The story that you are about to read is true. It all started when a 13 year old girl (my grandmother) ran away from home and married an ill-tempered alcoholic Belgian immigrant. This volatile marriage produced three sons, my father being the youngest. With no father around (his parents divorced), he was the constant subject of abuse by his two older brothers. Because of this, and being raised in a single parent home, he was left to bear the curse of my grandfather.
Like father, like son. That was me to the core. I, too, grew up in the uncertainty of a broken home --- my father was married not once, but three times in the span of ten years. Reaching adolescence was the least of my worries. I was already involved in shoplifting, burglary, lying, cheating, and sex. All I wanted to be was “normal” --- like other kids and their “Leave It to Beaver” families. I was becoming the very thing that I had vowed never to become --- like my father! Little did I know that I, too, was in the grip of my grandfather’s curse.
You are probably asking yourself, “What does this have to do with songwriting?” My dad had a phobia about why bad things always seemed to happen to him. He trusted no one. So he was always suspicious of the answers that I gave him after I got into trouble. If he didn’t believe what I said, he would say, “Tell me another story!” So, like an obliging kid, I’d tell him “another story!” This scenario would repeat itself until I ran out of stories to tell. Eventually, I would come back full circle to the truth. Then he was satisfied. So, at an early age I was honing in on my skills as a songwriter! HA! HA!
My situation at home was constant turmoil. I inherited three stepsisters from my father’s third marriage, making a grand total of five sisters and NO HELP! Needless to say, trouble always followed us home; so we were grounded most of the time. I would read library books (two or three a week) and would listen to a crystal radio set. That radio became my escape hatch. All I had to do was put on the headphones and the fighting and turmoil would fade away.
Music was a soothing bandage for my wounded spirit. I idolized those whose music touched my heart. I felt something within my being that was crying out to be born! It was music, but I didn’t know a thing about music. The only music instruction that I ever had was in the fifth grade. Even then, I tried to take a “short cut” and cheated on the final exam. That ended any chance that I had, to play in any school band, present or future. I was barred for life, but that did not stop me from playing an instrument! The guitar was “my thing” and I learned to mimic sounds of other guitar music by listening to it over and over again. I taught myself to play by ear after first failing to use my fingers (old musician’s joke).
I also liked jokes and good stories. I enjoyed telling them to any audience that would listen. I still maintain the reputation of being a funny man and incorporate humor into everything I do, whenever possible.
In all fairness, I can’t blame my dad or my grandfather for my actions. I had enough religious training to know right from wrong. My hang-up was that I was doing the things that I shouldn’t do, but not doing the things that I knew I should do. My “Jekyll and Hyde” behavior was chasing away my family and my friends. That made me angry, and I hated myself.
The turning point, for me, came out of a small, hillside country church where the love of God flowed like sweet honey in the rock. That particular Sunday, the Spirit of God was so overwhelming that all I could do was weep. I wept non-stop through the whole service. I wept so much that my tears soaked into my children’s hair as I held them close to me. My silent weeping turned into uncontrolled sobbing. I didn’t know why, but I was unraveling --- fast. Two men ushered me out of the service into an adjoining room. They asked me what was wrong. In between sobs, I told them that I didn’t want to lose Jesus.