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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jack S. Smith (Part 1 of 2)

Born on July 13, 1952 and passed away on July 26, 2008.

This isn’t a saddle story…, but I call this old George Lawrence saddle, “Jackson”.  I don’t name all my saddles.  Usually it’s just, “Julie’s saddle”, or “Jamie’s saddle”, or “My saddle”, or the “new George Lawrence”, if you’re speaking about them.  But this is a very special saddle…, and so was the fella that I named it after.  Oh man…, yeah.  Was he ever.  Songwriter, singer, guitar picker…, leader of the band.  And a hell of a musician.  Fighter, scrapper, logger, timber cutter.  And a hell of a man.  Classmate, teammate, employee, barroom buddy.   And a hell of a character.  Husband, hunter, father, grandfather.  And gone before his time.  Still in his prime…, at least musically speaking.

So, when it was widely known that Jack S. Smith had a deadly form of cancer and was only a few months away from performing the ultimate gig on stage in another realm, a Benefit Auction was planned for him in this one.  Another good friend of mine, Jim Jensen, offered up the old George Lawrence saddle as a donation for the auction.  And the damn fool even tried to bid against me on it!  There was no way that old saddle that I had already named “Jackson” was going to be anyone’s but mine.  Jim can be forgiven for being such a fool; he wasn’t born in Idaho like Jack, and he wasn’t raised in Idaho like Jack and I.  Jim came out from Wisconsin years after Jack and I had become friends back in high school, and he didn’t know just how close our relationship had been.  Oh man…, yeah.  For four glorious months in our senior year at Timberline High…, I had my hands under Jack’s butt almost every day.  Stuff like that can warp your mind…, and leave a lasting impression I guess.

You see…, Jack was the starting center on our football team, and I played quarterback.  Jack was also our starting free safety on defense, where he hit like another Jack…, Jack Tatum.  He wasn’t all that big…, even for a safety…, let alone a center.  Maybe 5’ 7” and all of 145 lbs.  He got a hold of the roster before the manager printed out the lineup card and changed his weight to 165 to make it look good.  At center Jack was always outweighed by a good 30 or 40 pounds, or more when he looked across at the nose guard lined up in front of him.  He was never intimidated, I believe he relished it.  Our coach gave out “hash marks” on our helmets when we made a hit that caused an opposing player’s head to “snap back”.  When you got ten hash marks on your helmet, the helmet was painted black.  Jack wore a black helmet early in the season.  Not many others did, even at the end of the season.  We finished tied for the League Championship that year.  Jack played a big part in making my glory days a winning memory.

I knew who Jack Smith was a few years before we went to school together at Timberline High School.  He lived in the logging town of Pierce, ID (pop 1029) which was just 11 miles up the road from my hometown of Weippe (pop 705), which had more farmers than loggers.  The two towns were bitter cultural and sports rivals.  There was always a little tension in the air, because back in those days it wasn’t hardly a Saturday night if there weren’t a couple of fights at a bar or at a local dance.   It was virtually guaranteed if there were more than a couple of Piercites in Weippe, or Weippers in Pierce.  Weippe had a venue called the Community Hall.  A classic old log structure with a hardwood floor, a wood stove, and a stage…, where Jack and a couple of other guys from Pierce would often play music on weekends.  And he had the reputation of a willing and able scrapper to boot.  A well deserved, and honestly earned one I might add.  So in the summer of 1969, I was walking down the street of Lewiston, ID (pop 17,900), heading to a dentist appointment, so the dentist could make sure the wires holding my jaw together hadn’t slipped any.  I spied Jack Smith leaning up against a building.  No one was sure how the consolidation of the Weippe and Pierce High Schools into Timberline High was going to work out that fall, given the ancient rivalry between the two towns.  But I knew that Jack and I were going to be playing football together that season.  I thought it proper to introduce myself, and after all, he might know who I was too.  I’d been out on the dance floor and on the basketball court a few times.  I knew…, from experience…, that it isn’t easy to introduce yourself through wire-clenched together teeth, and it’s pretty hard to slip into the conversation the story of why you are gritting your teeth and talking like that.  But if your listener is looking at you like you’re the kind of guy who might want to get his hands under your butt…, and your listener isn’t helping you out with small talk of his own, it can get a little uncomfortable rather quickly.  It can make you almost glad you have a dentist appointment.  Oh man…, yeah.  It gives you a chance to excuse yourself and move on.  Jack reminded me of that moment many times over the years and told me that I caught him at a particularly bad time.  

