Musical Memories; Lawrence County’s History in Music “Life in the Chord of G; Lawrence County’s Musical Legends”

Gordon Terry with Johnny Cash in the 50s.

Part 4 or a 4-part series

Gaylon Parker is yet another church baby who was barely old enough to talk when he started singing. 

By the time he was in the ninth grade, he was a seasoned singer and musician. He joined the East Lawrence FFA String Band, helping the group to win a state title.  

He continued to play with bands into adulthood and still picks and grins whenever asked. In 1997 his son, Ben, was born. By the age of three, Ben could pick out the sounds of the guitar, mandolin and Dobro on the radio. 

 During Ben’s formative years, Gaylon and his wife, Kendra, traveled weekends and sang Christian music. Ben would join them on stage to sing, performing in front of an audience became second nature to him.  

But it was his grandma Shelby that would take him to visit a great aunt, Mrs. Alice Morgan, who taught him two chords on the guitar. He was swiftly switching chords within a week. 

When he was eight, he started taking lessons at Scott’s Guitars in Moulton from a young man by the name of Heath Bain, who was something of a child phenomenon himself. “Heath taught me more than I’ve ever learned anywhere else, dad taught me theory, but Heath taught me that it wasn’t how fast I played that mattered, it was making every note count.”  

Ben started singing before he was nine, often sitting in with the pickers who gathered each week at S&R Catfish. Robert Blaxton had a guitar collection that fascinated the youngster. He also spent a lot of time at Rice Towry’s shop absorbing the combined knowledge of the pickers who taught there. His playing was almost like that of a prodigy. Later on he would credit Towry with showing him how to ‘play in the pocket’ or to know when to jump in. 

But at Scott’s Guitars he could actually pick every guitar, learn the difference between how they sounded, and how to get the sound he wanted. Ben would eventually go on to help younger players to develop their ear. “I had so many good people, like my parents, and others, who poured everything into me,” he said. He was determined to pay it back to those students.

Ben was fronting his own band by the age of fifteen when he got a serious head wound while playing basketball. His parents were not given much encouragement. At first they thought he was asleep due to pain medications, but it turned out that Ben was in a coma. It was touch and go, but he survived without any trace of brain injury. It was uncertain for a while if he would even remember how to play the guitar, but he surprised all of them by picking up right where he left off. 

He honed his craft during high school, learning from his dad and adult friends who had been playing for years. He and his parents along with several other area musicians formed a group called the ‘Ben Parker Project’ and took the show on the road. Kendra played the piano, sang and played bass guitar. She had a gift for engaging the crowds. Gaylon and Kendra had the distinct pleasure of fitting right in with their teenage son’s dreams, and it made them closer than most parents with kids that age. They were successful everywhere they preformed. 

By the time he could drive, he had gig’s all over the place.

 Ben credits his dad with much of his success, along with local musicians, like Scott Sanderson, Micah Coffey and Heath Bain. “I had stars in my eyes around them. Scott and Heath could play so tight, and Micah could wear a piano out. Looking back, I realize that they were some of the best.”

He praised his dad’s voice. “Dad has the best voice I’ve ever heard,” said Ben. “It has so much soul and character, you can just feel what he’s singing.”  

Ben had finished two years of college when he came to his parents with a proposition. “If you let me quit school and go to Nashville, if I don’t make it I’ll come home and finish college,” he told them. The Parkers agreed and as of this time Ben is living in Nashville, making his own way and working in the music field while doing some writing and sitting in on some studio sessions. He tells his parents that showing up on time, not having drama in his life and doing his job, lessons learned from them, have helped him to advance in a very competitive field. 

His first gig was at Honky Tonk Central. He had only been in town for three days. “It got my foot in the door,” he explained. Now he plays all up and down the strip, often being onstage with stars like Gretchen Wilson, John Rich and Jason Michael Carroll, but he says he misses playing for familiar faces from home. Ben comes back occasionally to have Towry work on his amps, and to see his parents, but when he closes his eyes and thinks about home, it’s the face of his Grandma Shelby that he sees, his biggest fan and his constant encourager. 

