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May 10, 2013

Legends don’t live forever

DUNCAN — These days, country music is all about artists such as Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Jason Aldean. Up and coming artists clamor to open for them, to be like them.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the idols were Merle Haggard, George Jones, Loretta Lynn and the like. For years, they’ve been living legends of what country used to be before pop was blended into the genre. After the death of George Jones on April 26, fans of classic country have been hit hard with the realization that legends don’t live forever.

“I kind of kicked myself for not getting photos with everyone,” said Larry Booth, an award-winning bass player who now makes his home in Duncan with his wife Robin and their children.

Originally from Florida, Booth lived for a number of years in Los Angeles, Calif. and has played in the bands of Mel Tillis and Gene Watson. He won Best Bass Player from the Academy of Country Music Awards four times in the ’70s.

“I’ll see them win that today and I’m blessed to have won that many times,” Booth said.

Booth and his brother Tony played and sang with their parents in church growing up. His mother married a steel guitar player after his father died and the brothers’ interest in music grew.

After being in the house band for The Palomino Club in North Hollywood and for Disneyland, Booth can now boast having played with numerous big names. However, only two of them can he recall being somewhat star struck over.

“I was so used to it because I was around them all the time,” Booth said.

“I remember being in awe of Tex Ritter because when I was in the staff band at Disneyland, during rehearsal he told us stories about being in the old western movies and I felt like a little kid sitting there listening to him.”

During that performance, Ritter’s son, John Ritter of “Three’s Company” was in the audience. The second person Booth found himself in awe of and the only autograph he ever got was Roy Acuff because his grandmother had been such a big fan.

It was in 1973 that Booth joined Mel Tillis’ band and later joined up with Gene Watson, who he worked with for 12 years.

While in Watson’s band, he has two distinct memories of a couple of country music’s legends in their wilder days. Watson toured with Jones for a while and at one point were on a ship to Canada together. Members of the two bands went to the bar and after a time, Jones and his road manager showed up there as well.

“George was getting louder and louder and finally, he was screaming at his road manager and said ‘You’re fired,’” Booth recalled. “Then he looked over at his band and said ‘You’re fired too.’”

He also told Watson’s band they were fired and Jones’ road manager reminded him that they weren’t his band. Although Jones said he’d have a talk with Watson about that, nothing ever came of the event.

“So, I was fired by George Jones and I never even worked for him,” Booth said as he laughed. “He was a really nice guy though, he just liked to party.”

Once on a trip to Europe, Booth became one of Johnny Cash’s favorite people. It was during a time when June Carter was on Cash to quit smoking and Booth happened to have American cigarettes with him.

“He was another nice guy and for a few days, everyday he’d come outside to smoke with me,” said Booth.

Sometime in the mid-’90s, Booth said he got burned out on the music scene and became a truck driver. He still drives his truck all over the country, though he still writes music.

On his trips, Booth said he mostly listens to sports and talk radio, however, he has a MP3 player with various music on there. He’s been surprised to learn he like Christina Aguilera and Lady Gaga. As for today’s “country” music, he said they need to come up with a different name for it but doesn’t look down on it.

“I don’t resent change, I just like talent,” he said. “I’m a big Brad Paisley fan and I like Carrie Underwood.”

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