Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Hobos in the Roundhouse

The first time I met Bill Isles was in the vicinity of 1987-8. He was involved with tech sales as the digital revolution was emerging. I'd gone to see him in search of an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scanner. The technology was awesome on one level, but deficient in a few important ways. We took a pass.

Nearly two decades later our paths again crossed, this time under very different circumstances. My wife had gone to school with Bill and saw blurb in the newspaper that said he was performing at a local pub. I didn't connect the singer/songwriter/performer with the tech salesman until we saw him.

There was something tender and heartfelt in his songs, something real in the stories he told in verse. His voice had that quality you hear in the songs of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, bred on the road of life. Beauty can sneaks up on you in so many ways. Bill's songs did that and we ended up with a couple of his CDs.

Here an excerpt from a 2004 article in Reverb Nation that sheds light on Bill Isle's journey. He told me later that he is more famous in the Southwest than at home, affirming the statement by Jesus that is prophet is not honored in his own town.

It’s been over twenty years since Duluth, MN’s Bill Isles was a rare survivor of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Instead of ending his life, it jump-started his creative energies, resulting in a 40,000 mile— 150 show-per-year – full-time itinerary, presenting his profoundly meaningful songs. He is joined by his wife of eight years, and musical collaborator, Kate. Her gentle presence and intuitive harmonies have led one reviewer to comment “She’s the perfect compliment to his rough-hewn road-wise vocals – the perfect blend of two voices.” Words like “Transcendent” and “Mesmerizing” and “Slapstick” are among the audience descriptions of their concerts and fans of all ages tell of listening to their albums over and over again. Come find out what’s leaving audiences smiling long after the show is over.

A song that is one of my personal favorites is found on his album The Calling. We have a roundhouse here in Proctor, and in the Thirties there were a number of hobo camps in our region. (I know of three in Carlton alone.)

Hobos in the Roundhouse

From seven to seven, every night of the week
Fixin' trains in the roundhouse, I work on my feet
And I told my children, I hope the bedbugs don't bite
And I've got hobos sleeping in the roundhouse tonight.

From Akron to Hinckley and Prairie du Chien
They are soldiers and lawyers and I believe what they're sayin'
And I'll roust them at four and they'll head down the line
My hobos sleepin' in the roundhouse tonight.

Goodnight, my hobos, rest your vagabond heads
On your old knapsack pillows in your gunnysack bed
For a few stolen hours, you'll be alright
My hobos sleepin' in the roundhouse tonight.

Well, they hired a new man to work as a guard
Every mornin' at sunrise he checks out the yard,
But for now, I don't trust him, though he seems pretty nice
'Cause I got hobos sleepin' in the roundhouse tonight.

Well, I asked my Savior, "What should I do?
If I'm caught helping hobos my job could be through."
And I heard the answer, so clear and so bright,
"Are My hobos sleeping in your roundhouse tonight?”

Goodnight, boys.

* * * *

The way he says those last two words is precious. 

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