 Gaylon and Kendra are frequent visitors to one of Lawrence County’s most successful young musicians, one who follows a long line of local men and women in an incredible pool of talent. One wonders if it’s genetic, or in the water, or just being in the right place at the right time. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever it is, there seems to be a wealth of it here in the valley we call home. Music is the common denominator that weaves through generations, from Wilson Hood and the Playmates, to Ben Parker.  They have all shown the world what a unique and creative place we live in, and what Lawrence County has nurtured and shaped in the world of music.   

 “Music helps to bring joy to people,” mused Gaylon. “It’s given Ben a drive, a determination that coupled with his dependability and ability to work as a team have combined to help him succeed in this tough business.” 

The Mitchell Brothers...

“The Mitchells were born singing,” laughed Montez Mitchell, speaking of the family of 14 siblings who made their mark from Lawrence County to Nashville and beyond. 

According to former LC Sheriff, Gene Mitchell, the kids would sit around and sing at night after working in the fields. “We couldn’t afford a radio when we were very young, but later on the neighbors got one and we went there before we finally got our own.”

“The reception wasn’t very good so we would run a string from the set out to the antenna to boost the sound,” laughed Gene.

The kids grew up on Dottie Rambo, Porter Wagoner and the Midnight Frolic, on WSM out of Nashville, and learned to sing just like the voices they heard coming from the static-filled speakers of the old console radio. Several of them learned to play a guitar or the piano, as well. 

They entered talent shows and sang at various churches. Some of them formed a quartet that frequently appeared at various functions around Mount Hope. As noted before in this series, the Mitchells developed a harmony that made a unique resonance in those old wooden churches. People still talk about how well they harmonized. “There’s a world of difference in singing and harmonizing,” said Gene. 

 Several of them went on to sing professionally. Jimmy, Johnny and Price began to sing at clubs in Huntsville. “They packed the house everywhere they went,” said Gene. 

As the house band in Huntsville, the group often had special guests, country music stars who would sneak away from Nashville where they were well known, to the dark, smoky clubs in Huntsville where they weren’t so recognizable. “Bobby Bare and Merle Haggard were just two of the ones who occasionally sat in with them,” Gene recalled. “Later, Price and Jimmy played with Gordon Terry and Johnny Cash.” 

Lloyd and his five kids did gospel road shows in the 70s and Floyd traveled and sang gospel music. In 1973, Gene recorded an album, backed by Rusty Goodman, of the Happy Goodman Family for the Boys Ranch titled,” Sheriff Gene Mitchell Sings for the Boy’s Ranch.” 

Various members of the family still sing at benefits and funerals when requested. They never charge for these appearances. “This talent was given to us and you are supposed to give it away,” said Gene thoughtfully. 

Gene was fortunate to have worked with former LC Coroner, Micah Coffey, who was a child prodigy from the Speake area. “Micah was one of the best musicians to ever come from around here,” he said, his voice breaking noticeably. “When he played the piano, it was like a whole group of people were playing instead of just him. If he heard a song, he could turn around and play it. He was a brilliant and gifted musician.” 

Mitchell also credits his brother, Jimmy, with being a talented vocalist and says that he could tear a piano all to pieces. “We sang together since we were kids and I still think he had a great gift, he traveled with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. I’ve always been so proud of him.” 

Scott Sanderson got started in a teenage garage band. He and some neighborhood teens, Teddy Wallace, Tim Lovett and Bill Terry, would practice upstairs in the Sanderson’s garage for hours. Teddy was instrumental in Scott’s learning the relationship between the bass guitar and the drums.

It was Jerry Parker who introduced Sanderson to the bass guitar. He started out on an old Fender Mustang bass guitar and a Silvertone amp. He and the guys learned to play by listening to the songs of Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, and other popular groups of the early ‘70s.

Sometimes Tim Martin and Chris Bain played along with them.

Bill Terry, Tim Lovett, Teddy Wallace, Sanderson, Richard Sims and Tim Martin formed the first FFA band at LCHS in 1977, winning second place in the state competition.

In 1978 the band members reformed to include the following members: Chris Bain, Sanderson,   Tim Martin, Tim Lovett and Rex Free.  That year they won the state FFA competition playing, “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in The Rain,” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.”

