Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Smokey's Heart Soars above His Balloons ; Good Morning

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Smokey's Heart Soars above His Balloons ; Good Morning

Article excerpt

In some of the most unexpected, unlikely places can be found the poetic soul, its heart bursting with song. The housewife completes a strained quatrain while the beans cook the farmer keeps a scrapbook of clever things he has read the accountant puts away his dry ledgers and returns to an uncompleted sonnet.

Here in Evansville we have a man called Smokey whose true name is Herbert Woolsey.

He is, by trade, a balloon peddler, a scraggly, disheveled man with long, stringy hair, a frowzy mustache and the merest goatee sprouting on his chin.

You can see him almost any day wandering Evansville streets, or along the Riverfront plaza, or in Sunset Park, standing beneath a colorful umbrella of inflated balloons.

But that is only a living - a bare subsistence, at that. And there is not where his heart lies.

He loves to compose songs - hillbilly songs with remorseful tears built into them - and to sing them to anyone who will listen.

I met him early one morning at the Downtown cafe where he has breakfast and we drove to his quarters in a dingy apartment building on Ingle Street.

He went inside and emerged with the $10 guitar that he plays with enormous zest, got back into the car and - at 7 o'clock in the morning, parked along a curb - we had an hourlong concert while passers-by gawked and nudged one another.

He made no concession to their rudeness; he sang as loud as the noontime whistle - songs about mother and unrequited love and a million and two teardrops, songs about the orphan paperboy and President Kennedy's assassination and what this world needs is love.

With a pleased and meditative smile, he whanged that old guitar until I was certain it would explode in a cloud of tangled strings. Then he played a wheezy harmonica from which he had to knock flakes of dried tobacco.

"All my songs are writs from true experiences, not something I just sits down and makes up," he said, following his quaint habit of adding esses to words where no esses belong. …

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