Life is often filled with stories about how things don’t turn out the way you had planned. Promising futures derailed by tragedy, and dreadful setbacks resolved by stunning recoveries are both part of fate. And the life of Leon “Booie” Beach has been touched by them both.
Bluegrass fans know Booie from his 12 years as guitarist with Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, or from his shorter stints in Nashville with bluegrass singers Melanie Canon, Marty Raybon, and country star Jeanie Kendall. He also had a band in North Carolina with Greg Luck and Kim Gardner called After Five. Folks in Florida may remember him as a teen picking with his brother Gary around Gainesville, where everyone figured he was destined for fame playing music, or on the gridiron. In high school Booie was a star running back, setting records along the way to what seemed a certain starring role at either the University of Florida or Florida State University.
But just as he was ready to make a commitment in his senior year, an unexpected hit left him with a torn ACL, a knee injury that ruined his chances to play college football. So it was off to Nashville for a career in the music business, where the bluegrass scene quickly recognized the talent in the young singer and guitar slinger.
When we caught up with Beach earlier this week, he was laying in a bed in the same Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL where he recovered from his knee injury thirty years earlier. This time he was recuperating from foot surgery brought on by an infection exacerbated by diabetes.
Booie had returned to Florida in 2011, and married his high school sweetheart, who he had met anew after 30 years! He had come back home to help care for his ill and elderly mother, and has been playing electric guitar with a Gospel band, the Mercy Mountain Band, and picking bluegrass wherever he could, mostly on banjo.
But health issues have defined his life of late.
“I’ve been battling diabetes this last few years. Didn’t realize I had it until 2013. The first serious bout I had with it was in 2016 when I found a sore on my toe, and I didn’t go to the doc like I should have. After three weeks when I went in, it had gotten into the bone. Had it cut off back then.”
An ulcer developed again on his foot recently, and he knew enough to get to the doctor quickly. They did a CT scan and determined that the bone infection had returned, and planned surgery to discover the extent and remove any infected bone. But the CT scan wreaked havoc with his kidneys, and he had to be on dialysis for three weeks before he was strong enough for surgery.
“Everything with my kidneys is back to normal now. The doctors are amazed.”
Surgery on his foot was scheduled for November 1, but was pushed ahead when he suddenly got quite sick.
“We went in a day early because I had a bad fever, and the toes looked like they had died overnight. They had prepared me for a below the knee amputation.
I ended up just losing my big toe and the one next to it.”
Additional surgery was expected for today to ensure that the doctors had removed all the infected bone tissue and, if all goes well, Booie won’t have to lose the foot.
He’s excited about a new recording project he’s been working on for his cousin, Dell Bartley. The newly-released album, called American, is mostly country and country rock, but features one track, In A Song, that’s a bluegrass number where Booie plays banjo, guitar, and mandolin with Jenee Fleenor on fiddle. You can hear the song at CD Baby.
Good luck, Booie! Let’s hope he keeps that foot, heals up well, and has his hands on a guitar again soon.