The Balladeer by Celestine Sibley
Born: May 23, 1914
Died: August 15, 1999
Dog Island, Florida
Published approximately 1969 – 70.
A lot of people in my neck of the woods have a rather special regard for Mr. Lum Crow. There’s a road named for him. (It goes by his old home place and not too far from the pretty woods which his mother once bought for 50 cents an acre.) And a couple of generations of folks who like mountain ballads and banjo picking have a beat a path to his door for inspiration and encouragement. But one young man”s tribute to the 83-year-old sage of north Fulton may soon hit the big time.
Barry Etris has written a ballad entitled, “The Lum Crow Days.”
When you realize that Barry also wrote “Reuben James” you get a glimmering of how widespread Mr. Crow’s fame may soon be. “Reuben James” is the new country music hit which went out of Georgia to Nashville to New York and Los Angeles and is now being heard all over the world on records cut by The First Edition. (That’s a singing group for you country music illiterates who might suppose as I did that it’s a newspaper.)
Barry wrote “The Lum Crow Days” as a suprise for a childhood idol — the first man he ever saw pick a banjo. It will be introduced at the Roswell Art Festival, which will be held this weekend – 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday – on the Roswell square. (No admission.) Both Barry and Mr. Crow will be on the program.
When I went by to see him the other day Barry, the handsome, dark-eyed 29-year-old, who is now enjoying the fruits of his first song-writing success, was struggling to finish a publish the Lum Crow song. He sees it as a tribute to Mr. Crow and others like him, specifically Barry’s father, the late Jones Etris, who died in the field one Saturday while plowing his mule.
“My father and Lum Crow were good friends,” Barry said. “They often went hunting together. I feel like they are a fading breed.” He grinned. “Guys my age don’t even know how to hitch up a mule!”
When Barry was a little boy he listened to Mr. Crow play “Smoke on the Water: — “and it really tore me up.” He took up the guitar himself and during his days in Roswell High School he played at chapel and for various shows and carnivals. He went on to Georgia State, majoring in commercial art, but it became apparent that music, not art, was the major in his life. He couldn’t seem to stop thinking songs and when he finally got one to United Artists in Nashville, he was on his way. He now writes songs full time with sufficient success that he hasn’t had to do any house-painting recently — one of the stopgap jobs he found before “Reuban James.”
“Reuben James,” in case you’ve missed it, is a haunting tale about an illegitimate white child who was reared by an old Negro man. “You still walk the furrow field of my mind,” it runs, with the refrain, “I loved you than and I love you now, Reuben James.”
“The Lum Crow Days” is haunting, too. It speaks of “the skinny old gentleman with the scarecrow grin and light-hearted boy of ten.”
Will it become a hit, too? Billy Ed Wheeler of United Artists in Nashville has heard some of it and thinks well of it. Visitors to the art festival Saturday and Sunday will have an opportunity to preview it and get in their predictions.