JOE SUN - SOLAR DEPARTURE IN FLORIDA
“It's early in the morning/ and I'm Florida bound/ It felt good to have you next to me/ you're quite a lady/ and I'd like to have you around/ so if you like please come with me/ because I need a shotgun rider/ love provider, someone beside me/ down that rocky road.” - Shotgun Rider - Larry Henley-Jim Hurt-John Thomas Slate.
When former Vietnam veteran, disc jockey, actor and latter-day singer-songwriter Joe Sun toured here in 1990 he opted for regional venues and country music festivals to showcase his down-home country music.
Now, 29 years down the Lost Highway the Mid-West dairy farmer's son has followed heroes and mentors diverse as Hank Williams, Steve Young and Guy Clark into that great honky tonk heaven.
Sun, born James Paulsen, in Rochester, Wisconsin, died on October 25 at 76 of natural causes in Palm Bay, Florida .
He toured Australia to promote his 10th album Hank And Bogart Still Live after scoring smashes with Old Flames Don't Hold A Candle To You and Shotgun Rider that later became hits for singing-actor Dolly Parton and Texan Delbert McClinton.
Sun's other hits included Bombed, Boozed And Busted, I Ain't Honky Tonking No More, Holed Up In Some Honky Tonk, Midnight Train of Memories, High And Dry, On Business For The King, Ready For the Times To Get Better and Blue Ribbon Blues.
Ironically, his first Hollywood movie Marie - A True Story - was directed by Ballarat born Roger Donaldson and starred Sissy Spacek, Morgan Freeman and Jeff Daniels.
“It was the story of the prison early release scandal in Tennessee in the late seventies, it was based on a Tennessee governor named Blanton who headed a prison system that was infamous for inmates bribing officials to get out of gaol,” Joe told me on the eve of his tour.
“Governor Blanton got to be pretty egotistical and did some no-nos like letting out convicts early for payments. He was caught and one of the main people responsible for exposing him was a girl named Marie Ragiane. Marie was a young gal who blew the whistle on the scam and was catalyst for the official investigation. She worked in the prison parole board and went to the FBI and gave them the story and eventually Governor Blanton was impeached and went to prison. But the story was about her life and the way she tried to do her job in an honest way without being influenced by anybody so it exposed corruption in the Tennessee legal system.”
So how did Joe get the role from casting agent Lyn Stallmaster for director Donaldson whose other movies included Cocktail, The Bounty, Smash Palace and No Way Out ?
“He came to me and said why do you want to be in the movie?”, Sun recalled, “I said my name is Joe Sun and I'm a singer-songwriter and I need the money.”
It seemed fitting that Sun's regional gigs included The Camp Hotel in Ballarat, the Caledonian in Warrnambool, Ulverstone, Devonport, Burnie, Red Hill and Tamworth .
He also played the Royal Derby in Fitzroy and Paul Madigan's famed Druids Lodge in Brunswick .
Joe toured down under with promoter Keith Glass and his band The Tumblers that he re-named The Tumbleweeds.
Sun launched his tour at the long defunct but trendy South Yarra Saloon in a photo session with Commonwealth Games middle distance runner Michelle Baumgartner after catching a Texan Michelle - Shocked - and her father Dollar Bill at the Old Greek Theatre in Richmond .
Sun graduated from his U.S. Air Force Vietnam tour of duty to a singing DJ at radio stations in Florida , Wisconsin , Chicago and Nashville before a role as a song plugger for Brien Fisher at Ovation Records led to a recording deal.
Sun's 14-year-long overnight success peaked when he cut Texan Hugh Moffatt penned song Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle To You that was rejected by The Kendalls before it became a #1 hit for Sun in 1979 and boomeranged onto charts two years later for Dolly Parton, now 73.
HONKY TONK HELL
“Don't look for him at the Hilton / or down at the Holiday Inn / he don't go to them places/ in the kind of shape he's in/ if you want to find him/ as far as he can tell/ you can look him up any time/ down in honky tonk hell.” - Honky Tonk Hell - Joe Sun.
The singer later recorded albums in Scandinavia for Dixie Frog and other indies.
Joe released The Sun Never Sets for Sonet in 1987, Twilight Zone on Dixie Frog in 1986 and Hank Bogart Still Lives , also on Dixie Frog in 1989.
The latter album was outsold in France only by Randy Travis.
In 1991 Dixie Frog released Out on the Road after Sun's five-month European tour.
Sun's solo album Dixie and Me made its 1992 debut on Austria 's Crazy Music and 1994 CD Some Old Memories.
The latter included 10 original Sun songs recorded in Sweden , Norway and Nashville .
Out On The Road featured six Sun originals and Mark Germino penned Breakin' It and Jerry Armstrong's Operator, Operator.
He also wrote 12 of the 15 songs on his 1998 Dixie Frog disc Heartbreak Saloon .
In Joe's last letter to me he said: “things have been slow all winter and I have been travelling between sane and crazy, drifting from depression to emotional highs from watching someone else doing something great.”
Now that journey, that included joyous nights on our Warrnambool family farm on the Hopkins River and days swimming at the Ashburton Pool near my suburban office, has reached a new high.
Maybe a fitting reflection of the singer whose 1991 Out On The Road album included the evocative Don Schlitz tune The Day The President Died.
Sun performed on WSMV television program Chili Shack , the Bluebird Café and was a committed fan of the Minnesota Vikings.
Joe lived his final years in Merritt Island , Florida.
On Sun's website, his motto reads: “Be true to yourself and beware of crossing a line that puts your scruples in question. His songs reflect this theme of universal truth.”