“Country Mags $2 each”
As a kid in Ohio, I spent a fair amount of my warm-weather weekends at flea markets. We’d pack up the car with our most recent discards and head out to some dusty parking lot or shut-down drive-in theater in hopes of making a little extra cash. A folding card table and the blanketed hood of our car displayed our offerings, and the glove compartment kept our cigar box of change-making money. I’d hang around just long enough to meet our new temporary neighbors, then I’d head off to discover the new terrain. I’d make lap after lap around the grounds, keeping my eyes peeled for something I could convince Mom I really needed. Like an empty cologne bottle in the shape of a vintage Cadillac. Or a board game that would inevitably be missing pieces or instructions.
In my 30s now, I still love used things. I’ve honed my thrifting skills and have become second owner to many special items. In fact, most of my favorite possessions belonged to someone else before me. Sometimes, there’s a trace of the prior owner — like the threadbare Go-Gos tour T-shirt with the 1983 Denver date highlighted with a marker ($1). Or the Buck Owens gospel record with the previous owner’s name printed carefully on the label (99 cents). Or the paint-by-number signed by some proud, unknown hobbyist ($2). Personalized this way, I can tell they meant something to someone. They have a history, and I respect that.
This summer in Everett, Washington, I was making my way through an otherwise ordinary swap meet when I caught sight of what was to become one of my most amazing secondhand finds ever. “Country Mags $2 each” is what drew my attention to the cardboard box. I expected to peer down into the box and see some young country heartthrob or crossover diva staring up at me from the cover of Country Weekly. What I found instead was Skeeter Davis gracing the cover of Country Song Roundup! I’d hit paydirt.
I dug deeper into the box and got more excited with each cover: Buck Owens, Porter Wagoner, Donna Fargo, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and June Carter Cash smiled back at me in all their mint condition glory. Eager to lighten his load and noticing my excitement, the seller offered me the box for twenty bucks. I would’ve paid double. I gave him the twenty and walked away with 43 issues.
I don’t know much about Country Song Roundup. And to be honest, I prefer to let the mystery be. I do know (thanks to a search engine and ebay) that it was published between the mid 1950s and the early 1990s by Charlton Publishing (they also published a magazine dedicated to TV’s hillbilly cornfest “Hee-Haw”). Proclaiming itself “America’s Number One Country Music Magazine,” Country Song Roundup contained the usual mix of interviews, profiles and reviews. What made it special, though, was a section dedicated to reprinting lyrics of the hit songs of the day.
The issues I own date from between 1971 and 1974, which is also around the time of my earliest musical memories; AM country radio sputtering from the tiny holes in our Ford LTD’s dashboard was the soundtrack to my childhood. And the song indexes in these magazines read like the playlists of those long-gone country stations: “Country Bumpkin” (Cal Smith), “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'” (Charley Pride), “That Girl Who Waits On Tables” (Ronnie Milsap), “Knock Three Times” (Billy “Crash” Craddock), “Behind Closed Doors” (Charlie Rich).
I was too young to understand or care about the lyrics; my favorites were the songs that made my parents sing along or reach for the volume. Memories brought back by music are often the sweetest and most vivid. Like speeding down I-75 into Kentucky with the windows down and the backseat to myself while Jerry Reed’s “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” blared from the factory-standard Delco. Or Dad cooking a Sunday breakfast while Freddy Fender popped and crackled out of the kitchen transistor.
Like the signed paint-by-number now hanging in my living room and the Buck Owens record that didn’t leave my turntable for months, these magazines are personalized. The mailing label on each issue tells me that W.L. Freeman of Seattle was a longtime subscriber to Country Song Roundup. W.L. was also apparently the type of person who saved things — and for that I’m grateful.
Thanks for the memories, W.L.