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but working with those FFA bands gave me the opportunity to work with two guys who would become accomplished songwriters,” said Sanderson, referring to Bain and Terry. “I have fond memories of playing bass on some of Chris’ demos and of playing a showcase of Bill Terry’s original music at a Jackson House fundraiser.”

In 1979 the FFA band, consisted of Sanderson, Martin, Angela Grice, Bob Lang and Steve Jackson. “Bob Lang and I spent hours jamming and experimenting with different musical genres which gave me a broader range of bass styles and expanded my skills,” said Sanderson.

Sanderson put down his guitar until the late ‘90s. “I was fortunate to play with several bands over the next few years,” said Sanderson. In early 2008 Sanderson was invited to join Micah Coffey, Ray Sparks and Kell Whitlow to help with the popular local Hee Haw fundraiser. “We enjoyed playing together so much that we decided to put a band together,” said Sanderson. “Richard Thompson, Roger Sparks, and Dwight Coffey came on board to form the Ray Sparks band, which for years served as the house band for Hee Haw.” 

“I’m lucky to have been a part of a band that included Micah Coffey and Heath Bain, who joined the band when Roger left. Both of these guys were outstanding people and two of the best musicians I’ve ever had the honor of playing with,” said Sanderson. 

 Brandon Denton and Ray Bodley joined the band in 2012.    

Scott kept his hand in the business by seeing a need for a music store here, opening up Scott’s Guitars in 1995. The popular shop brought in musicians from all around the area. Several talented musicians came and taught lessons to younger kids and adults who were fulfilling their bucket lists. Rice Towry repaired amps, and Sanderson repaired and set up guitars, and sold equipment. Instructors included longtime music teachers and mentors to many, including Rod Wallace, Colby McLemore, Kell Whitlow, Trent Owen, Heath Bain and Robert Montgomery. One of Bain’s most talented students was a young Ben Parker, who later taught guitar there.

“Lawrence County is blessed with some outstanding musical talent. I appreciate the customers who frequented my shop and treasure the friendships I made,” said Sanderson sincerely. 

After twelve years, Sanderson continues to play bass guitar with The Ray Sparks Band. “We play rock and roll dance music from 50s – 80s at weddings, community events and private engagements,” he said. “I’m grateful to be a part of this band, it’s a great bunch of guys. We all support one another in any way we can.” 

 Bill Terry was one of the neighborhood kids who played with Sanderson, Teddy Wallace, Tim Lovett and others who practiced upstairs in the Sanderson’s garage in Woodland Terrace Subdivision. Neighbors Lewis and Audrey Watkins, Gayno and Jeanette McKelvey and Clark and Pie Weatherwax probably didn’t realize that they were listening to a group of talented musicians who would grow up to accomplish great things in the world of music. They probably thought it was just racket. 

Terry’s Hawaiian grandfather, Daniel Ramos, taught his grandson how to play the piano on summer visits. “He taught me to play “Cold, Cold Heart” at the age of seven,” Terry recalled. “I could feel the tribal beat in his blood.”  

Bill was also exposed to music by his uncle Bob Terry, who was always spinning the latest records on an old turntable. "I was ten and he was 18,” Bill recalled. “He was friends with Mike Hill. They both played guitar. In 1969, he got drafted and went to Vietnam. I’ll never forget standing in the driveway watching him go off to war.” That was “The day the music died,” for Bill, but just for a while.

Later Terry taught himself the drums. “But, Daddy bought me my first Yamaha guitar, I’ve still got it,” he said.  “My first big guitar influence was Tim Harris. He took me under his wing, teaching me chord progression and how to put chords together.” 

“Forty-five years later Tim and I wound up together for an evening of picking at Brent White’s house. I had Tim carve his initials in the back of my Martin guitar with a Case butterbean pocket knife, a dandy that my dad had given me,” recalled Bill.

When they were all about 11 or 12, some of the neighborhood guys got together and formed a garage band. “We were just kids, none of us could even drive,” he laughed. “But, it gave us a place to hang out and something to do.” 

Sometime around then the Sanderson’s paper boy started hanging out around the guys in the garage band. He seemed interested in what they were doing and he didn’t get in the way so the older guys let him hang out with them. His name was Chris Bain. 

