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Porter Wagoner reaches another landmark

By Tom Netherland, October 2002

Page 2...

So given a date in April, Nelson came up from Texas and appeared on the Opry. Deal done. Not quite.

"Well, I got to thinkin' that while he was in town I would be doing this CD. I called him back and said, 'man, I'm not tryin' to thump a free melon, but I would love for you to sing a couple of songs with me on my new album.'"

Nelson asked him what he wanted to sing, then told Wagoner to pick out two songs, and he'd be glad to record them.

"It was really that simple," Wagoner says. "I thought 'Family Bible.' He wrote that years and years ago. I thought that was one of the best gospel songs I'd ever heard. So, I asked him about that, and he said sure. I figured that 'Silver Eagle Meets the Great Speckled Bird' would be a good song, and he liked it really well."

"Kind of a funny thing happened. He called me back and said, 'what key do you do 'Family Bible' in?' I said, 'well, I used to do it in C. He said, 'so did I, but I do it a little bit lower now, how about you? What about B flat?' I said, man, that's exactly where it works for me. There's proof that things do get a little bit lower as you get older, and he and I had a big laugh over that."

Laughing aside, Wagoner employed excellent taste in song choice. He chose an old familiar one in Dolly Parton's "Lost Forever In Your Kiss."

"We did that as a duet one time," he says. "It was one of my favorite duets that me and Dolly did. I thought it was a great, great song."

Likewise Wayne Rainey's "(Why Don't You) Haul Off And Love Me." Over much of the past year, Wagoner's been singing it live on the Opry, so why not record it? "I remember when that song was out," Wagoner says. "I just changed it around a little bit, did it a little more like today's music."

Do not take that to mean that Wagoner's gone whacko, gone pop like McGraw or Hill. Worry not, purists. To paraphrase Wagoner's late friend Waylon Jennings, Wagoner could not go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers.

Wagoner also chose another golden oldie in "Girl in the Blue Velvet Band." Credited to the pens of Cliff Carlisle and Mel Foree, no one knows for certain who wrote the song.

"When I was a kid, I learned that song from Bill Monroe," Wagoner says. "I couldn't find out who wrote the song. I really don't know."

As for his own writing, the man who wrote "Trademark," a Top 10 hit for Carl Smith, Wagoner says that he writes when opportunity arises.

"I've written some new things with a guy that's a good friend of mine, Randy Van Warmer, a brilliant writer," Wagoner says. "He and I get together every month or so and write some things. One of them will be out in a little while, I think, called 'Tough Talking Cowboy.' Great song. We're gonna pitch it to the Dixie Chicks. Would that not be a trip if they recorded a Porter Wagoner song?"

It should come as no surprise that the man who once recorded such biting social commentaries as "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" and "Skid Row Joe," would include a song such as his own "Silence in the Wind" on his new album.

written, the song begs a number of different interpretations. Given the stage of life that the 75-year-old Wagoner is now in, such lines as "we have almost reached the end, I can hear the final warning," appears as if he's measuring his final days. Then again, maybe not.

"'Silence in the Wind' is probably the best song I've written during my lifetime," Wagoner says. "I've wrote some 400 songs during my whole career, but I really think that's a good song with a great melody. It was a song that was just kind of given to me. I wrote it in my boat one time on the lake. I hope the fans like it because I think it says something a little bit different."

Therein lies one reason why Wagoner has endured so well for so long. If anything his career-wide choice of material represents risks and a willingness to go forth and explore a litany of topics. He's addressed such subjects as alcoholism ("Skid Row Joe"), life sense from an eccentric ("Waldo the Weirdo"), insanity ("The Rubber Room") and homelessness ("The Silent Kind").

Another explanation for Wagoner's perseverance comes more simply. As Willie Nelson says, "Retire from what?"

"That is so true. The music business is so easy it's not like work, man," Wagoner says. "I'm sure that if your job is something that you love, then you will excel at. I really believe that. Man, I would have been in the music business even if I had not made a livin' at it."

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