Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dylan, Old Crow, quite the show

So, Seth Burnett told me last night that Bob Dylan himself wrote the classic line from Old Crow Medicine Show's signature tune, "Wagon Wheel."

So, rock me, mama, like a wagon wheel; rock me, mama, any way you feel...

No wonder it put me in mind of another Dylan ditty, "You Ain't Going Nowhere." I looked up The Byrds' version and rocked out awhile this A.M.

Ooo, wee, ride me high; tomorrow's the day my bride's gonna come...

OK, I got a confession to make. I love Bob Dylan's music -- but, mostly, when sang by somebody else. There are a few notable exceptions and I'll get to that in a minute.

It's not that I don't like Dylan's oft-maligned sound. Quite the contrary. The exceptions are "Positively 4th Street" and "Like A Rolling Stone," "Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" and virtually everything off of the "Nashville Skyline" album, particularly the poetry that is "Girl from the North Country" (with Johnny Cash).

But I love, love, love Joe Cocker's cover of "I Shall Be Released" and I've already told you about The Byrds. I can go either way on "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" but I give the edge on "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" to John Duffey and the Seldom Scene.

Whatever the case, Robert Zimmerman knows how to pen poetry and you can rock me, mama, like a wagon wheel, and lay, lady, lay across my big, brass bed, and don't think twice it's all right, 'cause any day now, any day now, I shall be released.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So what if it breaks your heart?

Baseball pleases you, but teases you, drawing you in with its seductive rhythm, its green and blue hues, giving you hope before breaking your heart.

Such it was at Lindsey Nelson Stadium tonight as the University of Tennessee Volunteers came back from a two-run deficit in the ninth to tie Middle Tennessee State at 4, only to lose 5-4 in the 10th.

Ah, well. At least the weather was nice.

Beautiful, in fact. Spring is here, at least for now, and I've caught its fever. Go away, winter. You're not wanted anymore.

I kept score, chatting with my friend Jim in Section C. Saw cousin Seth Burnett. Jenn joined me later. Baseball is my balm. It soothes the soul.

Have I ever told you that I hate the song "Rocky Top"? I hate it. It's not our fight song anyway (see "Down the Field" for further information) and it jars the senses when followed by "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the familiar seventh-inning stretch.

The national game returns each year, like an old friend, to keep you company for six months or so. I love it. Oh, how I love it so.

So what if it breaks your heart?


Monday, February 27, 2012

New York and back in 50 hours

New York and back in 50 hours. Fun. Fab. Fantastic.

Now, I'm going to crash.

Tell you about it this week.

Here's a summary.

Drive all night. 6:30 a.m. Breakfast at Junior's. Check-in at The Milford.

Two-hour sleep. Shatner. Music Box Theatre. Matinee.

Relax. Rest. Rejuvenated.

Restaurant Row. Ravioli at Lattanzi. Rockefeller Center. Snow. Skaters.

Knicks hat. Times Square. Rangers game at the Garden. Watched on TV.

To sleep. Perchance to dream.

Rise at 7. The New York Times; The Daily News.

Leave at 8. Wreck on the Turnpike. Ten minute wait.

Pennsylvania. Breakfast at Perkins.

Maryland. West Virginia. Virgina. Forever.

Tennessee. Louis'. Home.

Start spreadin' the snooze.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

'New York State of Mind'

I'll explain this more on Monday, but for now, submitted for your approval, is Mel Torme's excellent cover of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind."

Happy Friday, y'all. Have a good weekend!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For those who still love No. 45

I make no secret at this blog or anywhere else that I'm an unabashed fan of Johnny Majors.

When I was a kid, Coach Majors was Tennessee football. He was a single-wing star in the mid-1950s, won a national championship at Pitt in '76 and came marching back home to Rocky Top in 1977. It took awhile, but Majors brought UT football back to national prominence.

1992 was a year that broke my heart. First, longtime trainer and Majors friend Tim Kerin died. Then, Coach Majors underwent heart surgery. When he returned to the helm, Tennessee lost three SEC games in a row.

