Our first trip out was a bit exciting as I well remember. KEITHs wife, Lorrie was expecting, so as we finished the last gig of that weekend, (Saturday night in way-off Pennsylvania) a very nervous KEITH asked if I'd put the "pedal to the metal" and head for home. I did just that. State troopers in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee were alerted that night, as Lorrie went into labor, but never caught us, even though we were four hours late getting home for that blessed event. JESSE KEITH was born and KEITH was at the hospital holding his son. He never stopped thanking me for my efforts of that night.
We grew very close after that and as KEITHs career started to really move upward, I became more and more proud of the way he handled himself. He had a hard time realizing how big an artist and star he really was. He was forever grateful to all of us around him for sticking with him and helping him up the ladder of success. Many, many times at night while I was driving and the band was asleep, he would come up front and sit in the jump seat, smoke a cigarette or two and talk to me at length about the business, songs, his home and family in Sandy Hook, Ky., music, people, sports, politics, religion, and you name it.
He always had such a neat outlook on life and a very special compassion for people. He loved so many of us, all at the same time. I always looked forward to picking him up at his house because I knew I'd get that warm smile and "Howdy" greeting. As tired as he might be after a few days at home, mostly spent running here and there doing interviews, recording sessions, and more interviews, he always boarded his bus with a big smile.
Once in Oregon at the State Fair with The Judd's, as Keith was singing, Lorrie and I stood by the stage and listened to KEITH as he sang his newest release, "Dont Close Your Eyes". A living legend was being born that night as the crowd went wild. My proudest moments were walking him from the bus to the stage and watching him hit the spotlight to a houseful of screams and applause.
I can't tell you how nervous KEITH was as "Dont Close Your Eyes" worked its way up the charts. Even after having numerous top ten records, this was different. We were back in Nashville, on TNN's "NASHVILLE NOW" when "Dont Close Your Eyes" did the trick. That night on the bus, with tears in his eyes, KEITH hugged me and said, "We did it, Bubba, We did it". Not "I" but "We". He was proud of all of us and happy about his career. Not long after that, during the winter, we started building his second bus, a personal rig outfitted to his specs. It was a beauty and I moved from the band bus to the new one. At last, I felt on top of the world.
KEITH really enjoyed his privacy and was able to rekindle his songwriting. Early one morning as I was driving, KEITH got up with a coke in his hand, still in his pj's and housecoat. Sleepy headed and still awakening, he lit up a cigarette as I called back to him and asked him for the time. With a full coke in his watch hand, he turned his wrist to read the time and spilled the entire coke in his lap. WOW! What a rude awakening. We laughed about that so hard I almost fell out of the drivers seat. We were to laugh about that many times in the next couple of months.
We played in Freeport, Texas shortly after his second number one hit and just before the release of yet another number one song and one of my very favorites, "I'm No Stranger To The Rain". KEITH decided to fly to Nashville from Houston and give me a chance to play some golf in Dallas on Monday and Tuesday. I was to pick him up at the Dallas-Fortworth airport Wednesday afternoon. I can't tell you how I got myself and the bus back to Nashville after being told about KEITHs death. It was as though my world had ended. It was the hardest 650 miles I EVER drove.
I lost a great friend, but my beautiful memories of KEITH have and will always sustain me. He was a great artist, a legend in his time, but most of all, MY PAL. This was the man I knew.