Bashful Brother Owsald produced the best known version of “Mountain Dew” and played a resonator like a master. He was born in the hills of Tennessee’s Appalachia and his mama named him Beecher. Before he became famous at the Opry as one of Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, he spent time in parts north on the Buick assembly line in Flint, Michigan.
Flint sits just below the thumb of Michigan, almost due north of Ann Arbor. William Durant founded General Motors there in 1908 and did quite well for himself until the Depression relegated him to a supervisory role at the bowling alley.
Beecher lost his job too and didn’t know what to do about it.* He sat in the dark corner of his room in the boarding house and picked at the banjo until his fingers bled. Troubles lead a man to wander. He painted another man’s shed in exchange for backbacon and he fried it at the boarding house and wrapped it in paper and packed it and made his way up the Flint River towards the Shiawassee and up to the wetlands of Saginaw Bay where the French missionaries once tried to convert the Ojibwa.
Beecher waded in up to his knees and he’d stolen a split cane rod and some Peck’s feather minnows and he flailed until he got one airborne. He stripped it back like he’d seen others do and a northern pike darted out from the weeds and slashed it and he decided to give up music for a time.
He wandered north and west taking odd jobs for room and board until he found himself far away from the mountains of Tennessee. In the back woods in the late fall he came across a man with a mustache casting flies in a stream and Beecher did not know the etiquette and walked in next to him. The man threw down his rod and marched over to Beecher and punched him in the mouth.
Beecher felt the blood on his lips and the man smiled and punched him in the mouth again. Beecher felt his upper right lateral incisor loosen and he swung back, emboldened by a full reserve of itinerant desperation. The man’s nose burst open with blood that clung to his mustache and he stepped back and stumbled. Beecher pushed him into the water and kicked him in the ribs. He screamed at Beecher from his knees on the gravel.
“A man can be destroyed but not defeated!”
Beecher rooted through the man’s creel and found some fly patterns he had not yet seen and walked far downstream until the man was out of site. His knuckles by this point had started to swell but he managed to tie on one of the new patterns and cast it out and mended his line. He repeated this over and over and over again and his thoughts drifted back to Tennessee and his father’s fiddle playing and the five-string banjo he sold and suddenly the line came tight and a rainbow trout the length, girth and vibrancy of a birch log afire jumped clear of the surface. The line shot from his hand and tightened to the reel, which he did not expect, and the fish ran downstream and held fast in the current. It would not budge.
He fought it until the sun started fading in the trees to the west and he pulled it out of the water and it writhed on the bank with its gill plates flapping until he was able to hold it down and snap its neck.
He had to hurry back so he could exchange half of it for dinner for another night’s stay and on the trail he saw the man with a mustache slumped against a tree.
He was breathing heavily and had blood caked in his nostrils and mustache. Beecher ran fast down the path away from the stream and down the road until his lungs hurt.
The next day he caught a ride downstate and when he got back to Flint he met a Hawaiian and traded him the split cane and the man from the stream’s pocket watch for a resonator.
He learned it pretty good before he came back to Tennessee.
Later, in recollect of that rainbow, he wrote this song.
*(Fabricated from this point and beyond.)