Burl Ives: Sin, Whiskey, Wickedness Galore
Now, to our household, a simple fundamentalist Christian household, the record was proof enough that Ives was a born-again Christian; why else would he be singing The Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, Are You Washed in the Blood?
And so, Ives crooned often from our record player, a big square box covered in a red fake leather coating, with stubby knobs for volume control.
A preacher called Jimmy Martin was a frequent visitor to my home. Brother Jimmy was a fearsome man on the platform (pulpit), but his story-telling abilities, which he never failed to put to use for the saving of souls, was given full rein when he visited our home. Unshackled from serving God, Brother Jimmy held the room in the palm of his hand as he told of his preaching journeys across the American Midwest, through the exotica of Kansas City, Arkansas, Missouri, Omaha, of trains through the Rocky Mountains, of flying into Portland, Oregon, by the vast Pacific.
However, after one such trip, he brought fateful news. At an airport one day in the Midwest, a stranger called his attention to a man sitting across the terminal at the bar. That man, said the stranger, that man is Burl Ives.
And, said Brother Jimmy, relishing a preacher's use of the pause: "I got up for to take a look at this man who had sung with such sweet sincerity of the LORD's saving grace. And if he wasn't sitting there...at the bar... drinking a big glass of whiskey!"
Only now do I wonder at Brother Jimmy's ability to smell whiskey at sixty paces; at the time, though he lived on until 1995, Burl Ives died to us that day.
My Burl Ives memory was prompted by a BBC Radio documentary about Ives, folk singer and committed socialist, who was born 100 years ago this year. Available for listening at the above link for only three more days!