Author, Journalist and Syndicated Columnist
If you are one of the close to 1.5 million readers, be sure to read Randall's cover article
"Making Films in Georgia" in the
January 2010 Georgia Magazine.
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of the Fiddle
Actor, Entertainer and Columnist
The Latest on Randall Franks TV
Randall Franks and Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame
member Archie Watkins perform
(Photo by Gary Clardy)
In Our Archives:
Visits with David Davis, The Watkins Family, The Crowe Brothers, The Marksmen Quartet, Archie Watkins and Carol Channing
I took the antique cedar box and polished it until it had a shine like a brand new nickel. In the inside of the upper lid, I pasted a photo of me playing the fiddle on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. It is amazing what we might think will serve to convey the feelings within our hearts. I was still in my teens and this was meant to win the heart of a young lady that I thought had hung the moon. At least she did a pretty close job of it for me at that time. But once again I found myself on the end of a spear called rejection.
I spent so much of my youth punctured with that thing; I thought I was a ready made shish k bob ready to be cooked on the grill of life.
I always thought I peaked early. I had a beautiful girlfriend when I was in kindergarten but it was all downhill from there.
Overcoming rejection though took a great deal of toughening. As a pre-teen, I sometimes found myself sitting on the back porch with my dog Track resting his head on my lap and me resting my head on his crying my eyes out over some girl who wouldn’t have anything to do with me.
The names of most now not even a memory, but at the time they made such an impression in my world.
As the boy moved towards manhood, I realized such a reaction was really not manly,
and the pain seemed to move from the outside in. Of course, my dad taught me some lessons as well as he introduced me to the stories of two young men whose rejections pushed them into reacting desperately - one harming another and the other harming himself. Those lessons early in life helped me put things in prospective, that no situation warrants such a response.
While some found high school and endless trial period for relationships, that was not my experience, even my prom dates thought coming with me was just a slightly better option than staying at home and washing their hair.
Unfortunately, even as I reached the world of adult dating, I still managed to always pick someone who would – to steal a line from Lewis Grizzard – “tear out my heart and stomp that sucker flat.”
One of the first made such an impact that totally restructured my life, body, appearance, and wardrobe, to win her back. It took over a year but I did win another chance, only to discover that what I was trying to win was no longer part of my heart. I had moved on in the effort to change.
I guess it was another phase in the toughening.
I think years of rejection prepared me for my life in entertainment. Acting and music is nothing but a string of rejections that build you to the point that you understand that it often takes 99 negatives responses to receive the positive that will change your life. At least that is sometimes how it feels, trying to get a role or another opportunity to perform musically.
Does rejection get any easier as life progresses? That has not been my experience. I have found that God does provide us the ability to better cope with experiences that impact us negatively. By a closer walk with Him I have been able to understand those challenges no matter whether the rejection came in my professional or personal life.
The greatest lesson I have learned on the personal side is people are often not on the same path and rejection simply is directional sign to send us another way in life. The same I think is true on the professional side.
Does that make it easier? No. Does it make us better and stronger? If we desire it.
Former CBS star Sonny Shroyer "Enos" returns to television in Sundance Channel's "Rectify"
When I was in school like so many of my counterparts, we wished to have the fun exhibited by the Duke boys running around the county being heroes in the General Lee on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
In many ways though, I better identified with Sheriff Rosco’s dipstick deputy, as he called him, “Enos,” played by Sonny Shroyer. He starred in that role in two CBS series from 1979-1985 including “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Enos.”
Sonny came into my life in the 1980s becoming a tremendous friend and encourager.
We were managed by the same company and often we appeared on TV shows together, or on personal appearances. Despite our friendship and that now my entertainment company manages him, I am still a fan of his endless ability as an actor proven in role after role in his 46-year career.
I was excited when he landed the role returning to television in the critically acclaimed Sundance Channel original series “Rectify.”
“It was a lot of fun working with director Ray McKinnon as he was bringing his vision for this show together,” Shroyer said from his home in Valdosta, Ga. “He combines a gothic sense of storytelling, amazing actors, and artisans to bring to life a series that is sure to engage the viewers and challenge them to think in ways they have not done before.”
