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“The home I first lived in was three rooms,” he explains. “It didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water, but nobody did where we lived. And the school I went to had ... eight grades in two rooms.”
“Every morning ... we listened to the farm report, and they would [play] country music and we’d listen to that.”
The farm report, according to Roe, “would tell you the weather forecast and whether you could plant your crops, what corn was selling for and all the things that could be interesting if you were living on a farm.”
“I grew up in rural middle Tennessee,” Roe says. “At that time, it was the smallest town in the state of Tennessee, and we played music. That was how we entertained. My mother’s family did. My father’s family did.”
And that’s how music got under his skin.
After elementary school, his father took a job in a factory and moved the family to a relatively urban area — “still really rural compared to [Washington]” — and it was there Roe took up his first instrument, the trombone.
“I got to high school, and that’s when, in the early ’60s, the folk scene was coming on,” he says. “Vietnam [War] was starting.”
It was then he decided to pick up the guitar and start his first band. Later in college, he started the Hickory Hill Singers, a folk music group playing in the style of the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan.
He was still country, though to his way of thinking, it wasn’t much of a leap between folk and country music.
“Those songs, if you read the lyrics, actually say something,” he says.
At first, it seems like he’s talking about the Vietnam-era folk standards made popular by Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, but then he smiles: “I mean, what’s one of those country songs? ‘I knew she was over me when I saw her all over him.’”
Roe joined the Pony Express after medical school, when he was completing his hospital internship.
“After graduation, we met some guys,” he says. “We would work all night — we’d work these shifts in the emergency room — I met this guy, Steve Barnes, he’s an orthopedic surgeon now.
“[Then] Steve and I met Tom [Eades], who’s my best friend to this day. Tom’s a cardiologist [now].”
The last member of the group was Jim Auther, now an attorney.
The young men would get together after their 24-hour shifts at the hospital and jam.
“Just for entertainment,” he says. “I mean, we were working a hundred hours a week as interns. It was crazy.”
“Jim was in the service, he had just gotten out and was getting ready to go to law school, but he wasn’t in law school yet. We had a lot of energy, and we’d get around, and we just started playing,” he recalls. “We’d get together just to relax and play music, and so we put this group together.”
For two years, Roe says, he worked every other night at the hospital and played with the band.