ever roll across this great nation.

            I know that there are several people out there that will find it odd that I choose to write about an inanimate object as though it were a breathing, living creature (my wife included!). Of course, many of those folks feel that putting a down payment on a vehicle in order to rent it for a specific amount of time with the promise to drive it very little, only to give it back and do the same thing over again is sound reasoning. So, based on that, I hereby discredit their opinion altogether. There was a time in this great land that a man bought a truck and kept it for ten years. I guess those days are gone now, but there are always a few holdouts. I guess "The Black Knight" and I are just two old holdouts.
            I first met the "Knight" just over a decade ago. My mother had been in the market for a small pickup for light hauling and work around the farm, but didn't want to spend an arm and a leg. One of our neighbors had gotten into the business of restoring wrecked cars, so we put a bug in his ear to keep an eye out for something that would work for us. About a month later, we got a call about a black Ford Ranger that had been wrecked. It had been rolled, and the roof of the cab had been smashed in and the body banged up pretty good, but the engine and frame seemed to be in fine shape, with less than 40,000 miles. After some numbers tossing, we agreed on a price and the work was underway.

            Several weeks later, we got a call and Mom asked me to drive her over so we could bring it home. As she was taking care of the paperwork, she asked me to go ahead and drive it back. At first, I wasn't the least bit impressed.  The truck had no power steering, and turning the wheel from a dead stop was a workout. Fact is; there wasn't anything even remotely close to power in it.  It was early summer, and there was no sign of an air conditioning apparatus. There was a rectangular piece of plastic where a radio should be, and even if I were to throw a radio in there, it was never fitted for an antenna. The seats were gray vinyl, and it was all I could do to peel myself off them when I got back to the house. Needless to say, I saw nothing special about this truck.

            The "Knight" served its purpose over the next couple years or so for Mom. She would haul things with it when necessary, and when the weather was nasty, would drive it back and forth to work. Up until that point, it seemed that this was just a simple, dependable little truck. It was not until my brother Travis had fooled the state of West Virginia into believing that he had the capacity to operate a vehicle that I began to see that this was no ordinary truck.

            If my memory serves me (which could go either way at this point), I believe Travis owned the truck for almost a year. Travis had pulled an "Evil Knevel" with a certain blue Bonneville that my mother had treasured just weeks after receiving his little plastic picture, so Mom was forced to drive the truck for a couple of months until she was able to replace the Bonneville. Mom figured it best to let Travis take over the last remaining payments on the truck when she bought her new car. Travis made it about eight months with only a few scratches and dents before running the "Knight" over an embankment and putting it in a state very similar to the one that caused us to buy it in the first place. So, at the age of 18, Travis had now totaled two vehicles, had about  $800 left to pay on the truck, a $1000 deductible just to get it back on the road, and an insurance premium that could easily feed a small country. That is where I came in.

            I had been driving a less-than-satisfactory Oldsmobile, and was all too happy to hand it over to Travis. I was in need of a truck with a topper for hauling my musical equipment to gigs and various outdoor activities, so I paid the deductible and the last of the remaining payments. The "Knight" had a new owner, and for the past 8 years, he has never let me down.

            The first order of business was to make the "Knight" more suitable. Luckily, my mother had fashioned the old boy with a rockin' sound system and CD player. From there, I added a topper for the bed. Next, I purchased chrome rims, larger tires, and had it detailed with chrome strips. Then, I added a bug shield, window visors, and a nice seat cover. Because of the wreck, the "Knight" had a brand new coat of paint, nice mirrors, and a sharp bumper. In a word, it was kickin'. When it was finished, I stopped by my good friend Allen Schnopp's house for the usual celebratory beer (we always found reasons for such events), and as I was getting out of the truck Allen met me in the driveway and said, "It looks like a shiny black knight!" Like many "Allen-isms" over the years, it just stuck.

            At the time, I was living in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Nearly every weekend I was heading to a DJ or music gig. Every Wednesday night I drove an hour south after work to meet my friend Thomas, drink all night, and head back to work the next morning. For a while, I seemed to come down with a virus every Thursday. I am still not sure how I continued to be employed with the Patriot-News, but nevertheless, the "Wednesday Night Drinkin' Club" became tradition. Between my day job travels, music gigs, and affinity for Southern Comfort, the "Knight" put on more miles in a year than most people put on in four. When my shows got a little too long and fun, the old boy even served as a place to snooze one off with a little mattress that I kept in the bed. Fact is the "Black Knight" was about the only stable thing in my life at the time.

            Before the Patriot-News had the opportunity to fire me for any number of reasons and my ex-wife had time to think of another reason to extort money from me, Thomas and I hit the road. At some point during our drunken ramblings, we felt it would be a good idea for us to travel across the country. If we were lucky, we might find a place we liked and hadn't pissed anyone off yet.  So, I purchased an old pop-up camper, put what few things my ex hadn't taken into storage, and said goodbye to the Chocolate Capital of the World!

            Most of the next year Thomas and I lived on the road. I would peddle my way into a gig now and then, and sometimes we made some quick-cash playing on the streets. Basically, we were a couple of modern day hobos. The old truck had nearly 100,000 miles on it the day we left behind our families and headed west. We traveled several thousands of miles in that year, and the old "Knight" never let us down; not once, despite the times I gave it every reason to.

