A Giant of a Man

January 6, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen –

We are a day away from the National Championship game….

I wanted to share a story with you this Sunday….

It doesn’t have anything to do with College Football….

But it does have everything to do with life….

I hope you enjoy it….

A Giant of a Man

You may have never heard of Floyd T. “Lightning” Chance.

He was the stand-up base player on most of Hank Williams Sr. greatest hits.

Yes, I said Hank Williams Sr.

“Your Cheatin Heart”


“Take these chains from my Heart”

That is the “Lightning” Chance sound you hear in the background.

Everybody wanted “Lightning” Chance to play on their albums, and I do mean everybody, from the King of Country Music to the King of Rock and Roll.

Even to this day “Lightning” Chance is a legend in Nashville Tennessee, at the Grand Ole Opry and in the Country Music industry.

He is Country Music Royalty

His signature sound has been reproduced and copied but never successfully replicated.

He could play the Standup Base like nobody else ever could, he was simply magic.

But his music has nothing to do with this story.

I was a little boy living outside of Nashville with a foster family.

The man of the house, Big Jim as he liked to be called, would occasionally go to a local gun club to shoot a variety of rifles he had and he would bring me along, primarily to carry his assortment of gear and cooler.

I would patently struggle and drag his shooting boxes, chair and cooler to what ever firing bench he had reserved for the day and then find a seat on a nearby bench and wait for the activities to wrap-up and then repeat the dragging process back to his car.

He told me it would give me “character”; I was thinking something more like a “hernia”.

But on this chilly Saturday in early spring, after a brief rain shower we headed off to the gun range and I began the process of getting Big Jim’s gear and assorted comfort items to his firing bench through the mud.

As usual, I was expected to set patiently on the nearby bench, until Big Jim asked me to bring him a cold drink or something from one of his shooting boxes and then promptly return to my location.

I often thought over the years instead of a foster kid, they would have been better off getting a Labrador retriever. Maybe the dog wouldn’t have been bored out his mind like I was setting on that bench.

But on this morning I found something to attract my attention.

Setting on that bench I noticed a young guy shooting next to Big Jim, with a bolt action rifle. Each time he would shoot his rifle, he would extract a shell and the brass would fly backwards and land near a small mud puddle.

The hot brass would hiss and steam when it hit near the little waterhole.

Now that was interesting!

So I made my way from my seat on the bench to where the spent cartridges landed, knelled down and rolled them closer to the mud puddle, to make them hiss and steam even more.

It was glorious!

Once they cartridges had cooled off, I would shake them dry and place them behind me.

Not quite sure what I was doing, but it sure was fun.

I must have hissed and sizzled a dozen or so of those cartridges

That was until the young guy stopped shooting and saw me “playing with his brass”

Did that big guy ever come unglued!

He started screaming at me and accused me of stealing his brass and asked me in a booming voice if I had any idea how expensive those things were?

Well Big Jim, who fancied himself as a “tough guy”, came over and quickly cowered in the face of that big young guy like nobody’s business and he even started hollering at me too.

That was when Lightning Struck

A man came strolling over who was half the physical size of either the young guy or Big Jim, but his presence was much bigger than his stature.

He was a giant in the face of these two seemly larger men.

This man wanted to know what was going on and why two grown men were hollering at a little boy. He didn’t look pleased.

When the young guy accused me of stealing his brass and repeating his phrase of how “expensive” those things were, the man who had just walked up reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money big enough to choke a horse and told the young man, “If this is about money, here.” He quickly flipped two twenty dollar bills in the air and when the money hit the ground he told the disgruntled pair of men, to take their money and shut their mouths.

He then kneeled down to eye level with me and asked me if I would like a Coke a Cola.

I told him I would, but to be honest I would have guzzled a glass of Draino if it was offered to get away from those two guys.

So I followed back to this big white Cadillac, and he opened the trunk and retrieved us both an ice cold coke. He said my name is “Lightning” Chance, what’s your name?

I told him my name and we just leaned against his big ole Cadillac and talked like two old friends. He wanted to know about me and where I lived and who I lived with and what I did. He told me he was in the “music business”.

I complemented his car and told him it was the first “real” Cadillac I had ever seen up close. That made him laugh, but not as hard as when I called him “Mister Lightning”.

He loved it.

Big Jim must have been a little scared of “Mister Lightning” because he took all of his stuff back to the car himself before he came and got me to go home.

When Big Jim walked up to the Cadillac, my new friend stuck out his hand and said, “I don’t think we were properly introduced, I’m “Lightning” Chance.”

Big Jim returned the handshake and gave him his name and then said we had to get back to the house for supper.

“Mister Lightning” told Big Jim rather matter of fact that he would be by his house next Saturday at eight o’clock in the morning to pick me up to spend the weekend with he and his wife, and ended his statement with “You don’t have a problem with that do you?”

Big Jim didn’t a have problem with that, but he did have a problem making eye contact with Mister Lightning.

We had a quite drive back to Big Jim’s house and nothing more was said about what happened that day, ever.

But just like clock work that big white Cadillac came to get me at eight o’clock that next Saturday morning.

That car looked like it was a city block long.

It was the first Cadillac I ever rode in and I can’t tell you how cool that felt.

We drove to the Chance house, which was huge compared to anything I had ever seen, and it even had a paved driveway that went all the way to house.

“Mrs. Lightning” met me at the door with the greatest hug I may have ever received.

I will never forget what she said that morning at their door

“Welcome Home, I’ve been waiting for you, I bet you boys are hungry.”

Welcome Home; nobody had ever said that to me.

I wasn’t even quite sure what home really was to tell you the truth.

But I know I have never felt more at “home” in my life as I did in the Chance house.

She quickly hustled her husband and I into the kitchen and I had never seen anything like that in my life. There was enough food of every kind spread around that kitchen to feed an entire third world country.

Mister and Mrs. Lightning just hugged each other in their kitchen and smiled as they watched me proceeded to gorge myself. I can still see them in my minds eye, holding each other and grinning from ear to ear.

It was the first of many adventures for us.

I have a lot of memories of our time together, which I won’t bore you with here.

But I want you to know

I was always treated as family in their home.

Mrs. Lightning always laughed when I called her that, she loved it and I loved to hear her laugh.

I had a lot of adventures with Mister Lightning and his wonderful wife.

We fished together and sometimes just hung out and talked like old friends.

I learned a lot about life from Mister Lightning.

I had many a meal in their home, and never ever left their house hungry.

He introduced me to some of the coolest people on the planet.

I played chess with Mickey Newbury who wrote songs for Elvis and is known as the Godfather of Texas song writers.

I went with Mister Lightning to Roy Orbison’s house and I played with his children.

I have swum behind Johnny Cash’s house while Mister Lightning talked with the Man in Black about his next album.

Waylon Jennings

Willie Nelson

Loretta Lynn

The list is endless

Everybody was so nice and kind to me; they all treated me like family.

Maybe it’s because this giant of a man and his influence, not just in country music, but in the life of a small boy, was larger than life.

It’s been a number of years since Mister Lightning passed away.

I still think about him all the time.

He was my only friend for a very long time.

He had Alzheimer’s the last several years of his magnificent life.

It’s like they say, he wasn’t the same.

But that’s O.K. he was still the same Giant in my eyes.

They had a memorial service for him in Nashville and the entire country music industry turned out to celebrate his life.

Hank Williams Jr read a story I wrote about Mister Lightning at his memorial, kind of fitting wouldn’t you say?



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