They developed a sound something like Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and occasionally to please Teddy’s dad, Ray Wallace, they learned some country songs by George Jones, Kris Kristofferson or Merle Haggard. 

Another big influence for Bill was the Rockabilly style of Billy Earl Lovett. “He had a Gibson Sunburst Hollowbody electric guitar and a Fender twin reverb amp. I had never seen one, it blew my mind,” said Bill. “I was exposed to that rockabilly sound of “Blue Suede Shoes” and I can still close my eyes and see him making those syncopated rhythms of Carl Perkins.” 

The guys grew up in that garage, listening to music, improving as they went along, making adjustments, perfecting their style, gaining confidence as time passed. They all had jobs, Scott, Bill and Chris worked for Scott’s dad at Ott’s IGA, Teddy Wallace and Tim Martin worked as DJs at WHIY for Teddy’s dad, and Rex Free worked in his dad’s TV repair shop, and Tim Lovett worked for Piggly Wiggly. All of them managed to keep up their grades in spite of working and practicing for hours each week, and all of them went on to attain college degrees, with the exception of Bain, who went to work for GM. 

One night after a homecoming game someone suggested that they walk across the street to the high school gym. It was a cool, crisp autumn Friday night. The gym was filled with people wearing socks, thus the term, ‘sock hop.’ Some of the older guys were playing in a band called, “Uncle Harv”, made up of Phillip Boyles, Harry and Mike Zills, Dwight Bryant, Mike Hill and Spencer Hill. “They were about five years older than us,” said Terry. “We thought they were as good as the Doobie Brothers and were in awe of them.”

The group from the garage walked in to the beat of, “China Grove.” They looked around at the people surrounding the band, some dancing and some just standing there swaying to the music and looking at the guys. “We were amazed,” laughed Terry. “Here we were getting our heads bashed in every weekend on the football field and we saw this and thought, “Hey, this is the ticket! This is how we meet girls!” 

Over time and with endless hours of practice, the band in the Sanderson’s garage began to sound pretty good themselves. At 15-16 years old they were living the dream.

In 1976, FFA instructors Roger Terry and Larry Pace heard them and they suggested that they form an FFA String Band. The idea suited the teens just fine. The members were in flux but that first year the original garage band members were joined by Tim Martin and Richard Sims.

In 1977 the FFA String Band made it all the way to the finals at the state championship competition in Montgomery, taking second place.

Bill Terry graduated that year and went on to college at Calhoun. 

In 1978, the LCHS FFA String Band won the state competition, with it came a small recording contract   at East Avalon Studios in Muscle Shoals.

Bill went on to graduate with a music law major from UNA. He played some at church and felt himself leaning toward a career there, but it sort of felt like, “Someone packing up my suitcase for me,” he said. “I thought I might become a minister of music, but when you allow others to pack for you, when you get there, the clothes don’t fit,” he said philosophically. “I learned that I could do both, be spiritual and write music, and that’s what I do, I write from my heart, express my world view.”

 “I spent eight years under a song writing contract with Rick Hall,” he said. “There was a lot of influence coming through that studio and even while I was still in school I was working alongside some important people like Walt Aldridge (Holding Her Loving You) Steven Dale Jones (One More Day) Mac McAnnally, who went on to be band leader for Jimmy Buffett. But my guardian angel was Carol Little Buckins, who was musical assistant to Rick Hall. Carol was at Fame until she went to Muscle Shoals Sound. When the Swampers left Rick, Carol went with them. I was always under the protection of Carol so if I ever had a question about someone I was playing with, I could ask her and she would steer me in the right direction. Carol was an angel of a person. I was a small minnow swimming in a shark tank. Her office was my safe haven.” 

One big influence on Terry around that time, the early ‘80s, was a guy by the name of Terry Woodford, owner of Wishbone Studios. “He was an educator, the head of commercial studios at UNA,” Terry explained. “I gained so much knowledge from being in his shadow. One day we were in class and in walked Terry with Glen Frey, who was recording solo at the time.”

“Woodford wanted to educate his students in the Muscle Shoals recording techniques; he wanted his students to learn. Rick Hall’s main strength was in knowing what he wanted and how to get it.” 

