Keith Whitley

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard Keith Whitley died. I could hear my momma from a distance immersed in the usual cacophony of dissonance that bounced off of the stucco walls and into my room. It sounded like someone was trying to straighten out a piece of metal with a hammer, but no I knew it was just momma. Slowly I stepped out into the mist of warm, and sweet smells all pulling me to one direction, the kitchen.


My intention was to help, but also to stay out of her way. The kitchen was her lair, and very rarely would she let anyone enter with unsolicited help. When she was there gathering the essentials, and prepping for the day's meals, you did best by staying out or you could try side stepping around. "What's going on in your world.." the yet to be crowned King George asked by way of a vintage mahogany radio with black round knobs. It was a replica, but a very convincing one until you see the CD come out in

the front. Lol!





The radio in the kitchen was my idea. It drowned out the clanking of metal, and the popping bubbles of sizzling oil. My mother never listened to it. She would just flip it on out of habit. She liked having busy noise in the background for some reason. For all intended purposes, the day started as it always did on Tuesdays.


But I knew it would be different today as soon as I had managed to open ever so slightly the peach cotton blinds. That petulant chain actually made it half way up before getting stuck once again. I don't know whether it was just sheer stubbornness on my part or a force of habit, but one of the things I'd always do in the morning was try to open the blinds.


There was just a subtle ray of light peering through, and dancing off of the formica counters. My blue crowned conure Weazer had flown onto my shoulder, and was pruning my lashes and the select face framing strands loosely fallen around my cheeks. HIS morning habit. I could hear the early rumblings taking hold below, and knew it was time to get something in my body


as soon as possible. I noticed some buttered toast, and sunny side up eggs (My favorite).

My momma gave me a knowing glance, and I just smiled as wide as I could, and gave her a big squeeze on my way to the desired object of my fleeting affections-food!


I settled in at a round glass table we had to the right of the kitchen. I detested the table, but the chairs were the type you just sank in. So soft, plush, and comfy. I was feeling good, dipping my bread in the egg yolks. A tall glass of cold milk straightened me up for the morning. Before 3:00 PM, we could hear stations 100's of miles away for some reason. I liked flipping through til I could get WGNE or WQYK. The latter was coming in strong today. I think the dj's name was Tom Rivers.


I was done with my food, and playing with Weaser. His latest fascination was pecking at the light bulbs, and staring at himself, and me in the mirror. He also picked up the obnoxious habit of making the exact same ringing sound of the telephone when it rang.. I returned to the kitchen to see, if my momma needed my help. My godmother was coming over to stay for a week, and she usually would come with the whole brood..


I was standing in the arched entry way to the kitchen. I was half leaning on the fridge door, when I heard the DJ come back on. He said "There is never an easy way to break this news, but we're getting word from Nashville that country singer Keith Whitley was found dead in his home in Goodletsville, TN.. Once again, country singer Keith Whitley is dead.."



Many years later, I would finally understand the endless ways we process life, pain, people.. Some experiences mark us for life.. Some too painful to utter, but you can put it in a song. Keith Whitley knew pain. Early on he lost a good friend while drinking moonshine, and racing in the mountains of Kentucky.


Keith lost one of his brothers in a motorcycle accident, and his father shortly after..

He battled the bottle, and imposter syndrome. He didn't see himself as a star or special

at all. He was humble, and could never fathom comparing himself to his heroes, but like them, he sang from the depths of his soul. He gave everything he had..everything..


But even so commercial success eluded Keith, as hard as that is to believe. RCA had Keith singing songs that did not showcase his powerful baritone voice. They also did not choose the right songs as singles."On The Other Hand", and"Nobody In His Right Mind". both became number one hits for Randy Travis, and George Strait respectively, and can be found buried in Keith's second record.


Keith's success came after he co-produced his third album, and proactively picked, and recorded songs he chose. This really irks me, I must say. I can only imagine all the unbelievably amazing music we were all deprived of.. "Don't Close Your Eyes" was the result of Keith's amazing ear for a good tune, and his intentional direction towards his traditional country roots. It was also his most successful record while still alive, and was certified gold only two months after his death.


On the album, we are treated to a Keith Whitley original "It's All Coming Back To Me". But, it is his version of "I Never Go Around Mirrors" that tears me up. It is almost better than Lefty's in my humble opinion. Keith slowed down the pace, and centered the focus of the song on his soulful delivery of the gut wrenching lyrics. Whitey Shaffer even wrote an extra verse for the song. Keith was a huge Lefty Frizzell fan, and was singing Lefty on the radio when he was just eight years old..



Keith Whitley's enduring legacy is a testament to how great he really was. But it also shines a hard spotlight to the ever increasing deficit in traditional leaning country music. We can't let it die.. We just can't.. On June 23rd, 2022, the 6th Annual Keith Whitley Tribute Show will take place at the world famous Nashville Palace. This year, some of our favorite podcast guests like Wyatt Massingille, and Ken Mellons will be performing. Though reserved seating is sold out, general admission is still available. We commend Lorrie Morgan, and friends for keeping the torch burning. It is something we all must do in our own small way.


Share, and spread your love for traditional country music, and support the artists that are still holding the torch high enough to light the way for the wayfaring hearts that have lost their way. It's never too late to come back home..



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