And so it is in this book of selected songs and poems that Grant King re-emerges as one of Western North Carolina’s best-kept secrets from almost a lifetime of silence after having had, in his younger years in the late 1960s, three Top 100 hits on the Country Music Billboard magazine charts at the same time. Over a two-year period he submitted 12 songs to the record label he had signed with, 11 of which were recorded, in many cases, by several artists. Songs he wrote and that were recorded at the beginning of what promised to be and what everyone in Nashville thought would be the beginning of a long and celebrated career.
As a player in the Nashville Country Music scene in the 1960s and 1970s, King was a close friend and collaborator with such music legends as Kris Kristofferson, Chris Gantry and Eddie Rabbit, whom he used to jam with in Kristofferson’s small apartment in the mornings before Kristofferson would go to work as a janitor at the offices and studios of a major Nashville record label. But, as King says in the bio at the back of his book, “I left Nashville too soon. I should have stayed in the business.” Instead he moved to Western North Carolina and ultimately to Jackson County, where he still resides.
But this is but a snippet of the backstory for what a reader will find in Grant King’s impressive collection of songs and poems that — when experienced together in this unique book — create something of a memoir in metaphors of the writer’s life. The songs cover the gamut of all of life’s experiences and emotions. There are songs of humor such as “Cheap Motel Soap.” There are songs of love such as “Country Miss” and “Rita Blue.” There are sad songs such as “Old Pain.” There are songs about songs such as “Musical Brew” and “Old Guitar.” There are spiritual songs such as “Grace.” There are songs about Western North Carolina such as “Mountains of North Caroline.” And there are classics like “Lustin’ For Love” and “Crimson and Blue.” As Chris Gantry said, these are “poetic songs” and the accompanying poems in this collection are songlike in themselves.
As they say, the proof is in the pudding. And Grant King’s “pudding” is very tasty indeed. Here’s a spoonful of Nashville from his song “Country Miss:”
Writin’ tunes and passin’ time
It’s just like treadin’ water
Current flows me down the line
As days keep gettin’ shorter.
Got my guitar, fiddle too
A note pad I can write on
Work a song up ‘til it’s through
One I can play all night on
Miss, Miss, gimme little kiss
Welcome to my tune emporium
I’m the reason that they call it
The Rhymin’ Auditorium.
Or in his song “Old Guitar” which is reminiscent of, if not better than, Willie Nelson’s song with the same title:
I remember the good times in Nashville
People waved on Music Row and they smiled
With songs in the charts I broke all the girls’ hearts
I was cock of the walk for a while
Chords fight each other in the moonlight
Like dead strings on a pawn shop guitar
The notes die faster than a sermon from the pastor
Monday mornin’ when they open the bar …
And then there are the lines from songs written about here in these mountains, like these from “It’s Raining:”
It’s raining today in the Great Smoky Mountains
Inside I will have no regrets
The gentle refrain from the soft mountain rain
Makes this life as good as it gets.
Or these lines from “Mountains of North Caroline:”
When time comes to meet with Saint Peter
I’ll make that transition just fine
As long as heaven’s as green as half what I’ve seen
In these mountains of North Caroline
Smoky Mountains of North Caroline.
King, this master of rhyming iambic pentameter, has risen like a phoenix out of his own ashes — the silence of all these years — and has returned to us in his book Love Songs For A Country Lane. But there’s more. He’ll be appearing at local bookstores, venues and schools throughout the region reading his poems, singing his songs and talking about his love affair with words and language — beginning on May 20 at Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and then later at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva on June 10. Check the events listings in this paper and other media outlets for more bookings close to where you live, as this is one experience that you won’t want to miss.
Or as Grant wryly says in his poem “I Remember:” “This love is the cure for what ails you/It’s also the cause just as well/And when the dementia avails you/Sweet memories are all shot to hell.”