Remembering the Red Dirt Legend: A Tribute to Brandon Jenkins
I was introduced to Brandon Jenkins’ music back in May 2010 at a show at the Wormy Dog, when Chad Sullins and The Last Call Coalition opened for him. I was just discovering the red dirt scene at that time. I always still seem to consider myself a ‘newcomer’ even after 8 years, just because I didn’t grow up knowing what it was all about, which seems to be the case with most Oklahoma music fans. But I’m glad I found my way there none the less.
Although I instantly loved Jenkins music, and I had met him and had snapped pictures with him a time or two, it wasn’t until a few years later at a show at The Arbuckle Ballroom that I had a real conversation with him and discovered that I really enjoyed who he was as a human being, even more so than just as a musician. I remember driving the 2 hours to that show by myself, and not knowing anyone there. Being a transplant into the scene, in the beginning I didn’t have many friends that were into it. My longtime friends weren’t into red dirt in the least bit, so I discovered a whole new red dirt family in the process. But before I found my red dirt tribe, I would go to shows solo, just because I loved the music and didn’t want to miss it.
During a break in the set that evening Brandon had come out to hang out a bit with the audience and we struck up a conversation. Once he realized I was by myself he asked if I wanted to just come back in the green room and hang out with the band and drink some whiskey (the Arbuckle Ballroom was a beer bar only). I was absolutely down with that. By the end of the evening when the lights were up and the bar staff were shooing people out of the doors, I was sitting on the side of the stage discussing fairies and magic with Brandon. When he asked me what I did, I explained that I made sock monkeys and sold them to stores, and he asked “What is a sock monkey?” and I was astounded that he didn’t know. He had another show coming up at the Wormy Dog shortly after this one and I told him I would bring him one then. After sitting there for a good hour chatting up various topics, it was getting about the time to head on home. It was raining very heavily and my van was parked quite a ways away from the doors, and Brandon offered to drive me there in his band van, which I greatly appreciated. That was my fist real introduction to Brandon just as a person, and not as a stage presence. I found him utterly fascinating, from the range of topics he was interested in, to the fact that he was an extremely intelligent conversationalist.
At the next show, as promised, I brought him a personalized Brandon Jenkins sock monkey, complete with fuzzy orange beard. I remember that night ended with us sitting on the side stage after hours talking about the effects of fluoride and mind control. There were several people backstage and he had his guitar in hand and asked if anyone wanted to hear anything, and I said “Damn Your Eyes”, which was on the Faster than a Stone album which came out in 2008. Brandon couldn’t remember the song and he looked it up, and after reading the lyrics he let out a hearty laugh, the one that he had that could fill an entire room, and said “Did I really write that? Man that’s terrible.” And he proceeded to talk about the progression of songwriting and how years later when you have evolved how amusing it is to see where you came from.
I have so many memories of Brandon, more than I can possibly share here, and I’m very sad that now there’s not a chance to make anymore. He always messaged me when he was coming to town and would say he hoped to see me there. One time a couple of years ago he asked if I would be at the Blue Door to see him and I said I was home with the kids and rather broke at the moment. He put me and all 3 of my kids on the list and said “There, now you don’t have any excuses.”
That was just the kind of guy Brandon was. He always made me feel like his friend and not just a fan. He always made me feel included and special and important, and I think that’s my favorite part of this whole music scene. It really is a family of sorts.
Not quite 2 years ago, after another one of Brandon’s shows at the Blue Door, everyone in the after-hours crew wanted to go out to The Copa to go dancing. My redneck buddy Bailey, who sadly died in a motorcycle accident last February, had never been to a gay club and was very hesitant, but really wanted to hang out with Brandon since he had never gotten that opportunity. Just a few minutes after being in the club some cute little blonde gal came in and swooped Bailey up and danced with him in a corner all evening. Brandon looked over there and laughed at one point and asked “Hey, is your friend ok over there?” Clearly he was. When Bailey did come join us again at the table right before closing time, Brandon said “Hey, you know she’s got the biggest dick in here don’t ya?” with a one of his great big hearty laughs. She was in fact a woman, but it was entertaining to give Bailey a hard time about it all. I hope wherever those guys are right now, they are together, riding motorcycles and making dirty jokes.
Around this time last year I called Brandon up and asked if he would mind if Bryon and I came and crashed at his place in Nashville for a couple nights. I was trying to travel and go on as many adventures as I could at the time, as cheaply as possible. Without skipping a beat Brandon said sure. I asked him if he would be interested in finding a show or two that Bryon could play with him during that time there too, and he was glad to do it. We had a great time on that trip, neither Bryon or I had been to Nashville and Brandon played the perfect host, driving us around and showing us all the cool places to go and his favorite places to eat. I’m glad we had that opportunity, I’m glad I took a chance and just asked him and made it happen.
I'm not even going to tell you the dirty joke he told me shortly before I snapped this picture above, I'm just going to see this picture and smile when I think about it.