            I can remember one instance in Montana that we hit a huge snowstorm on our way to Washington State. Tractor-trailers were parked along ever turnaround, pull-off, and side road they could find. We stopped long enough to throw a set of chains on the front tires, and never stopped again for 200 miles. The snow was piled 12-15ft on each side of us, and was coming down in flakes the size of walnuts. The closer we drew northwest to Washington State, the deeper the snow on the road. Even with 6 or 7 inches of fresh powder on the roads, we forged ahead. Thomas and I barely spoke a word in those 200 miles. For some reason, we simply weren't going to stop. We never actually said it, it was just understood. So, much like a "Thelma and Louise" ending, we pushed on straight ahead to what seemed certain doom. But, our small, two-wheel-drive behemoth loaded down with everything we felt we may possibly need in traveling cross country and pulling our small, Coleman-manufactured home saw us through. Physics was never one of my stronger studies, but as best as I can calculate, we never should have made it.

            From time to time, Thomas and I would scrape up enough money to pay lot rent for a few days at some backwoods KOA and explore parks and wildlife areas. "The Black Knight" has rolled through Yellowstone, Glacier, Zion, The Grand Canyon, and The Badlands; just to name a few. It sat at the base of Devil's Tower, stood before 4 presidents, and paid homage to Crazy Horse. It has ridden through rain forests, climbed 4000-foot mountains, crossed deserts, and waded rivers. It took on every distinct piece of country we could throw its way, and it never failed to make it to the other side.

            "The Black Knight" has also seen its share of city lights. It cruised the strip in Las Vegas, crossed the Golden Gate in San Francisco, rolled down Hollywood Blvd in LA, passed the Arch in St. Louis, fell in the shadow of the Space Needle in Seattle, and felt the cold wind of Chicago's East Side. He slept near homeless, prostitutes, and drugstore cowboys without a single complaint.

            In more recent years, the "Knight" and I have grown into a different relationship. We no longer hit the road for months at a time; instead our outings became weekend adventures. Instead of late nights in a gravel lot outside some old honky-tonk, we spent time parked near lonesome streams with the dwindling light of the campfire. The need for hauling musical equipment was replaced with the need for hauling camping gear, unruly canines, and old canoes. Life took on a new rhythm for both of us, and after all the miles and all the places, I guess it was just time.

            Today, as I clean out my old friend, I am constantly reminded of the numerous adventures we have had. Behind the bucket seat I find an old atlas with highlighted areas that Thomas made of each destination on our trip. I wipe the dust off the extension mirror I once used to maneuver my old pop-up camper that now sits as a memorial in my backyard; a constant reminder of days gone by. Wedged under the passenger seat is an old address book, as tattered and faded as the memories of the people and places it names. I pull out the "S" hook that has served as a hat rack for more hats than one man should own in a lifetime from the nameless hole just above my back glass. The glove box contains receipts for things from places that I can barely pronounce, and a few photos of friends and places that I still think about in my dreams.

            As I begin to wash and wax the outside, I am amazed to find the small reminders etched into the "Knights" exterior. The windshield still has the long, half-circle crack from the "mysterious pebble incident" in Seattle. The front bumper has a section about the size of a softball missing thanks to a curious coyote in Wyoming that decided to watch the pretty lights a bit too long. Both sides are lined with scratches from various camping missions in which I was certain there was "enough room". The lower corner of the tailgate still has the funny curl from backing into that redwood in California, not realizing that Thomas had left the tailgate down. The rails of the bed are dinged and scratched from years of shifting musical equipment, and the roof of the cab has two small spots rubbed to the shiny metal from miles of backwoods travel with the canoe strapped on.

            I am just finishing the final rinse when Jen steps outside. "Someone on the phone interested in the truck", she says. I dry my hands and she hands over the phone. The young man on the other line informs me that he had heard about my truck from a friend of Jen's and that he would like to take a look at it. He proceeds to ask the usual vehicular questions, and I am a bit less than cordial until he asks, "Think it will be OK to haul some music equipment"? Living in Music City, USA, I should not have been surprised by such a question, but I was. I asked the young man to elaborate, and he told me that he and a good friend were moving to Seattle. They had made some contacts in the music business, and needed to purchase a vehicle to get them there. They were going to rent a small Uhaul trailer to pull behind, load up the truck, and head west. "Basically" he said, "we need something to get us there, haul our stuff for gigs, and have to take to the mountains from time to time".

            As I stand beside my old friend, I envision him making one last trip back across the country. I think about him passing some of those old familiar mountains, crossing the big river, and cruising under those big skies one more time. Suddenly, I feel a sense of sadness, but overall, a sense of shame. I feel as though I have broken a wild stallion, and put him out to pasture like some damned-old quarterhorse. I had succumbed to the "civilized" life, and in the process, so did he. Like any good friend, he stuck by me, and by doing so, lost a bit of himself. I had no right to ask such a thing of something so free. The "Knight" is a metallic representation of everything that ever made this damn country interesting in the first place, and he deserves something better than just an occasional trip to the river or ride to a city park.

            As I think about the great injustice I have caused my dear friend, the young man chimes in after what is probably several silent seconds, "So, do you think it is up to it"? Suddenly, the sadness is exchanged for joy; I grin a bit, and say, "Kid, you have no idea". 

By Chad K. Slagle