Jace Carlton
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Performing Songwriter - Freelance Writer / Photojournalist - Poet - Author

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  Up Close & Personal
with
Mickey Newbury
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The following commentary appeared in the October 2002 edition of
The Songwriter's Connection.
Minor changes have recently been made.

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"They Came To Hear The Music"
Remembering my friend,
Mickey Newbury
by
Jace Carlton

I lost a wonderful friend recently.  My good friend and co-writer, James Odle, Jr. of Houston was the one to break the news to me.  "Mickey Newbury passed away".  I was numb and spent the next several days searching for answers to so many questions, but none came.

Mickey filled my life with joy through his music, and was an inspiration to me with his gentle, sincere ways, and through the love he had for his wife and children.  They were more important to him than anything or anyone else, with his music coming in a very close second.  A close, loving family and music ... I can't think of a better way to live, or a better legacy to leave behind.

At a time in my life when I was emotionally at my lowest, I heard one of his songs.  I waited until the end to hear the DJ give his name, but like too many DJ's I've listened to over the years he didn't back announce the songs and artists.  I called information, got the phone number of the station and finally got through to the DJ.

"Hi, could you tell me who sang that song that you just played?"

"Yeah, that was Mickey Newbury."

"Great, thanks!"

Every time I heard one of Mickey's songs on the radio (which was NEVER enough) I would stop whatever I was doing and just listen.  There was so much more to hear than just the lyrics or the melody.  He sang with a passion and an emotion that could make you feel a part of his every experience.

The first time I saw Mickey in concert was in early 1974 in San Francisco.  My buddy Kelley and I headed into The City anticipating a fun evening at The Great American Music Hall, never imagining the transformation we would experience over the next few hours.  We had a table not more than 20 feet away from Mickey while he performed.

The lights were dimmed (he never was one that liked the bright lights, preferring the more intimate settings that a nightclub or coffeehouse could offer), and he made constant eye contact with his audience.  He chatted with us between songs, and generally made us feel like we were all just sitting around in his living room or in our own comfortable rocking chair on his front porch on a balmy summer evening, sipping lemonade, while he sang his heart out and told stories.

I saw him again, in a similar setting, not too long after that first show, and then a few years later I found out he was coming back to the Bay Area for three shows at a night club in Los Gatos called The Cellar.  I was a freelance photojournalist by then and I mustered up the courage to track down his phone number and called him to see if I could interview him for an article I was writing on spec for the San Francisco Chronicle and also take some photos.

With my heart pounding uncontrollably from excitement I dialed the phone and a soft, sweet voice answered on the other end ... it was his wife, Susie.

I told Susie my name and explained I was a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, and I'd heard Mickey was coming back to the Bay Area and wondered if there would be any chance that he might allow me to interview him.  Susie said warmly, "I'm sure he'd love it!  How kind of you to call and ask.  He's not home right now but he'll be back in a little while and I can give him your name and phone # and have him call you if you'd like."

I replied, "That would be great!" and gave her my number.  Less than a half hour later the phone rang.  My heart jumped and started pounding hard once again.  Was it Mickey?

"Hello?"

"Hi!  Is this Jace"

"Yes, it is!"

"Hi, Jace, this is Mickey Newbury.  My wife, Susie, said you'd called.  I just got back from playing a little golf.  How can I help ya, Jace?"

We talked for about 45 minutes and before the end of the conversation he'd made me feel like his newest and best friend. 
Actually that had happened within the first 30 seconds and the rest of the time felt more like we were old buddies renewing a great friendship and catching up on old times.  Oh, how I wish I'd been able to be a part of those "old times".

After we hung up I was bouncing off the walls!  When I calmed down I called The Cellar where Mickey was going to be appearing and asked to speak with the manager.  I told him who I was and that I was a freelance photojournalist and had just spoken to Mickey Newbury and gotten permission to interview him when he came to town to play at The Cellar.  I then asked the manager (I think his name was Dave) if there was a way I could reserve a table near the stage for each night.  He said, "Sure!  I'll give you and one guest complimentary tickets and half price tickets for up to 4 guests who might like to join you each night."

"Really?!  That's great!" I said.

Then he said, "Can I ask just one small favor in return?."

"Sure, what I can I do?"

"Well, you mentioned that you're a photojournalist, and I'd appreciate it if I could have a copy of one of the photos you shoot of Mickey to display on our wall.  An 8x10 would be fine."

"Yeah!  No problem.  I can do that."  I made another new friend when I showed up a week after the shows and handed over a 16x20.  Blew him away!

The first of the three nights arrived and my wife and I and our guests arrived early.  Dave was there to greet us and show us to our table.  A perfect location!  Any closer and we'd have been on stage with Mickey!  Before the show started Dave came up to me and said Mickey wanted to meet me and led me back to his dressing room.

Dave knocked on the door, and a friendly, familiar voice said, "Come in."  I was about to meet Mickey Newbury face to face!

Dave opened the door and we stepped in.  Mickey quickly rose from his chair and came up to us.  "You must be Jace!  Gosh, it's SO good to meet you and thank you SO much for coming!"