McKinnon tapped Shroyer to play “Mayor Johnny Daggett” in the small Georgia town where his constituents must face the return of a convicted rapist and murderer Daniel Holden, who after 19 years on death row is released by DNA evidence.
Actor Aden Young portrays Holden and his character is surrounded by his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), his mother Janet (J. Smith Cameron), stepfather Ted Austin, Sr. (Bruce McKinnon), stepbrother Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), Ted’s wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), stepbrother Jared (Jake Austin Walker), and attorney John Stern (Luke Kirby).
“Of course, so far Mayor Daggett is not very excited about Daniel’s return to his town and he is aligning himself with those who are looking for what to do about it,” Shroyer said.
“Ray’s ensemble of actors including Michael O’Neil as Sen. Foulkes, J.D. Evermore as my son Sheriff Daggett and Frank Hoyt Taylor as former Sheriff Pickens give me a great group of cronies to spin my web of concerns,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for Mayor Daggett but I hope he does return with something serious on his mind.”
Though Shroyer is best known for his innocent and trusting People’s Choice nominated role as “Enos Strate, ” his career which took off alongside Burt Reynolds as the quirky character “Sonny Tannen” in “The Longest Yard” has been filled with numerous mean and sometimes despicable characters such as “Gage Temple” in “American Gothic” or the abusive father “Bobby Slocum” in “I’ll Fly Away.”
“I love to play characters which have a lot of depth, color and reflect the frailties of the human condition,” he said.
Shroyer’s resume is filled with appearances in classic shows from “Alice,” “Knots Landing,” “Matlock,” “Love Boat,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Adventures of Superboy,” “Today’s F.B.I,” “Movin’ On,” and “Hee Haw.”
He appeared in blockbuster films such as “Forrest Gump” playing Alabama coach “Bear Bryant” and “Smokey and the Bandit,” the mini-series “Roots,” and classic Disney films such as “The Million Dollar Dixie Deliverance.”
“It is amazing the doors the Lord has opened for me,” he said. “I still enjoy acting and visiting with my fans. My most recent films were “Unconditional” and “The Way Home.” I do numerous personal appearances each year, many with my cast mates from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’
“My manager and the Avenue Agency of Nashville keep their eyes open for film projects that I might want to do,” he said. “I have some other projects coming up, one is a wonderfully written western by Thomas E. Kelly called ‘When the Storm God Rides’.”
While Shroyer said his favorite role is the next one he will play, he will always be “Enos” to millions of folks around the world.
“That was an amazing show,” he said. “We had so much fun then, and still do when we get together. Who would have ever thought after all these years folks are still chasing the Duke boys right alongside of me and Sheriff Rosco.”
“Rectify” is not a family hour show, it deals with serious themes and topics and viewers should weigh that when choosing whether to watch and who in the family should watch. It airs on the Sundance Channel on Mondays at 10 p.m. EST with previous episodes airing at 9 p.m. and other times. For more information, visit http://www.sundancechannel.com/series/rectify.
With the passing of George Jones on April 26, 2013 at the age of 81, stories about him have been shared left and right.
I have stood and listened to several since then and each one was such a wonderful link to this man who blessed us with his amazing talents.
Well here is my George Jones story – One morning, I arrived early at my agent Joe Taylor’s office in Mel Tillis’s building on Music Row in Nashville.
Joe allowed me to use the office as my own when I was in town on business.
After driving overnight, I was in the second floor bathroom with my face lathered white, shaving after coming in from some tour dates and preparing for some meetings that day.
There was a knock at the door to which I responded, and there stood this beautiful young lady who proceeded to explain that her father was a big fan of mine and never missed our television show (In the Heat of the Night). She then asked if it would be possible to get an autographed photo for him. I think it was Tex Ritter who said that what made country music stars different than others was accessibility. I wouldn't want to let old Tex down, now would I? so I said, “Sure, Let’s go to the office and get a photo.”
