The country music that you don’t know about lost two of its well-respected artists within 2 months of each other. One has been a highly publicized case in the national headlines. The other did not gain any attention from the national media, but within the underground country world, it was an equally devastating blow to the genre.
I didn’t know Wayne Mills or Robert Earl Reed personally. The only way I knew them was through their music. And their music was good. Damn good! The kind of country music that I liked. The way it should be. REAL COUNTRY MUSIC. So REAL that their music was addictive, pure and wholesome.
Wayne Mills was a former Alabama football player turned country music singer. Outlaw country singer for what it’s worth…which is worth quite a bit to my friends and I who love that music. Wayne was well on his way until a week ago when he was murdered. Wayne shared the stage with many including Jamey Johnson and certainly carried the torch for Outlaw Country. He was described as ”a stiff-necked, country troubadour with an affinity for honky-tonks”. From what I have read, many fans and friends have had many positive comments to say about Wayne. Not only do those positive comments come from family, but friends and cohorts in country music endorsed Wayne Mills and his music. It’s the kind of country music I dig!
“I have it saved on iTunes as Wayne Mills “The Album” which is kinda like when hollywooders call their movie “Blank Blank: The Movie” after a title which usually needs no further introduction. and self titled albums are often over rated and not at all definitive of the person whose name appears in duplicate on every flat surface of the album. since the music on this album is nothing if not definitive of Wayne, to me, this has always been “Wayne Mills: the album” – Jamey Johnson
Wayne had several album releases, including The Last Honky Tonk and was prepping for another album for a future release. Wayne also had a good following overseas, enjoying success in Belgium. Wayne had been touring with Jamey Johnson and shared the stage Charlie Daniels, Marty Steward, David Allan Coe, Blackberry Smoke, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. He was also a staple at Bamajam, and continued to play 300 dates a year.
A very fulfilling career not worth any bullet.
Further research on Wayne made me like him even more when I found this song.
FYI…Kentucky plays Tennessee this weekend!
Speaking of football, let’s talk about his time at Alabama. Wayne pursued his dream of playing football for the Crimson Tide with two years of eligibility left. Wayne was also a baseball player for Wallace State College. However playing tight end for the Tide proved to be successful as Wayne was a member of Alabama’s 1991 National Championship team, defeating Colorado in the Blockbuster Bowl, 30-25 and completing a 11-1 season. Out of 76 players that tried out for walk-on positions, Wayne was 1 of 3. Wayne was the only one to receive playing time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any stats on Wayne, but I did find him on the roster, courtesy of Alabama’s site archives. Being a fan of SEC Football, a smile came across my face.
I didn’t write this to uncover some conspiracy theory of Wayne’s death. I wrote it because I was compelled by his drive and motivation to follow his dreams. I wrote it to help bring Wayne’s music to the forefront. What you are hearing in the media are the circumstances involving his death. I 100% agree that is tragedy. What you don’t hear is how is good his music is and what he meant to the Outlaw Country family.
Wayne was a man with a purpose, whether it was being a football player, a father, caring about people or just to play country music.
Just as equally as important as Wayne Mills, Robert Earl Reed may have been the antithesis of the wild honky-tonk mist that surrounded Wayne. Robert Earl passed away in early October, but left a deep impression on the Americana/Alt-Country/Roots world.
RER described himself in an Farce the Music Interview as the “Shade tree clergyman”. And I can see that coming from an isolated artist. Just him, his guitar and his thoughts leaned up against a tree late at night pickin’. But something plentiful and fulfilling came out of those elements. Those albums being Carlene and Something Wicked. Another album was in the works for a late release this year.
Go back and listen to Carlene. When people asked me about Robert Earl Reed’s music, I had a hard time describing it. It was raw, but real. It was cool, but your ear had to be tuned just right to enjoy and appreciate it. Carlene was a melting pot of different sounds from the south and all parts in between.
Robert Earl Reed may have been one of the deepest thinking artists I may have came across in reading interviews and listening to his music. Thoughtful and insightful is how would I describe him. And with this man, his guitar and his thoughts, it was hard for me to sum him up. How do you describe Robert Earl Reed’s sound to your friend? Well first of all, it takes a keen ear to appreciate his music. Not just hearing, but actively listening to his music, his voice and his lyrics. There is a difference between hearing and listening. And when you listen, you hear that melting pot of sounds. Listen to “Devil in Canebrake” and you hear some very distinctive sounds. Country and blues straight from Mississippi. Country and blues straight from the soul. Straight from Robert Earl Reed’s soul. To me, his music wasn’t straight country music and it wasn’t straight blues music. It was raw, bare bone, primitive soul. His lyrics were based on real life experiences, but there was something deeper to those lyrics. Philosophical almost.
And that is what set Robert Earl Reed apart from everybody else. The fact that his music could be so simplistic, but his lyrics so complex and full of vivid content.
If you want to see how real and humble of a man Robert Earl Reed was, take a listen to Oxford Sessions online. You get the soul of a real artist. A man, his guitar, a fire, and his thoughts. And that is all you need to enjoy and appreciate Robert Earl Reed’s music.
Robert Earl Reed said “Everyone’s music is meant for a certain purpose.”
It’s sad to think that Wayne Mills and Robert Earl Reed’s purpose was cut too short.