"Coming through the 60s: An American Rock 'n Rock Story" by William M. King I have often thought about my heritage, that distant family, the ones near- forgotten in the mountains of the deep south, the class battles that run from birth to present day, the poverty and hardships that bound them together. They were "Jesus believers," whose faith in grifters put their souls in the hands of the "glory-makers" in a south teeming with charlatans, "funky-ass" preachers, rainmakers, unscrupulous bankers, and carnies of every persuasion. To understand my place on earth, I questioned if it led to a downed spacecraft and my arrival from a distant galaxy, a child, born of counterpoint, rhythm, melody, and harmony, in a solar system presumed lifeless.
Early on, the soundtrack to my life spanned 1,500 miles of the Appalachian Mountains. It was the blues, the hymns, the folk ballads and spirituals haunting the region like ghosts hidden amongst the dust and rubble of a night wind carrying with it a mix of English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, and African-American influence and history.
Each season we would pack the family station wagon and drive further south to visit aunts and uncles and, at times, search for a long-lost relative rumoured to be among the living, deep in the Tennessee woods. These detours were connected to father's upbringing in the border town of Hazel, Kentucky.
The Great Depression wiped the family out. Tobacco farming, the family business, the other, survival. The stock-market crash of 1929 left every family in peril. The farm was lost, and kids barely had enough food to encourage physical growth. There were decisions made who would attend school and who would work the fields, all based on necessity. For better or worse, confronting history and conditions in a region where thousands of lives were shed in conflicts over race and inequality.
Racism and poverty institutionalized, a genuine mistrust of government prevailed, and a belief that inequities could be resolved through resourcefulness and resistance. Beyond the hardships, it was a place where song, sound and the spoken word illuminated people's lives, echoing the joy, humility, aspirations, and conditions that obligated each family to stand for the other.
Along the riverbanks, there were baptisms, picnics, lovers' quarrels, and the occasional burial. The devil was everywhere, as witnessed by those Sunday "fire-breathing" preachers who ranted and raged against godless sinners. Further south "gator-land," a place where one never sank a foot into a pool of unclaimed water. Farther south, the smell of burning cane fields sweetened the midnight air as broken- bone slaves, and itinerant workers planted and harvested the white man's cash crop.
Coal miners' strikes burst into all-out war. Near the rails, hobos rode boxcars through the lush countryside, begging for an occasional meal or handyman work. Along the way, there were juke joints, chicken shacks, unheeded plantations, overgrown antebellum castles, and a countless number of churches. The piano was the centrepiece, the recorder of history, the spokesman, the outlandish showman rarely contained. You boogied, you ragged, you waltzed, and danced pain away. It was a music born deep in the hills, languid small-town streets, and bustling seaports of the old south. Those same 88 keys have accompanied me from the bandstand to the studio to concert halls, nightclubs, through the hallways of power to the domain of the marginalized. Coming Through the '60s – An American Rock 'n' Road Story is my story, my family, and history.