I went down the hall, still with white on my cheeks, pulled one out of my briefcase and turned to her and said, “What’s your dad’s name?” She replied, “George Jones.” I repeated what she said just to make sure my ears didn’t fail and she said “Yes, George Jones.” I signed the photo smiling the rest of the time, gave it to her. She thanked me and went on her way as I returned to my shave and I am sure she was excited to take it home to him. Probably no more excited than I was to sign it for him.
I will have to say I have signed a lot of autographs in my career, but I could have never imagined signing one for George.
I knew George kept an office in the building, as did many other performers. It just so happened on my next visit to the office, George and I met on the stairs and we spent some time visiting which I am thankful for. Thanks for the encouragement you shared with me that day, George. Thanks for the music you shared with all of us!
A bucket of chicken and an airplane
It was Saturday morning and I had risen early in anticipation of a family outing.
I couldn’t have been more than seven and of course to me the adventure should start right then despite the fact it was an afternoon picnic that was planned.
Disappointed, I had to fill so many hours, my parents managed to usher me outside saying find something to do until it was time to go.
It was amazing how imagination allowed me to create amazing scenarios of play with little more than sticks, rocks, and dirt. I had a couple of vehicle toys, a John Deere tractor and a dump truck and a few matchbox cars that I intermixed with my plastic army men and some cowboys and Indians.
I am sure I never create any historically accurate battles with these pieces but I soon found myself engrossed in whatever scenario my mind created and the time would fly by.
Before I knew it mother had come out saying, “Look at you, you look like you ate have of the dirt in the back yard. Get in here and get changed and wash up.”
Usually, this request yielded a half-hearted approach, but I knew this time that the faster I was ready the sooner we would be on a picnic.
Mother had packed away some potato salad, made up a container of tea and some coffee, and on the table in a Tupperware tote was a coconut cake. Dad the night before had made some fresh strawberry ice cream and placed it in the freezer for our outing.
Once I was ready, we climbed into the blue 1964 Malibu and headed towards town where we stopped at the Kentucky Fried Chicken. I always enjoyed going there because you got those little towelettes that smelled like lemons.
We would order a bucket of chicken to go with what mother had made and off we would go to the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, we would back up to the fence near the runway and mother would open the trunk, spread out a table cloth, sit out some lawn chairs and we would have our picnic. Usually some friends who did the same joined us.
As we shared the time together, we would watch and occasional prop plane arrive and take off. There really weren’t jets using it much at that time.
I was fascinated at how the planes achieved the miracle of flight, I would often reach my arms out on both side mimicking their take offs but, of course, I never managed to rise into the blue. Of course, I did repeat the process many times at home and gave it a better try when there was a coach or a bed to ease my descent.
While watching the planes come in and go out gave us a reason to be there, now so many years later, I realize what my parents were giving me then. We were sharing life, eating, talking, laughing, and creating a memory that could last beyond the moment. A few hours on a Saturday afternoon gave me something to look forward to and an adventure to remember and talk about with my friends. It may seem simplistic in this time where we try to fill every minute with something.
I remember those picnics, I remember the trips to walk in the restaurant with dad to order the chicken and waiting for them to put it in the bucket. I remember the anxious time of getting there and mom setting everything up. I remember no matter what I might have in my hand to eat, dropping it and rushing towards the fence each and every time a plane would taxi by. As we finished all to eat, I remember opening the towelette and holding it to my nose to smell the lemons before using it.
More than anything, I remember the smiles on my parent’s faces, and the love I felt as a kid knowing they loved me. Have you done something special with a child you care about lately? Have you made them feel loved? There is more to life than the noise around us, the never ending things to do, and that feeling there is not enough time. Make the time and a memory.
Sledge and the rustling run
As a youth my Granddad Bill made his way west and when he returned to the Gravelly Spur, he brought with him the stories of the Old West, gunfights, cattle rustlers, ranchers who ran large ranches like kingdoms.
Join me as I walk through the dusty trails down the old western road in my mind’s eye.
Granddad Bill galloped across the Rattle R Ranch almost in perfect synergy with his chestnut brown horse – Sledge.
