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Don Mathews / Blog

Don Mathews The Journey To Where Is Today Part 6

‘That’s What Firemen Do’ my song for firefighters is two part because I believe the volunteers needed a song to show appreciation for their dedicated service and I wanted to express my feelings after 9/11. My tribute to police officers was inspired by an experience I had years go. A police officer expressed his feeling of helplessness when there was nothing he could do to save his son. He told me about a recurring dream where he would stop to help a woman in distress and when he turned to his car to get a pen she would disappear. No matter how many pens he carried during the day, the dream would return nightly, an expression of his loss. The song is called ‘Police Officers and Angels’. I have strong feelings about the plight of the homeless, especially our veterans. - I would love to record ‘Won’t You Give Me a Place to Call Home’ and use the money for the homeless veterans. I have offered to perform this song and others to assist in raising funds for the homeless. After hearing about the fact that we still have so many soldiers from the Viet Nam War who are classified as POW/MIA I was inspired to write the song ’Remember Me’. I was honored to be invited to perform this tribute during the 10th Annual POW/MIA Balloon Launch on Memorial Day 2006 in Milwaukee, WI. I also wrote a song called ’A Soldier’s Plea’ after watching the funeral coverage for a soldier who was killed in Iraq. There was a scene showing an older woman holding the hand of a small child that made me think about the many service men and women who are serving our country to safeguard our freedom. So many of them leave family behind as they serve. I also thought about my son David who served in the Navy several years ago. I remembered his fear that the folks back home would forget about him while he was away. We all know that a mother would never forget her son, especially while he is away at war, but the waiting for a letter from home can seem like a very long time when you are so far away. Most of my songs are story songs. I’ve written songs everywhere that I’ve gone like Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, on the way back from Portland, Oregon and now in Raleigh, North Carolina. I am scheduled to do some recording in Greensboro, NC on April 4th at Underground Sound Recording Studio. I’m appearing at Deep South and as many other venues as I can while I’m here in Raleigh, NC. I play out for live audiences as much as possible.

Don Mathews The Journey To Where Is Today Part 5

Ann and I chose different paths and I met and married my current wife Ruth. We opened another ambulance service that we operated for 18 years. I sat around the ambulance service and played my music. That’s where I wrote the melody ‘A Song for Ruth’ in 1997. In December 2004 my friend Larry Wortinger invited me to a jam session in Scotts, MI and I got brave enough to sing on my second visit. My knees knocked so bad from the jitters they said they could hear them over my singing. Fear and all I was hooked. I went back week after week. I started writing again and played my song from high school ‘I Had a Dream’ for the first time in about 35 years. I wrote another love song, ‘Memories of You’ that was followed by my first tribute song, “Tribute to EMS’. A few years ago I had a really bad call, a multiple fatality involving a mother and child. After so many years in EMS and so many experiences it was hard for me to understand why I still was not coping even after time passed. I started wondering why I did the job and whether I really made a difference. ‘The radio calls out again and you wonder where you’ll find the strength to do it all again.’ I kept thinking about that call during church and when I went home I wrote the song ‘Tribute to EMS‘. To this day I can still see every detail of that accident scene. The night before I wrote the song I kept having dreams about a bad accident I had responded to years before. As I walked up to the accident scene a police office walked up and handed me the little boy who’s parents had been loaded into the first ambulances on scene. He was 4 - 5 years old and kept crying for his parents. I walked over to show him that his mommy and daddy were going to be all right. I held him all the way to Providence Hospital in Southfield (obviously long before the stress was placed on back boarding victims of motor vehicle accidents). Once I started writing I couldn’t stop. The words just flowed from me. I’d think of scenes from my EMS career. One where a police officer had pulled over a car for speeding. I delivered the baby in the car and handed the newborn to the mother. The look on her face was so full of wonder. Anybody who’s done the job for any time at all, especially inner city, gets the feeling that no one really cares. they get to asking themselves why they do the job I guess that everything I have thought about at various times in my EMS career I put into the song. I‘ve gotten e-mails from all over the world about this song. I recently received an e-mail from the Bulgarian National Council saying that they had translated the words to use in their counseling and how much they appreciated it. I was very moved by the response from Acadian Ambulance Service after Hurricane Katrina and the letter I received from FDNY Counseling Services. I am very proud to have received a letter from President George W Bush regarding ‘Tribute to EMS’. Reflections of an EMT is mostly about my experiences as an EMT in the Detroit area. You never knew what you were going to walk into. When drug deals went wrong many times children would get caught in the exchange so that’s where the ‘thank you God no children this time’ line came from.

