THE LEGEND OF BOXCAR PINION
By Dalton Roberts
Chattanooga Times-Free Press
May 5, 2000
When Jimmy Harris was playing piano bar at Narrow Bridge I would drop in and soak up his incredible music. We've never had a finer local musician. In an hour around his piano bar you'll hear everything from Mose Allison toWillie Nelson to Jerry Lee Lewis.
Another thing I liked was catching him on break on a slow night when he was in a philosophizing mood. Jimmy is the Woody Guthrie of Chattanooga nightspots. He has a fascinating story about every musician he has ever liked. He draws you into them just like he wraps his music around you and wings you away.
One night he said Lum Thomas of Marion County had played the fiddle so much and so long that his neck grew to the shape of the fiddle. The first time I saw Boxcar Pinion playing a doghouse bass (so called because you could bed down an old hound in one), I knew what Jimmy was talking about. It was not easy to see where the bass ended and Boxcar began. The two had become one.
Soddy's superb artist, John Crutchfield, painted a jam session one day where Box was playing bass. When I saw his painting, I immediately went to his Montlake Road studio and bought it. It hung in a courthouse conference room and just from the profile, people would often say, "That's Boxcar Pinion." Someone said, "Yeah, he might as well play that old doghouse. He's let himself grow to it."
Not even Bill Monroe could have loved bluegrass music more than Box. He played for money with some of the finest bands, but when there was no money he played for the pure love. Even when he was winding down into the final stages of lung cancer, he kept on playing. None of the medicines the doctors gave him worked half as well as hugging his old beat-up bass.
Bluegrass is a demanding music. Most of it is fast and some of it flies. Exactitude in the chords and rhythms is expected. At an early stage, bluegrass pickers get good because the bands and fans will not tolerate sloppy picking.
If you don't believe me, go to Camp Columbus tonight and tomorrow for the 10th Annual Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival. You'll get a double-face-forward baptism in the finest bluegrass music available on this planet. Even if you've never heard bluegrass or do not like it as much as Box and other devotees, you will find your energy field charged and your feet will refuse to stay still. It's happy music.
Box's daughters (Ruth, Inez and Cindy) have made this one of the most acclaimed festivals in the southeast through their ten year labor of love to preserve Box's music and memory.
It's hard to believe he's been gone that long. Anytime I am around bluegrass music, I start looking around for Box. It's just an old reflex not likely to ever go away.
In my Kickstarts book I said "Coincidence is God's way of saying Ôhowdy.'"
Well, coincidentally, this week I found a poem Box wrote in the 80s. When he
gave it to me he said, "If you can make a song of it, we'll just half it,
Buddy." It goes like this:
They tell me Box is gone. I even did the eulogy at his funeral. But there's something in me that has never believed it. There's something in me that will see him hunkered over that doghouse bass at Camp Columbus this weekend, just like his profile glued to my guitar case.
Written By: Dalton Roberts