It’s hard to sort out after all these years when I really started to care about MUSIC as a THING. It played such a huge role in my life, since before I was even conceived, that it’s almost no wonder I haven’t thought about it much. Except to know the music I wanted to listen to was “straight from the pits of hell,” according to my dad. Direct quote. No, that’s not quite right. That’s where he said break dancing came from.
I was in like second grade when MTV broke out. I had to sneak-watch it. I wasn’t even allowed to listen to Weird Al. Let that sink in for a minute.
Seems it always comes back to my upbringing and my family. I was raised a straight-up Bible-thumper. To set the groundwork a bit, my Great Uncle George—who called Santa Claus SATAN CLAUS—sold all his belongings back in the ’40s or ’50s and went out on top of a mountain to wait for Jesus to come back. Or so the story goes. His wife, my Great Aunt Ada, made the best damn tacos I’ve ever had, though.
My dad—20-year Army man and two-tour Vietnam veteran—was also a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher. The Book of Revelation was his jam. I’m not surprised. His own father, also a minister, dropped dead one night of a heart attack after delivering a sermon, right there behind his own pulpit. My dad was in Vietnam when it happened. Let that sink in for a minute.
My dad was also a truck driver. There’s a Clutch song that goes “A preacher, a trucker, a high roller…a holy rollin’ preachin’ rollin’ trucker!” Sorry in advance for the pun, but that song always struck a chord with me…
In any case, before he was a SANCTIFIED BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, gospel-spouting Christian, my dad, by his own admission, was a bit of a hell raiser. He played guitar in bars and such. Mostly Elvis tunes, he said. And later, when I was about ten—by which time we were full bore into Jesus—he showed me a few chords on guitar, and it wasn’t long before I was playing alongside him, both of us accompanying the piano player at our church.
My mother, for her part, came from a long line of singers. So my dad got me an electric guitar and a shitty little Peavey amp that sounded more distorted clean than the dirtiest Iggy Pop and The Stooges album. He got my younger brother a bass he learned on the fly, and then put together a little family band. We were The Jeffrey Family and played in our church and other local churches, mostly in the summer during Church Homecoming season, but also at tent revivals and homeless shelters. He had big plans, my dad. We’d played alongside some big names in the gospel music business, after all. The Primitives. The McKameys. Groups like that. He wanted to go whole hog, be a sort of revivalist Chuck Wagon Gang. Professional, I mean. So did my mom and brother. Not me, though. I was the black sheep almost from the beginning. I went along grudgingly, but I was more interested in learning how to play CCR or Grateful Dead tunes. On the sly, natch.
In the end, I think I broke my dad’s heart. He told me once he thought I’d never really been saved. Maybe he thought that would hurt me. It didn’t then, but sometimes now it does. Not because I feel the need to get RIGHT WITH THE LORD, but because my dad’s dead. And I feel guilty because now I know the path I took hurt him. He tried to get me back on the STRAIGHT AND NARROW PATH—tried praying for me, tried to get me to break out my guitar and play some songs with mom for old time’s sake—but I refused. He died thinking—no, knowing—I’d suffer all eternity in Hell. The Circle would NOT be Unbroken.
The irony is: I can listen to bootlegs of Jerry Garcia singing “Cold Jordan” or “Angel Band” and I can dig it, but hearing those same songs spouted from the lips of a TRUE BELIEVER in THAT OLD TIME RELIGION grates against the very fabric of my soul. I can’t explain it any better than that…especially seeing as how I don’t believe in THE SOUL OF MAN as a THING. I believe in Soul Train.
I believe in James Brown.