I am in the car with Bobby and Andy. Bobby is driving. We’re on our way to Blount County tonight. Three on a String has a gig, and I’m riding shotgun.
We’re crammed in a ‘95 Crown Vic, doing 75 mph on Highway 160 toward Hayden. The car is almost 30 years old, but it still rides like a cloud.
Bobby pats the dashboard.
“They just don’t make’em like this anymore,” he says.
“They sure don’t,” Andy agrees.
You’d like these guys. Bobby and Andy both have white hair, cheerful dispositions, and a lifelong proclivity toward music. They are my father’s age. I’ve always gravitated toward men who remind me of my late father.
Likewise, I’ve always gravitated toward musicians. Because, sadly, I am one.
The life of a musician is hard. The money sucks. The hours suck. And often the audiences are so inebriated you could blindfold them with strips of dental floss.
But if you’re born as a musicman, there is only one vice that will nourish your soul.
Bobby and Andy are band members of Three on a String, which was recently inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. These guys’ names are forever engraved alongside the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, Emmylou Harris, Nat Cole, Percy Sledge, and Lionel Richie.
The band has been together for 52 years. And they’re still going strong.
“I think we’ve been together since Nixon was in office,” says Bobby.
The band is in their 70s and 80s. And they have seen everything. Played everywhere. Done it all. They’ve been to every playhouse, operahouse, doghouse, henhouse, and outhouse in the U.S.
But fame has not changed them. They still drive their own beat-up vans. They still erect their own sound system. They still set up their own CD tables.
And when the gigs are finished, when the long nights are over, when the manager pays them, one of the band guys still counts out the crumpled cash, right on the stage, and divies it up among his bandmates.
I wonder if Lionel Richie counts cash on the stage?
I first saw Three on a String play when I was 17 years old. I was visiting Birmingham with my cousin. I had a fake ID in my pocket. The lady bartender looked at my ID and smirked. “If you’re 21,” she said, “I’m Eleanor Roosevelt.”
I presented my hand. “Pleased to meet you Mrs. Roosevelt.”
The Doctor Pepper was exquisite.
Three on a String did not just play music that evening. The band made the room laugh all night long. It was non-stop humor.
At age 17, my homelife was a shipwreck. I rarely laughed. But that night, I laughed until my kidneys hurt. I never forgot it.
Since then, I’ve become friends with these guys. Bobby and his wife have become like surrogate parents. Andy is teaching me how to become a true Episcopalian. (Episcopalian Rookie Hint: Beer.)
The Crown Vic pulls into the venue. The venue is a tiny joint located way out in the sticks of Blount County, perched atop Hog Mountain.
Bobby throws the car into Park.
“Here we are,” Bobby says.
“I gotta pee,” says Andy.
It’s been a long drive. We step out of the vehicle with stiff backs. Soon, Jerry and Brad, the remaining band members arrive. They are riding in a busted-up minivan that needs a new CV axle. You can hear this van approaching from two counties away.
I wonder if Lionel Richie needs a new CV axle.
“Our band van is broken down,” says Jerry (83), who founded this band back in 19-hundred-and-forever-ago. “Everything we have is breaking down. Even our bodies. But were still having fun doing this. Mostly.”
And now it’s time to set up the sound system. We all work until we’re sweaty from the central Alabamian humidity. We carry heavy wedge monitors and bass amps. Mic stands. Guitar stands. And every other stand imaginable.
The show begins. The music plays. I have a front row seat to the fun. Jerry tells jokes. Bobby plays banjo. The audience eats Brad with a fork and spoon. Andy sings a tune that could make hardened war criminals cry.
And I feel that same way I did when I was 17. I feel good. I feel glad. And I guess that’s the point.
I’m watching a good band play. A band that has lasted longer than most marriages. They have endured 10 presidential administrations. Several wars. And one pandemic. A band of guys who seem to really love each other.
Mid-show, someone in the audience leans over to me. The man is wearing overalls and a seed cap. He has been howling so hard tonight that his cheeks are moist with laughter.
“Man,” he says. “Aren’t these guys great?”
They sure are.
They just don’t make’em like this anymore.
stephenpe - May 15, 2023 9:53 am
My grandmother and her SIL used to hit every beer joint around Gainesville Fla on Friday nights. I worked in my dad’s at 18. Havent been in many since. But the last time the people were really nice and the band was great. My brother had a 91 Crown Vic. We called it the barge. Great cars…….great story, Sean. Thanks again
pattymack43 - May 15, 2023 6:25 pm
Carolyn Geck - May 15, 2023 9:27 pm
Discovered Three On A String in 1972 in Birmingham @ The Back Porch, (I think it was called) & fell in love with the group. After that, each trip from Brewton to Birmingham we made it a point to catch their act. Love those guys!! 🎼🎶💖💖💖
Debbie Thomas - May 15, 2023 10:21 pm
I love Three On A String, but did not realize they still perform! It has been years since I last saw them, but would love to see them again.
Frenchie Fortenberry - May 17, 2023 3:41 pm
Three on a String will be performing on this Saturday evening of the Shoals Storytelling Festival, May 20, in Florence, AL. Sean follows their performance. Tickets are available online. The festival actually begins Thursday evening and tickets can be purchased for individual days or the entire festival.