Don Mathews The Journey To Where Is Today Part 4

I was still using the Airline and the amp I got with it. I took my first EMT class to Port Huron Community College. I met some people there who played guitar. After class we’d sit around and play music. There were two brothers who owned bars I liked going to, Park Place and Board Walk, one was a country bar and the other one was rock and roll. I went to both and learned a lot by watching the different players in the band and asking questions. While I lived in Algonac I still played cover tunes. I frequently took my guitar to peoples houses and played music. I was too busy running my business and working ambulance to do much with my music. In 1977 I had the amp cranked up and smoke came rolling out and it kicked up it’s heels and died. It was a good amp for a lot of years. I closed Mathews Ambulance Service in the summer of 1978 and moved to Grayling, MI to open a non-emergency transfer service. The Sheriff’s Dept Ambulance Service ran all of the emergency calls but didn’t want to do the transfers. While I was there I did a transport and the people didn’t have the money to pay. One day a guy showed up with an old Earth amp. He asked if I would take the speaker cabinet with 2 speakers and the earth amp in trade for the ambulance bill. He said he didn’t need it because his band had other equipment. It’s been over 30 years but even though I have other equipment I still use that set up sometimes because I like the sound. While I was in Grayling I met Clint Chimner’s son who told me about the ambulance service contract available in Cheboygan, MI so I moved there. My wife Ann and I ran the ambulance service under that contract for the next few years. I bought a motorcycle while I as there and had the good fortune to get to know some of the police officers who rode together. Those rides were some of the best times I had up there. I had a neighbor in Cheboygen who would play the lead and tell me the chords to play and we’d sit on his porch and play the blues. I never played out up there. I was working EMS all the time. I didn’t have the confidence after so may years of not playing in public. I’d sit in the house and sing but if I had to play in front of people I’d freeze up. While I was still in Cheboygan I saw Willie Nelson at the Castle in Charlevoix. I was really impressed. It looked like everyone from his band in Honeysuckle Rose seemed to be there. He puts on a really nice show. The music from that movie really got me fired up. I couldn’t wait to learn ‘On the Road Again’, ‘Two Sides to Every Story’ and ‘Uncloudy Day‘. The music made the little guitars in my veins start pumping. Aretha Franklin came to the county fair in Cheboygan. After growing up in the Detroit area I loved the Motown sound so I was happy that I got to go and see her. They discovered that there weren’t a whole lot of Motown fans up north that year, but I had fun. After Cheboygan we (wife and 5 kids) moved to Kalamazoo. While in Kalamazoo I attended a concert by BJ Thomas. I got to meet him and shake his hand. I really enjoyed that. I grew up with those songs so it was very special to see him in concert. I liked the songs, the way he played, his voice, everything about him. He has always been one of my favorite performers. I especially liked ‘Hooked on a Feeling’ I learned to play that one right away.

Don Mathews The Journey To Where Is Today Part 3

Utica HS had Battle of the Bands. It was a good time to be growing up there. They also brought in some really popular bands for concerts at the high school. They got good groups like Chicago, ELO, Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels. When you get to see good groups like that you get inspired to play. I loved sitting on front porch in the summer, playing my guitar. The girls would walk by and hang out. That was kinda cool. My favorite groups to learn songs from at that time were CCR and the Beegees. Of course everyone learned songs from the Monkees and the Beatles. I also liked a lot of the music from Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. like ‘Somethin Burnin‘ and ’Just Dropped In', One of my friends was driving down the road and ‘Somethin Burnin‘ was playing. I asked him to turn the radio up and let him know I‘d just learned to play the song when his car started smoking. The wiring under his hood burned up. At least the song was appropriate. While I was growing up in Utica, my brother Bernie was involved in EMS. Bernie worked for the ambulance service that provided stand-bys for the football games. I’d go sit with him and I got interested in EMS at that point. My first real EMS experience was with St Onge Ambulance in Rochester, MI owned by Frank St Onge. I met Roger St Onge, Frank’s son who asked me to come over and ride the car (ambulance). I took a first aid class in 1969 after riding the car for awhile, and it got into my blood. I've been doing that stuff ever since. When I left St Onge I went to work for Milt and Hazel Ruehle at Ruehle’s Ambulance Service in Mount Clemens. The folks who rented the back of the ambulance garage played music and I enjoyed going out there to pick guitars with them. I was seventeen at that time and I dated Patty Spencer. I took my guitar over to her house and played all the time. During that time I wrote my first song ‘I Had a Dream’. Patty's mom said the song showed a lot of thought. They really encouraged me with my music. Even after Patty Spencer and I stopped dating we were still good friends and I went with Patty and her mom to see Buck Owens and Dolly Parton at the Sterling Heights School Auditorium. Dolly Parton was just starting out. We got to sit in the front row. They came out and talked to everybody and shook everyone’s hands, very down to earth and friendly. About that time the neatest thing happened. As I went to a hamburger place I noticed a Mercedes was across the street at the gas station. Gordon Lightfoot was in town for a concert and he was in the restaurant so I got to meet him. He was really cool. Every time you meet someone like that it inspires you to go forward. It makes you feel good about what you are doing. I got married to Anna Nitzh and started my family in 1973, bought a home in Algonac in 1974. The local funeral director, who wanted to get out of the ambulance business, said he’d answer the phones and radios for me if I took over running the emergency calls. I found an old Cadillac ambulance, took the motor and transmission out of a Chevy Caprice, put them into the old ambulance, and had it painted lime green at Earl Scheib. A guy at the Ford plant made a stencil so I could paint my name on it. I started Mathews Ambulance Service in the summer of 1975.

