“I’ll never hear ‘Smoke on the Water’ quite the same again.” – Steve Judice, “Deep Water Horizon”
I guess when someone is lost, songs change. Or maybe in a great cosmic sense, the meaning was always there waiting to comfort you, or maybe even stab you in the gut with a fresh memory. Songs are part of the deal. Catharsis.
There are so many songs I won’t hear quite the same again now that Wayne Mills is gone. Radio Free Texas probably gave him more airplay than any other station, and one year “Crossin’ Dixie” was one of the most played songs on RFT.
For those who haven’t heard on CNN, FOX, the BBC, and even German newspapers, Wayne was shot in a Nashville bar at 5am. The outpouring of support, photographs, and stories is incredible. It’s hard to feel alone when so many people feel the same sadness I do, but pain finds a way. It always seems to.
People have dismissed Wayne’s death as a byproduct of labeling himself and his music with the term “Outlaw,” but anyone who pours thought into the situation can see that music and a band is a small business. Wayne was home all week with his wife of 20 years, Carol, and his 7 year old son, Jack, named for Wayne’s father. Every time I called and caught him at home, he was in the middle of a wrestling match with his son. There are a ton of photos of he and Jack sharing the stage. Stages were his offices. Bars were his boardrooms. When you try to make a career of music, management wants to meet after the show. It’s a flipside of the usual model of what most work weeks entail, but it’s not reckless or abandoning his duties as a man.
Wayne was the friend that made you feel special. If he saw you at a show, he’d work your name into a song, raise a glass to you, tell all your friends who were just meeting him how much he loved you and how important you were. When my step-brother, who met Wayne once in Nashville, heard of Wayne’s death, he said, “Sorry about your friend. He sure was a big fan of yours.” Yet he was always the guy under the spotlight. He probably never saw as much of his own value because he was busy seeing the good in other people. He always turned that spotlight on you, with the purest possible lens.
Wayne apologized to you for charging you for his CDs that some friend of his had paid for. He’d explain he just had to pay his investors.
Wayne was the friend that said the most off-the-wall things that you kept trying to remember the next day so you could use it. He was always good for a story or a quick turn of the phrase. That last phone chat we had, he said this:
“Hey man, I’m in Goat Dick, Mississippi. I had to climb up on top of the van and stick my finger in my ass to get reception, so if I lose you, I probably fell off the van and I hope I didn’t land on my finger.”
He had a way with words. He was quite a cartoonist that way.
Wayne was the friend that would invite you first and then find out later if that was cool. He wasn’t accommodating; he was welcoming.
Wayne is the only man I ever loaned my boots to.
Wayne is the only man who, went my phone went dead, said, “Here, take mine. See you in a few hours at the venue.”
I saw the Wayne Mills Band play in Statesboro, Atlanta, Milledgeville, Macon, Gadsden, Nashville, Guntersville, Montgomery, and I don’t even know where else. I saw numerous different band lineups. He introduced me to guys that played with the Allman Bros., Jamey Johnson, Jared Foster, Leland Williams, and a host of other singers trying to get a break. I could just talk for days and tell stories for weeks.
The thing is, this is a tragedy. Many questions won’t get answered. Jack lost his dad. Carol lost her husband. Death is such a senselessly necessary part of the cycle. I read this morning that Wayne was an organ donor. The lady whose father received his kidney posted a thank you on his Facebook wall.
I’ll miss my friend. Jarrod Birmingham told me that Wayne always would say he’d probably have to die to get famous. The news coverage has been substantial, but I truly hope that out of this, more people discover his music – which was really his passion and personality.
Numerous events and opportunities to help his family have been set up, and more information can be found on the Wayne Mills Band Facebook page.