In one hand he held Sledge’s reins and in the other he gripped tightly to his Colt 45 aiming towards a man galloping ahead of him.
Bill was returning fire with the cattle rustler that he had stumbled upon while checking fence along the eastern boundary of the ranch.
Bill was gaining ground but neither had yet hit their mark. He had expended his last bullet and holstered his gun and he and Sledge gave their all to catch up to the other cowboy.
Bill saw his chance to overtake him as the rustler took the lower trail around Buzzard’s Roost, so Bill and Sledge zigzagged on the mountain trail and Bill brought Sledge to a stop and then climbed on a rock that hangs out over the lower trail.
Just as the rider neared the rock, Bill leaped towards him knocking him from his horse and the two twisted and turned as they rolled down to the bottom of Buzzard’s Roost, exchanging hits.
As they came to a halt Bill gained the upper hand landing a blow that subdued the man which towered over him. Seeing that he was out, he pulled the galluses from his pants and tied the man’s hands together behind his back. In the rolling both had lost their guns, so Bill recovered them and then walked over and picked up his hat, dusting off the brim. He whistled loud and soon Sledge had made his way down to him.
Bill took his rope from the saddle and finished tying up the rustler, tying the other end to Sledge’s horn. He then bent down and poured some water from his canteen on the man.
As he came around, Bill climbed up in the saddle, pointing his now loaded gun at him and said, “I think it’s time for you to get up and take a little walk. You have a choice, you can take a leisurely walk ahead of me or see how well you can gallop behind me, which will it be?”
The man chose the leisurely walk and Bill took him in to the main house. Abel McKinsey locked the rustler up in the smokehouse until they could take him into the sheriff the next day.
Abel gave Bill the rest of the day off, so he whistled and Sledge came and nuzzled up next to him and Bill climbed up and they galloped off towards the sun to find another adventure in the shadows of the Texas sun except this time there would be a fishing pole and a creek involved.
A view from on high
I slid around the edge of the roof of the house removing the gunk that had collected in the gutters. Being a musician my hands were such a vital part of my life, I always came away with them skinned up from the adventure.
Cleaning out gutters didn’t phase me at that time and I often hopped right up there no matter how high it was moving around easing the path for the rain water.
It had become a nice supplementary business to the lawns I mowed as a kid. I started those when I was around 10 and pretty much continued through college.
Even as I had achieved some notoriety performing for the Grand Ole Opry and major concert events around the country, I still mowed, raked and cleaned gutters for those long established clients I had built up through the years.
I once heard Tennessee Ernie Ford say as his career was developing, one of the criteria he looked at before moving on from something to bigger pastures, was to make sure that there was more cows in that field than the one he was already in.
I don’t think that is what kept me doing for those folks. Many of them were like family, some older and I knew it would be hard for them to find someone to replace me after so many years of my helping them. But eventually I did have to phase out of all those extra jobs and move on in life.
I even recall feeling a bit of guilt in leaving a couple in particular to find someone else to meet those needs.
While I think back fondly on those times sitting up on the roofs working with my thoughts about what I would do with my life flooding through my mind as I looked out around the neighborhood, unlike my younger self, I am no longer anxious to jump up on the roof to think.
However, I still spend time each day, thinking about what God has in store for me in life.
Dreams never seem to fade; there is always something new that is just over the horizon.
A new record, a new book, a new job, a new friendship, a new way to serve and accomplish something for someone else.
These days I still like to look out over the neighborhood as I think. Instead of sticking my hands down in the muck and filling up a bucket with it, now I find a high point on a mountainside, sit there with God’s word and take in the beauty all around me as I read, think and pray.
Perhaps it is something in the genes that I discovered as a kid looking out from those roofs, that there is an almost innate desire within me to be high up - in the mountains looking out and drinking deeply from God’s creation. It seems to renew my soul and provide a perfect backdrop to dream and ask for God’s guidance and His inspiration to know how to illuminate the path that He has in store.
Have you found your rooftop? Do you know where you can be inspired to make a difference?
If you do not have a place, I hope this week you will take some time and find a place to restore your soul as you dream for your future and what you can make happen in your family and community that will make our world a better place.
