“My Pocketknife”

It took a couple of years longer than in other towns, but The Great Depression finally hit Oil City, Louisiana in 1932.  The price of oil plummeted and work ground to a stop.  They capped the wells and hauled the rigs away, to wait for better times.  In 1934, out of all other options, Lee Allen McLemore and his thirteen year old son Charlie hit the road looking for work, and like many others head west to California.

My Pocketknife
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Charlie and his father crawl up the embankment
Hidden by the bend they crouch and wait
The train’ll have to slow down maybe just enough
With any luck they’ll grab that freight

Charlie and his father left Oil City at dawn
Somethin’ called The Depression had arrived
Work was for the takin’ out in California
Pickin’ cotton under sunny skies

Long as I have my pocketknife
I’ll be alright, be alright
I can make it through the coldest night
Long as I have my pocketknife

Charlie and his father join a migrant army
Ride the rails with tramps an’ hoboes
Tent camps were jungles, danger everywhere
Do your best to hang on to your coat

Charlie and his father dodge a railroad bull
Hidin’ in the tender ’til he’s gone
A man was crumpled in the corner, frozen overnight
It’s a damp and cold L.A. dawn

Long as I have my pocketknife …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Lee Allen McLemore (1903-1965)

Lee Allen McLemore was the son of a oil strike wild-catter and the father of a multi-national corporation executive. His life bridged the wildest years of the oil boom, it’s crash during the Depression and then the economic surge after the Second World War.

His father was Jacob Mac McLemore and his son was Charlie McLemore.

Lee Allen might be seen as having been over-shadowed by both of these other men but he was a capable and resilient individual who made it possible for both his father and his son to realize their dreams.

His life was cut short by a oil rig accident, he died at the age of 62 when a over-pressurized well exploded.

“Oil City”

Charlie McLemore, Jake’s father, talks about growing up in his hometown of Oil City, Louisiana. During the first decades of the 20th century oil was discovered in Texas and Louisiana and until the Depression forced the speculation to pause, fortunes were made and lost. Oil City and the McLemore family were a small part of that history.

Oil City
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Oil City is my home
Ain’ pretty but I belong
Grey and gritty, right or wrong
Oil City is my home

Aught-five oil came from the ground
Oil City was a wildcat town
Wooden sidewalks and hitching posts
Boom towns ain’ got no ghosts

Aught-six grandpa McLemore
Had a little money but wanted more
Oil City was where grandpa came
Gamblin’ on the big oil game

Oil City is my home …

Few years pass and the fever died
Were other towns, other strikes
1917 it almost burned down
The whores all left town

Dad went to work at J.M Guffey
We stayed in Oil City
Grandpa went broke in the Depression
Kept chasin’ oil, died in Odessa

Oil City is my home …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Charles Taylor “Charlie” McLemore (1921-2001)

Jake McLemore’s father was Charles Taylor “Charlie” McLemore.

Charlie grew up during the depression, traveling with his father, Lee Allen, on trains, with other hobos, with the putative goal of finding work. When the crash hit the oil industry, it took longer than for most other industries, but eventually the bottom fell out of the oil business in 1932. The wells were capped and the rigs hauled away, leaving the men who had depended upon the work stranded in small oil patch towns with no other opportunities for work. Many of them joined the large numbers of itinerant men riding the rails. Some looked for work but many had given up and made do as best they could.

But when we think of hobos riding in boxcars we don’t usually think of children doing the same thing. But when families had no money, little food and nothing on the horizon, they simply sent their children away to fend for themselves, as best they could.

“At the height of the Depression, as many as a million teenagers traveled the rails looking for work and community, moving in vagabond packs and living in hobo jungles, finding both charity and brutality in the broken-back cities of America. They crowded the cars and hid down in the tenders where the coal and water were stored; they squeezed between cars and clung atop their bucking roofs. In 1932, about 75 percent of the nearly six hundred thousand transients on the Southern Pacific line through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona were under the age of twenty-five.”

“Fathers, and sometimes sons, stayed in the network of “jungles” along the route, tucked amid the timber and hidden from view. Each camp had its own division of labor—one person went into town to find a potato for soup while another brought salt or an extra spoon. Pots and pans hung from tree branches; crude shelters were made from cardboard or tin scrap and sometimes built up in the trees. Pocketknives were like gold in the jungles. Blades were “hired out” in exchange for soap or a bowl of stew. In a pinch, a knife could be traded for a pair of shoes or sold for cash. Men cooked possums and jackrabbits caught in snares along the brush lines and traded their hides for food.” (Mealer, Bryan. The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream. 2018.)

This was the kind of life Charlie McLemore lived during his childhood.

Charlie and his father worked picking cotton in California for a few weeks and also fruit when they could. They managed to work just enough to feed themselves, as well as, put a little aside. Eventually they got back to Oil City just as things were starting to come back.

By the time World War II started, and a need for oil exploded, Charlie was in his late teens. His father got work immediately at a refinery and from then on, the Lee McLemore family did okay.