From these men Bill Terry formed an extremely disciplined work ethic. His mentors were Rick Hall, Terry Woodford and Jimmy Johnson. He also played sessions with men who had mastered their craft, even though they worked day jobs. 

“My dad, Bill Terry, Sr. always told me, “Son, God takes care of every sparrow, but He doesn’t come every morning and put a worm in its mouth!” And that taught me to push myself to the point where I was doing big stuff but I realized that luck was not going to find me, I had to go out and find it,” said Terry.

And he did. He surrounded himself with people who were connected by a passion for their art. 

“But we also learned that same thing with the FFA String Band, that if we practiced and were disciplined we could be more than just ragtag teenagers, and we finally got so good that we could read each other’s moves.” 

Tim Martin went on to become a minister in multi-media communications and a videographer in the Shoals area. 

Scott Sanderson became the owner of a music store, Scott’s Guitars, and plays with the Ray Sparks Band as one of the premier bass players in the region. 

“One of the things I always noticed about Scott was that he was always going to show up prepared, whether he played in Carnegie Hall or the county fair, his work was impeccable,” said Terry. “Scott’s ability to hear a bass line is like nothing I’ve ever heard,” he continued. “And it all comes back to attitude, Scott’s attitude was always positive.” 

At one point, Bill, Chris Bain and a guy by the name of Bo Roberts, wrote a song together. 

 “I remember Chris always being positive, but that night his attitude and demeanor was contagious,” recalled Terry. “As we wrote that night on Chris back porch we kept the melody flowing while Melinda poured sweet tea from a never ending pitcher.”

 “The melody was an odd sounding guitar groove that I had recorded on my phone,” said Terry. 'Here’s the backstory.' I said, “Here’s a little lick I’ve been playing,” and as I played my lick, Bo starts singing the lyrics, making them up off the top of his head. Bo was bandleader for Hank Williams Jr. and a seasoned songwriter. “I’ve been to Paris, saw the Eiffel Tower, been to Coney Island,” were laid down and I was trying to think how to finish this up when Chris said, “I was talking to Tony Sparks, we were sitting under a shade tree, and he said, something like “that ain’t me.” 

“Well, there’s the damn title, Bain,” said Bo. (“That Ain’t Me” was written that night. “I’ve been all over the world but at the end of the day I’m sittin’ here with my feet in the sand down in Perdido Key, I could be anywhere, but that ain’t me.”)

“We didn’t have iPhones back then, so we left like three bandits in the middle of the night and rode to Wishbone Studios, where Chris had a key, so we wouldn’t lose the momentum,” said Terry.

“We went into the back door of Wishbone Studios and we recorded that song, which is one of the most requested songs at the Florabama now,” said Terry. “It’s just a local song that you can only hear at the Florabama, but all the locals know the words.” 

A couple of months passed, Bo moved to the Keys, and one day Bill got a call from Bo: Chris, the dreamer, the one who spread such positive vibes to everyone, the paper boy who hung around his mentors as a kid, arguably one of the most talented songwriters to ever come out of Lawrence County, achieving success in a world known for chewing people up and spitting them out, was dead of an aneurysm at the age of 47.

“When I heard the news I was just sick,” said Terry. Scott was even closer to Chris, and was stricken the same way. It didn’t seem possible. 

The people who knew him mourned, but Bill Terry, although missing his friend terribly, escaped into his music. It helped him to heal, but it took a long time. Bill spent a lot of time listening to Chris’ recordings. “Chris Bain was like a meteor that hit the world and I just happened to be standing there and watched it flash.”  

In the early part of 2001, while teaching some volunteer songwriting classes at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Terry met a young lady by the name of Alecia Elliott. He and Ava Aldridge helped her land a contract with MCA records and secured a cut entitled, “You Wanna What?” on her debut record “I’m Diggin’ It,” which was produced by Tony Brown. Bill did the audition with her and Tony. “They signed her to a full blown contract,” said an impressed Terry. “She was only seventeen years old.” 

Bill co–wrote the song with Alecia and Andy Bohatiuk, from New York, which tackled the subject of teen abstinence titled, “You Wanna What?”

