GEORGIA ON HIS MIND – ASHES ON HIS LYNCHBURG TOMBSTONE
“Here he comes in his brand new black blue jeans/ with a beach blonde mama, she looks like a bar room queen/ he's got a beer gut belly, and he walks tall and proud/ and if you try to get smart with him, he'll punch you out!/ he kicks ass, he pumps gas/ he drives a '65 T-bird that runs so fast/ he eats pool hall chili, drinks what you got on draft/ he's got a pickup truck, he loves to fuck/ and if you need a woman he can fix you up/ he's an all American redneck, he's got class.” - All American Redneck - Randy Howard .
The first time I heard Georgian born outlaw country singer Randy Howard was in the summer of 1983 during my stint as music columnist and feature writer for long deceased Sydney Daily Mirror in Surry Hills.
His album All American Redneck leaped onto my desk and record player with an almighty bang.
That's also how Randy left this world on June 9 this year at the ripe young age of 65 - he was shot dead in a gunfight at his 150 year old cabin home in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
A posse of father and son bounty hunters fired six shots into the latter day gospel singer after he reached for his gun and fired off one round as they burst through his back door.
As Howard lay dying he told police he thought bounty hunters Jackie Shell and son were burglars.
An easy enough assumption when you live down a few miles down Griffin Road from the main distillery and long-time home of Jack Daniels whiskey.
After the gunfight the boarded-up front door of the cabin Howard bought from All American Redneck royalties and where he lived for 25 years - and died - was ajar.
A lonely country music song warbled from a portable boom box inside and a sliding back door's glass covered the living room floor in the shadows of Jack Daniels digs.
Unlike the whiskey, Howard never had the chance to fully ferment despite acclaim down under in the Daily Mirror, Juke and Across Country magazines from 1983.
But he lasted longer than his multi-award winning Georgian fiddler namesake who went to God at 38 from cancer on June 29, 1999 after an illustrious bluegrass career in bands and recording sessions.
That Randy Howard, a native of Milledgeville, posthumously won the International Bluegrass Music Association's fiddler of the year in October.
Both died in June but the Macon born outlaw won regular airplay here from the late eighties on High In The Saddle on 3RRR -FM, David Heard's Acid Country show on PBS-FM and Nu Country FM from 1994-2001.
Howard learned of his Melbourne airplay from singing actor Joe Sun who was this writer's Glen Iris house guest during his 1989 tour that peaked at Paul Madigan's Druids Lodge in 1989.
The singer twice wrote to me - on April 2, 1990, and July 9, 1990 - with plans to utilise airplay with a tour in the slipstream of Sun, Billy Joe Shaver, Guy Clark, Waylon & Willie, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Kinky Friedman and the late great Townes Van Zandt.
“It's nice to know that I've been getting some airplay down under,” Howard wrote, “you are one of the few people that I know who have all three of my albums. I feel honored.”
The singer promised to send personalised IDS for Heard and High In The Saddle and proudly signed his letters with address Route 1, Box 610-A, Lynchburg, Tennessee - 37352 - “home of Jack Daniels Whiskey.”
Sadly Howard never made it here but his music did.
MY NOSE DON'T WORK NO MORE
“I've got a Lincoln Continental and gold records on the wall/ but I can hardly breathe at all/ because my nose don't work no more.” - My Nose Don't Work No More - Randy Howard.
But, like many hard edged country singers, he was bruised by the industry's swinging doors that slammed in his teenage face so he returned home and broke into radio by the back door on the other side of the glass - as a DJ and program director.
At night he returned to the stage, opening shows for artist diverse as The Killer - Jerry Lee Lewis - former convict outlaw star David Allan Coe, Bobby Bare, Hank Williams Jr., Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many more.
Howard also played Charlie Daniels' Volunteer Jam XIII in 1987 at Starwood Amphitheatre in Nashville.
The album, recorded in Nashville and Atlanta, features a photo of Howard as a baby on the back cover.
Hank III's 1999 debut album Risin' Outlaw opened with I Don't Know - and on his 2006 disc Straight to Hell he cut Howard song My Drinkin' Problem .
Howard also toured with Hank 111 early in his career.
But the disc that broke Howard was All American Redneck ( Viva-Warner ) that featured six originals included an edited for radio version of the title track.
Howard's disc included wry word play of Johnny Walker Home “because I'm not able”, topical My Nose Don't Work No More and I Don't Know .
It also had inspired revamps of Billy Joe Shaver's I Been To Georgia On A Fast Train and Billy Ray Reynolds tune Atlanta's Burning Down that uses the romance of The Civil War as a backdrop similar to The Band's The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
Produced by Howard's long-time collaborator Paul Hornsby, it ends with his not so cryptic The Wedding Prayer.
All-American Redneck inspired popular bumper stickers but is officially out of print but most of those songs, and many of Randy's best tracks are on The Best of Randy Howard.
A PAIR OF KNEES AND DIXIE'S ARMS
“I wish I was in Dixie's arms/ right now somehow/ Dixie knew just what to do/ Lord how she could love me.” - Dixie's Arms - Bucky Jones-Michael Garvin-Tom Shapiro.
It kicked off with Down Here in Birmingham and ends with the late Cowboy Jack Clement's Millers Cave - a hit for Howard mentor Bobby Bare.
Macon also includes the evocative Dixie anthem The Last Rebel Yell - penned by Curly Putnam, Bucky Jones and Ron Hellard - and inspired by the ghost of a Civil War lurking in the Deep South.
It's a sibling of another Jones co-write on Dixie's Arms - a clever metaphor of the Dixie anthem doubling as a southern belle who becomes the singer's shelter from the storm.
