RHETA JOHNSON: Bushels of love per Peck

RHETA JOHNSON

RHETA JOHNSON

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala.

Imagine if your life were highlighted in a short, moving ceremony and condensed to its essence. What would they say about you?

Edwin “Peck” Rowell of Loachapoka, Alabama, recently found out. As Peck waited for the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to unveil an “Achiever’s Display” of his lifetime of work, curator George Lair summed it up nicely: “Anything involving music, seems like Peck’s been involved.”

Peck, 91, sat in a wheelchair, a Pied Piper’s throng of family, friends and musicians around him. A gregarious and funny man not shy with his stories, Peck has been a singer, a songwriter, a band leader, radio disc jockey and, for more than two decades, owned and ran one of the most popular country dance clubs in the Southeast.

“A friend phoned from California and told me he had put my name into something called Google on the computer and found 273 ‘Peck’ Rowells,” the guest of honor joked.

Only one of those Pecks was being honored, however, by the prestigious Alabama Hall of Fame that includes in its membership no less than Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and Emmylou Harris.

Peck Rowell played and brought good music to the masses.

Steamy Saturday nights on the edge of Lake Martin near the Alabama town of Dadeville, a skating rink with its pecan wood floors would morph into something else. The Blue Creek Dance Hall would light up, crank up and attract like ants to Loachapoka syrup those who loved to hear real country.

Beginning in 1959, Peck and his dance band, the Covered Wagon Boys, introduced, each in his turn, Ray Price, Porter Wagoner, Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Connie Smith and Charlie Louvin, to name but a few visiting stars. Peck’s read like another hall of fame – the country music one.

One of the first big names Peck hired to draw a crowd was bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, who agreed to show up for $350. Monroe arrived at Blue Creek with laryngitis, willing to play but unable to sing. Instead, one of Monroe’s guitar players replaced him on lead vocals. The substitute: Del McCoury.

As I listened to Peck’s rich ruminations, I remembered the old raspy Jimmy Durante line: “I’ve got a million of ’em.”

I knew him briefly as a good neighbor in the late 1970s, when I lived in Loachapoka. I once took a picture of Peck’s triplet kid goats for the local newspaper.

I eagerly read his recent memoir, “A Place I Couldn’t Leave,” remembering my year of bucolic fun in peaceful little Loachapoka. I rented a house just across from the antebellum Rowell home place where Peck grew up as one of nine children.

“I love country music better than anything,” he admitted, an emotional catch in his voice. “It’s been my life.”

He began playing “Redwing” on the harmonica at age 7, went on to know stars like Hank Williams and Kitty Wells, kept on entertaining at church functions after a heart attack forced him to give up the club at Blue Creek.

Unlike Peck, I left Loachapoka. But I envy a man who knows his heart and his home.

To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.