In a move that has left a bad taste in the mouths of some of us ever since, Majors was forced out. The announcement came on Friday the 13th at a hotel in Memphis. Johnny Majors, Tennessee's favorite son, was kicked out the door.

Today, I found this video, in which Coach Majors, who again lives in Knoxville, talks about coming to play at Tennessee from his home in Lynchburg. This is one of the best clips I've ever seen.

For those who remember, for those who still love No. 45 and the old-school coach in the coat and tie, this one's for you.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday morning, 3 a.m.

I've hit the hypomanic high that happens when one finishes a good book.

No, wait. That's not true. "Hemingway's Boat" is more than good. It's great. It is, in fact, the best book I've ever read on the Papa saga. That's no hyperbole.

It's 3 a.m. as I write this. And now I'm alive, full of ideas, ready to write, ready to read. Which is a good thing because I received word today a book proposal I've submitted was accepted! But, more on that later.

Minimized in the right corner of my Mac are three articles. One is a 2004 New Yorker profile of the just-retired knuckleball Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. Another is a New York Times piece on CBS correspondent Lara Logan. The third is "Goodbye to All That," Joan Didion's 1967 elegy to New York. I just now had to put down the next book in my queue, "Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines A Life" by Ann Beattie. It's weird, but it's literate. I'll keep reading.

Now I'm starting to feel the crash, brought on by exhaustion, by the lateness of the hour, by the final remnants of illness.

Some take drugs. Others jump out of planes. Me? I read books. I listen to music. I watch movies. I write. I dream. I love.

Time to sleep.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

My favorite presidents

Yes, today is Presidents Day, or as I prefer to call it, Washington's and Lincoln's Birthdays (Observed). Cause, you know, James Buchanan just ain't worthy.

So, I thought I'd have some fun and name you my 10 favorite commanders-in-chief. This is purely subjective, ruled by the heart instead of the head, no serious scholarly considerations. In other words, this is my list. I know you have yours, too.

1. Abraham Lincoln. No question here, really. My Southern Partisan friends (that title is capitalized for reasons they'll understand) will disagree and that's their prerogative. But, for me, Lincoln is the most human of all 44 presidents, in the very best of what that means. He was self-learned, wise beyond his years, decent and politically shrewd, finally found the right general to win the war. Oh, and he weaved wonders with words.

2. Theodore Roosevelt. Brash and bookish, Progressive and hawkish, TR was something for everybody. He's my kind of Republican, perhaps the true Eighth Wonder of the World, the likes of which we'll never see again.

3. George Washington. For the obvious reasons. Set the mold. Showed tenacity in the face of certain defeat. Didn't really have wooden teeth.

4. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unless you're just some serious ideologue, you can't leave FDR off the list. Elected to four terms, provided the steady voice during the Depression, showed personal courage while fighting polio. Had a fantastic cigarette holder.

5. John Adams. Got a bad rap until David McCullough resurrected his image. Perhaps the most decent of all the so-called Founding Fathers. Scholarly, tough, tenacious. His letters to his wife, Abigail, and to Thomas Jefferson are treasures.

6. Thomas Jefferson. Goes hand-in-hand with Adams.
Their friendship/hatred/friendship story is my favorite American saga. Hands down the most intelligent man to ever hold the office. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Had his faults, but so does every name on this list and every person who will read it. Both he and Adams died on the same day -- July 4, 1826. Still gives me chills.

7. Ronald Wilson Reagan. My personal favorite of the presidents in my lifetime.
Played his old lifeguard role and helped rescue us from drowning in the '70s malaise. Stood tall at home and abroad. Made us laugh. Made us believe again. God bless you, Gipper.

8. Richard Milhous Nixon. Go ahead and laugh. Crucify me if you will. I don't care. I've read more about Nixon than any other president and never once have been bored. He's my personal second favorite to Lincoln in a subjective sense simply because the Quaker from California is the American Enigma.

