Another song from the mind of Jack Tottle

Jack Tottle at The Pickin’ Porch in Bristol, TN (6/5/13) – photo by Dan Krill

This entertaining yarn is a contribution from Jack Tottle. Now retired, Jack was the founder of the bluegrass music program at ETSU, and the author of the highly-regarded book for Oak Publications, Bluegrass Mandolin.

Not long ago I stopped in at Johnson City, Tennessee’s Yee-Haw Brewing Company. A sign on the wall read:

“We don’t need nothin’ and we’re broke, and we’ve already found God. So, unless you’re giving out free beer, Please go away.”

I ordered a hamburger and a Yee-Haw beer from the fragile and innocent-looking young waitress. She smiled sweetly and scurried away. In a moment she was back. “We can’t get meat from our supplier these days,” she apologized, “and I guess I must have drunk all the beer in the storeroom last night!” I settled for an avocado whole wheat muffin and a small carrot juice.

A heavy-set elderly gentleman was getting ready for a solo musical set, accompanying himself on a battered ancient banjo. The instrument was adorned with gaudy mother-of-toilet-seat inlays on the fingerboard and headstock. Its time-seasoned sound filled the room with the matchless resonance that only a calfskin banjo head can produce.

He played a few measures of delicious clawhammer phrases, then softened the sound so he could speak with the banjo in the background.

“I’m a-tryin’ to lose some weight,” he volunteered. “When I went to weigh myself on the bathroom scale, my wife peeked in and said, ‘Holdin’ your stomach in like that ain’t gonna make no difference.’ I said, ‘It will if I’m tryin’ to read the numbers on the scale!’”

“I’ve just joined weight watchers,” the old man continued. “So far I’ve already lost thirty-eight . . . dollars!”

“I’m only kiddin,’” he confessed. “I stole all that from the Moron Brothers. Now those fellers can really tell a joke! You oughta check ‘em out on YouTube.”

He paused and propelled a large stream of brown tobacco juice into his spit can. Then, he broke into a heartfelt rendition of Uncle Dave’s Travels, concluding with the unforgettable lines:

The old men chew tobacco thin in Nashville
Old men check tobacco thin in Nashville.
They chew tobacco thin, and it dribbles down their chin,
But they lick it in again, in Nashville.

“Eat your heart out, William Shakespeare!” he grinned.

“But seriously folks,” the old fellow went on, “I’ve been kinda concerned about this virus. They say it only kills old people, so why worry? But at 80 years old, it won’t be too long before I’ll be gettin’ old myself.

Now I’ve seen quite a few folks takin’ all the precautions, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. But not everyone is, so I wrote a little song about the situation. It’s called Six Feet Underground, and goes kinda like this:

Please pardon my insistence,
But you need to keep your distance;
Seems it could really pay, to stay six feet away

Now I know that it may bug you
I’ll just go solo fishin’—to avoid transmission
And gain few more years of hangin’ around.

Now many of us like — to sing trios around one mike.
Some traditions though, may need to take time off.
I’d prefer NOT to take a hit from my tenor singer’s spit,
Or breathe the droplets in my buddy’s cough.

You can—I surely hope—beat your fear of plain old soap
And take your 20 seconds just to scrub.
Even though it is official, still it IS beneficial —
And NOT from some Facebook snake oil club!

If you value our existence,
You’ll understand my insistence:
Is it too much, to ask, just to put on, a mask
As an example to everyone around?

To high and mighty politicians surrounded by physicians,
Giving virus tests before they let folks near you:
Words can be quite loud and speeches mighty proud,
But actions speak the loudest, and WE HEAR YOU!

DO lose your resistance, PLEASE maintain distance;
Don’t let that mournful church bell sound
It will truly pay to stay six feet away

“You think I ought to send it to the IBMA? I believe I’ll put it up for SONG OF THE YEAR!”