Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rheta's (re)tired, and I don't feel so good myself

I got the news last Wednesday morning, and I didn't know what to do.

Then it hit me: herd some words, you wannabe scribbler.

So I did.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson, scribe of the super sort, has retired. Kinda.

She's giving up the grind of a weekly column. Thirty-plus years of it, 40-plus years in newspapers, Rheta has earned some rest.

But, oh, I'm so glad we had this time together. (ear tug)

She was a teacher before she was told.

She's a storyteller, paints word pictures like a poet. She can craft a sentence that would make Raymond Chandler as envious as a carpenter bee in a coppice.

And she has good taste in music.

I wrote her a letter when her second husband, Don Grierson, died. A couple of book signings and what seems like a lifetime later, she has become a friend with whom I correspond when I can.

What intrigued me was not the features on the famous and infamous, but, as she put it in her goodbye piece, profiles of "unmined jewels in plain sight." I filed that away.

It reminded me of a Charles Kuralt quote.

"It does no harm to acknowledge that the whole world isn't in flames, that there are people in this country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals."


I'll never forget my foray to Fishtrap Hollow. On that porch, that perfect porch, sat Hines Hall -- retired history professor and a darn good raconteur himself -- and Hank Williams albums, dogs that didn't bark, and, in time, some of the characters from her columns.

Steve Haffly will forever be a favorite, because of this tale about two women and -- well, go buy the book. Give me a day or so, and I'll remember which one. Rheta's (re)tired, and I don't feel so good myself. 

I was asked to visit when I was seeking solace, and you don't forget such things. Marvelous memories survive among my souvenirs.

This isn't a goodbye. Rheta says she will still be writing. I would've expected no less. She never missed a deadline. God knows I can't say that, but I admire the hell out of it. Work ethic, it's called -- a dying breed, along with kindness, critical thinking, and common sense.

So, I'll not say so long, have no maudlin moment, croon no Cole Porter classics. Instead, I'll use a phrase I think she'd appreciate.

Au revoir, mon ami.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

'Memories of you...'

The song begins, and I'm swingin' again.

It is, as is everything, it seems, out of my era. But it's mine, as much a part of who I am as whoever is in the top 40 today, or was in your day, might be to you.

Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, and Rosie Clooney begin to perform "Memories of You." In my mind, Johnny Carson's on NBC-TV again, saying so long.

I taped Carson's "Tonight Show," watched it again and again, paying attention to the timing, to the phrasing, and, yep, to the performance of that big band.

Carson and Doc Severinsen (who lives in East Tennessee now, by the way) introduced me to so much big band, jazz, and swing. Benny, sure. And the Dorsey brothers, Dizzy Gillespe, Glenn Miller, Buddy Rich, "Begin the Beguine."

I met Doc after a show a few years ago. He was cordial, cool, calm. I chose not to mention Carson. Instead, I asked about Eddie Shaughnessy, Tommy Newsom, Snooky Young, Ross Tompkins, members of his old band.

He perked up when I did. I told him their music had led me to the '30s, '40s and early '50s, to the ballrooms of New York City, to the big bands, to the best, to Harry James, with whom Doc started, then to Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra and so forth.

Doc dug it.

I hear the music, and, suddenly, it's a spring Saturday. Friend and former co-worker Janna Barrett and I are hunting records. I find Goodman's famous 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall. I find a comeback quartet reunion record for RCA. That was a good day.

I gotta tell ya, buddy Gary started this when he posted a classic clip of Goodman with Gene Krupa, Cootie Williams from Duke Ellington's band, and the boys, on Sid Caesar's show. Bonus points for seeing Sid on sax, and Howie "Ernest T. Bass" Morris and Carl Reiner cutting a rug.

The YouTube rabbit hole leads me to Goodman's guest shot on "What's My Line?" Oh, those days. I feel like I was there.

And, when the needle drops on the disc, I am -- to Carson, to that Severinsen show, to springtime and Record Store Day, to Carnegie Hall 40 years or so before I was born.

And, mixed in the music, somewhere in that sweet, sweet, swing, lie, too, my "Memories of You." 

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

More on Bill Warren's journey...

Hi, folks.

If you've ducked in here to read "the rest of the story" about Bill Warren (actually some personal notes and other stuff in the reporter's notepad I didn't have room to publish here), welcome!

If you're a regular reader (well, as regular as I've been, i.e. not much since I got sick), and you're from North Knox and certainly from Halls, you'll know some of this stuff.

Either way, pull up a chair. 

Bill (it's still difficult to call him by his first name) has been one of my favorite characters since he and I started trading trivia questions at Halls Middle School almost 30 years ago.

Bits and pieces:

Bill grew up in Bath, N.Y.

He attended, sign of things to come, another H school -- Haverling Central High School. 