9. Harry S. Truman. The "S" may have stood for nothing, but Truman sure as hell did. Tough little haberdasher from Missouri who came into his own on the battlefield during World War I and escaped the corrupt state machine and FDR leaving him in the lurch to oversee victory in the Pacific during World War II. McCullough also helped resurrect his image.

10. Andrew Jackson. Yes, I know the guy was a bastard. And what he did to the Native Americans is inexcusable. But, he's a complex man, Old Hickory to the core, and I like his mettle and the fact he whipped a would-be assassin when Jackson was a crippled, old man. Plus, I love The Hermitage and the guy who played him in the "Davy Crockett" Disney series (Basil Ruysdael).

Bubbling under:

11. Dwight David Eisenhower The most underrated president of the 20th century. Much more engaged than the grandfatherly figure of the popular stereotype.
Warned us about the rise of the military-industrial complex before anybody knew what he was talking about. Don't miss Stephen Ambrose's excellent two-volume biography, even if he made up the part about interviewing Ike at Gettysburg.

Who are your favorites and why?


Sunday, February 19, 2012

'Where No One Stands Alone'

Sorry I haven't checked in since Thursday. Been a crazy weekend.

Jenn had to go to the ER on Friday. Chest pain and spiked blood pressure. Had a stress test yesterday.

Good news is everything is clear. Heart looks good.

Just had to share a fantastic version of a favorite song, Elvis Presley singing, for the first and only time live, "Where No One Stands Alone." This is a gospel tune he originally recorded in the 1960s.

This version was performed live in concert in Montgomery, Ala., on Feb. 16, 1977, six months to the day before his untimely death.

Elvis plays the piano while J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet and Sherrill Nielsen back him on vocals.


We miss ya, Elvis.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

What every 'Gambler' knows...

Boy, "The Big Bang Theory" is the sitcom gift that keeps on givin'. Heh, heh. Thank you, Bill Prady and CBS.

Anyway, I heard one of my all-time favorite songs on the radio while driving to see the doc this afternoon. "The Gambler." Kenny Rogers. Written by Don Schlitz.

I could sing it when I was 2. I still love it. If you think about it, it's a good philosophy on life.

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away, know when to run;

My mom and I both mentioned at lunch yesterday how much we used to like Kenny Rogers. You know, the slightly pudgy, white-suited, bearded guy who had all those hits in the '70s and '80s.

This new Kenny with the goatee, young wife and bad face lift? Well, not so much...

Ah, well. Time marches on. People make choices. I try not to judge.

But, to this day, whenever I hear his signature tune, my pulse quickens and a huge grin spreads across my face. Heck, it's still true of most of his hits.

For the record, my favorite "rare" Rogers tune is from "The Gambler" album -- "San Francisco Mabel Joy." Look it up. His version.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Those blasted migraines

I'm getting migraines again. Not sure what's up with that.

Once upon a time, I used to get one every three weeks. We finally figured out it was due to a methane gas leak in a pipe housed in the closet next to my office.

Since then, it's been sporadic. Seems to be worse in winter and spring. I think it's tied, at least in part, to the barometric pressure and, possibly, to MSG in foods. Nothing I can do about the first one. Gib Galyon had me clean out my cupboards with regard to the second one. Now, he says, I need to ask about it at restaurants.

Whatever the case, they're no fun. Any fellow sufferers out there can tell ya, too.

I do take medicine, but it doesn't always "catch" a migraine. Like yesterday afternoon. I slept until about 7:30 p.m. Still have the migraine "hangover."

These things bother me because they make me all but immobile. Can't do anything. Sensitive to light and noise. Must have a cool, dark room. Ugh. As soon as I get paid, I'm going to call a massage therapist. That helps, too.

But, I know. If this and kidney stones are all I ever have to deal with, I'm in pretty good shape.

Forgive the personal ramble today. Just needed to get it off my chest.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy birthday, Mr. Benny!

Yes, yes, today is Valentine's Day. We know all that. (Love you, sweetheart!)

