Photo courtesy Drag City Records
This article appears in the January/February 2016 issue, available on newsstands January 19.
In 2012, after 16 splendid years in Middle Tennessee, I returned to my Oregon roots to keep an eye on my aging parents. Since then, one particular query has been oft repeated, usually going something like this: “Oh, you moved here from Nashville. Ever meet Mickey Newbury.”
In 1973, the songwriter who influenced Music Row more than any other of his time also moved west to the land of ferns, pines, and dormant volcanos — but not for the purpose of reuniting with his own flesh and blood. Newbury’s post-Nashville destination, Springfield, Oregon, was his wife’s hometown — a downright wholesome place to live and raise kids.
Newbury was shaped by hardscrabble, post-war Houston. While the rapidly exploding metropolis Time magazine dubbed “Murder City, USA” made fertile ground for violent crime, musical aspirations provided a healthier pathway for East Texas’ more creative teens. In 1954, popped-collared, pomaded Newbury caught fellow towny Kenny Rogers singing tenor for The Sparks. Not to be outdone, Mickey assembled his own doo-wop ensemble, The Embers, and promptly poached The Sparks’ lead singer. Mickey's group cut some singles, played Army bases, sock hops, and regular spots on local radio. Soon, they were touring the R&B circuit and B.B. King nicknamed blond, pink-cheeked, vertically challenged Mickey “The Little White Wolf.” Mickey was just 15 and non-filtered Camels were already stealing his breath... Sign In to Keep Reading