Almost speechless, with my heart pounding like crazy again, I said, "Mickey, it's great to meet YOU and thanks for letting me do all of this!!"  We chatted for a few moments and then I excused myself so he could finish getting ready for the show.

The show was sold out.  You couldn't squeeze another person in, at least not legally.  He had the audience right in the palm of his hands from the moment he stepped onto the stage until he finished over 2 hours later.  Kathi and I and our guests waited for awhile and then Dave came up to us and said, "Mickey's ready.  You can go on back now."

As we approached his dressing room the door was open, with more of his fans coming and going, sharing their "Great show, Mickey!" and "Wonderful to see you again, Mick!"  As the commotion began to die down a bit he saw me and said, "Hey everybody, I want you to meet my friend, Jace Carlton.  He's from right here in the Bay Area and he's come to interview me for an article he's writing for the Chronicle."  He didn't say it in a way to make the people leave - that's not Mickey.  He ALWAYS loved to have people around.  But people wanted to be polite, plus it was a very small dressing room and they wanted to give us all the room we could get.  I introduced my wife and friends to him and then we sat down for the interview.  The tape began to roll.

A half hour later (it felt like only 5 minutes or so) we started to wrap it up.  "You comin' back tomorrow night, Jace?"

"As a matter of fact, yes.  We'll probably be at the same table."

"Great!  I look forward to seeing you again.  And, we'll continue this interview afterwards, OK?"

"Continue?  Really?  Sure!"  In truth I had covered everything I could think of for my article, but it turned out he wasn't through sharing with me all of the things he wanted to tell me.  I could hardly wait!

Night Two came.  Dave greeted us like we were old friends and led us to our table.  And after another great show (Mickey never gave anything but his best) the interview continued.

By the end of the third night everyone in the place thought I must have been his friend for years.  He made everyone in the place feel like a friend, but we'd shared a lot in our first two interview sessions, and from that came a very special bond.  That night I also took all of my albums for him to autograph.  They're very special treasures.

Somehow I think we both knew it might be a long time before we'd see each other again, though neither one of us could have guessed that third interview would be the last time we met face to face.  I spoke with him on the phone a few times after that, including after I sent him a copy of the article I wrote for the Chronicle, titled "They Came To Hear The Music"
, a little title twist after one of my favorite songs of his.  He complimented me on the article and said he wished the paper had printed it for MY sake, not his.

I also sent him a copy of my book of poetry, Sounds of Darkness, and a few songs I had written.  The comments he shared and the compliment he gave me are priceless.  "You've got a good heart, Jace.  Always remember that.  And NEVER give up on your writing!  The world needs more people like you.  God bless ya, my friend!"

I've kept my promise, Mickey.  I'm still writing.


*****

Over the years many songwriters have influenced my own songwriting, but Mickey's influence touched me very deeply.  Maybe it was because his songs helped me through a particularly tough time I was going through in my life during the mid-70's, or perhaps it was how easily we made friends.  The more I think of it, the more I'm convinced it was both.  I had always dreamed of someday co-writing with him, but for now I'll have to be content with my dream of someday playing along with him in that great nightclub in heaven.

I can see it now ... so many gathering to meet Mickey and listen to him sing his legendary songs.  They've come to hear the music.


*****

Now comes my hard edge message you need to hear LOUD and CLEAR!  If you were listening to me on the radio right now instead of reading this I'd say, “PUMP UP THE VOLUME!”

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.  How many times have we said to ourselves, “I should have __________ (you fill in the blank).  I could have __________ (fill in another blank).  If only I’d have known, I would have __________ (fill in your last blank).  Now, hidden in this exchange is a person you MUST avoid at all costs ... her name is “If Only Ida”.  She's the sting of procrastination that hurts too many people.

How would I fill in the blanks above?  Good question ...

"Something told me I should have called Mickey when I first thought about calling him last spring.  I should have listened to that still, small voice inside of me.  I could have dug a little deeper to find his phone number instead of thinking, 'Oh, I'm sure I’ll run across it tomorrow.'  If only I had known my friend wasn't doing well, I would have at least called him, and then I would have done whatever it took to go see him personally."

Many years ago I read a column by Charles McCabe in the San Francisco Chronicle titled "Tell Them".  He urged his readers not to wait until someone passes away to tell others how much you loved that person.  The person who needs to know is your friend, and they need to know NOW!

Some of you reading this also subscribe to my daily motivational / inspirational message called "Change Your Stars!" (OK … I admit it … a shameless plug).  The message that has received the most requests to be repeated is:

DO IT NOW!

If you had one hour to live ...

Who would you call?

What would you say?

Why are you waiting?

Nick Alvarez


I would extend that to EVERYTHING we do in our lives!  Sift through all of the garbage and feel a true sense of urgency to do those things that truly matter most!  Take whatever time is necessary to love someone deeply.  When you feel moved upon to call or write or go see someone, trust your instincts and DO IT!