He later told me that he had just seen Linda off on a bus to school somewhere and he was pretty dejected. After I met Linda, I could understand why.  Oh man.., yeah.  Jack and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Linda were married probably a year after I introduced myself to Jack.  They were together for nearly 40 years, and she was at his side at the end.  Just like she was all the years they were together.  Through all the ups and downs, highs and lows, hilarious and horrifying…, and sometimes…, plumb sideways crazy, borderline insane times.  And that just describes the times that I can personally attest to.  They had “gone steady”, as we called it back then, all through high school.  After they got married, I know they were split up for a brief time early on, because Jack told me about coming home to an empty house one night.  Well…, empty except for the man and wife figurine that had adorned their wedding cake…, it was sitting on the kitchen counter under the bare cupboards.  He didn’t elaborate on what mistakes he had made to cause that, but he evidently never made them again.  If they were ever split up after that, he never told me about it.  
Me and Linda at an April Birthday Party

“I'll Always Love You”
I know you’re young, and I’m young too
I’ll do what I can, that’s all I can do
But I swear I'll always love you
I’ve made some mistakes, maybe quite a few
But one I didn’t make, was when I found you
And I swear, I’ll always love you.

Continued in the comments section


  1. Jack was always kind of wild, carefree and fun loving for the most part, but he could conjure up a mean streak if the situation called for it. He grew up fast out of necessity. I was never sure just how old he was when his mother “ran off with some cowboy”, as he put it, and left his father with Jack and his three younger brothers. I didn’t know Jack’s dad well, but I have the impression that he never got over it. While I don’t think Jack and his brothers went without the necessities, they never had much beyond that. Unlike me. After football season I got an early graduation present from my parents. A fire engine red 1967 Chevy Camero Super Sport, the one with the white stripe around the nose, with a 295 hp 350 cu in engine. About daylight, after graduation night, Jack and I were the only ones still looking to continue the party. Jack got a friend who was old enough to purchase beer out of bed about 8:00 am that morning…, and we spent the day cruising around in that old Camero. He asked me how I liked the car. Well…, it didn’t have power steering, and I had driven logging trucks that it took less effort to crank the steering wheel on, and a logging truck shifted gears easier than that factory three speed. No four-on-the-floor with a Hurst shifter, no bucket seats, the radio only worked when it wanted too. All those defects were going through my mind when I answered, “Ah…, it’s all right.” Jack said, “I’d think it was better than ‘all right’ if I had it.” Oh man…, yeah. I have never forgotten that. I may still slip up and take a few things for granted now and again…, but not often…, and never for long.

    Unfortunately…, there is life after high school. I drifted around, tried college, quit, worked around, mostly logging or lumber mill type jobs, got drafted into the Army, got out, tried jail, flirted with prison, didn’t think I’d like that, tried college again, quit again. Jack didn’t have that luxury. He knew what he wanted to do. Had a burning desire to do it. Couldn’t not do it. He was a musician. He played music. He made music. And he never knew how much I envied that in him. It wasn’t the talent to do it that I envied so much, as it was that identifiable desire that could be channeled down one clear path. To this day…, I still don’t know what I want to do. Jack knew from the age of three what he wanted to do. There’s a picture to prove it in his scrape book. And it was the courage to say, “This is what I want to do and I don’t care what anyone says, or what anyone thinks, this is what I am going to do, and no one is going to stop me,” that I admired in him. I always tried to make it to his gigs through the 70’s if one of the many bands he played with was in the area. It wasn’t often though, the small town bars couldn’t pull in the volume of people it takes to support a band that is trying to make a living playing music. He got off the hill, away from Pierce and Weippe, he and Linda moved down in the valley to Lewiston, where the crowds were. So I didn’t see a whole lot of Jack until about 1980 or so when he moved back to Pierce.

