Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tune Bones: Armed & Dangerous (Mom's fight with the devil)

Songwriting is a funny thing. Sometimes I'll write a song about a specific topic, and it turns out exactly the way I intended. Sometimes I'll intend for a song to be about one thing, but when it's finished it is about something entirely different, as if the conscious mind were just an avenue for the greater expression of the subconscious. Though I didn't realize it until after I recently released the song to the public, Armed & Dangerous turned out to be a song about something entirely different than what I expected.

(Listen to Armed & Dangerous by Joel T. Mosman & Oklahoma Uprising)

My Mom came from a rough breed of southerners who ended up in the wild and undeveloped brand new state of Oklahoma in the early 1900s. As a child she witnessed many scarring atrocities like an alcoholic father who abandoned her, poverty, hunger, and close relatives afflicted with alcoholism and other destructive addictions. From generation to generation, criminal tendencies, nefariousness, and injury was passed down as if it was a genetic condition. But these traits weren't genetic, they were demons.

Lilly and Dewey Merritt
Of course, her family wasn't all bad. Much of her pain and hunger was eased by her Grandparents Lilly and Dewey Merritt. Through her childhood instability they stepped in to provide her with a firm foundation to catch her balance. They fed her when she was dangerously underweight and helped nurse her back to health, they provided a safe place for her to retreat, and loving arms when Grandpa Dewey got home from work. My Mom loved Dewey so much she even regarded him as a ‘God-figure’ when she later wrestled her demons as an adult. But even the best of creatures have their flaws.

When I was a kid, I loved western movies and books with lots of drama and mystery, so when I heard a story about my Great Grandpa Dewey I was immediately intrigued. According to family lore, Dewey was involved in a poker game in the woods, and there was a dispute over a gambling debt. A scuffle broke out and when the dust cleared one man was dead with a blow to the head and another, Dewey, was charged with murder. There were many other details that were unclear; but nevertheless, I was fascinated by the real-life drama that was present in my family history. The more genuine emotions I would feel about what happened that night wouldn’t manifest until much later in my life, more specifically, a couple weeks ago when I publicly released the song I wrote inspired by Dewey. With some soul searching, I found out that Ed, the main character in the song, didn't represent my Grandpa Dewey. Instead that character represented my Mom. More on that later, first I want to talk about the writing and recording process of the song.
"...Dewey was charged with murder."
I must have written the song a hundred times before I thought I could do the story justice. I wanted it to be fast-paced and in a minor key to highlight the dramatic twists in the lyrics. When I nailed down the chord structure and rhythm I finished the lyrics. For the record, the song is entirely fictional. I took creative licence with the lyrics but the story was merely inspired by, not based on family lore, although there are some very personal themes that I will touch on later.

T. Hodge Lodge Studio
With the song written, marinated, and stage-trialed, I was ready to begin the recording process. This was one of the first songs we started recording as a band so a lot of the ideas were spawned from fresh chemistry. I went to the T. Hodge Lodge and started some ‘scratch tracks’. I did a simple acoustic guitar take and a vocal take and emailed them to Zach for Drums. He had a few ideas and when he got a part we liked he emailed the individual tracks back to T. Hodge to add to the project. Drums can be tedious because sometimes there can be as many as 9 or 10 separate tracks. Travis lives closer to Zach than to the T. Hodge Lodge so he went to his house to record his bass line. I really like the bass line in the song because there are a lot of chords but Travis makes the transitions flow naturally. It was Travis and Zach who came up with the idea to half time the rhythm on the verses and double time on the chorus. I really dig the feel of that.

When we had drums, bass, acoustic, and vocals down we brought in Bryon White and Scott Hunt to fill in the lead parts. Bryon played electric guitar and Scott played fiddle and mandolin. They put down about three solid takes on each instrument back to back and then afterwards I went in and picked out the best of the best of their takes, measure by measure and set the basic mixing to my general preference to give T. Hodge an idea of what I was going for. After the grueling editing process, T. Hodge took over to really make everything blend well and shine.

We had a pretty good time with this song at the Lodge. After editing and mixing the song, everyone at the Lodge was singing “Dangerous! Dangerous!” because it was stuck in their heads from listening to the song so many times. T. Hodge and some of our friends came up with some alternate lyrics, and one day we’ll probably do some parody tracks just for fun.

As Travis started working his magic on the song I went home and started getting curious about my Great Grandpa Dewey and his story again. I called my sister Rachel Mosman who works for the Oklahoma Historical Society and talked to her about the story. Her interest was rekindled as well, and we dove into our family genealogy to try to find some concrete answers. Since she works at the History Center she had a plethora of useful resources at her fingertips and she found a TON of information we had never seen before.

Rachel found several newspaper articles about the confrontation in the woods between Dewey and the mystery man. She called me up as soon as she printed them off and read them to me. We both had mixed feelings about the discovery. The headline read “Man Killed in Quarrel Over 25 cents.” The story was not only factual, but even more dramatic than we thought.

Before I relay the story, I want to make something clear. I don’t in any way condone the actions my Grandpa took that day. I don’t think violence is acceptable behavior, and I especially don’t intend to glorify or brag about it. I’m truly sorry that this ever happened, and that it affected so many people.

