Dan “Bee” Spears was all of nineteen years old when he joined Willie Nelson’s Family Band as a bassist, a post he would hold until his death in December 2011. Marshall Grant’s tubthumping time in the Tennessee Two notwithstanding, country music bassists tend not to draw attention to themselves. Given Willie Nelson’s fast and loose relationship with conventional rhythm, Spears’ job was to act as the anchor that both allowed the band the freedom to roam and kept them from falling out of sync. It’s a supporting role in every sense of the term.
So of course he would be the Family member tapped to take the lead vocal on this version of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” taken from a 1974 episode of Austin City Limits. While Haggard’s relationship to the song’s deeply conservative narrator seems to change depending on who’s doing the asking, it’s hard to believe that any member of the Family Band could ever have sang that opening line–“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”–with a straight face. But despite the goofiness of the whole thing, and the slightly retooled lyrics (White lightning’s no longer just the biggest thrill of all, but the biggest George Jones song, too) and Paul English’s breakbeat drumming in the chorus, Spears sings with such conviction that you almost want to believe him when he tells you that he doesn’t grow his hair all long and shaggy, despite the locks that curl out from under his Robin Hood cap. He’s just holding it down. words/ m garner