I hope you’ll read the story before you click on the link. It’s a pretty neat story.￼
Recorded and released by Kenny Rogers in 1987, “Twenty Years Ago” was a hit for me from the first listen.
So many vivid word pictures. I know it could have been about any “Small Town U.S.A.,” but it took me back to N. Wall Street (in Calhoun, GA, not NYC),…and the Martin Theatre where I once saw Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in person one 1960-ish Saturday morning. A couple of doors down, there was ￼Mason & Owens Drug Co. with all the sights and smells and friendly vibes of a mom & pop establishment. It had a bonafide soda fountain with twirly stools at the counter and slaw dogs (with buns sliced the right way), and the option of regular Coke or cherry Coke (“cherry” by way of a squirt or two of real cherry syrup). Diet Coke had yet to be invented.
The song brought back all manner of good, “simpler time” memories, but there’s another reason the song hit home for me today.
A dozen years after the song came out, while serving as a pastor in Decatur, Alabama, I somehow stumbled across the North Alabama Chapter of The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). As I recall, the coordinators were Donny Grace and Jim Parker–both great songwriters, but also great encouragers of my songwriting efforts. They were gracious—but honest. They gave me “attaboys”—but also helped me understand what worked about a song and what didn’t.
Besides being a successful realtor ￼and having a few hit songs to his credit, Jim also birthed the now-acclaimed “Jim Parker Songwriter Series.” Every month, Jim brings some of the finest songwriters in the country to The Playhouse at Huntsville’s Von Braun Civic Center where they share their songs and the stories behind the songs.
I actually got to be the opener for that event one time and it was such an off-the-charts, top-of-the line, gig. Beautiful theatre, state-of-the-art sound system, a sound engineer who “knew his stuff”—oh, and a packed house! I got a thirty-minute time slot…five or six songs! (I remember thinking, “Take me now, Lord—I’ve got nowhere to go but down after this!”)
A few years before moving to the VBCC, Jim hosted his event at “Sister Gooch,” an upscale restaurant in the Madison area. One night after NSAI, he asked if I’d like to sit in on one of his monthly events as the “up-and-coming local writer.” He said, “We can’t pay much, but we’ll feed you dinner.”
All I heard was, “…we’ll feed you dinner” and I was in. (I was younger and hungrier back then.)
So, now we’re sitting on the stools behind our guitars and microphones—Jim, me, and some guy by the name of “Wood Something-or-other.” I didn’t know the soft-spoken, mild-manner fellow, but at one point in the rotation–remember, it’s a songwriter event, so all songs are originals–he plays a familiar intro on his guitar and begins to sing…
“It’s been a long time since I walked
through this old town,
but oh how the memories start to flow.
And there’s the old movie house—
they finally closed it down.
You could find me there every Friday night
Twenty years ago.”
I was a little awestruck, but as he moved into the second verse, I couldn’t help myself and began playing along. I didn’t need a chord chart and I never missed a beat. You see, I knew this song. I’d heard it a hundred times on the radio. I’d performed it for years—one of Kenny Rogers’ greatest hits. When we came to the chorus, I gently folded-in a darn-near perfect high harmony….
“All my memories from those days come gather round me
What I’d give if they could take me back in time
It almost seems like yesterday
Where do the good times go?
Life was so much easier twenty years ago.”
I had no idea, but I was sitting next to one of Nashville’s most successful and prolific songwriters, Wood Newton. After the song, he looked at me and smiled as if to say, “Not bad–not bad at all.”
Following the show, during which he heard several of my songs, he gave me one of those compliments that sticks with you…a word that keeps you in the game.
“Now what’s your name again? ‘Keith, what?’…”
“Keith Elder,” I replied.
“I think if you were up in Nashville, I would’ve heard of you.”
Very cool.We shook hands (that was back when people could still shake hands) and said our good-byes.
End of story….
…at least, until today.
You see, that night would have been a couple of years before 9-11-2001…that September day when—as Alan Jackson put it—“the world stopped spinning.”
I can’t help thinking…
…as I read of the death of Kenny Rogers… as we experience a global pandemic that could well make 9-11 look like small change… as I recall a great night at “Sister Gooch” with Jim Parker and Wood “Something or other”…
I can’t help thinking…
“Life was so much easier… twenty years ago.”
Wood, thanks for the gift that just keeps on giving….