It was a beautiful Sunday morning in 1952 and the five Cajun “Musk-rat-teers” (sic) were on their way home after our last scheduled event the night before, “The Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree” on radio station WSM.
My friend, Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers, had arranged a private meeting with him in the hope that he would let me sing a song on the show. He owed her a lot for starting his career but he had promised only to meet me. Here’s how that went.
Arriving from the Ralph Peer dinner, Troy and I met Dudley, Raleigh and “Fee-ran”.
I heard people whispering, “Is E.T. here tonight?”
“Yes, I saw him earlier,” someone answered loudly. Every face began to smile. An elder man said, “He always makes them smile”.
In the packed record shop, I heard on the speaker, “Mr. Leroy Martin, please come to the main office.”
As I entered, I faced Ernest Tubb, the man himself,
“You’re Leroy Martin,” he said. “Carrie Rodgers told me we met in New Orleans in 1943. I’m sorry I don’t remember but she told me you were a singer and had a professional band, and requested I meet you personally. I told her if possible, I would let you sing a song on tonight’s program.”
I froze as he handed me a guitar.
“I have to know what song and if you can carry a beat, so sing a bar or two because I don’t want to embarrass you or me.”
I had chosen a Peer published Gene Autry song, “Only One Love”.
In a daze, I began, and after about 15 seconds, which seemed like a year, he said, “That will do fine. Now go rehearse with the band, even though you seem a little over dressed for the occasion.”
I was still in suit and tie from the earlier function. (You may notice the picture where I’m in line waiting my turn to sing, the only picture I have of the occasion.)
There were singers before me that night including a very young Goldie Hill (later Carl Smith’s wife). I was introduced and Billy Byrd struck up my introduction. They told me it all went well. I hardly remember.
Back home, I met E.T. several more times on his tours, the last time in his bus at the “Stage Coach” lounge where after singing a few songs, he retreated to his bus for a shot of oxygen. A family fight broke out. The band took an intermission then the show continued. Later in the office, the owner Harris Pitre tried to apologize, but I heard E.T. say, “Mr. Pitre, I’ve played dance halls most of my adult life. Sometimes I would find it unusual if there were not one or two fights during the night.”
That was the last time I saw him. Dudley Bernard and I were invited into his bus after his show.
While writing this column, I wrote a poem about him. It’s not Longfellow, Yeats or Poe. Hardly, but it’s from the heart. This is the first time anyone but me has seen it.
Gentle on your mind let linger, once there was a country singer
That the world did so adore, they beat a pathway to his door
He sang of love of wars and fears, of lonely hearts and mothers’ tears
He sang of his “Blue Eyed Elaine”, and “Walked the Floor” to ease the pain
And when the Allies beat the Axis, he “Waltzed Across the State of Texas”
May the legend long endure, about “The Texas Troubadour”
Thank you E.T., “Thanks a lot”, for making Nashville “Camelot”.
I got a phone call on September 7, 1984.
“Mr. Martin, this is Justin Tubb. Dad gave a list of friends to call when this happened. Dad died yesterday, September 6, 1984. I thanked him and hung up. The rest of the day was blurry.
Ernest had called me when Mrs. Jimmie Rodgers died; his son when he died. I wonder if anyone will call for me. •
Next week will conclude my columns about the Nashville trip, and the results.
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