‘The Kingston Springs Suite’ Makes 40-Year Belated Debut
But the two would go on to have plenty of adventures together, many of which ended up in song.
“It wasn’t the kind of thing you sat in an office and did,” Casey explains. Matthews, who claimed to be part Cherokee, called it the “hillbilly method”: “You had to go out, live the tradition, drive around, drink and visit people, until you were exhausted. It worked if you survived it.”
They ran around with fellow rough riders like Tompall Glaser and Shel Silverstein, who produced the Suite. A few years later, Silverstein co-wrote a song for Bobby Bare called “Vince.” The lyric referred to a “great speckled bird” — not the traditional country classic, but the amphetamines known on the street by that nickname.
“Vince and Casey,” as they sometimes billed themselves, began thinking of the album as a self-contained show. (“We wanted to take it to Broadway,” Casey says.) In all, they would perform the album in its entirety maybe a half-dozen times. Those shows included a couple of prison gigs and one in the Kingston Springs school auditorium, with Johnny and June Carter Cash sitting in the front row.
Years later, Casey would hear from people who swore they were in attendance at shows the two had never played. He’s also heard a few insist they once owned the album – hardly possible, since Matthews and Casey themselves were the only two who had the mixdown tapes.
Once it became apparent that Nashville’s “next big thing” would be no such thing, the Matthews legend quickly evaporated. Former friends began distancing themselves.
“Everybody loved Vince, they really did,” says Casey. “He was a big personality.” But that could work against him, too, especially as he slipped deeper into abuse.
When Matthews asked Casey to give up his co-credits on the Suite songs — without remuneration — their partnership was over. Matthews was furious.
The last time Casey saw his friend, he recalls, “I was walking up Highway 100 with my guitar and my bag. He drove by in his Cadillac and didn’t stop. And that was it.” (They did reconcile years later, in the late Eighties.)
As long as he’s waited to see The Kingston Springs Suite come out, Casey thinks the timing is just right. Both Shooter Jennings and Father John Misty have covered “Laid Back Country Picker,” and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is currently celebrating the transitional period of the era in the new exhibit called Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats.
“I fully understand the prophet is never appreciated in his hometown,” says Casey, who will take part in a listening party and discussion at the Hall of Fame on June 6th. “Our appetites get us in trouble, but Vince did something that was wonderful. So from the heart.”
Like the plainspoken record he helped make, Casey is matter-of-fact about the whole thing.
“Some people emerge as winners,” he says, “and some don’t.”