At a recent gathering of Country legends and such in Nashville, I found myself sitting in a semicircle of old friends, like the Gatlin Brothers, Exile, Eddy Raven, the Bellamy Brothers, and that perennial favorite band, "Many Others."
Old stories and memories were in abundance, and laughter literally filled the backstage dressings rooms of the Wildhorse Saloon. We had gathered there for a Vanderbilt Children's Hospital benefit during CMA FEST. Most of us had toured together through the years, and we knew each other very well.
Toward the end of the evening, J.P. Pennington of Exile looked at me and said, "Man, look around, will ya. Why do you suppose we are all still singing?"
My answer. "Because we aren't dead!"
But in fact, right after I said that Mickey Gilley went on, and it took several guys to help him get to the stage. Mickey is now 79 years old and a bit frail. However, as soon as the band started to play, he NAILED The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time. He received a standing ovation for his effort. Mickey had almost died a few years ago, yet there he was... in full voice, rocking the house.
In my latest book, On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys, I wrote a lot on the subject of retirement, and my overall conclusion is that we are singing songs for a living, so why in the world would we EVER want to stop doing that?
I often say in interviews, and in the book, that only bad health would stop The Oak Ridge Boys, and I believe this to be true. 'Joe won't be on the tour bus tonight because he is dead!' Yep... that and ONLY that would do it, and I have many examples upon which to lean.
Who has ever retired from singing songs for a living? Trust me, it is a short list, and Tony Bennett and the Rolling Stones are NOT on it! Let's see... Phil Collins, Bill Withers, Grace Slick? The Statler Brothers? Hmmmm... That is all I can come up with at the moment.
Now, many have retired but came back. The woods are full of those acts to be sure. The name GARTH comes to mind, as does ALABAMA and even Barbra Streisand, and perhaps there are those who SHOULD retire. But, overall, most men and woman of music sing until they are dead, and that is a fact! Even King George Strait who rode off into the sunset just a year ago is about to release a new album and has announced concert dates in 2016... THAT didn't take long!
The bottom line just may be that it is too hard to pull your hand out of the cookie jar. How blessed we are to live out our dreams and to sing songs or play music and make a good living at it. Who wants to stop doing that? Almost NOBODY does!
And this attitude is not confined to music folks either. I think if people love what they do then they want to keep doing it. A gold watch and a ride into the sunset sometimes proves to be just that. A person has to have something to do, in my humble opinion. How many times do you hear of a life shortened after retirement? 'Old Sam just didn't have anything to do anymore and died of boredom...'
But I digress here!
God has richly blessed me with a life of songs and friendship and love, and only Jesus controls when it all shall end. That is true of all of us folks, because the gift of life is so very precious so make the best of it... We are NOT dead YET!