LITTLE ROCK Wood Newton left his Calhoun County home of Hampton and made a career out of writing songs in Nashville, Tenn., including “Bobbie Sue” for the Oak Ridge Boys, “Midnight Hauler” for Razzy Bailey, “What I Didn’t Do” and “I Can See Arkansas” for Steve Wariner and “Riding With Private Malone” for David Ball.
Newton has now come up with an idea fit for a museum - songs and stories with a Civil War setting, combined with photos taken during the war of battles and the soldiers who fought in them.
“I have a friend, Daniel Johnson, who is a professor at Columbia State Community College in Tennessee,” Newton says, “and he has a lot of experience in theater, so we came up with some dialogue and some songs. And it’s really all about the songs, and what they meant to the soldiers who were fighting the war on both sides. We call it a celebration of the music of the American Civil War.”
Newton and Johnson first staged their show Nov. 3 at Johnson’s college in Columbia, Tenn., and then took the show to Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tenn., in April. The Little Rock Old State House performance will be the show’s fourth production.
Newton portrays Pvt. Sam R. Watkins, a Confederate soldier, and Johnson takes on the role of Sgt. James Landon of the Union army. They recruited others: Odessa Settles, daughter of a member of The Fairfield Four; guitarist Jim Sales, who has played with Vern Gosdin and wrote the country parody, “She Thinks I Steal Cars”; and Alan O’Bryant, who once played banjo with Bill Monroe and later formed The Nashville Bluegrass Band. Laura Mc-Ghee, a Scottish fiddler, is the newest cast member.
Newton’s character, Pvt. Watkins, wrote a heralded memoir of the war, Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of theBig Show, after he was one of few survivors of his company at war’s end.
“I went to his grave the day I wrote a song about him, ‘Undivided,’” Newton says.
The other songs in the show are “Dixie’s Land,” “We Are Coming Father Abraham,” “Taps,” “Goober Peas,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Aura Lea,” “Cross Over the River,” “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Just Before theBattle, Mother,” “When Dey Listed Colored Soldiers,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Shiloh’s Hill,” “Home, Sweet Home,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “That Damned Ole Prison Camp” and “Amazing Grace.”
“I figure a lot of folks will be surprised to learn that ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ was a Civil War song,” Newton adds, “and the song ‘AuraLee’ has a melody that was later turned into Elvis Presley’s ‘Love Me Tender.’”
Newton describes the background of one of the songs, “Cross Over the River.”
“Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s final words were said to have been, ‘Let us cross over the river, and rest in the shade of the trees,’” he says.
Newton last made it home to Calhoun County for a local festival and he’s hoping to be back next spring for the next celebration.
Meanwhile, he’s celebrating having two songs in The Last Ride, a movie about Hank Williams that was filmed in Arkansas.
The Soldier’s Song
7 p.m. today, Old
State House, 300 W.
Markham St., Little
(501) 324-9685, old
Weekend, Pages 35 on 09/13/2012
Print Headline: Marching home for concert