Charlie went into the oil business as well, but oil was not the only resource product that supported the Oil City economy. Natural gas was even more abundant and Charlie got a job at United Gas Corporation, headquartered in Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved his family there in 1960 a year after Jake was born.

Charlie worked at United Gas and survived the hostile takeover by Pennzoil in 1968, and became part of the management of Pennzoil United, Inc. He did pretty well, well enough to send his son Jake to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Retiring at the age of 70 in 1991, Charlie lived long enough to see Jake get married and have children.  Charles Taylor McLemore died in 2001 at the age of 80 from a heart attack a few months before 9/11, and several years before his grandson Lee’s death in 2004 in Iraq.

Despite surviving the Great Depression by riding the rails with his father, he was among the generation that experienced the economic boom after WWII.  Charlie McLemore saw nothing in his lifetime that undermined his faith in the American Dream.  A dream he lived out to the fullest.

Jake McLemore (1959- )

An American historian in the 19th century described the frontier vanguard in the following words:

“Thus the backwoodsmen lived on the clearings they had hewed out of the everlasting forest; a grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion, the love of freedom rooted in their hearts’ core. Their lives were harsh and narrow; they gained their bread by their blood and sweat, in the unending struggle with the wild ruggedness of nature. They suffered terrible injuries at the hands of the red men, and on their foes they waged a terrible warfare in return. They were relentless, revengeful, suspicious, knowing neither ruth nor pity; they were also upright, resolute, and fearless, loyal to their friends, and devoted to their country. In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers.

The Anglo-American 18th-century frontier, like that of the Spanish, was one of war. The word “Texan” was not yet part of the English language. But in the bloody hills of Kentucky and on the middle border of Tennessee the type of man was already made. ”

These were the McLemores who left Tennessee for Texas.

Owen McLemore was born in 1791 in Tennessee and married Annabel March in 1816.  Together they worked a sustenance farm in Tennessee and began to build a family outside of Nashville, seeing their first son Jacob McLemore come into the world on  Christmas Day 1818.  Annabel gave birth to six other sons before dying in 1838 at which time, Owen took his seven sons to West Texas (see song, “Blinkin’ Back a Tear“).

Jacob “Christmas” McLemore, as he was known his entire life, was Jake McLemore’s great-great-great-grandfather. There was another Jacob McLemore, “Christmas” McLemore’s grandson, Jacob Mac McLemore (1879-1977), who first got oil fever when he was 15 running off to the 1894 oil strike in Corsicana. Next was Oil City in 1906, where made a killing, lost it, made and lost other fortunes before ultimately dying at the ripe old age of 98 without a cent to his name, but rich in memories which was all he handed down to his great-grandson and namesake, Jake McLemore.

Jake McLemore’s father, Charlie McLemore, was small businessman at the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Company of Oil City, Louisiana where Jake was born in 1959 and where he spent his early life.  Charlie moved the family to Shreveport in 1968 after he got a job at United Gas Corporation.  Shreveport would be Jake’s home until he graduated high school, and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jake decided to stay in Nashville after graduating from Vandy with a degree in Business Adminstration.  After investing in several businesses, he came to own a bar, which he had won in a poker game.   He promptly changed the name and settled down as proprietor of McLemore’s Bar in 1985 (see song, “McLemore’s“).

By that time Jake had already married and had a son, Lee, in 1983 (Jake’s wife Amelia died in childbirth) who would go on to join the army and fight in Iraq.  On March 31, 2004, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a large IED on a road a few miles outside of Fallujah, one of the soldiers who died that day was Lee McLemore. But before he had gone to Iraq, Lee had a son himself in July 2003 (a child Jake knew nothing about) with Ellen Brewer whom he secretly married shortly before being shipped out in December 2003.

Jake kept the bar going for several years after Lee died but ended up selling it in 2007 and bought some land outside of Shreveport, Louisiana not far from Oil City.  He had fond memories of fishing on Caddo Lake with his father and settled into that kind of life again.

It didn’t take long for Jake to become bored with retirement, and he bought a diner in Shreveport where Pearl Robison happened to enter one day in January 2010 (see song, “Pearl + Jake“). For five years Jake and Pearl had a turbulent romantic relationship,  before Pearl took to the road again, heading west on U.S. 80, leaving Jake heart broken at 56  (see song, “The River and Jake“).

Unbeknownst to him Pearl was pregnant when she left, and gave birth to a daughter, Sadie Jones Robison.  Pearl had no intention of letting Jake know about this child, and it remains to be seen if Sadie will ever find her father.

Jake hired someone to run the diner and went back to a life of fishing and shooting the breeze with his friend Mike Broussard and other men from the area. Then one day in 2016 his grandson, Charles, walked into his life.

Jake is currently raising Charles outside Shreveport, Louisiana, to be a sturdy young man in the long line of McLemore men.