    "Mountain Boy"
    I was born in the mountains of Idaho
    Near a tamarack grove where the Clearwater flows
    I headed for the prairie to watch the setting sun
    I was going to the valley just to have a little fun
    I'm gonna have a little fun in the valley tonight
    Gonna raise a little hell, gonna do it up right
    I’m gonna wrestle with the women, play poker with the men
    And if I have too much fun I hope you’ll bail me out again.

  2. Jack and a band called Stretch Wabash had a real successful run in the mid to late 70’s. They were a country-rock cover band, but they featured several songs of original music during their nightly show. I didn’t realize at the time that several of those originals had been penned by Jack. “Mountain Boy” was one of them..., “Weippe Hamburgers (Don’t Turn Me On)”, was another. He was proud of where he came from and he wanted people to know it. The band developed quite a following around the northwest and they decided to establish themselves in Seattle. I’m not sure just how long it lasted, but small town roots run pretty deep, and I believe that Jack quit the band and came back to Pierce for that reason as much as the fact that the other members of the band were more interested in learning the latest hot hit than in developing and expanding their own sound and style. Jack got himself a chain saw and started logging, an occupation that he had grown up around, but never participated in. My brother and I hired him for his first timber cutting job. We both knew him, and felt confident that even though he had no previous experience, that he would learn fast, work hard, and produce quality work. And he did…, at all times. Oh man…, yeah.

    We hadn’t started work yet that spring, so Jack rode along with me as we acted as pilot car for the truck and low-boy trailer that was hauling the old Skagit yarder out to the job. It was a long, slow trip and a portion of the road was along the North Fork of the Clearwater River. It was the first time since that graduation morning more than ten years before, that Jack and I really had a chance to bullshit for any length of time. I began to realize just how little I really knew about Jack. As he told me about his hopes and dreams and ambitions, I began to wonder if he really had the talent to succeed. I had always just seen him as a friend who was good enough to make it in a very good cover band. I had never taken a critical look at him and tried to access just how much natural talent and potential he really had. A few doubts were dispersed when I popped an old Springsteen tape in and he knew who it was. That was well before Bruce was a household name and had gone mainstream with his Born in the USA album.

    It wasn’t long before Jack had a couple of guys rounded up and they were playing music and putting a band together. I dropped in on one of their early practice sessions. Jack was teaching the guys the Marshall Tucker Band song, “Fire on the Mountain” and I realized that he wasn’t just good because he was a friend…, he was good period. Damn good. When the band started doing some of his songs, I started calling him “Jackson”…, after one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Jackson Browne. I encouraged and supported his song writing as much as I could. We both knew that he wasn’t going to get much further than he had already been by just playing cover songs with the band. At the same time, he had that need to be on stage and play in front of the crowd…, and he needed a band and sound recognition from the audience to get hired to do it. So his Shotgun band gradually worked in the originals and they became as popular with the folks who grew to know them as any of the cover songs.

    “Yes I Know We’re the Players”
    Yes I know we’re the players,
    But you’re all part of the band.
    We’d be nothing without you,
    And nothing’s something I can’t stand.

    We’ve all stood on the same dance floors,
    Shook our long hair to the bands,
    Stayed at parties till daybreak,
    Somehow it’s made us all friends…, in the end.

