Jan 4, 2018

Outlaw Country on an Old Emerson

My Uncle Mike introduced me to outlaw country. He was a big fan of Waylon, Johnny Cash, and Merle as far back as I can remember. Cassette tapes were his preferred format. Usually had a well-worn Emerson sitting there on his table. Always had a huge pile or shoebox full of tapes. There'd be a few Hee Haw Gospel Quartet tapes in there too, but it was mostly various albums and compilations of the country legends that are such a part of my listening habits as an adult. 

As a child, I'd sit and listen with him while I drew or played with my GI Joe men. "Ring of Fire" and "Amanda" and "On the Road Again"… he'd sit there in his wheelchair and listen for hours. Sometimes he'd turn on the old transistor radio and scroll through the stations. He was a little impatient, or just difficult to please - scanning through the static to find just the thing. When he found it, he'd stop and sing along a little. Mike knew the songs by heart. 

Into my teens, I developed more of a taste for rock music - pop metal, then heavy metal, then grunge. Country didn't really do it for me for a while there, but it was always Uncle Mike's favorite. Every Christmas or birthday, we were buying Mike a new radio or tape player because he was so hard on the electronics with his constant button pushing. We even tried a CD player or two, but tapes were easier for him to deal with.

In my late teens and early twenties, I came back to country music. Oh, the rock was still there, but I finally had experienced some of the losses - in life and relationships - that make someone fully appreciate the emotional honesty of truly great country music. And just who did I gravitate towards when I fell back in love with country music? Well, George Strait…. but then Waylon and Johnny and Merle. 

As Mike aged, he wasn't able to listen to music as much. His health often kept him in bed more than in his wheelchair, and when he was in his chair, his hands kept him from operating the radios and cassette players like he used to. But he still loved the music. "Jesus Loves Me" was one of his favorite songs and I heard him singing it as recently as the past couple of years. I'll always owe a huge debt of gratitude to my Uncle Mike for my love of music and country music in particular. 

My Uncle Mike passed away late Tuesday night. At 59, he lived past expectations for someone with his severity of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy took so many things from Mike - the ability to walk, a great deal of his mental function, his independence, and what most of us would call a "normal" life. However, it never robbed him of his love of family, God, and music, and I like to think those three helped him live a relatively long and entirely love-filled life. 

Thanks for everything, Uncle Mike. I love you.




  1. Trailer,

    I'm so sorry for your loss. Your story sort of reminds me of my grandfather. He always used to play older country music around the house - Johnny Cash and Charley Pride were his favorites. It was never my thing as a kid. Too slow. Too boring. I liked the Country I was hearing on the radio (I also had brief stints where I got into Hip hop via Chris Brown and Akon...yeah, thankfully playing Guitar Hero actually got me into some fantastic Rock like Guns and Roses, Metallica and more). Granted, this was 2007-2011 ish, so it was much easier to find the gems.

    In 2010 he had a stroke, so he lost his ability to move in his legs. He was confined to his power chair pretty much. One day I was sitting with him rummaging around his CD bin when I found a Johnny Cash album. He wanted to play it so I did. It was like a world of difference hearing it as a teenager compared to hearing it as a kid. That Christmas I asked for box sets from Johnny, Waylon, and Merle. That also was the year I become attached to Country music. I still have traces of Rock and (good) Hip Hop in me, but my love of Country music will always be attributed to my Grandpa.

    Like you, I know what it's like to see a disease take so much joy from a loved one. Stay strong, Trailer. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. Good stuff, Corey. RIP Mike.

  3. Wonderful, moving tribute. I am very sorry for your loss.



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