When the Muse comes upon you with lyrics or a melody for a song (or, if you're lucky, BOTH!), take the time to write it, RIGHT THEN!  Otherwise, if YOU don't write it someone else will.  The Muse doesn't care.

Have you ever found yourself listening to the radio or a CD and all of a sudden you hear a song that you SWEAR you were going to write, but someone else beat you to it?!  Everything about it … the melody, the lyrics, even that particular guitar riff … THEY'RE ALL THERE!  And someone else did it before you!!!  Well, guess what?  You weren't paying attention when your Muse came knocking!  You snooze, you lose!  Your Muse took it to someone else because you weren't in tune!  You might have a favorite MUSE that you believe is ALL YOURS!  He or she always seems to be there to inspire us, but if you ignore him or her, the song will simply go to someone else.  THE SONG WILL NOT BE DENIED!


As songwriters, we depend on our Muse inspiring us in their unique way.  Mine acts like a sultry mistress and whispers softly in my ear.  It's not long before the words start to flow and I hear the melody she's sharing with me in my head.  She's patient with me while I work through the initial writing and subsequent re-writes.  Pretty soon, with the help of my Muse, I have a new song!  BUT … if I ignore her, I'm in DEEP trouble!

SO, whether you have a friend to call, or a song to write … DO IT NOW!


Copyright
© 2006 by Jace Carlton



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Jace Carlton lives near Nashville, TN and is a member of NSAI.  A Freelance Writer / Photographer, Poet, Author, and former Radio DJ, he now enjoys a career as a Songwriter, and a collaborator much in demand predominantly in the Country genre, but also enjoys occasionally writing for A/C, Pop, R&B, Smooth Jazz, and Cabaret.  As a Freelance Writer he has contributed reviews on new CD's to online newsletters and regularly contributed book and concert reviews along with personal commentary on the music industry to Nashville's Songwriter's Connection e-Zine.

Jace is also the creator of the Change Your Stars! website and its companion daily motivational / inspirational e-mail message that's read by over 14,000 people all over the world.  He is currently working on a series of books based on the Change Your Stars! theme.  For a free subscription click here and you'll be added within 24 hours.  Privacy Statement


Comments regarding this commentary may be sent to Jace@jacecarlton.com

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Hall of Fame

Mickey Newbury

"Music has never been anything but an escape from depression for me.  How many people have listened to my songs and thought, 'He must have a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a pistol in the other.'  Well, I don't.  I write my sadness.  I call it robbing the dragon."

"Decide what you want your music to be for you--a diversion, a hobby, a way to pay the bills.  Basically, however, just write for yourself. Yet if you feel that you have to make a living at it, then approach it more from a 'hook' standpoint.  In my own view, once you write your first song for money, then you are copping out--you're in the business of mass appeal."

"I write what I think.  If you don't write what you think, what you write you become."

Birth Name: Mickey Newbury
Induction Year: 1980
Date of Birth: 5/19/1940
Place of Birth: Houston, TX
Date of death: 9-28-02
Place of death: Vida, Oregon

Mickey

Former Occupations:
Shrimp board worker

Career Milestones:

red star

1956--performed with group the Embers; recorded with the band on Herald label

red star

1963--came to Nashville

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1964--signed with Acuff-Rose

red star

1966--had #1 records on four different charts--pop/rock ("Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In" by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition), rhythm & blues ("Time is a Thief" by Solomon Burke), easy listening ("Sweet Memories" by Andy Williams), and country ("Here Comes the Rain, Baby" by Eddy Arnold)

red star

1968--recorded first album for RCA, "Harlequin Melodies"

red star

1969--went to Los Angeles to write a John Hartford television special with Kris Kristofferson

red star

1970--performed at The Bitter End in New York City

Catalog Highlights

She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye

  • Artists: Jerry Lee Lewis (1969), Lonnie Mock, Troy Seals, Ronnie Milsap (1975)

Sweet Memories

  • Artists: Mickey Newbury, Andy Williams, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson (1979), Joan Baez, Ray Price, B.B. King, Dottie West & Don Gibson (1969)

American Trilogy

  • Artists: Mickey Newbury, Elvis Presley

Funny, Familiar, Forgotten, Feelings

  • Artists: Tom Jones, Don Gibson (1967), Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie

Here Comes the Rain, Baby

  • Artists: Eddy Arnold (1968)

San Francisco Mabel Joy

  • Artists: Joan Baez

Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In

  • Artists: Kenny Rogers & the First Edition (1971)

33rd of August

  • Artists: Joan Baez, Waylon Jennings

Angelline

  • Artists: Joan Baez

Five Miles From Home

Got Down on Saturday

Weeping Annaleah

  • Artists: Tom Jones

I Wish I Could Say No to You

  • Artists: Tom Jones

Why You've Been Gone So Long

  • Artists: Johnny Darrell (1969)

Time Is a Thief

  • Artists: Solomon Burke

Heaven Help the Child

Comments:

"Heaven Help the child" won the "World Popular Song" contest
    at the Tokyo Music Festival in April, 1973

Copyright © 2006-2014, Jace Carlton.  All International Rights Reserved.