It took me a while to be able to sit down and write this, because it just hurt too much. In fact, I’ve felt haunted by it all since he died. I’m haunted by the last time I spoke to him just days before his surgery, I’m haunted by comments he made just a couple weeks before his surgery, I’m haunted by the songs he wrote that seemed to know that the end was near.
I got the privilege of interviewing Brandon several times as I wrote articles for the red dirt scene and gathered information for the history of red dirt book that I am writing. I thankfully have all of those interviews recorded, including the last one the Saturday before his surgery. It haunts me because in it, as we talked about him shaving his beard for the first time since 1999, he says things like “I just hope I’m around to grow it back out”, and that now echos in my mind and haunts me. Several times during the interview he said how scared he was, and would say “If I survive it…” and now in hindsight that kills me. I had no idea that it would really be the last time that I talked to him, that he would in fact not survive the surgery. We talked about the whole process of the surgery and how he knew other people that went through it and all the details, and it never once occurred to me that he might not make it through. Hell, I sent him a package that he got the day before his surgery with every Game of Thrones book in it and another book, because he hadn’t read them and was going to have lots of time on his hands recovering. Or so I thought.
Brandon was supposed to play the first Mile 0 Fest in Key West the week he started having problems and was unable to go. During the festival, I had so many different friends that were there and saw dozens of posts from the event. I can’t even remember whose post it was, but someone posted from the festival, and one of the people in the picture had on a Tom Skinner shirt, and Brandon commented on the post that he hated missing it but that he was trying real hard not to be a face on a t-shirt there next year. That comment haunts me now. It makes me well up with tears and it makes my heart hurt.
During our last interview he talked about how he didn’t know at the time that he wrote the inspirational song Be the Revival, that he would be needing those words now just as much as anyone else, and how he’s been saying for a long time that the songs he writes seem to involve a theme that hasn’t even happened yet. He mentioned the album The Flag, and how political it was, and how he wrote all of those songs before the political climate changed and it seemed to be a premonition of things to come. Now the songs he wrote for his last album, Tail Lights in a Boom Town, seemed to be a premonition for his death, and the songs Be the Revival and Fade to Black in particular haunt me, because it’s like in writing those songs, he knew he wasn’t going to live very long. But he didn’t know, not really. Those songs haunt me now.
For the first week after Brandon died, I dreamed about him every single night. He’s still popping up every few days in my dreams. I know it’s because I have such a hard time letting people go. My brain is having such a hard time with the fact that he’s gone, that it keeps him there, stuck in my subconscious, because I really don’t want to let him go. He was so full of life, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that he’s not any more.
As I was trying to find the words to express what it means to lose this man, as a friend, as a musician, as a pillar in the red dirt community, I just kept breaking down in tears. Brandon was one of the most fascinating human beings with such an interesting life. From being raised in a commune, to all his eclectic interests, he was just so damn interesting. That deep, reassuring voice of his matched with his stature, made him feel like a safe haven in ways. Just a giant teddy bear really.
He took up so much space in this world, not just physically, but intellectually and artistically. He had a larger than life attitude about everything, a curiosity and hunger for knowledge and exploring all different topics and things, including the more taboo parts of life. He asked lots of questions of this crazy life and he looked far and wide for those answers. He had deep and meaningful conversations. His deep, hearty laugh could fill entire rooms. He had a gift for prolific songwriting. He was humble but he knew his worth and wasn’t ashamed to claim it either, which is why he had no problems calling himself the Red Dirt Legend. Because he was, and he knew it, without any egotistical strings attached. He was a man that knew what he wanted out of life and wasn’t afraid to go after it. He was genuine and real, he was down to earth and treated people with kindness and respect. He was a huge part of the red dirt family and because he was a man that took up so much space in life, he leaves behind a huge void which we all feel right now. He’s shed his monkey suit and taken flight into outer space, and I hope that this next adventure is just as amazing and interesting as his life was on earth. There is no doubt that he will be greatly missed.
Brandon had such a genuine smile, one that definitely reached his eyes and lit up his whole face. So I collected some of my favorite pictures of his smile, as well as pictures of him that just put a smile on my face, from his social media accounts and added them to this post. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I encourage all of you to share your stories and memories. Leave a comment, or even write them up and mail them to his family who are collecting the stories in a scrapbook. If you leave a comment here or on a post of mine, I will make sure the family gets it as well. He will live on in his music, in our memories, his legacy will remain.
His surgeries and hospital stay left behind massive medical bills, and there are still many ways that you can help out. Of course you can go to his website at www.brandonjenkins.com to purchase merch, and his albums are available on Itunes and other music outlets. You can also still support the Heart Beat for Jenkins t-shirts at Top Cotton Printing. And there are still some benefits being put together in his name. You can always check out his social media accounts for updates on them by his family.
Rest in peace dear friend, we love you.