by Matthew PonY Bones
The perils of country music lifestyle and southern upbringing can kill and are evident. Historical fate and personal fates occasionally meld into fantastic embodiments. This is a vagabond depiction of one encompassing many. The soil is fecund and rich with Holy ghost blood fermentation.
Ricky Tripp is country music, even though the man does not roam this earth any more singing his songs out of the air. He was not your average spit shine encrusted hooligan singing other folks’ songs. He carved his own songs out of the God danged nothing and made other folks’ songs, words, phrases, conversations his own specialty. He was a master interpreter of life. You probably have never heard of Ricky Tripp, yet he was singing for you. Don’t forget that.
The God blessed motherfucker didn’t even need a guitar. He intoned and pulled out of the mysteries that float invisible malevolently around everyday banal reality. He made the air vibrate with his own brutal insights. He may have been Hank William Jr.’s true son and heir. His most manifested musical vessel perfection reached true heights in a duo called Sorry Y’all with a shaman named Important Eagle. The two were blood brothers Alabama born and bred. They sang and moaned about real life. To clarify, real life is when things hurt, good and/or bad. Country music is about real life.
He could sing about how he wanted to “fuck Christian girls.” Maybe he’d become a born again Christian so he’d could get into a special gal’s pants. When Ricky wanted to fuck, that fucking was love. He was a man who shone love.
Maybe he’d sing about John Henry’s hammer and swinging it drunk at the enemies of the world drunk pissed on Old Crowe whiskey till blacking out in Merle Travis’s dark dark dungeon.
I first met the man when I lived on Federal Terrace in South Atlanta, Georgia. The neighborhood was shit. The Federal Penitentiary looms with morose malediction across the street. The 1899 massive castle of incarcerating spiritual darkness is one of the few economic centers in the hood. This is the hill where the Yankees came marching in heaving bombardment upon Atlanta’s stupefied confederacy. The seasonal Entrenchment Creek winds below in the wood thickets, stained with the blood plasma of insignificant rebel soldiers. When the General Motors plant shut down, the prosperity shut down too.
Sorry Y’all made a special journey to play at my house, which doubled as a speakeasy christened “the Jailhouse.” Local yokels and bands across the country, even internationally played in that shitty dirt basement with the rickety wooden steps.
I opened the door and Ricky had a Travis Tritt shirt on. Mr. Tritt’s grotesque head loomed large on Tripp’s slight chub. The face was a divine apparition illuminating radioactive out of the T-shirt’s black hole darkness. Tripp was sweaty, emotional and stunk in the good sense. I got immediate déjà vu knowing I had known this man in past Appalachian ages. He looked worried yet beatific, confident in the burgeoning shadows of that receding Georgia Summer. They played a fiery brimstone set as if Charlie Poole, Randy Travis, Charley Patton and the Louvin Brothers coagulated in a massive punch out bloody brawl outside the batman skyscraper in Nashville, TN. The Sorry Y’all boys came back many times to “The Jailhouse.”
One time Tripp and I stayed up in the wee after show hours spinning early Hank Jr. records like Country Shadows, Blues My Name, and Eleven Roses. Ricky could not stop crying. We talked about Hank Jr.’s legendary fall off the mountain where he split his head open. Mr. Hank Jr. is simultaneously the redneck Prometheus and Dionysus. We soon talked about God and God being mystical. We both met at this crossroads ruminating about our Gnostic shaded shadowy Christianity.
Meanwhile, Important Eagle was across the street at the local crack house with this Israeli girl. I don’t know if they were partaking. The house is long gone now as the Israeli girl. She came to the United States to seduce ole Pony Bones. I state this with awkwardness and not with cock in hand. She wanted someone to marry to become a citizen. I would not have it nor her contorted 1950’s feminism. Mr. Tripp eventually joined them for a bit. I sizzled in my fatigue.
Other stories abound. Tripp serenaded me and made me fall in love with a twenty year old blonde girl who called herself Rattlersnake. I was thirty and pulverized in the romantic department. His voice cast a spell over us like a healing baptism and I was chasing this young thing’s tail. I must’ve been middle aged crazy like Jerry Lee Lewis.
Ricky once took us to Hurricane Creek outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama. We stood shin deep in those shallow waters drinking beer after beer. Even our beers drank beers. I am not even much of a beer drinker is the crux!! He commanded respect and authority and gentle kindness through ribald folksy wisdom.
Ricky lived a holistic country music path. He told mean dirty jokes. He infiltrated frat boys. He infiltrated punk music. He had a perverse master plan for humanity’s good.
Tripp always liked to call me drunk and recite poetry. He was a romantic for girls and guys- a true wandering rustic troubadour out of the broadside French folk traditions of the middle ages. After he got his second DUI he’d call me drunk while driving. The man was convinced he was being followed.
Country music can kill you. I was painting one early spring morning when my drummer at the time texted me. Ricky Tripp had died the night before! Delirium descended upon my heart and mind. Of course bad drugs were involved. We were all doing very bad drugs those days. This is not an anti-drug story.
You don’t text when someone dies. You call. If you don’t you are a coward. My old drummer whom I will only refer to as K. has a master thesis in assholism. Trauma can do that to you. Things took a wrong turn in Mr. K’s childhood when his parents divorced. I am talking this was a demonic divorce. Demons got into that family. His mom’s new boyfriend somehow cut off mom’s head in a homicidal rage. The young boy saw the whole damn thing unfold straight out of the old testament.
Mr. K initiated the horse black market buy. Mr. Tripp fell off the wagon into the grave. Do not mix heroin and whiskey. I can’t blame anyone. Ricky wouldn’t have wanted that.
I had to work that day after he died. I should not have. I was a coward to do so. Money can make you a coward in confusing times. I do not forgive myself nor the bar for that transgression.
I was up for two days straight when the morning came to drive to the Alabama funeral. Hurricane Frank rode shot gun. We got pulled over by the cops on the way. We got a warning from Mr. State Trooper. I bet that cop will get his. He walked back to his cruiser in shame when we told him the thick as molasses tragic circumstances. Cheap cigars and Johnny Paycheck were the balms of the sojourn.
We wandered an ugly suck thrift store of moldy memories and the ancient elderly to kill time. Yes, killing time was killing me. I found a Travis Tritt tape.
Hurricane Frank annoyed the hell outta me greatly in his naïve response to the death. We were stranded at this shit stained sports bar after the funeral drinking over priced drinks. Some folks can’t grapple grief. There are times when it is okay NOT to accentuate the positive especially relating through how it’s all good by invoking a fake Jamaican Marijuana God. Frankie’s good vibes were down right ludicrous and disrespectful. Important Eagle bought me a whiskey shot. Who am I to talk though with such a crooked soul?
At the liquor store later, I ran into a so-called famous professional wrestler. I did not recognize the man. He insisted on having his picture taken with me, a stranger called Pony Bones with a leather hat stuffed with turkey and crow feathers. Things smoothed over between Frankie and I. Later in the dead of night we drove back to Georgia and slept out under the stars at a place called Palooka Ville, haunted by the ghosts of moon shiners.
Months later I got too drunk to make it to Alabam and play Tripp’s tribute show. I was told the event was debauched and despicable. Assholism ruled supreme. I stayed home and wrote some Ricky songs.
These are the perils of country music. There is tremendous love here too in the tragedy. I still have not deleted Ricky’s phone number. Maybe he will call me drunk again one night. I’d shotgun a beer with Ricky’s ghost anytime or get whiskey bent and hellbound to heaven!