But, today is also the birthday of my all-time favorite comedian, the late and great Jack Benny!

Just in case you don't know him, Benny was a superstar in his day, first on radio and later on television. Coming out of vaudeville, he pioneered what we know now as the situation comedy.

He was also the king of perfect timing. All Jack needed was an exasperated look and an indignantly-uttered, "Well!" to get a laugh. No four-letter words for him.

His vain, miserly alter ego (so different, his friends said, from the warm-hearted real-life Jack Benny) is in my mind THE CHAMP of 20th century American comedy.

You can listen to at least 600 of his classic radio shows here.

And here is part one of a classic TV interview with Mr. Benny and Dick Cavett.

Happy birthday, Mr. Benny!

("Oh, shut up and sing, Dennis!")

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Agog over Adele

So, we watched the Grammy Awards last night. First time in 15 or 20 years for me, I guess.

Before that, we saw a "60 Minutes" profile on the young British singer Adele (pronounced UH-DELL). Impressive. The girl has some pipes.

Even more amazing was her live performance on the awards show, her first since recovering from vocal chord surgery. Wow!

I'd come for Glen Campbell and stayed for the Beach Boys and ended up being all agog over Adele.

As you may know, she swept the Grammys last night, winning six. By the end of the evening, we were hooked.

So, I downloaded her hit album, "21." I have not been this impressed by a mainstream pop record since Norah Jones' debut release, "Come Away with Me."

"21" is a concept album of sorts, book-ended by pain and promise. "Someone Like You" is the stunner, the showstopper. But this is an album to be savored. Enjoy it. Every minute of it.

I'm not a fan of modern pop music. Most of it is mindless drivel brought forth by fashion models who may or may not be able to carry a tune. (Thanks, Autotune!)

Adele is an exception. A great one. A joyous one.

A refreshing one.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Telling Lincoln about Lincoln

One of these days, if his daddy doesn't beat me to it, I will tell Lincoln James Harned all about his namesake.

My best friend, Dean, and his wife, Allison, are having a baby boy. With a little luck, he might even be born on March 13, my birthday.

A group of friends held the Harneds a baby shower this afternoon, coincidentally and appropriately Abraham Lincoln's 203rd birthday. It was quite nice. Class act, all the way.

Dean is a history buff, like me, and teaches it quite well to high school students. Like me, one of his heroes is our nation's 16th president.

I won't go into all the reasons. You know them. Sometimes I think Lincoln's humanity, his best characteristic, has been lost in modern-day politics and post-assassination martyrdom.

And yet, he's there, if you look. I will tell baby Lincoln about his namesake's humble origins in Kentucky, about his self-education, about his rise in Republican circles, about his debates with Douglas, about his shrewd political prowess, about the American scripture he crafted one November in Pennsylvania.

I will tell him that there are few heroes in this life, but that his namesake is one.

That is, if his daddy doesn't beat me to it...

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sweet Saturday

Reading about Hemingway makes me want to set sail for south Florida.

Well, that and the fact that it's COLD outside.

Can't complain, though. We've had a mild winter. My electric bill is cheaper this month than it was in January.

Speaking of which, the power went out this afternoon. Most likely it was due to the high wind we've had here today. Just went out. No flickering. It just went. Lasted about an hour and a half.

So, I turned on the gas fireplace. Seeking sunlight, I propped open the door. Read the Hemingway book.

Now, I'm watching Tennessee duke it out with the Gators. Should be a frenzied final few minutes.

Jenn is sick. Bad cold. She's in bed. I've used the frigid afternoon as an excuse to detox, be lazy, rest. It's nice. Quite nice.

Sweet Saturday.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

What a day...

Today is my dear friend Matt Shelton's birthday. (Happy birthday, fella!)

I feel, though, like I'm getting all the gifts.

This morning, I talked to Greg McMichael, former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. Awesome.

A little bit later, the phone rang.

"Jake, this is Bill Williams," said our version of Walter Cronkite. He called to thank me for an article I'd written on his speech to the Northside Kiwanis Club.