Other memorable tunes include T Graham Brown classic She's Too Good To Be Treated This Way , Don Schlitz's Whiskey Talking and Howard original Driving Her The Long Way Home .
Highlights are prophetic Howard original Killer On The Run and haunting Putnam-Jones death dual Heaven, Hell or Macon.
Fittingly the gospel album A Pair of Knees was produced by Howard's 40-plus year friend Paul Hornsby - a Macon producer and musician.
“There was a few things that Randy had came back and said, ‘I really wish I would have done this or that,' Just a few tweaks to it, and we're working on getting those tweaks fixed, and we'd like to be able to get that released,” revealed Tammy Brown - a former girlfriend of Randy who remained close friends until his death.
Howard released seven albums and shared stages with the genre's most influential artists and continued to live the outlaw lifestyle he sang about, even in his final moments that ended in a shootout.
“He was the epitome of outlaw country,” says Hornsby who worked closely with Howard until the final gunfight.
“He only not sang that life, but he lived that life.”
WHY THE BOUNTY HUNTERS CAME CALLING ON RANDY
“Well he just bought a brand new electrophonic stereo/ he got a deal at sears from a salesman that he knows/ he's got all the latest country-western hits/ cause he thinks disco music is a bunch of shit/ and it is.” - All American Redneck - Randy Howard
• The father and son bounty hunters who entered Howard's house included Jackie Shell who was shot and rushed to Erlanger hospital where he underwent surgery and is recovering.
• Randy was in his downstairs bedroom when he was shot at roughly 5:15 pm.
• Randy shot first and the bounty hunters returned fire.
• Randy fired one round. The bounty hunters fired six rounds, hitting Randy once.
• Two of the four counts pending in court against Randy resulting in the bench warrant were going to be removed just before his killing.
Howard was reported to be lucid and conversational, and there wasn't a lot of blood.
The gun shot he sustained was to the chest, but police and paramedics didn't immediately see it and he was first taken by ambulance and then care-flighted to Vanderbilt hospital where he died five hours later.
“He'd been in jail here for a pretty good while. He didn't show up for court so they had a failure to appear out on him. That's what the jail told me,” Marion County Sheriff Ronnie “Bo” Burnett revealed.
The Tennessee Department of Investigation is investigating to see if the Shells had cause to enter Howard's home
“He had four counts facing him in Marion County, Tennessee,” long-time friend Tammy Brown said.
“All other charges against him from the past, he had made restitution, he'd paid his fines. Everything else that was going on anywhere, he had satisfied the court. In this one, he had four charges.”
The charges that resulted in the bench warrant against Howard stemmed from a traffic stop on Interstate 24 in east Tennessee on September 26, 2014.
At the time, Randy's driver's license had been revoked.
“He was trying to get back to his hometown of Macon, Georgia, and he had a flat tyre in South Pittsburg, Tennessee on Hwy 24,” Brown explained.
“He pulled over and was struggling to change the flat tyre because his health was bad. He'd broken his leg this past year and he was just in poor physical shape. So a State Patrolman pulled over and helped him change the tyre. They buddied and bonded, and once the tyre was changed, he sent him on his way. And as they were pulling on to the interstate, Randy said, ‘I guess he thought I just need to run those plates.'
So the patrolman did, and saw the vehicle belonged to someone who wasn't supposed to be driving and he pulled Randy over.
“He charged him with DUI, he charged him with driving without a license, he charged him with being drunk and having a loaded firearm, and he charged him with drug paraphernalia.”
A PAIR OF KNEES GOSPEL FINALE
“I was born a winner/ I thought I couldn't lose/ but I played with the devil/ and I've had to pay his dues/ he let me get ahead/ then he left me way behind/ he almost won my soul/ and I almost lost my mind/ he'll have a hand to hold/ if you'll just fold a pair of knees.” - A Pair Of Knees - Randy Howard.
But Howard did not report to probation officers and was not wearing the ankle monitor and his bond was revoked on December 23.
On January 14 alcohol results came back showing Howard's blood alcohol was below the legal limit and the SCRAM alcohol monitor was ordered removed for “medical reasons.”
Also on January 14, the court set the matter to be heard again on May 13 - that was the date Howard missed, resulting in the bench warrant.
Randy also broke his leg while in jail custody at one point.
Howard's friend Terry Dotson tried to drive him to the court date on May 13 to face the charges stemming from the traffic stop, but Howard refused.
“He said he wasn't going back to jail. That's what he told me,” Dotson revealed.
So when Howard didn't show up to court, the bench warrant was issued in Marion County for Howard's arrest.
The bail bondsman picked up the warrant, and served it at Randy's 150-year-old log cabin in Lynchburg.
It was Randy's wishes to be cremated so there was no formal funeral or memorial service but friends plan a remembrance for the songwriter in Macon in July.
“Randy wanted his ashes to be spread in the front of that cabin and we're going to do our damnedest to get that done,” Brown said.
“He would always say, ‘I know baby I'm not right, but walk a mile in my shoes. He was very prolific. He was very tongue and cheek. He could make you laugh until you would cry. He had the biggest laugh and the biggest smile. And along with that, you've got the dark side. Life will beat you down. And once you're down, it's hard to get that momentum back going again.
“It's bad that this had to happen, but you try to look for some good in things. He's reaching people, he's touching people even now. You have to get your strength from that.”
His final album A Pair Of Knees is expected to be released later this year.
Randy is honoured on Nu Country TV with two historic video clips - Saturday August 1 and 10.30 pm on Channel 31/Digital 44.