In the old days, the 1950s and 60s, there was a famous country singer in Nashville named Faron Young. Everybody called him the “Singing Sheriff,” because he played a sheriff in a B-grade Hollywood western once. He was made a regular member of The Grand Ole Opry in 1952 and sang there for the next 40 years. Offstage, he was known as a funny guy, but with a bad temper and a willingness to fight.
Faron became a major star in country music with big hits like “Hello Walls” and “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away.” He was such a household word in those days that he was tapped to be the television spokesman for a headache remedy called BC Powders. Ol’ Faron would come on the screen and say a folksy word or two about working hard and getting a nagging headache. Then, with a droll wink, he would repeat BC’s promotional jingle in his sonorous baritone:
“You just get a glass of water and it won’t be long/ You take a BC powder and you come back strong!”
People loved him, and the slogan became a household article of faith.
Now, back in the 1970s there was a bar on Music Row called the Country Corner. It was set in an old two-story brick residence with wide cement steps leading up to deep verandas. Inside the house, tables were scattered about among several high-ceilinged rooms, providing dark intimate corners for music people to sit and whisper their lies to each other, making deals they thought would make them rich.
The actual bar was in a spacious room in the back, a quiet place with subdued lighting and a jukebox turned down low. Presiding over it all was a barkeep named Danny Dill, who was a friend of mine from his earlier days tending bar at the Golden Eagle. Danny was famous for writing only one song, but what a song that was– “The Long Black Veil,” which has been recorded so many times that Danny would say, “Them royalties have kept me in liquor all these years.” Danny also claimed he had written Bobby Bare’s iconic “Detroit City,” but that the song had been stolen from him by Mel Tillis. I loved to talk to Danny—and sometimes get him to pull out his old f-hole Gretsch and sing—so I went in often.
One night I went in with a Vanderbilt chum of mine named Gerald Black—known to most people simply as Black– to see what we could see. We strolled back to the bar to talk to Danny, and I took a seat to the right of Black. I left a polite open seat to my own right, where two men sat smoking and talking. As Danny drew our beers, I noticed the man on my right was talking too loudly for the hushed room about a friend of his who was in critical care at Baptist Hospital after surgery to remove a brain tumor. After a while listening, I turned and realized it was Ol’ Faron himself, very drunk. Faron was still famous for his performing, but he’d also gotten rich in everything from a race track at Sulphur Dell to the Music City News. He drew some pretty serious water around Music Row.
I nudged Black to let him know what was going on, as Faron continued to talk about his friend’s brain surgery. After listening for a while, Black roused himself and leaned around me and asked, “Why, Faron, why don’t you just give him a BC Powder and he’ll come back strong?”
Faron turned around to see who was talking, and could only see me. As he stared, trying to figure out who I was, I was thinking only about Faron’s notorious bad temper, and trying to figure out the fastest way out of the room. Then, in a macabre moment, I thought, “What better way to die than at the hands of the Singing Sheriff in the Country Corner bar on Music Row.” There’d certainly be a song in that!
But Faron just looked at me quizzically and shifted his weight around and said, “Why, son, you don’t understand. He’s got a BRAIN TUMOR!”
I widened my eyes and nodded my head in a way that said, “Oh, yes, now I understand. That’s terrible!” and I offered Faron some words of condolence for his friend. I could feel Black shaking and chortling next to me, and I saw Danny turn his face from the bar so Faron couldn’t see he was laughing. Finally, Faron turned back to his friend and continued talking. I took a deep draft of my beer.
Black and I quickly finished our beers and, with a wink from Danny, we stood up to leave. But before we left, I couldn’t resist placing my hypocritical hand on Faron’s shoulder and telling him again how very sorry we were about his friend.
Danny smiled at me, letting me know that I now qualified as a bona-fide Music Row hypocrite.