Investing in others - Cotton and Jane Carrier
As I shifted through the box of photos and newspaper clippings, it carried me back to days sitting in a room of young people playing “The Wabash Cannonball.”
Often in those gatherings, two ardent participants who took the time to encourage these young musicians of whom I was one were Cotton and Jane Carrier.
Their names were synonymous with country music in Atlanta, Ga. You say country music in Atlanta, Georgia, now the capitol of Hip Hop.
Yes, even before Nashville was music city, Atlanta was where many country music stars came to get their start.
In fact, much like Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry, Cotton found a similar stature at the WSB Barndance while Jane became one of the regulars on the show sharing her musical and singing talents for nearly a decade.
Today, when we think about radio, we think about the local station, but in those days there were some powerhouses that could be heard on clear channels as far as the signals would carry taking these shows into every portion of the United States.
So during the 1940s, to radio listeners, they were as big a radio star as Jack Benny, Bob Hope or a long list of others that they tuned in when they were not working.
Cotton moved on into local television as the focus of radio shifted away from the live programming. Of course, he continued in radio as well spinning the latest country platters for Atlanta listeners.
As the country music culture shifted almost totally to Nashville, Cotton and Jane decided to stay in Atlanta and help build the music industry there. Cotton joined Bill Lowery and Lowery Music Group and through their music helped artists on the route to become big country stars finding such as Lynn Anderson, Ray Stevens and others.
Cotton also had a hand through his work ushering in the Rock and Roll sounds of folks like Tommy Roe, the Tams and the genre crossing Joe South.
No matter what they did behind the scenes, they would always be part of the 1930s and 40s generation of country music radio stars which found their way into the hearts of America.
In Atlanta and in Georgia, they were music royalty and time and time again, they made their way to our house with guitar and accordion in hand and found their place in the circle for the jam session.
When it came their time they would often share a song they thought we should learn that listeners use to hear them do 30 or 40 years earlier on radio.
Country gold was shared in those nights and I still mine those memories as I entertain.
But the encouragement they shared went far beyond the music and into business as I went on to college and started in the music business world. The lessons for on stage and off helped to shape me.
As I closed the lid on that box, I felt so much better. A warm feeling of love had filled my soul as I thought back on these wonderful people who invested in me.
Do you have those who invested in your life not related to you? If they are still in this world, why don’t you take a moment and let them know what their efforts meant to you.
Knowing might give them a feeling of love that uplifts their spirits.
A flight of adventure
I was driving across Georgia the other day on a back road when I noticed on my right a youth heading in my direction from the right at a fast rate of speed. He wasn’t running, so I assumed he was on a skateboard. Protruding from the small blue toboggan on his head, I could see earphones covering his ear. Over the bushes in my line of sight, I could see his flannel green jacket gaining ground fast as I began to slow my rate of speed.
As I neared his position he immediately changed his direction with an ease of motion returning in the direction he came. As he turned, I noticed his hand grasp his cell phone in a way that appeared he was texting.
The rest of the black pavement that I traversed was rather mundane compared to the freedom of experience that youth seemed to cast upon my day. There was a side of me that wanted to tell him he should be more careful or he might get hurt, but also within me there was a since of longing to be that kid again whose joy was caught up in riding a skateboard.
For me it wasn’t a skateboard, I was never so coordinated to be able to balance properly on one safely. I am sure if had grown up near the ocean, I wouldn’t find bliss on a surfboard either.
I found my escapes were simply being outside often riding my bicycle. Despite the limitations of childhood asthma, I managed to gain periods where I could get upon my bike and seem to soar with the right amount of exertion not to trigger an attack.
Initially, it was a small green bike with a banana seat that allowed me to move freely in a three-mile radius of home, up and down hills, through the woods and into the adventures of imagination.
The bike was a present from my folks and it was my steady companion. I am sure if my folks had not moved into the city, I would have been climbing upon a horse with regularity instead. However, I found all the adventure I needed, from pinecone battles with neighborhood friends, to races down suicide hill on the back of that green bike.