  3. We had a lot of fun in the five or six years that Shotgun was together. The players changed through the years, but somehow Jackson held the band together. They were mostly playing the local bars on the weekends, so Jackson and I had plenty of long rides to work and back when we could talk about music and songwriting. Jack was close to taking the band “on the road” a time or two because he told me he was sorry, but I would have to find another cutter one, or maybe a couple of seasons. I did…, but he didn’t. I don’t recall what happened, but I understand how romantic the notion can sound in theory, but in reality it is hard for most people to take that big a jump. Trying to get four or five other people with family and relationships and worries about if it will all work out financially to take that jump with you…, is next to impossible. So many memories of so much music during those years; a 4th of July in Coleman, Alberta (via Glacier National Park); McCall, ID, all night party and diesel fuel mishap in a gas fueled bus; Blue Mountain Rock Festival in Moscow, ID; Video Sunday at the Clearwater Club in Orofino, ID with custom made T-shirts and rented video equipment; my birthday at the Clearwater Club when Jackson did two songs, during the band’s break, that I had written the lyrics to; the party at Ellenor’s house on Lower Ford's Creek; Fraser Park parties; Pierce 1860 Days parties; Weippe Rodeo parties; Weippe Community Hall parties; April Birthday parties; and the Break-Up party at the Veteran’s Hall…, when Shotgun played together for the last time. Oh man…, yeah. During those years I thought I might get my hands under dJackson's butt again…, but he was busy making music when those alumni football games were scheduled.

    Part 2 will be posted in a week or two.

  4. My prose always fall short of gone old friends. Yours is pretty good.

  5. Many thanks Mauberly..., as I am sure you are aware, I really struggled with this one. Much too long to hold a readers attention span in this Internet age. Got some very nice compliments on my Facebook page, but they were from folks who knew Jackson. Knowing that it held your attention and you feel it is better than "Ah..., it's all right" means a whole lot. Jackson once wrote, " Sometimes things happen in your life..., that turn you upside down and cut you like a knife." Oh man..., yeah. That's what Part 2 is all about..., and it should appear shortly. Thanks again for the support..., and write on Mauberly.

  6. Thanks for sharing, its pretty cool. This year I'm looking forward to take a break and enjoy nature as I go for vacation, well maybe after I find some South Texas Ranches For Sale. Anyway I really like your blog and i really appreciate the excellent quality content you are posting here.

  7. Thanks for the kind words about the Blog South Texas..., and hope that you are as happy with Your Ranch..., when you find it..., as Julie and I are on ours.

  8. lots of good memories dredged up thanks Scotty

  9. I remember dancing to Jackson's band in the old Community Hall, the old wood floors and down and down in Orifino. We loved his music. Your writing brings back lots of fun memories. You have a way with words, that sits me right back in time. In the middle of Weippe and Pierce, I can see it all. I'm sorry about Jack and your so right, he was way too young to go. Thank you for putting his story on here for everyone to read.

  10. Thank you John and Marilyn for taking the time to post comments..., it means a lot to me.

  11. I really enjoy reading your writings on my Papa Jack. Thank you! - Savannah Nelsen (Brandi's daughter)

  12. ..., and thank you for commenting Savannah. Your Papa was a very special person and friend..., I still miss him oh so much.

  13. Met Jack at the racetrack in Lewiston..hell of a nice guy...and linda was special too...saw them both several times playing music...but one sunday night at the longbranch..jack and his band jammed with terry alred and rimrock...they brought the house down with jack doin marshall tucker stuff! An awesome night of music I will never forget!
    Mike Reece

  14. Thanks for taking the time to comment Mike..., I always appreciate hearing stories about Jackson and all the lives he touched in such a special way.

  15. I was an aquaintance of Jacks while working for the Forest service in Pierce in the late 70's-1989. I met him thru my good friend Erik Karn and being a guitar player shared simular music taste. I remember his band was playing at the Pierce community center one weekend and he invited me to get up and Jam a couple songs with him. He was a great guy and I was very sorry to hear of his passing. Don Foco

    1. Thanks for the comments Don..., you might be interested in the Facebook page that Jack's daughter Jakki has set up. Here's the link: