Opelika, Alabama—this is an old home. The kind of house with frilly curtains, decorative plates, and linoleum floors.
Eighty-seven-year-old Billie Joe Porter sits in a recliner. He’s wearing suspenders, and jeans. His hair is powdered-sugar.
He speaks in the old rural tongue—you’d be hard pressed to understand him if you weren’t paying attention. He ends sentences with, “yessir.”
I wish folks still talked like that.
“Was born in Elmore County, yessir,” says Billie Joe. “My brother showed me how to play guitar when I’s juss a little cuss.”
When Billie Joe learned to play, he was recovering from an accident. His daddy had been cutting a pine tree. It fell on young Billie Joe, crushed his shoulder, and cracked his head like an egg shell.
His brother taught him four chords. Billie Joe took to the instrument like a fly to a brown apple.
“Could tear up a guitar,” he says. “Yessir.”
The truth is, Billie Joe was one of the faceless blue-collar Alabamians. Tall, lanky, with hands
like hams, and a work ethic that didn’t quit.
He married at eighteen. He worked in a cotton mill. He worked for the city. He worked hard hours.
After work, he would tear up guitars, fiddles, upright basses, and lap steels in joints across the South.
He might look like your average elderly man, but he is more than that. He is American music during its heyday.
He is field parties, square dances, livestock auctions, birthdays, honky tonks, beer joints, dance halls, county fairs. He is old-time radio.
“I even played with Hank Williams,” Bille Joe says. “At the old Montgomery Jamboree, yessir.”
During the jamboree, Hank told Billie Joe’s band to start calling out songs. So Billie Joe asked him to…