The Hoot Owl Moans

Post by
January 15, 2019

Rayland and I basically grew up together.

I mean, we have the same dad. His genetically, mine symbolically.

I bought the lucky guitar from pop—Bucky Baxter. This would be back in 1999, twenty damn years ago.

From 1992–1999, Bucky had played 700+ shows with Bob Dylan, and me and my friends saw three-dozen or so of ‘em. Bucky left the band to open a studio (Three Trees) in a holler in the hills north of Nashville, Whites Creek TN. To help raise a few bucks for the project, he sold four instruments on the new-to-me website, eBay.

It’s a familiar story at this point: I won the auction for Bucky’s 1964 Gibson B-25, ended up befriending and working with him, and my life was never the same again, ever.

I was nervous as hell every time I was down at Three Trees. Bucky and his friends were icons to me; they’d played with everyone, and you never knew who might stroll in.

Welsh singer Cerys Matthews was there, hiding from NME and the UK paparazzi. Nobody in the world knew where on the planet she was; she was riding around in a pickup truck in Tennessee with me and Tony Byrd as we helped her move a piano. Ryan Adams was there, recording demos for Gold while the rest of the world thought Whiskeytown was still a thing, and were waiting for that band’s new album to come out.

Bucky had this particular quality. He was one of the most brilliant people I ever met, yet also childlike; reality didn’t seem to bother him too much and you’d look into his eyes and they’d just shimmer—you could see nothing but possibilities.

One time we were down in the holler and Bucky was like, “Hey, meet my son, Rayland, he’s visiting from his mom’s out east.” And here comes Rayland, a high school senior, strolling into this hippie scene, detached but effortless, looking like he just walked off a lacrosse field, east coast prep all the way.

On that trip, Ketch Secor (who leads a band called Old Crow Medicine Show) was playing fiddle around a fire pit, teaching Bucky an old folk song from Nova Scotia. Bucky was enchanted, his grin irresistible, and they just start riffing on it, calling out the turnarounds, the stops, the starts, the sophisticated runs. Bobby Bare Jr. just stared at them and says, “Maybe I’ll just play a D-chord.” (Hilarious.)

Then later Bucky says, “Let me play you this song ‘Hoot Owl’, I wrote it for the owl that comes to visit us here at Three Trees, in the middle of the night, on only the coolest, clearest evenings.” And they all join in together and it’s just melting your heart, in basically every way that anything could ever melt you.

I looked at Rayland and was like, “Can you even believe this?,” though I was a bit doubtful this sporty kid knew what was really happening. And he looked at me, and grinned irresistibly, and then he started whistling along, like a whippoorwill, a shimmer in the corner of his eye. Just like his dad.

I think the best music I ever heard was performed like this, just loose, spontaneous, rough around the edges, a touch out of time, a bit out of tune, a tad haphazard, nothing but feeling. (Still true, too. My favorite versions of ‘Hopper songs are recorded on my phone, when we’ve just barely figured ‘em out.)

A dozen years passed and I almost forgot about ol’ Raybs. Life, always rollin’, you know? And then suddenly he had an album out on ATO Records, and I saw it on some music blog. And it turned out the album was brilliant. Gone was that prep school vibe; Rayland now looked like he’d spent the last decade at a jam band festival and hadn’t once changed clothes. Probably still hasn’t. Plus he sang with a wry smile, and picked out the most beautiful melodies on his guitar.

It became my mission to get RB and his amazing (and as it turns out, endlessly hilarious and endlessly amiable) band to The B-Side, and we finally succeeded, back in June of 2014. Nobody knew who this guy was, and we pretty much had to beg people to attend—with a $6 cover no less. I even got my parents to come to the show; they were bemused with the whole story, that this kid who I met when I was barely not a kid, was now in Fort Wayne, at One Lucky Guitar (a company named after his dad’s guitar) singing his own songs.

In the middle of the show, between his incredible songs like “Driveway Melody” and “Marjoria,” Raybs says, “Let’s try one we never play live…” and went into his dad’s song, “Hoot Owl.” I about died.

Later he told a story about a dream he had where he was told, “Son, when you are given the light, you take it. And when you are finished with it, you give it back.”

After the show, I grabbed the lucky guitar from the back room, and Rayland started playing it. He’s picking away, and then he says, “Wait, wait, I bet my dad did this…” and he starts this little noodling run and riff that was so dead-on Bucky that it made it as if the last 15 years had never happened, and we were back around that fire pit, picking on folk songs from Nova Scotia, wondering what the future held, and having no idea, but just pretty sure it wasn’t something we should let happen to us, instead of with us.

Life, always rollin’, y’know?

Word got out that it was pretty much the best show we’d ever had at The B-Side.

Rayland and the band came back to The B two more times, and both of those shows sold out immediately. One time they played Dylan’s “Lovesick” which Bucky had recorded with Bob, and hearts seized throughout the venue. Rayland put out two more records, too, and they’re both not just more and more successful, but also just as brilliant as that debut.

Rayland Baxter at The B-Side

Tonight, we’re happy to bring Rayland back to Fort Wayne.

This time, OLG is presenting his show at The Brass Rail. To be fair, we had to move to a bigger venue. The Brass Rail, which holds four times as many people as The B-Side, sold out, too.

It’s still a small venue, though—the smallest on the tour. (They were at Brooklyn Steel, capacity 1,800, three nights ago.)

Get there early, and get close. Or don’t; it’s up to you.

But listen. Wherever you are: don’t miss the shimmer. You’ll see nothing but possibilities.

– MK
January 2019

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