Of course, into every life a little rain must fall, as did my association with my companion. There came a day on suicide hill, that we didn’t see eye to eye. I wanted to go down and it didn’t, so about mid way through at top speed it stopped and I didn’t. My open light orange short sleeve shirt flapped in the breeze of my momentum as I took flight between the handlebars.
For the briefest of moments I knew what it was like to glide through the air like the brown thrashers that called out from above. Of course, that elation ended promptly upon my searing introduction to the deep black asphalt baking in the Georgia summer sun.
Almost like a top spinning out of control, my body face down rotated on down the hill until the inertia of my descent was exhausted.
I know when I was finally able to pick my now bruised and bleeding body from the pavement, I was about 25 feet on down the hill from where my bike had abandoned me.
My shorts were tattered from the slide on the pavement but the shirt had survived.
I had asphalt burns from the shoulders down and on my cheek and needless to say the pain I was in was nothing compared to that I expected once my parents found out how I received the injuries.
I hobbled my way back to my bike, picked it up and what happened next is rather a blur.
I was in so much pain, all I could think about was getting back home.
I think one of the other kids parent’s who lived nearby was summoned to my rescue, getting me the few blocks back to my home, where began the painful process of healing.
From that point on, I looked differently at suicide hill. Time and time again, it had brought me the elation of freedom gliding down it but now it had beaten me. Though I was slow to return to my bike, once there I avoided the hill for a long time. I would even ride right up to its edge and rather than head down turn around or simple get off and walk down.
I kept trying to face my fear and one day I finally found within myself the ability to cast off soaring down the hill again. I felt the breeze rush past my scarred but now healed cheek and limbs.
The fear faded in the face of the elation of the moment and I never again stood at the precipice anxious in my decision.
Throughout life, we face moments just like this one. We have been beaten and battered by experiences that leave us shuddering in the thought of facing our fear. While fear is a good thing, it helps us to know when we should move cautiously, we cannot allow it to rule our lives. God empowers us with the ability to proceed knowing He is with us always. His presence though does not always insure our mortal safety, if we choose the course unwisely.
Choose wisely and soar through your life feeling the breeze upon your cheeks.
Cousin Viola and the sanctified grape juice
Now, as I have said our family is blessed with an extraordinary amount of preachers.
We’ve got all kinds.
One of them is my Cousin Clem. His real name is Alfred, but they called him Clem because as a kid he hung around trees a lot.
Folks around town thought he was part monkey but it wasn’t so.
Clem was always a little plump and the doctors had him on this special coconut and banana diet. He didn’t lose much weight but he sure could climb trees. At least that is what his Mama Mona said it was.
Clem told me he could just think better up there among the limbs of the trees because he felt closer to God up there.
I guess it worked because he grew up into an outstanding Baptist minister.
He married a sweet lady named Viola.
Now, Viola was not a frail woman, but you could tell from the get-go she was always a tea-totaler.
One time Cousin Clem was scheduled to speak at a church and had some car trouble. He and Miss Viola arrived a little late and services had already started. The preacher was giving the sacrament of communion when they arrived.
Now, communion is held a little differently everywhere you go.
Some churches have these little crackers for the bread, while at other churches the ladies bake fresh loaves and the preacher breaks them.
They were already up to the breakin’ of the bread, so Cousin Clem and Viola took theirs.
What they didn’t know was a new lady member had volunteered to make the bread this week.
And like when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, with this loaf the more you chewed, the more it multiplied.
This problem became apparent when the preacher himself had to keep reaching up and pushing the bread back in his mouth.
Well, by the time they brought around the little glasses, Cousin Viola was so dry she would have siphoned the gas out of a tanker truck.
Most churches today use sanctified grape juice instead of wine, but there are a few that use the real thing. This particular church was one of those.
Since Cousin Clem and Viola were a little late, they of course were unaware of that bit of information.
So being the last in line Viola put the last ones together and took one big gulp.
This was followed by a the sound of a gasp that would have pealed paint when she realized the sanctified grape juice had set a little too long.
Later she said that she enjoyed Cousin Clem’s sermon the most she ever had.