Last night, I heard from my friend Inman Majors, who has a new book coming out in August.

Just a few minutes ago, I heard from Marshal Andy Smalls' son, Drew. He called to tell me about a new country music singer Andy thought I'd like.

I don't know what I've done to deserve all this, but thank you! You folks have no idea how much I needed a good day.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

No. 1 Giants fan would've loved Sunday

Sunday night after the Super Bowl, the thought popped into my head that the late CBS News commentator and my favorite curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, said during one of his last interviews he kept New York Giants tickets in a secret drawer inside his office desk.

Mr. Rooney would have loved the outcome of Sunday night's game.

Sure enough, the folks at "60 Minutes" uncovered this classic segment from 1987. They call it Andy Rooney's Fantasy Football. Morley Safer dubbed him "Wrong Way Rooney."


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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Touching tribute to Glen Campbell from Richard Marx

Folks, I'd like to pass along to you this touching tribute to Glen Campbell and his final studio album from singer/songwriter Richard Marx.

This is written much better than my tribute, that's for sure. He also makes a deeper point about recognizing deserving work before a person passes away.

This is quite good.

I have finally obtained a CD version of "Ghost on the Canvas" (I am leaving my vinyl copy sealed) and will give it my $1.98 review in a later post.

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Monday, February 06, 2012

It was a great Super Bowl and all, but...

Just before the kickoff of last night's big game, a national sports business writer tweeted that last year's game received roughly about a 66 percent share (meaning, 66 percent of all TV sets turned on at that time were tuned to the Super Bowl).

"Record?" he asked, then mentioned that the final episode of "M*A*S*H" garnered a 77 percent share, quickly adding, "different era."

I fired back, "Yeah, that was back when episodic television was good and viewers had taste."

Then, to be fair, I added, "and, granted, just a handful of channels."

I'm not going to go on and on about my affinity for "M*A*S*H." I've told you about that before.

But, it got me to thinking, it really WAS a different era, both good and bad.

Oh, not all episodic television is terrible. I love "The Big Bang Theory." For some reason, we keep DVR-ing "Hawaii Five-O." I think "Friday Night Lights," which wrapped last year, is one of the best dramas ever presented on American television.

And, let's face it, TV has always aired its share of junk. ("My Mother the Car" anyone?)

But, by and large, I miss the smart, sophisticated sitcom. Think about two MTM hits from the '70s -- "Mary Tyler Moore" and "The Bob Newhart Show." (And, of course, the previously mentioned "M*A*S*H," developed by Larry Gelbart from the movie). I've taken to watching those old Newhart shows -- the series in which he plays the psychologist -- to relax at night. I'm tickled to report it is as good as it ever was. Only the fashions and technology, of course, are dated. Good comedy never gets old.

Here's something else that makes me sort of sad. Somebody threw up a poll result last night saying the Super Bowl is the No. 1 fan favorite sports championship game. The World Series is No. 2 -- at something like 13 percent. (The number may be even lower.) As a baseball guy, that breaks my heart.

Here's why I think football is now the real American pastime. First and foremost, I give credit to the NFL for hiring marketing geniuses. Second, I give them credit for avoiding a disaster like the 1994 baseball strike.

But the third reason tells the tale. Our collective attention spans have dwindled to near nothing. Blame it on TV, sound bites, video games, texting, Xboxes, swirling graphics on FOX, Facebook. Whatever. It's there and it's real.

Baseball is a leisurely sport punctuated by moments of rapid-fire action. Football is more ADHD. It meshes better with the times.

Which leads me to one last thing. Yesterday the BBC News released an article anticipating the upcoming 200th anniversary of the birth of author Charles Dickens. It quoted Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin as saying:

"Children are not being educated to have prolonged attention spans and you have to be prepared to read steadily for a Dickens novel and I think that's a pity."

So do I, Claire. So do I.

Dickens' stories are by and large still relevant. Plus, they are so much fun. But you have to work at them. And therein lies the rub.

