I received a letter a few days ago from the University Librarian at the University of Georgia.
The letter said, in part, “We now have one of your guitars on display in the administrative suite at the Main Library. It’s the Fender you played at Sanford Stadium in 1972.” That was when I entertained at halftime of the Georgia vs. Tennessee football game.
I read the letter and couldn’t help but grin. Not because it was funny, but because of something that happened years ago.
In the late 1950’s when I was a student at the University, I was in that very same Main Library one night studying. In the middle of whatever school project it was that I was working on, I got an idea for a song. Suddenly my song idea became much more important than my studies, and without even realizing what I was doing, I turned my pencil around and, with the eraser pointed downward, I began to tap out a rhythm on the desk where I was seated. Under my breath I was singing a melody and putting together some lyrics.
The next tap was a tap on my shoulder. “Sir,” the librarian said sternly, “you are disturbing the other students. Please stop tapping your pencil on the desk. If you don’t, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
I told her that I wasn’t even aware of the tapping and I promised to stop. She walked away, and I tried to go back to studying. But I couldn’t. This song idea was burning a hole in my brain, and before I knew it I was right back working on it again….tap, tap, tap. In a matter of minutes the librarian returned and politely told me I was no longer welcome in the library. I had to leave. I sheepishly gathered up my belongings and walked back to my room.
The song I was working on was called “Two Empty Arms,” and a few months after I got kicked out of the school library for writing it, it found its way to Nashville and onto a recording session by a then Texas disc jockey named Charlie Walker. And it ended up selling close to a million copies. Ray Price even sang harmony on it.
You say you’ve never heard of it? Well, I’m not surprised. It was not a hit, but it was on the flip side of the biggest hit Charlie Walker ever had, a song called “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.” And it was included in Charlie’s hit album that followed. Every time “Pick Me Up On Your Way Down” sold a copy so did “Two Empty Arms.” Harlan Howard made a lot of money for writing the hit side, but I made just as much money on record sales as he did.
And now, over a half-century later, my guitar is being displayed in a place of honor inside the very same library that I got kicked out of for writing a song. Is that what you call poetic justice?
Or maybe Revenge Of The Nerd?
I don’t know, but whatever you call it, I love it.