Don Mathews The Journey To Where Is Today Part 2

In 1959 we moved from Mt Morris to a house at the end of a horseshoe drive in another town near Flint. I remember that we were all excited because the new penny came out that year. The back changed from leaves to the Lincoln Memorial. I liked to spend the night at a friends house. His dad played live music on a radio station. I was really inspired as I sat in the living room while he would play and sing. We moved from there to Warren for 6 -7 months, then Dad got a job at the Ford plant so we moved to Chopin Street in Troy. Up to that time I didn’t do much with music, just hung out at the Jukebox, an old mom & pop’s café at 15 mile and Chopin. My friend had two older brothers who both played acoustic guitars and sang. I visited all the time to listen to them play blue grass and country. They showed me how to play chords. After I moved to 47501 Shelby Road in Utica, I still had that old acoustic guitar and my dad said ‘If you ever learn to play that thing instead of just strumming on it I’ll buy you a real guitar’. I asked my mom if she thought he’ll really buy me the guitar and she said he’d better since he said he would. So I learned to play ‘I Walk the Line’. One day my dad came home from work and I sat down and played it for him. He said ’That’s nice’. I said, ‘You said you’d buy me a real guitar’, He thought about it a minute and said, ‘Damn. I did didn’t I.’ There was a 1960 Airline guitar with triple pickups and the vibrato bar for sale in the window of a barber shop in downtown Utica. It had an amplifier and chord with it, and the guy wanted $200.00 for the whole set up. I rode my bike home and told my dad about it. My dad said he couldn’t afford that much. For about 3 weeks there it sat in the window. Guitars were going for about $400.00 so my mom convinced him it was a good deal. I went to school and while I was there he went and got it. It was there in the living room when I came home. A lot of the kids I hung out with didn’t have amplifiers. This one was loud enough to make the neighbors upset. My friend David Franco lived about 2 miles away and I’d ride my bike over there or his mom would come and pick me up so we could play guitars together. He was the envy of everyone because he had an Epiphone. His parents made him practice everyday. He had several trophies for his playing. He played very well. We started hanging out together when I was about 12. Another friend of mine, Tom Mack was a fantastic lead guitar player. He could play anything he heard. My friend Jim Bylick played drums. When I was 14 - 15 the four of us were all riding bicycles where they were building the VanDyke bypass when a car came over a hill and hit David and killed him. It was devastating. Even after everything that happened I’d find myself thinking I was supposed to go over to Dave’s house to play guitar. It was a lot to go through. After that my love for music grew. I learned every cover tune I could. During Junior High and High School I played a lot of different music. Elvis and Johnny Cash were and still are my two heroes. I played in 3 different bands. They didn’t stay together, someone would get mad and we‘d go our separate ways. I stayed friends with Tom and Jim and we‘d end up in groups together sometimes. I also played with my future brother-in-law, Mark Boomer who played drums.

Don Mathews The Journey To Where Is Today Part 1

I was Born in Hurley Hospital located in Flint, MI. My first interest in music grew as I watched a group of guys that came in to play guitar all the time in the Mt Morris Circle Restaurant. One of them had an old Silvertone guitar that had a small amp built into the case. Every time I saw his car I’d go over to the restaurant to listen. I also grew up being exposed to music by various members of my family. My Aunt Shirley came to visit and played country songs like ‘I Walk the Line’ on an acoustic guitar. I would to pick up her guitar and strum it. I never thought I’d actually play one. Aunt Ruth who came from Tucson, AZ every year to visit in her Campbell tomato soup color, ‘56 Thunderbird, also had an old guitar that I played around with. My Aunt Norma’s daughter planned to learn guitar, but didn’t. I liked to play around with the guitar pushing down one string then another. My aunt gave me the guitar but I didn’t do much with it. I would watch my two older sisters, Diane and Sharon dancing with their boyfriends to American Bandstand stars like Chuck Berry, Pat Boone and of course Elvis. My sisters were crazy about him. They also had a stack of old vinyl 45s. One of the boyfriends who had a ‘57 Chevy, wired in a 12 volt record player so they could sit in the car and listen to records. One year Bobby Bare played at an outdoor theater and my dad took me to the park to go see him play. In 1959 we moved from Mt Morris to a house at the end of a horseshoe drive in another town near Flint. I remember that we were all excited because the new penny came out that year. The back changed from leaves to the Lincoln Memorial. I liked to spend the night at a friends house. His dad played live music on a radio station. I was really inspired as I sat in the living room while he would play and sing.

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