I do know that my life wouldn't be near as rewarding without having experienced Sydney Carton's sacrifice in "A Tale of Two Cities" or Scrooge's night to remember in "A Christmas Carol." And that's what you do when you read a good book. You experience it. As Hemingway said, it's truer than if it really happened. And, plus, reading isn't passive. Which is good for the mind.

I've been looking for an excuse to read about the best of times and worst of times again. The BBC article gave me a perfect one. When I finish this Hemingway biography, Dickens here I come!

So, yeah, it was a great Super Bowl and all, but...

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Saturday, February 04, 2012

Sarah and Robin, disco and funk

Sure as you're born, I never thought I'd ever hear Robinella sing disco.

Pull up a chair and let me tell you what happened. This has truly been the week from you-know-where. Also, yesterday was a kinetic but chaotic deadline day. So when I finally left the office just before 6, I knew both Jenn and I needed a break.

By happenstance, my buddy Mike Finn had invited us to Wild Wing Cafe to hear what we thought was going to be a night with Justin Haynes and Sarah Clapp. Justin is a well-known local pianist. Sarah is a super singer originally from Northeast Knox County. We were exhausted but we went.

Made a quick pit stop at McKay's. I'd been looking for a couple of CDs. Found 'em. Also found a listless and soulless clerk at the counter. Whatever. Par for the course.

Well, it turned out at the venue that Justin and Sarah were also being joined by our friend Robinella as well as some other musicians. I guess you could call the group a soul/funk cover band.

We enjoyed the Motown and a cover of Tom Jones' "Too Hot to Handle." Sarah took a real nice turn on Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly."

But then I heard the opening bars to a familiar but unexpected tune. "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, one of disco's last hurrahs. I saw Robin stepping up to the microphone.

At first I was afraid...

Her eclectic taste is part of her appeal. (Back in the old days you could hear Merle Haggard followed by Billie Holiday followed by Paul Simon at a Robinella show.) But I have to admit I wasn't expecting this! It was a hoot, to say the least. And she did her usual whiz-bang job.

We left not too long after that -- I'm still an "I've got my Hush Puppies on/Guess I never was meant for glitter, rock and roll" kind of guy.

If I've learned one thing in life it's this: Don't be surprised to be surprised.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Thanks for the music, Etta

Here's a belated "Rest in peace" to a true R&B legend, Etta James, who passed away Jan. 20.

EVERYBODY (including me) loves her signature tune, "At Last," so I thought I'd throw out my other favorite song of hers, a soul classic called "I'd Rather Go Blind." You can hear the original recording here.

Etta suffered the last few years of her life, from Alzheimer's, leukemia and infection, according to news reports. Which is such a shame because she brought so much joy to so many.

I am glad she suffers no more.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Straight from the heart

Days like today make me want to set sail for the South Pacific and never look back.

Since that's only going to happen in my dreams, at least for awhile, I'll take what I can get. Today, that meant a smile and a story at the Northside Kiwanis Club from the one-and-only Bill Williams.

For those who don't live in Knoxville, Bill Williams is our version of Walter Cronkite. He anchored or co-anchored the WBIR-TV news from 1977 until his retirement in 2000. (If I have those dates mixed up, Bill, I apologize.) He returned briefly in 2006 -- to cheers -- when anchor Ted Hall took a job in Atlanta.

We've known Bill and his wife, Wanda, since back in the days when my dad and uncle coached football at Halls Community Park. I am quite proud that, after living on the lake for awhile, they both now live in Halls.

Bill was everything a news anchor should be -- honest, trustworthy, fair, an active member of the community. He plays the piano. He tells a good tale.

Bill founded "Monday's Child," a long-running segment on WBIR that helps children with special needs find a home. He has also lent his considerable talents to Mission of Hope, which aids residents in rural Appalachia. Bill is the real deal. Straight from the heart, you might say.

He has long been an inspiration, both as a journalist and as a human being, and seeing him for a few minutes helped chase away the rain.

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