Excerpt from “So Lonesome I Could Die”

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After joining the group, it was clear that Johnnie offered the musical spark they had been missing. Young people all over were falling in love with the guitar and Johnnie played it better than anyone for 100 miles in any direction. The older folks responded to something in his voice, wild and haunted, like the singers they had known when they were young. Johnnie’s guitar slowly pushed the band’s fiddle out of the spotlight, even as he was taking lead vocals on more and more of the songs.

The band got busier than ever. Hardly a Friday or Saturday went by when they weren’t playing at some school auditorium, house party, or old country dance. Then they started getting gigs at the honky-tonks: Bauer’s, Country Creek Bottle House, Eastside Tavern, the Original Gun and Knife Club, the Red Rooster, and Schroeder’s Place.
They even brought down the roof at the Yellow Rose Dancehall.

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Oh, don’t make any mistake, they called it a “dancehall,” but it was as rough-and-tumble a honky-tonk as you’d find anywhere in the Hill Country. Old Man Daniels opened the place after coming back from the Great War with lungs full of mustard gas and a head full of shithouse rats. Originally little more than a front for bootlegging, the Yellow Rose occupied an old garage outside of Switchbox, far enough off the beaten path that it was difficult for the authorities to hear about, let alone investigate, every little batch of moonshine, shooting, or stabbing.

When the Feds repealed Prohibition, Old Man Daniels had to go legit. Living by the motto “go big or go home,” he built the place into the county’s top honky-tonk. Its house band, the Switchbox Six, were infamous for living lives every bit as hard as the ones they sang about and celebrated for being the county’s best band. At least until Johnnie and his crew walked through the door. That night, the Switchbox Six knew they had been put into second place.

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c. 2016 Jon Black