One of the pleasures of touring across country was country radio. This was back in the days before national networks had taken over, and you still had local stations playing mixes of current hits and oldies, varying from region to region. The Boston area station was pretty lame, so it was always a relief to get out west, and in 1986 there was a definite shift toward a more rootsy sound — I particularly remember Merle Haggard’s “I Had a Beautiful Time” and Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs, and Hillbilly Music,” both playing pretty regularly as Hazel and I drove through eastern Montana and on across North Dakota. We were somewhere in the middle of the badlands when this came on the radio.
Neither of us had heard it before, and it flew by, and we instantly fell in love with it… but that was long before the internet and we didn’t know the artists’ names and weren’t even sure what the title was. It was clearly an obscure and minor oldie, so we marked it down as one of those once-in-a-lifetime pleasures and rolled on into Minnesota.
Maybe six months later, my friend Jeff McLaughlin asked if I would give him a hand organizing his records — he was an arts writer for the Boston Globe, the man who got me into writing, and he had a lot of LPs, mostly stacked randomly on the floor, and he could never find anything when he wanted to hear it. I had free time and was interested in looking through the records anyway, so I punched a hole in the wall and moved a light switch out of the way to give him more space for shelves, and began pulling albums off the old shelves and the floor, and piling them in categories for reshelving — and halfway through I hit Blanchard & Morgan’s Birds of a Feather, with a sticker on it saying “Featuring Tennessee Bird Walk.” So I put it aside, and when Jeff got home I asked him where he’d got it… and he said, “I’ve never seen that record before in my life.”
So it was kismet. I took the record home and learned the song, and the next year I gave up on the US touring circuit and headed back to Europe for another couple of years of hitchhiking, which meant I had a lot of time by the roadside to do picking exercises, and somehow this ended up being my exercise tune for fingerpicking flatpick licks. Then, when I got back to the States, I started playing it at gigs and recorded it on a cassette, and as a hidden track on my CD, and the rest is history.