Careful on the Lost Hwy.

Years ago I was eastbound on highway 21, headed back home to Nac after a weekend of gigging. At a certain point the radio stations turn to caca; given to tractor rap or pop starlets bleating about their cellphones and clothes. Every once in a while you’ll find some good old country gospel, but the pickings are typically slim.  

On a stretch outside of Madisonville, I happened upon a twangy, urgent voice not unlike my own belting out a melody that sounded, in Jay Farrar’s words “like heaven.”  

I still do my share of sleepin’ on the floor/not sure if anybody knows me anymore.” Damn. 

That couplet hit me. Hard.  

Through the years, that voice and the band backing it have shot through the ranks to the top of the heap, and for once, it was a case of good guys and quality winning out.  

For anyone afraid that country music and great songs were going the way the buffalo did for a while, the Turnpike Troubadours helped put those fears to rest.  

Country music has had far more curses than blessings. For every legendary artist, there’s a trail of wreckage that’d stretch from coast to coast. The songs of Keith Whitley; Hank Williams; Townes Van Zandt; Waylon Jennings; Gary Stewart and so many others are standards, now, but wouldn’t it be nice if they were all still here to sing for us? 

Evan Felker of the Troubadours is no different. The guy is beyond brilliant. Songs like “7 & 7,” “Shreveport,” “Diamonds and Gasoline,” “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” and, good lord, “The Bird Hunters” didn’t come from some Johnny-come-lately dude-and-guitar strummer.  

Brilliant as Senor Felker is, substance abuse and the always-accompanying mental issues go hand in hand, and for the last couple of years seem to have reduced many of his shows to the kind of talk that would be a slew of cover stories, if the Red Dirt/alt-country/Texas music scene had a tabloid newspaper. 

Some might laugh, point fingers and cast stones, but it is true: there is a high percentage of creatives who suffer from mental illness and/or substance abuse issues. Whether it’s Evan Felker or the many great jazz cats burning up the roads in the 1940s, it never seems to end. There’s a reason why I play Fred Eaglesmith’s “Alcohol and Pills” at a lot of my own gigs. It’s as much a warning to the dangers of Hank’s Lost Highway as much as it is a memorializing of many of the great artists who paid the price. 

Aside from a calling and necessary means of expression, for those who must play music and/or write songs for folks, there’s a certain amount of running from your past that is part and parcel of it all. I don’t know what Evan Felker’s upbringing consisted of, but I have met him a couple of times and he appeared to be a mellow, gentle spirit and very much the real deal. 

The words “indefinite hiatus” when put together is never something you want to see pertaining to a favorite band, but whatever is needed to get the wheels rolling again just so that the man behind that voice on the radio and those lyrics can function again, by all means, go forth! The real fans will still be here if/when the band is ready to take to stages again. 

You can’t put a price on someone’s dignity or their life. 

God bless Evan Felker and the Turnpike Troubadours. Careful out there on the Lost Hwy.