Like all good boys, he started out playing baseball. He named his coach, David Jones, as a mentor. Then, too, his high school basketball coach, Ben Ridley.

Bill was a smaller guy. I remember tales about assists. He says high school stories age better with each passing year.

He played hoops as a freshman and sophomore, and was actually cut his junior year.

"But, I worked hard and made it as a senior," he said last Friday during the phone interview.

"In fact, I've used that and I think Ben Ridley used it, as an example of, and I know it's when I first knew about, what it means to be on a team. What happens when you keep working hard.

"I think he took me on as a project. We'd work Sunday nights, two-on-twos, and that's when I developed my love of the game. My senior year. That is invaluable."

After graduating in 1971, Bill attended Corning Junior College, began to think about what he wanted to do. He worked a job to get to the University of Tennessee in the fall of 1974. He graduated in the spring of 1976.

Teaching became part of the tale. 

His final quarter at UT (they hadn't yet converted to semesters), Bill student taught at...wait for it...Brickey School, then a K-8 school (and my elementary school alma mater) for my adopted daddy, John R. McCloud.

At Halls Middle, he taught math (and science for a time). Started working basketball camps with Jim Doane, and the rest is history.

And he knew stuff. Not just about academics and athletics.

But, uh, about, oh, say, old TV shows, music, the Beatles, "Chantilly Lace," "Hill Street Blues," "The White Shadow," "Welcome Back, Kotter," -- and letting a razor-thin nugget of a nerd pretend. Well, no, not pretend.

I was the play-by-play voice for Halls Middle School Demons hoops. (Self-confidence began to build for that little guy.)

My late cousin Josh Ellis was the camera operator. I did my best John Ward play-by-play. "Thank God and Greyhound," they're gone, on the outdated VHS videotape format, or even better, buried in a landfill.

Actually Warren thinks he *might* have some. If he does, I'll turn it into a bad sitcom fodder, which it sounded like then, believe you me.

The only thing I can remember is blanking on Cory Van De Griff's name -- it's not like we had rosters -- so, I said, "And, into the game ... a new face! Well, I'm sure Coach Warren is doing something strategic here. We'll find out who is he for you, folks."

Wanna hear the irony? Bill's been working play-by-play the last few years for Diamond Clear Media. Check here.

(And Cory, in a roundabout sort-of-a-way, is my cousin.)

Daughter Andrea Warren Goins is a pediatrician at Children's Hospital at Erlanger (Chattanooga). She and husband Jesse have two cute children.

Son Nate is back on Rocky Top. He'd gone away to earn a living at various colleges, but had worked for -- wait for it -- John Currie at Kansas State. He was at Louisiana Tech when Currie came calling after being hired as athletic director at UT.

So, Nate came marchin' home again, hurrah, hurrah! He and wife Megan just bought a house a few days ago.

There it is, folks. Bill Warren played a major role in my life, and I didn't even do hoops then, beyond Bird and Magic, reading about John Wooden, and listening to John Ward provide play-by-play for the Volunteers on my old AM radio.

Think of what he's done for his players and for other students.

And he teaches still.

Here's to ya, Bill.

No, no. For old time's sake, I've gotta say it. Thanks, Mister Warren. 

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Monday, May 29, 2017

No bandwagon fan, I

No, I'm not that big of an NHL fan, really, (the Ice Bears are a different tale) but, no, I'm not a bandwagon one, either.

(Plus, I've read Schulz's Peanuts for more than 35 years...)

So, just to prove that, here's the pix of the jersey and the hat with the old logo.

Both were given to me by best school buddy and lifelong pal Matthew Shelton (part of the Brickey Elementary "Bear Mafia") in 2012-13 for Christmas and for my birthday, respectively. I've got those pix, too. 

The time that I write this is 6:35 p.m. (Eastern). Note the time stamp once it's posted, no matter tonight's outcome....

The puck drops at 8 p.m./7 Central.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Decoration Day 2012

Alvin C. York grave, Wolf River Cemetery, Pall Mall, Tenn. Sgt., left as Cpl., York, is one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I.
He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132, during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France. 
He died 9/2/64. 
As of Saturday, May 26, 2012, according to son Andrew Jackson York, the only sitting Tennessee governor to visit the York home nearby is/was the late Ned McWherter. 
(2012 Decoration Day weekend file photo by Jake Mabe)

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Friday, May 26, 2017

So, about last night...

Sigmund Freud said every dream is a wish.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Did you read about "Rainbow Girl" and the real rainbow girls?

If you did, great. If you didn't, hit the link to or scroll down one story, or no problem. If you want, here's the song.

So, after puncturing the proverbial vein and letting it bleed (old writers' line), bloodletting too much, maybe, I came upon this card, well wishes from Maine friends Jim and Judy Marine.

