Mitch Greenhill and I released this song on our 1986 cassette album, Back Where We’ve Never Been (Bennet House cassette BHR 107, now out of print), with both of us singing, Mitch playing guitar, and me on the dobro in a live recording. “Slave to a Six-String” uses a traditional song, “The Cowboy’s Lament,” as its point of departure. The “friend of my dad” mentioned in the first verse was Fred Bracher, who married my widowed mother just a few years after the song was written. Merle Watson suggested the idea that begins the final verse (and he died in a tractor accident shortly thereafter).


The most perfect song that I ever heard
      Was made by a friend of my dad’s
He played an old song called “The Cowboy’s Lament”
      And he sang it so tender and sad
I got my first guitar when I was thirteen
      And I never let go on my way
Back then I’d have given the rest of my life
      To be standing where I am today

O music, see what you’ve made me
      A slave to a six-string guitar
Spending my days in a half-conscious haze
      From motel to airport to bar
Working the road in a traveling band
      Night-herding mavericks and strays
You gave me a bandstand instead of a home
      Made me crazy if I couldn’t play
Crazy if I couldn’t play

The pleasures of life on the road in a band
      Are real and they’re rich and they’re strong
When a good crowd applauds you’re a three-minute god
      As you pour out your life in a song
You get paid to play — which you’d do anyway
      You’re a hard-living son of a gun
Hang out with the heavies and party ‘til dawn
      And then pack up and leave on the run


When I wake in the night in some Holiday Inn
      I know just where everything’s found
But back where I come from if I’m up before dawn
      I will stumble and fumble around
On any strange bandstand I know where I am
      And I don’t have to ask how or why
But I’ve got to keep moving, got to keep proving
      That nobody’s passing me by


    By Mayne Smith and Mitch Greenhill, 1986
© Hillgreen Music <>