Whether it was on the free juke box at the original Longhorns on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, or on public television’s “Austin City Limits,” or just on the radio, I never heard George Strait’s wailing “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?” that I didn’t think about the two Jerrys – Wilson and Horton – and the one Bobby – Jones – and that summer in 1963 that the four of us spent working at Texas Steel Company in Fort Worth, Texas. And, I never hear “The Old Rugged Cross” where I am not transported back, in my mind, to that little country Methodist church, Pinehill, in Washington County, Georgia. I can see Grandma fanning and singing and Papa fanning and sitting and the memory is both warm and melancholy. There is nothing I can do to stop the feelings or change the memories. Funny how songs do that to me – and I expect to you, also.
Perhaps it’s Nat by himself and maybe it’s Nat and Natalie, but I bet you have memories – unforgettable thoughts – when you hear “Unforgettable.” It may be one of the most unforgettable songs of all times. It might be a man or a woman or a high school dance or a certain period in your life, and it may be sad or it may be the song that brought you and your wife together, but I bet lots of you have memories of this song.
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The Snack Shack was the gathering and eating place when I was at the University of Georgia back in the 1960s. It was located on Broad Street about a block from where the Holiday Inn Express is today. When Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes integrated the University, you could go to the Snack Shack any time of the day or night and Ray Charles’ voice would be emitting from the Wurlitzer, “Georgia, Georgia no peace I find, just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.” I never hear “Georgia On My Mind” that I am not back, though briefly, in Athens and during those stressful and tumultuous times. Ray Charles did that to me. And, then it is to the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives with Ray Charles, himself, there on the floor, playing and singing, and then with our voting unanimously to make the classic, “Georgia On My Mind,” Georgia’s official state song. I never made a vote I was more sure of and of which I was more proud.
It is not our song – even if we have one. “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” by Mel Carter or “Build Me Up Buttercup” or “I’ll Be Seeing You” or Alabama’s “Old Flame” would come closer to being “our song.” But, I never hear “Wind Beneath My Wings” and the line “Did I ever tell you that you’re my hero?” that I don’t think of Janice. For those of you who know Janice and me well, listen to the words and you will understand why.
It was probably in January or February 1960 and Jerry Wilson and I were supposed to be at home, after school, resting for a basketball game that Tuesday night. Instead, we went to Fort Valley to the movie to see Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue in “A Summer Place.” When I hear Percy Faith and his orchestra do the theme from “A Summer Place,” I always think about Jerry Wilson and his 1956 Ford convertible and our trip to Fort Valley. I’m glad we violated one of ‘Fessors rules and went to the movie – the memory is always that good.
I could go on and on. The Reverend Al Green and “I’m So Tired of Being Alone.” The Tams and “Be Young, Be Foolish, And Be Happy.” “Traces” by the Classic IV and Frank Sinatra singing “Summer Wind.” One of my favorites is Barry White’s “The First, The Last, My Everything,” and two others are, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “Lady in Red,” and what about Jack Green’s “Statue to a Fool” or Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops”? My favorite “church song” is, “My Tribute” and for country music, you can’t beat Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” unless it’s George Jones’ song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Lots of great songs. Lots of memories – some good, some bad. Some sweet, some sad. But, there is nothing you can do when the song comes on except to remember.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.