Dewey and his brother Roy worked for the CWA and they were helping to dig a lake in southern Oklahoma. It was late 1934 and they were in the woods near their camp with another relative, Ray, and two coworkers - one we'll call Billy. The five had been drinking and playing poker all afternoon. One of the men accused Billy of owing Roy 25 cents. When Billy refused to pay, he and Roy started a knife fight. Billy cut Roy on the arm, and blood poured profusely from the gash. Billy ran off with Ray, leaving Dewey to take Roy to the hospital. At this point the details got a little hazy, but we're still researching. Dewey and Roy approached Billy, who allegedly charged at them again with a knife. That’s when my Grandpa Dewey took a club and hit Billy in the head, knocking him to the ground. He then hit him several more times, killing him with the final blow. Dewey then took Roy to the hospital and both were arrested. When tried, Roy and Dewey were sent to McAlester State Prison.

"...a family mystery had been solved, but on the other hand, our Great Grandpa killed a guy."
After hearing the story, Rachel and I shared mixed emotions. On one hand, a family mystery had been solved, but on the other hand, our Great Grandpa killed a guy. It had become so real. What was once just family lore was now a factual event that affected real people. It made me question who my Grandpa was and why he did what he did.

I could speculate until the cows came home, but at the end of the day, it was a terrible thing that happened that day. Some terrible decisions were made while a bunch of guys were drunk in the woods. There is no way of justifying any of their actions, but judging the stories I have heard about Dewey, he was a good man that just made some really bad choices. He would do anything for his family, and his family adored him. With that being said, I’m sure Billy had some good sides to his character also. Certainly, no one deserves to die over drunkenness and gambling debts, and I’m truly sorry it ended up the way it did. There is no way of telling how it affected Billy’s family, but I can tell you a little bit about how this kind of thing affected my family.

Beverly Ann Coley (Mosman)
Dewey was most assuredly tough as nails. But, I have verified through at least three sources that his family loved him fiercely. He was a good influence on my Mom and she may have not even survived her childhood if it weren’t for him. But there were many other figures in my Mom’s life who had a negative impact on her. The violence and anger my Mom experienced as a child manifested itself when she became an adult and had kids of her own. She wrestled with these demons that had been passed down through generations for who knows how long. It was a cycle that we are all familiar with. A parent’s negligence breeds the same characteristics in the child, influencing the child to develop the same characteristics and perpetuate the cycle. But that was not the case with my Mom.

Before I turned five years old my Mom sought help to end the cycle. Through hospitalization, extensive therapy, soul searching, prayer, and divine intervention she exorcised the demons. It was very difficult for her but she put a stop to a cycle that none of her ancestors could. She fought the devil and won. Because of her courage, faith, commitment, the loving support of my Dad, she was able to give my three sisters and I a life that was never offered to her. And because of her we can keep up that tradition, a new positive tradition, with our own family and children.
"...she was able to give my three sisters and I a life that was never offered to her."
When I first wrote the song, it was intended to be a fictional tale of two brothers standing up to the evil antics of a bully; but the underlying plot is about my my Mom and her fight with the demons that ravaged her family. She armed herself to battle her past, and courageously looked that demon in the eyes. It’s about how she put an end to that evil and passed down that legacy to us, her children. My Mom was Armed and Dangerous; a spiritual force to be reckoned with.

To listen to Armed & Dangerous or for other music, videos, merchandise, show schedule, news and blogs, join the Oklahoma Uprising at!

Mom and I

Armed & Dangerous

Billy Bearden flew the pen late July of 1910
Stole a horse and headed north to San Antone
Slapped a brawler in a bar turned a shoulder took a cheap shot
He took an empty fifth straight to the dome
He was wilder than a bullet fired at random from the hip
He was tougher than the dude behind the gun
Running rampant from the law making money playing cards
Now he's in Oklahoma armed and dangerous

Dangerous! Dangerous! And after every one of us
Billy Bearden's horse is treading trails of flames
Raise a fuss! Raise a fuss! Tearing every county up
Here comes the devil he's armed and dangerous

In a Carter County boom town there among a few mesquite trees
There was a place they called the ‘House of Cards’
Merritt brothers Ed and Roy made a living drilling oil
But they had clubs for eyes and spades for souls
“Brother Ed come here quick Billy Bearden needs a fix
And he's steaming like the devil branding iron”
Ed Merritt didn't blink cocked his pistol took a drink
He's waiting for him armed and dangerous

Dangerous! Dangerous! And after every one of us
Tonight the House of Cards is gonna fall
Raise a fuss! Fight and cuss! The Merritt brothers had enough
They're standing tall, they're armed and dangerous

Well the dealer dealt the deck with a single bead of sweat
Three players at the table folded out
Just Billy now and Roy and brother Ed behind the door
And a table full of chips and playing cards

And it's seven cards in hand and there is nothing left to draw
Aces wild with pocket twos is all he's really got
Seems like the two are hiding something deep inside their sleeves
And the living at the table soon would go to 2 from 3

Most gamblers come a merry man but leave the table soon
But Billy came to cheat and lie and rob a man or two
He looked at Roy straight in the eyes and pulled his shooting iron
But a wall of lead left Billy dead from Eddie’s forty five

Eddie lived his life out in a Carter County home
And when he died his family got everything he owned
My mama got his pistol and she kept it like it was
She passed it down to me and now I'm armed and dangerous

Dangerous! Dangerous! His legacy’s with us
And I keep it cocked and loaded at my side
Toughest cuss in the dust just like my Grandpa was
Don't mess around I'm armed and dangerous
Don't mess around I'm armed and dangerous
Yea, don't mess around I'm armed and dangerous

Released May 26, 2017
Joel T. Mosman- Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Hannah Mosman- Vocals
Zach Wiederstein- Drums/Percussion
Travis Lyon- Bass
Bryon White- Guitar
Scott Hunt- Fiddle/Mandolin

Produced by: Travis Hodge, Joel T. Mosman, Zach Wiederstein

Recorded at T. Hodge Lodge Studio, Shawnee, Ok

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