“McLemore’s”

McLemore’s
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Walked in there first time in aught-four
Took a stool by the pinball machine
Come to know the owner Jake McLemore
Dropping by each day became routine

He looked to be about my dad’s age
If my dad ain’t died in ninety-three
Jake was always adopting strays
Like a three-legged dog and me

Time seemed to pass a little slower
Behind soft country music and bumper pool
The world looked a whole lot better
From where I sat on that bar stool

Pickled eggs and pigs feet in a jar
Antique cash register, black dial phone
Scratches ‘n’ nicks in a hickory bar
Left by those who are never really gone

He pointed to a snapshot of some soldiers
Leaning on a tank in Iraq
“They call my son a hero,” Jake told me
“Would’ve preferred if he’d just made it back”

Time seemed to pass a little slower …

Jake sold out last year with a big payday
Bought 26 acres outside Shreveport
I don’t drink much anymore and anyway
Can’t find a bar like McLemore’s
No, there ain’t no place like McLemore’s

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“Pearl + Jake”

Pearl + Jake
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Snowed all day in Macon
When Pearl left for the last time
Alabama Mi’sippy Louisiana
Georgia felt far enough behind
Creosote cottonseed Shreveport
Hit her like a cinder block
Lights of an all-night diner
Pearl coasted to a stop

Jake behind the counter
White apron, little paper hat
Slid some coffee before her
Quiet as an alley cat
Pearl pulled a pint from somewhere
Tipped it over her cup
Jake lit a cigarette
The sun came up

Loving’ her is what he meant to do
Even if it broke his heart in two
He played life like a game of horseshoes
Loving’ her is what he meant to do

Jake bought this diner
After selling McLemore’s
Pearl was stranded in Macon
Managing a dollar store
They met on Jewella Avenue
Both lookin’ for a new start
Jake gave her some food
And his hidden heart

Loving’ her is what he meant to do …

Jake didn’t want to come home
Stinkin’ of cigarettes, beer and perfume
Five years flash by
As he walks from room to empty room
Pearl was running away
That first day he met her
She’d been leavin’ ever since
Jake fin’ly found a way to let her

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

“The River and Jake”

The River and Jake
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Long as I can remember
When Jake was sad he would go
On down to The River
With some bait and a pole

It’s the place he wants to be
When he needs to be alone
Jake’s gone down to The River
Every day since Pearl’s been gone

You can ask him where they’re biting
Or what he used for bait
Just don’t ask him anything about her
That’s between The River and Jake

Soon his mind will grow empty
With each cast he’ll forget
All the worries he brought with him
They’ll all fade with the sunset

You can ask him where they’re biting …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Owen McLemore (1791-1867)

Owen McLemore was born in Tennessee, but his family originally came from Ulster Ireland, Scots-Irish, landing in North Carolina in the mid-18th century. Owen’s grandfather, Allen McLemore came to North Carolina as a young boy in 1854, he stayed there acquiring some land not far from his father’s farm and also lived as a sustenance farmer. His son, Jason was the McLemore who left North Carolina , crossing the Appalachian mountains and making his way to middle Tennessee by 1788.

Owen McLemore was born in 1791, the second child to Jason and wife Lucy; a girl had been born in 1789, but only lived a few months. Owen grew up on his father farm and learned everything he needed to become a farmer himself before marrying Annabel March in 1816. Together they worked a sustenance farm in Tennessee and began to build a family outside of Nashville, seeing their first son Jacob McLemore come into the world on Christmas Day 1818.

Annabel gave birth to six other sons before dying in 1838 at which time the family migrated to West Texas where Owen died at the age of 76, living to see all of his sons make their way in the harsh world of West Texas.

Sam Summers McLemore (1852-1878)

Sam Summers McLemore (1852-1878) lived a violent and short life as an outlaw and gunfighter in Texas.  His father fought and died in the Civil War, leaving Sam at age 12 without much direction.  He occupied his time by practicing drawing and shooting the pistol that he inherited from his father.

At age 18 he was part of a cattle drive, and when some of the wranglers went into town, he was called out for cheating at cards.  He wasn’t cheating but had to defend his honor and killed his first man.  From then on, he found himself having to kill more men who challenged him.

Being a gunfighter was never clearly articulated in his mind, but his life took on a momentum of its own, with him being thrust in the position of defending himself from those who wished to make their own reputations.  For the better part of a decade he lived this kind of life, before taking up with a young prostitute, Sally McCune, rooming with her in the saloon/brothel in West Texas where she worked.

His last fight took place in the dusty street outside this saloon, when he was outgunned by a younger gunslinger and died on that street, age 26.  He did not know it at the time but Sally was carrying his child, Jacob Mac McLemore.

Sally would joke that since her father, a hard shell Baptist minister, was named Horace it was only natural that she took to whorin’.  But once she had the boy, she swore that she’d get out of that life and raise him up right.  And this she did, eventually owning and operating a boarding house in Fort Worth.  This is where Jacob grew up, until he turned 15 and took off for Corsicana when he heard about the oil strike there in 1894.