Roy Huskey Jr.- The Heartbeat of Country Music
The heartbeat of country music
Most people assume my parents instilled in me my love of music, that since I was little I have been playing instruments and joining in jam sessions. But that wasn’t the case. For the first half of my 18 years, I didn’t want to have anything to do with my parents’ professions, and I shied away from music outside of school chorus and band. The perpetual shadows of Brian Ahern and Emmylou Harris looming over my existence gave me a rather slanted outlook on life. In truth, I loved singing in the chorus and the occasional trip out on the road with Mom, but I wouldn’t let myself admit it, even if it was just in my mind. I didn’t want to give the world the satisfaction that they knew me well enough to guess what kind of person I was before I even knew myself. All that was about to change.
I don’t remember the first time I ever met Roy Huskey Jr., but I do remember, as clear as day, the first time I saw him in full force with the rest of the Nash Ramblers. It was as if grace itself had come to earth in the form of those hands slapping that upright bass. I had never seen anything so elegantly beautiful breeding something so meaty and rich, a pool of sound that enveloped me and drove the rest of the music that pranced on top of it. At every Ramblers gig I went to, I would insist on staying backstage so I could sit on the floor and resound with the flavor of music up and down my spine. For a wink in space, I would have two heartbeats, one pushing blood and the other pumping the melodic joy that I realized I so desperately needed.
And then there was Roy the man. Whenever I think of him now, I see his standard plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, and green army jacket. A cigar hanging out of his mouth, maybe a bag of potato chips and a coke at his side. The hair, immaculately poised in a horizontal swoop across where the forehead meets the line. And the smile. I will never forget his smile, a soft grin that crept across his face and managed to say more than any chuckle I could belt out. There was his humility, from a genius who simply did what he was good at, loved it, and got paid for it. The rest of it was life, and if he said something, it was worth listening to, be it funny or serious. There was the time when I asked him to play on an album that our high school recording studio, Burro Tracks, was putting together to raise money. His reply? He would have to charge me. “Two dollars.” He meant it as a joke, but I paid him anyway; he was worth every cent.
In fact, I can never repay what has been given to me. I was drawn to him because of his gift, but I found a friend and confidant in his wife Lisa; as I suffered through the adolescent horror known as high school, our phone conversations would last long into the night as she consoled my fears of failure in life and also told me stories about Roy’s own struggle to break out from under his father’s reputation. He was one of the few people who had any idea what my life was like while I was growing up, and never in a million years did I think that my adult life would begin with his funeral.
I am not a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, or a member of any other organized religion, but when I think of Roy and of the beauty of music, I do believe in a god. He could tell you what note was most resonant on a particular bass and play accordingly, and tell you the same about the tone of a room. He rarely needed to hear a song more than once, and often could anticipate notes in a song he’d never heard. If he did play a wrong note, then the song should have been written differently.
I don’t have that kind of gift; I’m your average college sophomore, searching out a niche in life to call my own. My pride has been my passion for living, but now I also carry a heaviness that wasn’t there a few months ago. Then again, maybe it’s a sign that I lost my innocence on my 18th birthday in that funeral home. In the midst of his death, we were celebrating his life. How he hated for some things to rattle; he’d put wedges in his basses, in his cars, whatever else appeared with the need. How he could tune while he was playing, how he never left the house for less than scale.
The moment I lost it was when Marty said how much Roy must have loved my mother because he went out on the road with her and the Ramblers. I could actually hear my heart break as I looked at her, sitting in the front row with the performers, and how she had told me earlier how lucky she was to be able to say he was a part of her life.
The moment I got it back was at the end when Jerry and Tammy Sullivan came up to perform, and she had a big ol’ upright with her. You could feel every eye in the room on that bass; it was if Roy himself had sprung up out of the wood to tell us all to quit being so mopey. We laughed, we cried, we sang. We said goodbye to a father, a husband, a brother, our friend — the true heartbeat of America. And I hope that wherever he is, he knows that I always meant to tell him how much he means to me.