 It was released and not long afterward Terry got word that she was nominated in the first round for a Grammy. She didn’t win, losing to Faith Hill for “Breathe,” but the song did very well. She went out to LA and played the song on Jay Leno. For the next two years she had her own TV show, “All About Us” produced by Peter Engle (Saved By the Bell). Terry even heard the song in a hotel room in Amsterdam where he was on a business trip. 

Terry is still very involved in the music business. He plays rhythm and lead guitar and owns a song writing studio, Tenpoint Publishing in Nashville, and is in the process of releasing a new CD which will debut on iTunes the end of this year.  

He tries his best to teach the tricks of the trade to those coming up in the business. “I do a lot of life coaching, and leadership coaching. I want to influence young people, to help them succeed.”  He has co-written songs with two other Lawrence countians, and recently finished a great song which is now being pitched to artists reps. 

“I want to encourage people to find out what their passion in life is,” he said. “Whatever your passion is you become a master at it, you’ve got to feed the passion.” 

He gets much of his nurturing personality from his father, Bill Terry, Sr. (Billy P Terry). “I think about him so much, I stood at his shoulder learning from him. I even did a leadership lecture on how to live your life in the shadow of other people titled, “Standing at His Shoulder,” about my dad, said Terry. “I also wrote about him in “The Key to Life.” Bill’s “Songs From the Shop” can be found on iTunes. He wrote the entire CD. 

“It takes discipline, you put your pants on, you put your shirt on, and you go out and get in the game,” Bill advises. “No matter what you do in life, you do it with determination and a winning attitude.”    

There is a fine line between life and death. Sometimes that line seems almost imperceptible. For the living it offers comfort sometimes, a chain that is disconnected at one end, to be linked again one day at the other. 

We may no longer be able to see and touch them, but fortunately, we can still hear them.

Such is the life of Melinda Bain. If there is such a thing as a perfect marriage, she and Chris had one. It was filled with laughter and anticipation. Although it lasted 29 years, longer if you count the time from the time they started dating in 1978, until the day Chris died, it seemed way to short. But they made it count. We should all know such happiness. 

He was 18 when he met Melinda on a blind date. One of the first questions she recalls him asking her was if she liked music. That sparked a conversation that lasted for hours and a relationship that was founded on their common love of music. 

Chris had been interested in music since the days he hung around older guys in a garage band. His enthusiasm for music was equaled by his love of hunting and football. 

They were married on December 29, 1978, and spent their honeymoon at the Hilton in Huntsville. They chose that date and location because Charlie Daniels was playing at the Civic Center across the street the next night and was staying at the same hotel. 

“We spent most of Saturday trying to catch sight of him in the halls of the hotel,” Melinda laughed.

That evening they were on their way out when Chris realized that they had a flat. “It was pouring down rain and Chris was hunkered down changing the tire. I looked up at a passing car and there was Charlie Daniels just waving at me,” said Melinda. 

After the concert they finally met the country star in the hallway of the hotel and got his autograph. They let him know that they were on their honeymoon and that one of his songs, “Heaven Can Be Anywhere” was sung at their wedding by a close friend, Bill Terry. 

“Bill was one of the last people Chris wrote with,” said Melinda. “They sat out on our porch in Loosier with Bo Roberts and wrote one night.”

By this time, their only child, Heath, had graduated from high school and was playing with some local bands, mostly with Micah Coffey and Joe Dutton and a few others, and was getting better and better. “Chris had bought him his first guitar when Heath was 12,” said Melinda. “Before that, he hadn’t shown any interest in music at all.” 

Chris and Heath both played by ear, picking up songs like other people pick up shells on the beach. “Chris was just floored by Heath’s natural ability,” said Melinda. “Chris always thought he had to work for everything he learned and it just came so easily to Heath.” 

When Chris was in high school at LCHS he was in the 1978 FFA String Band, with Tim Martin, Tim Lovett, Rex Free and Scott Sanderson. That was the year the band brought the title back to Lawrence County. 

Later, Heath carried on the tradition when in 1998, he, Jon Johnson, Mitch Mardis, Stephen Aldridge and Jeff Charles won second place at the state finals in Montgomery. They played, “Long Haired Country Boy,” and The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” “They brought the house down,” said Melinda proudly.  

Chris had been a stand out athlete at LCHS, playing both baseball and football, but in a game with Hartselle he threw his arm out pitching and had to stop. 

After that, Chris, devoted himself to music, and later to Melinda. “I can remember waking up one morning and thinking how lucky I was to be Chris Bain’s wife, and how happy I was,” she recalled. 

As an adult Chris worked at Saginaw Steering Gear in Athens, but he was just treading water there. His heart was still in music. “He burned the candle at both ends,” Melinda explained. “He worked and drove to Nashville to write on the weekends, sometimes he came home on an empty tank of gas without a penny in his pocket, slept a few hours and went to work, but his determination was such that he was convinced that he was going to make it happen. If he ever set his mind to something he did it,” she said emphatically. 

Heath was in high school when Chris realized that his talent was something extraordinary. “You should  have heard him!” he told Melinda one night after hearing Heath play, “He was playing chords I’ve never even heard!”

Chris played with various bands around North Alabama. He and Larry Smith and Rod Wallace spent hours in Smith’s studio, bouncing lyrics and original music off of each other. “Chris was an accomplished Southern rock guitarist and singer,” said Larry Smith of his longtime friend and associate. “He had great skill in arranging music for his bands. An important skill he had as a musician was he could sing harmonies. He could hear them in his head and help the other singers in the band learn their parts. More than anything, he was a passionate songwriter. That is what he aspired to and loved more than anything - and he was good at it. He could craft a melody in his head and then put words to it. He was also a good producer in the studio.”

After playing with bands, for years Chris finally decided that he wanted to get out of the band scene and focus on songwriting. By the late ‘90s he was writing fulltime.  

“He would come in the house and hold his hand up, meaning he had a lyric in his head and not to bother him until he got it down on paper. Sometimes it was a napkin or a McDonald’s wrapper,” laughed Melinda. “That was the magic of Chris Bain.”

Their only child, Heath, became the guitarist with a reputation as a musical genius and a grin that was infectious. “Heath was taking a bigger interest in music about the time Chris had a song recorded by Kenny Chesney,” recalled Melinda. 

It was Chris Bain’s big break. After that, he wrote songs for several country singers. He gained a reputation as a songsmith, a writer who could write practically anything. 

“His songwriting started out as just kind of simple:  love, heartache, etc., but gradually, after many trips to Nashville, Muscle Shoals and writing with different songwriters, he started writing with more depth and complexity,” said Melinda. “Songwriting is saying the same thing in different ways.  He was fortunate to have written with some of the best in the business and learned so much about his craft from that.”

He also learned from her. And wrote about her,  although never by name. But from her he learned what love is, what having a real relationship that stands the test of time means. And he used that knowledge in his songs, it is what made them so believable.

His life was cut short by an abdominal aneurysm. Heath not only inherited his dad’s musical ability, but his medical problems. He was stricken while doing a benefit for Soles4Souls in Sherman, Texas, and died at 30.  

Heath was a musician’s musician. He could play literally anything and his sweet spirit was as great a gift as was his music. “I learned more from Heath than I’ve ever learned anywhere else, my dad taught me theory, but Heath taught me perfection,” said Ben Parker. “Heath told me once that he wasn’t the fastest player but he wanted to be the one who played what counts.”

 Chris and Heath both died before their time. It is my belief that they are making music still, in another place, with the people who went ahead of them to make a place for them in a band that is never out of tune, never lacks for material, and plays without tiring, for the love of music. 

God bless the ones who have contributed to this chronicle. There were many that should have been listed here and would have been except for the lack of space and time, well, it just ran out. Thank you for taking this trip down memory lane with us. It’s been a pleasure writing about these talented people who span several generations.  And they came from right here in Lawrence County, they rode through the Sipsy Wilderness Area of the Bankhead Forest while thinking in lyrics, they played football and rode around Cardinal Drive-In, they attended church and school with us, and they made music for us that we’ll never forget. 

(1) comment

JohnnyB

I enjoyed this series so much. Very well done, I hate to see it end.

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