Got it in the mail last week. Read it when I needed it, put it away, moved on. But that ol' subconscious, boy, I tell ya...note the crossed out I, changed to "we."

Who knows.

I do know this: I heard "Rainbow Girl." I literally felt the rain. I figuratively grinned at the girls.

But maybe Freud isn't forever. Cause it wasn't a dream, and just a wisp of a wish.

And I can promise you one thing:

"The song remembers when."

And, somehow, rainbow girl, I thought of you.

Have a good Decoration Day weekend. Think about what it memorializes, too, please.

Be safe, and I'll see ya when I see ya. 

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

'I thought of you...'

Act I

Yep, I'm still here.

Won't get into it, other than to say I've had a setback. Same train, different track. Started in November. Had six procedures since February, one set for early June, just finished physical therapy. Five percent better, they say. We'll see.

So much has changed. Had to resign from the old newspaper, my professional home since 1998 until the disability. Couldn't do it, physically.

It's gone away, moved to Nashville, in a way. It's OK. At least it ain't L.A.

They say this town'll waste your time; guess they're right... (but it ain't wastin' mine).

Back to "Good Time Charlie" in a minute.

The older sister I never had stayed. I like that. It's in good hands with her.

Act II

So, the blog. I can't promise when I'll be back. You understand, though, I know.

Buddy Donnie started this one. Emailed. Praying. Ducks in here every day, he says, just to check.

Got another note from two former Halls residents. Get well soon, they say.

And then, as evening arrived, thunder, wind, rain, ongoing migraine, a death, and Danny O'Keefe.

The past 10 days have been, well, a place I don't plan going to when I go. Really, the past six months have been hell, but that's not why we're here, you and I. Forgive the word, please.

Six p.m. Sitting, as usual, in the dark, eating dinner. Brother from Different Mother Ross Southerland calls.

"Sonny's dead." Sonny West. Worked for, friends with, king Elvis the Presley. You know my connection there. If not, look it up or ask sometime, if you wish.


I start thinking. Go back to the gospel. Scratch out a one-take, heartfelt but hoarse, two minutes of "Sweet Beulah Land." (I couldn't remember all the words to "The Lighthouse." Didn't want a lead sheet. Sang from the soul.)

Time passes.

Can't listen to music except in short spurts on "good" days. I shared songs from "So Long Harry Truman" today. If you're of a certain age, you know Danny O'Keefe. You might think one-hit wonder. "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues." 1972. You maybe know, too, that he wrote "The Road," a hit for Jackson Browne.


"So Long Harry Truman." The album. Atlantic/Warner, 1975. Awesome.

Wayne Bledsoe, Halls native, Powell resident, Knoxville's daily super scribe music man, put me onto it in August 2013. My marriage was missing. (It's OK. Best for us both.)

Certain lyrics resonate.

Still listen to two songs sometimes. Not looking back. Navigating now, forward.

Call it new, call it different...

Tonight, I let the record spin and spin.

And, somewhere approaching 11, I hear it. First time in almost four years.

Yes, and when I heard the news
I had no songs, I could not sing, I could not stain the bluu-u-es.
But, somehow, Rainbow Girl
I thought of you.  
Somehow, Rainbow Girl, I thought of you...

Wayne knows Danny. He knew the backstory. Whole other thing. Think "Lola." Or "Jody."

I had brought my lens to the looking glass and didn't know. Which is the point, really.

My Rainbow Girl is/are two women. Both met in this century. One's here at last on the ground. Other's in midair. Neither are clowns. Don't send any in... (Sorry, Sondheim.)

It's rained for four days. Nausea and joint pain and atypical migraines mixed with real ones and other rocks have been murder. Sonny's death wasn't good. Roger Moore's passing was poignant but poison. That set the stage.


But, somehow, Rainbow Girl, I thought of you. Them.

Neither were romances. That wasn't the script. But both mean much. Friendship. If you have five real ones, block off blessed on your bucket list.

If you have more, you're a walking Mega Millions check.

I'm all but broke, monetarily. But, a way always arrives. Did last night, in fact.

I have daily chronic pain. I can't go far from my cool, blackout-curtained room. That's the way it's been for three years and some change. I've gotten by with a little help from my -- family (and friends -- some of them. Those precious, precious pearls.)

But, somehow, rainbow girls, I thought of you.

Act IV

Now? I'm no longer blue.

Today, anyway, that's totally true.

(And you know I mean it if I throw in an adverb.)

Jake Mabe is continuing to struggle with surgically-related disabling nerve damage. He hopes to return with regularity in mid-June. He welcomes thoughts, prayers, cards, letters, and emails to He thanks his Facebook friends and Twitter followers for their indulgence. He can be found sometimes at Knox TN Today on Tuesdays here.

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