Almost everything I’ve done involves some sort of storytelling. Documentary films. TV commercials. Theater. Music.
I was married and had 4 children by the time I figured out that I could build a career that combines the varied interests that I have .....photography, directing, music and writing . That wonderful discovery has led to many years of knowing that I’m one of the lucky ones. I make a living doing things that I love to do.....things I would want to do even if they weren’t my job. Life is good.
I grew up in a storytelling family. My father, my older brother, both of my grandfathers and my great grandfather were all Methodist preachers and, therefore, were required to tell stories. But the stories that made the biggest impression on me came from my mother’s side of the family…..from uncles and aunts who had the gift of observing their lives, picking out gems from their own experience and weaving them into tales that were sometimes funny….sometimes touching or scary……but always entertaining. Without even being aware of it, I set out on a journey in my own life that would eventually depend heavily on storytelling.
When I was 10 years old I got a ukelele for Christmas. That changed everything. I immediately organized a trio and began performing at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. This was followed by another trio in high school. Patterning ourselves after Peter, Paul & Mary, we had two guys and a girl and named ourselves Two Hits & a Miss.
In 1966 The Hilltop Singers, a trio of college friends, was organized to play for the summer at The Porch in Gatlinburg, TN. We rented a lot downtown that had an old log cabin on it. We built a fence and a ticket booth and used the front porch of the cabin as our stage.
We performed for 4 summers in Gatlinburg. By the second summer, the group had four guys, two girls and more variety. We packed 'em in from June until Labor Day.
I taught music and drama at an all black high school in the late sixties……one of four white teachers in a school that was never successfully integrated. A great experience which shaped who I am and left me with stories that I still tell over forty years later.
My other careers include writing music for radio and TV commercials, being director of drama and television at a large Methodist church and, for the last 30 years, owning a film and video production company based in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition, I have been involved in directing theater productions my entire adult life. So storytelling has played a major role in my career and in my personal life as well.
Almost 20 years ago I became weary of the sixty and thirty second time frame that commercial production requires. I began producing documentary films which allowed my to put my interest in storytelling to work. Our first film, Music In Their Bones: The Music and People of Sand Mountain, was chosen by PBS to air nationally as a part of it’s film series, The Independent Lens.
This film was followed by production of another documentary, Kathryn: The Story of a Teller, which tells the story of legendary storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham. In the world of professional storytelling, Kathryn was known as the queen of the American tellers. The film won major awards at each of the eight film estivals where it played, including the coveted Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival.
But more important than the awards, the experience of making this film led to a close friendship with Kathryn that latest until her death in 2011 at the age of 93. It was Kathryn Windham who taught me the true value of storytelling. The value of family stories passed down orally from generation to generation. The value of taking a break from the technology that consumes our lives to participate in the time honored tradition of sharing stories and enjoying the relationships that result from this pastime. Through Kathryn I met countless storytellers, both nationally known tellers and ordinary neighbors, who have made my life richer and have cemented the place of storytelling in my own life. In short, Kathryn gave me a wonderful gift by raising my awareness about the importance of sharing the stories that we all have.
For over 15 years I've been a member of aneclecticperforming group, The Dill Pickers. We are a string band / theatrical troupe and our performances range from full blown musical theater productions to “music only” gigs. We’ve performed many times with Kathryn and other nationally known tellers and, as a result, I see the value in preserving and promoting the tradition of storytelling. With members now spread across two states, we're only performing a few times a year now.