William Wordsworth (1770-1850). English poet, penned some words that seem appropriate to the occasion of Don Byers’ honor and recognition:
“Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
Last week’s column saw the beginning of Don Byers’ career even in school years in Union when he was voted “most talented male” in the Class of 1960, Union County High. In his US Army stint, he joined up with others to form “The Strangers,” gaining notable popularity in Japan and in military venues.
Once out of the Army, he returned to Georgia and throughout the mid-sixties he began to play part-time in several Atlanta clubs. By 1970, his Atlanta showings had gone full-time and he joined the music union, appearing in several area nightclubs with the Blue Cockatoo his favorite. He met Tony Romano, a Hollywood stunt-man, actor and singer who assisted Don with recording “It’s Only a Paper World” and “A Few of the Things I Remember.” Both songs were played frequently on radio throughout the southeast.
He met and aligned with a “rockabilly” singer named Buddy Knox. It was Buddy who encouraged Don to take his instrument and introduce his talents to the right people in Music City, USA, Nashville and the famous “Grand Ole Opry.” By 1973 Don Rogers was living on Old Hickory Lake at Nashville in a houseboat, and touring in both the United States and Canada. Some of his musical associates with whom he played were Bobby Bare, Conway Twitty, Larry Gatlin, Del Reeves, Joe Stampley, La Costa and others. It was during this period that he wrote songs and music for Tree Publishing and Roger Miller Music, Next came his association with the Acuff-Rose Publishing Company who put up the necessary investment for studio production with the notable Welden Myrick band.
I asked Don what it was like being in Nashville. He replied, “I was sort of flabbergasted that I made it that far! The music business was run like a country store back then. I could stop on the street and have a chat with my hero Chet Atkins (a very laid-back and humble man), and did so quite often. Several of us hung out at a place called the Burger Boy Drive-In where Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glasser shot the pinball machines…I remember sitting there and jamming for hours with fiddle player Benny Martin. And I was being published by Acuff-Rose, the same folks who published some of my heroes: Hank Williams, Roy Orbison and Mickey Newberry.”
He mentioned, too, the feeling of camaraderie, the air of creativity, of someone sharing a “song gig” in progress, of the fellowship and excitement.
The year 1975 was likewise successful. He was associated with Tom Jennings, brother to the famous Waylon Jennings. They toured in the states and Canada and made their Great Britain debut. Byers says that “It’s Only a Paper World” was received well in Great Britain and had much air play there as well as in the United States. It was while touring Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland that Byers became interested in his family roots and genealogy, seeking out places where his ancestors originated.
By 1980 disco music had become the popular mode. Don Byers returned home, giving time and attention to other interests and especially to family. Although music has always been either a part-time or full-time pursuit, vocationally, Don went to college and studied social work, becoming a social worker for several years. He attributes much of his success to friends Mickey Newbury, songwriter, and Herb White (Georgia Public Broadcasting), both of whom encouraged him in his career. Through their interest, he continued to write songs and music and make recordings. In the 1990’s, he enjoyed sharing the stage with Georgia musicians Larry Jon Wilson and Gove Scrivenor, both with exceptional acoustical talents.
When he came to retirement years, he returned with joy to the mountains. He has written Byers and Mauney family histories, served on the Board of the Union County Historical Society, and joined in musical entertainments at the Old Court House and on the lawn of the Mock House Annex. I asked him if he had ever written a song on the theme of our beloved mountains. He has done some on the theme of going home. Among them is the beloved “Blue Ridge Mountain Sunday Morning.”
He and his wife Nami enjoy their home on High View Drive, Blairsville. Their one son, Nick and his wife Jo Helen have two children. Branson, 15, and Olivia, almost 11. Don’s grandchildren attend Woodward Academy in Atlanta. Don expresses justifiable grandfatherly pride in their achievements, both of whom show musical promise. Branson is studying piano and Olivia is studying both piano and violin. Both grandchildren are budding artists. One of Branson’s creations was displayed in the High Museum of Art this year and Olivia, as well, shows great promise in artistic creations. This talent, Don notes, comes from their great grandmother, Japanese artist Mari Ishii.
Our heartiest congratulations are extended to Don Byers upon his reception into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame.
c2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 25, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.