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Fowler and Tippin crossed paths early in their careers

Mark McAfee was the producer of Fowler's self-titled album

Published on Monday, April 9, 2012

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Mark McAfee recalled his experiences with the late Mickey Fowler and the recording of Fowler's album in both Greenville and at Aaron Tippin’s house (what Fowler describes as a “compound”) outside Nashville 10 years ago.

Mark McAfee recalled his experiences with the late Mickey Fowler and the recording of Fowler's album in both Greenville and at Aaron Tippin’s house (what Fowler describes as a “compound”) outside Nashville 10 years ago.



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This is the album cover of the late Mickey Fowler, a popular country singer who had an influence with some of the genre's top performers.

This is the album cover of the late Mickey Fowler, a popular country singer who had an influence with some of the genre's top performers.

 

 

The original outlaw country singer from Greenville, everyone in the local club scene knows the name Mickey Fowler.

A fixture of the local scene in the ‘70s, and even having shared a bill with Alabama in the ‘80s, he died in December 2007. Almost five years later, however, he has left behind a considerable legacy. Among those who cite Fowler as a great influence is Aaron Tippin, the popular country music artist that will be playing at the Village Hospital Greer Family Fest On May 5.

This will be the 28th anniversary of the Greer Family Fest, and the festival hopes to live up to the growth the city has been experiencing. According to Greer’s Chamber of Commerce, “This year’s event will feature the best of the old and add exciting new activities with the goal of being the Upstate’s favorite family festival.” Chief among those attractions is Tippin, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., now but grew up in the Travelers Rest and Greer area, and will be playing from  8 - 10 p.m.

Having referred to Fowler as his hero in the past, Tippin lent his voice to two tracks (“A Long Time Ago” by Waylon Jennings & Shel Silverstein and “Don’t Cuss That Fiddle” by Kris Kristofferson) from Fowler’s debut solo album in 2002. The album itself works as both a greatest hits of outlaw country (a sub-genre of music, popular during the late ‘60s and ‘70s, that reacted to the popular Nashville sound of the time by getting back to country’s more honky-tonk roots) classics and an overview of Fowler’s career, considering he played with such notables as Toy Caldwell and Charlie Daniels.

Fowler’s solo career never did branch out beyond the Upstate, however, even though he had several opportunities. He always chose to do it his way.

Mark McAfee, the producer of Fowler’s self-titled album, sat down with me at the Handlebar in Greenville to talk about Fowler the musician, the man, and his influences on the modern greats of country music. It’s appropriate that we met at the Handlebar, which has been known as the Upstate’s premier concert venue since it opened in 1994. Fowler played there many times, and a few times with McAfee, including for a party celebrating the release of his album.

It was early in the afternoon, so it was just us drinking a beer together. McAfee was friendly with the staff, who knows him by name, and open and direct with me. He is easy to talk to, and quick to humble himself to the many big names he has saved in his phone.

McAfee has been a Sales Representative at KMX Logistics, a trucking company out of Greenville, for 14 years but it’s obvious music is in his blood. He played the bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, pedal steel guitar and Dobro in Fowler’s band from 1999 to 2007, and had a lot to say about his experiences with Fowler and the recording of the album in both Greenville and at Tippin’s house (what Fowler describes as a “compound”) outside Nashville 10 years ago.

“Mickey and Tippin were good friends. I used to go see this band with Mickey Fowler and Tony Heatherly when I was 15 or 16. I would sneak into bars right down the street,” said McAfee, who goes on to tell me there used to be a club called Big Daddy’s on Stone Avenue that closed years ago. “They had a really good band. Later on I got to playing in his band, and I had a buddy of mine with a studio in his house, and thought we could record some songs.” This turned out to not be all that successful until Fowler decided to give Aaron Tippin a call. “Tippin, who has his own recording studio, said ‘come to my house!’

“So we pull in the driveway, and I’ve never been here before. I don’t really know the guy,” insisted McAfee, who was clear he didn’t want to speak outside his own personal experience. “He’s got these big hangars because he’s big into airplanes. Six or eight airplanes. And he asks us, ‘I’m about to take this plane up. You want to go?’ And Mickey says, ‘Hell no I’m not getting on that thing, but Mark will!’ They stayed for a few nights to record, and McAfee explained how, between sessions when they would go out to eat, Tippin would always be quick to introduce Fowler to anyone that would listen. “Tippin loved the guy.”

McAfee got me in touch with Tony Heatherly, who played bass and acoustic guitar with Fowler for 11 years in different bands and then went on to play with The Marshall Tucker Band for four years. He also had nothing but praise for his friend. “Mickey was like a brother to me,” he said. Heatherly, who resides in Inman, grew up in Greer and met Fowler when he was a teenager. “I met him through my dad. They used to play baseball together. Mickey could’ve been a professional baseball player, but he liked being the big fish in a little pond. He didn’t like to get on planes.” Fowler set him up with his first gig, a band called The Shadows, when he was 16, and the rest is history. Whereas Heatherly wanted to branch out, and has now played in all 50 states, Fowler was a self-described homebody.

When Fowler was working on his album with McAfee, Heatherly was on the road with The Marshall Tucker Band, but they left spots for him to “fill in holes.” The album is also a meeting of generations, with the likes of Toy Caldwell (lead guitar player of The Marshall Tucker band from 1973 to 1983) and Scotty Hawkins (drummer and son of Vic Hawkins, one of the original members of Fowler’s band) contributing. “I feel very honored to have done my small part on Mickey’s project,” Heatherly told me at the end of our conversation. “I wish we could have done more earlier in his career.”

Mickey Fowler liked to shoot, hunt, and fish. He could party too long, and couldn’t be in a room full of people without wanting to play a song. When asked why he didn’t like to travel, he once said, “Why go out and spend money everywhere else?” He was a true son of South Carolina. When I listen to the CD Mark McAfee gave me, I can’t help but notice how uncannily Fowler sounds like Johnny Cash. Although he’s gone he is not forgotten in the memories of his friends and in the music he continues to inspire.

Businesses mentioned in this article.

Village at Pelham Hospital

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