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James R. Stout

Just Like Ringing a Bell

            In many ways it is hard to believe that it has been a decade since 2009. I moved into my new house in May of that year and I spent the summer doing things around the place. I can hardly believe how much different I am today from how I was just 10 years ago. I guess my 50’s were the years that age started to creep up on me. By the middle of that summer I was in the beginning stages of recording my CD, “Sojourn of Love”. It was a very hot summer that year and I spent more time in my studio because of the heat. Of course, I still worked a full-time job and I had to work around that job to get anything else done.

            I turned 54 in September of 2009 and I actually felt better then than I had for most of my 40’s. But that’s another story. I made a trip with my brother-in-law at the end of September to Tennessee to enjoy the “Great Smokey National Park” as well as places near to the area including a foray into Virginia and Kentucky. It was my plan to get started on the new CD in earnest upon our return home. I have discovered that plans can change, and boy did they change that October and November. We got back home and after a couple of days of catching up on things around the place (mowing the yard, repair the yard where some wild hogs had dug it up, washing clothes, cleaning the house, etc.) I was ready to begin the recording process. I had about 8 songs already written and chosen to record, and I figured that I would write another 2 or 3 during the process of recording the CD which I thought would only take about 2 months. But my plans got changed for me.

            One morning I woke up and something felt strange on the left side of my face. I thought that maybe I had slept wrong and pinched a nerve or something and that whatever it was would go away within a few minutes. I went through my usual routine of showering and getting ready for the day and then I went into the kitchen to nuke some sausage biscuits in the microwave. I don’t drink coffee (can’t stand the smell of coffee), but I do usually have either a soft drink (caffeine is our friend) or some kind of juice. I put ice in a glass, poured a cola into the glass, and then tried to drink it. But my nice clean shirt got more cola on it than I got in my mouth. The left side of my face was paralyzed, and the drink just dribbled down my chin. I went and looked in the mirror and in just the few minutes since taking a shower my face had gone slack on my left side. Was I having a stroke? I got real concerned really fast. I called my boss to tell him that I would be going to the doctor that morning and that was when I realized my speech was slurred. I called the doctor’s office and made an appointment for as soon as possible.

            Nothing else happened on my 36-mile drive to my doctor’s office. I felt like I was a freak though. The doctor gave me a good going over and then sent me to the hospital next door for a couple of tests. I went back to the doctor’s office to await the results. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was escorted back into an examining room and I had all kinds of things going through my head. The doctor came in and said that I had not had a stroke. I breathed a sigh of relief. What he told me was that I had something called “Bell’s Palsy”. Great. That sounded like I was being diagnosed with being a freak or something. He explained to me that they weren’t quite sure how it comes on in some people, but that generally it only lasts about 3-6 weeks. While there were some rare cases in which the paralysis became permanent, it usually goes away completely in two months. There was no medicine to take for it. I was told to simply adjust to the situation until it went away. Well, that’s easier said than done. I had to drink from a straw on the right side of my mouth. There was a noticeable slouching of the left side of my face. I could only chew on the right side. And, worst of all, I couldn’t sing. The loss of mobility in my face made it impossible to sing without sounding like a drunk sailor on leave in New Orleans.

            The CD recording was going to be done later than I had thought. In fact, I didn’t get started on it in earnest until the end of January, nearly 3 months later. But the delay turned out to be a good thing. I had not considered yet what the name of the CD would be. I just had those songs ready to record. This is where making lemonade out of lemons came into play. I ended up writing another 5 songs that became a major part of the CD. These included the title track. I doubt that I would have written those songs if I hadn’t had Bell’s Palsy when I did. What the delay did was allow me more time to focus in on what the CD would be about, a theme if you will, and to craft some songs that fit into that theme. A couple of the songs that I thought would be on the CD got set aside to make room for the new songs. What actually transpired was a new perspective and a sound for the CD came to life while I was taught patience.

            By February of 2010 I had four songs completed. It would take me another 5 months to get the remaining 8 songs recorded. Part of the long time to get it recorded was due to my full-time job and all the things that go into living. I started the mixing of the songs in July and by the first week of August the album was ready to be mastered. I took off a week in August and went to a mastering lab in Dallas where the technician and I mastered the CD. The CD artwork and photos were made by me, but the CD’s and the packaging were handled by a company that does that. By the first week of October the CD was released and I had a chance to reflect on the whole process. It had taken me a year to get the CD from my head to a finished product. A quarter of that time was “lost” to my little bout with Bell’s Palsy. But looking back on it I realized that the delay was a blessing. It allowed me to make a better CD than I most likely would have made otherwise.

            What I really learned through all that process was to keep moving forward through adversities and to allow those things to be used for good instead of looking at them as a bad thing. I never intended the CD to be a big hit. I didn’t have a record company backing me. I wasn’t going to quit my day job to go on the road to sell the CD. Those days were long gone. I was 55 years-old by the time the CD was released. It would have been stupid to quit my job then. Retirement wasn’t that far away. But what I did do was finish the product that I initially set out to do. And, to make a product as good as I could. I recorded that CD in my home studio, a very modest studio at that, and I played all the instruments and did all the vocals to save money. Is it possible that hired musicians might have done a better job? Perhaps, but maybe not. I had been recording and writing for 40 years by the time I did that CD. It was a culmination of those years. No, I didn’t get any awards. No, I didn’t make the charts. No, I didn’t gain fame and certainly no fortune from the CD. In fact, the few copies that sold via Amazon, iTunes, and sales via my website didn’t come close to paying for the CD’s being made. But I didn’t do it for money or fame. I did it to prove that I could and as a form of expressing myself and events of my life up until the CD was made. Sometimes you do something that just needs to be done. That was how it was with “Sojourn of Love”. I’ve recorded many songs since then, but with no plan for ever “releasing” them. I did what I set out to do. My new recordings are merely like the paintings that an artist keeps for himself. Friends and family may come over to his home and like what they see hanging on his walls and that’s about as far as the painter takes it. I am also leaving a legacy for my grandchildren to remember me by. Someday when I’m gone, they will sit down and listen to my music and know a little bit more about their Grandpa than they otherwise would have known. My advice to anyone is to do what you love to do. Leave something for your descendants to know you. They will love you that much more for it.

P.S. – Just in case you want to hear or download the CD, you can hear most of the songs on YouTube (type in James R. Stout or Sojourn of Love and it should take you to my channel) or via the website you are now reading this blog. Just click on music. You can still download the CD on Amazon and for a little while longer I think it’s available on iTunes. But iTunes is going away soon. If you want an actual copy of the CD like we used to buy at the stores, then you might be able to get one at Amazon. I have some copies, but I’m just not going to spend time and money mailing them out. Contact me if you really want one and I’ll see what I can do about getting one to you. Thanks!

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