Guinotte Wise: Just For The Love Of It
Image: Unsplash, downloaded https://unsplash.com/photos/9aiIo4RJoog (28.2.2021.)
Curve Balls and Country Music: Remembering Charley Pride
He would probably have risen to the top of baseball, had he chosen that profession, and broken through the white barrier. I just know this; he had the work ethic of a Turkish soldier and he didn’t know the meaning of “no” or “impossible.”That’s obvious, isn’t it? He made his own openings. Charley Pride was a talented athlete at six foot one inch and 180 lbs, batting both left and right, and pitching (right-handed). His signature curve ball was an effective batter pisser-offer and it improved as he played, first for the Memphis Red Sox, then The Birmingham Black Barons. His final stop in the minors was the Missoula Timberjacks (Pioneer League), but his love of the game brought him to a minority ownership of the Texas Rangers and the no-doubt mixed emotive gig of performing The National Anthem at their parks often.
He put up with racism you wouldn’t believe; I know some of the circumstances and I won’t even paraphrase them, they’re so shitty. I worked for a partner of Charley’s for years, Jim Long, a music maker who became a legend in the business of prepared or “needle-drop” music, for the advertising and film industries, the best in that field.
He owned some radio stations with Pride, and I did some creative work for some of those stations, and the various music companies. At that time, he and Pride both lived in Dallas, in a pricey suburb.
Long told me when Charley moved into that neighborhood, he was out mowing his lawn and a neighbor lady stopped by. She gave Charley an address and asked that he mow their lawn when he was done at this location. Long asked him, “what did you do?” Charley replied, “I went down there and mowed her lawn.” I’m guessing, hoping, her discovery moment was painful payback but who knows. She may have thought it was cool having a famous C&W star mow her lawn.
Charley Pride was afflicted with bipolarity and it made what should have been a satisfying, though difficult, journey into the 99% white terrain of country music even tougher. I’m told meds ameliorated the condition some of the time, but the disability itself, when on high cycles, seems to render the need for further medication debatable. Ups and downs characterized a lot of his life then, even as a hall of famer.
Jim Long called me from his Southern California home (I was, am still, in rural southeast Kansas) at a time when Charley was considering a move to Branson and asked what I thought of a new song Charley was singing: Just For The Love Of It. I listened to it and was blown away. The inspirational lyrics, by Jeff Korretz Chase and Wood A. Newton, speak to faith and making do — and Charley’s voice and style were perfect complement.
Long asked if we could put together a low-cost music video of the song, shot at my place and around the county. I called Jim Wheeler, an award winning film and commercial shooter in KC, and he agreed to do it for “the price of a ham sandwich” as one of my ad bosses used to say. He put together a team and a schedule and then came Charley in a huge sleek bus. Jim Long arrived, as did half of Miami County when the word came down that Pride was here.
We shot it on old bridges and in abandoned farmhouses, and in my pasture and neighboring fields. He sang whether miked or not while filmed walking and my two Australian Shepherds were in love with his voice and him. There’s a scene with him and Jack and Mickey that made it to a Good Morning America interview with Charley. It’s in the video. Here’s a link to the whole thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpmlrFmJkZE.
I was stunned, literally, at one point, when Charley said to me, “When you’re talking to your buddies, you call me a coon, right? You say, that jig still singin’.” My mouth dropped open, then I stammered, “Nothing of the sort. I don’t use that language.” I was shaken. I recall the moment vividly and it was over thirty years ago. It threw me into a funk and when Jim Long asked what was wrong, I told him about it. He said not to let it bother me, Charley was just in one of his spells and he’d be fine with some rest. The air conditioning on the bus was not yet at comfort level so I led him to the bedroom, where he remarked on some pictures on the wall, then lay down for a short nap. The previous confrontation was not mentioned nor did anything similar occur again.
It emphasized a part of his life that he had to deal with, or not deal with, as he chose, and it saddened me. It should have. If you’re reading this and you’re white, think about it. If you’re black, or some other group that has had to bear any persecution at all, you should know some of us try to put ourselves in your place. Big deal? Maybe not, but it could help. We do try.
Charley passed away December 12, 2020 in Dallas, an acknowledged superstar in a white dominated area, C&W. And like a lot of southern country kids (Sledge, Mississippi), he grew up with a love of music and baseball. He was unusually good at both. Then he was great at his chosen profession. I saw him on TV before his death (from the damnable covid-19) and I marvelled at that one-of-a-kind voice and presence. And ironclad crucible-forged character. Again.
About the Author: Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Six more books since. A 5- time Pushcart nominee, his fiction, essays and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Southern Humanities Review, Rattle and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. (Until shelter in place order) Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com.