There have been three constants in my life for almost as long as I can remember: books, baseball and country music. That’s why when I stumbled onto Laura Watt’s Carry Me Back, I knew that I was holding a book that was meant for me. The only thing that could have made the book more perfect is if her main character, Webb Pritchard, had been an ex-baseball player rather than a recently released from prison construction worker. But, because I’m a sucker when it comes to well-crafted time travel stories, the icing on the cake was that the entire novel revolves around the fact that Webb Pritchard is able to travel back in time from 1994 to 1951.
Laura Watt knows country music. She understands that what passes for country music on FM stations today is little more than watered down ‘70s rock music produced by singers, bands, and record labels who wouldn’t know a real country song if it bit them on the…uh, the ankle. Most country music fans, if given the chance to climb into a time machine and pick a destination, would opt to attend a Hank Williams concert sometime in the year 1951. With Carry Me Back, Watt offers us the next-best thing.
When the book begins, 40-year-old Webb Pritchard has just been released from prison, having served four years for shooting in the knee a low-life petty thief he caught in the act of stealing his construction tools. Pritchard fancies himself to be a better-than-average banjo picker and the first thing he does upon his release is to buy a beautiful old banjo for himself. That’s when the fun begins, because the banjo he names Little Darlin’ has a way of transporting him back to 1951, and into the company of Hank Williams, when he least expects it to happen. 1951 was not a good year for Hank Williams who had been fired from the Grand Ole Opry and who was looking for a guitar player to join his band on the road with “Doc Mullican’s Traveling Hayride & Medicine Show.” So for several weeks, Webb Pritchard finds himself uncontrollably jumping between 1951, and a job as one of Hank’s sidemen, and 1994 and his life as a struggling banjo picker trying to break into the bluegrass festival circuit.
What makes the novel such great fun is the way that Watt mixes real country artists, such as Earl Scruggs, in with her fictional characters to paint a picture of what it was like to be on the road in the early 1950s. From the way that she describes Nashville’s old Ryman Auditorium and what it was like backstage at a typical Saturday night Opry, it is obvious that Laura Watt has a deep love and respect for country music and the singers and players who were there at the beginning. Clearly, she misses the day when it was about the music and the songs and not about how sexy the girl singers are or how the boy singers fill out their jeans. She’s not the only one who misses those days and, if you’re one of those people yourself, this book will put a smile on your face and make you wish that you owned your own “Little Darlin’.”
I almost forgot to mention that I found this book on the shelves of a used book store and that the mint harback copy of the book cost me all of one buck. I love it when that happens.
I can’t resist slipping in a shameless plug right here (sorry about that, I’m weak) for the internet radio station that I co-founded with a couple of good friends almost four years ago, RAM Radio. If you’re a fan of real country music, I invite you to join us because that’s what we play around the clock – real country songs recorded between the early 1900s and yesterday. You can tune us in directly through the iTunes software or Ram Radio will take you to our Live365 site.
Rated at: 3.5