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From the liner notes:
The gentleman quietly walked into our dressing room during intermission at our show in Miami a few years ago, five years to be exact. He had the kind of magnetism that makes you turn around and look, and everyone did. There was something else about this man, though — his humbleness, and the way he stood in a corner out of everyone’s way. He stood with his hat in his hands, waiting to be acknowledged, and I spoke to him. The face wasn’t familiar, but there was a distinction about him that commanded attention. His rugged, tanned face and arms gave him the appearance of an athlete, but his snow-white hair showed that he was well past thirty-nine.
After I stood up and introduced myself, I was very embarrassed when he called me “Mister Cash.” I usually can cover my embarrassment by replying, “Mister Cash is my daddy.” This time I was afraid it might sound disrespectful.
His name, he said, was Ervin Rouse, and he hesitatingly went on to say that a few years ago he had written a few songs himself, but that I had probably never heard them. I felt the name should ring a bell, and offering him a chair, I asked what songs he had written.
He honestly tried to avoid answering by saying they were just a bunch of old tunes. I asked him again what songs he had written, and he replied in a beautiful Southern seaboard dialect that a Southerner such as myself enjoys hearing. He said finally that probably his best number was a fiddle tune. I sensed his honesty and finally asked him point blank: “What fiddle tune, Mr. Rouse?” Evidently people had not believed him in the past when he mentioned his songwriting, so he reluctantly said: “Well, I guess my biggest one was the Special. “I didn’t raise my eyes when I asked politely: “You mean Orange Blossom Special?” This time his answer was a question, and everyone in the dressing room knew as I did that this man was sincere.
That question was: “Did you ever ride on the Atlantic Coast Line? I’ve been up and down it many times, and even out West on the Southern Pacific, but I’m pretty well settled here in the sandy land now.”
He went on to say that that night, or rather that day, he had traveled for miles across the Everglades in a machine he built and called a “swamp buggy.” Then, somewhere near Miami, he borrowed his sister’s bicycle and rode about ten miles to our show.
The second half of the show was about to begin, and Mother Maybelle Carter was tuning her guitar to go on stage. He turned to her and said: “Mother Carter, I known you may not remember me, but I met you years ago and worked a show with you in Virginia. My name is Rouse, ma’am. I used to sing a little, and play the Special — the Orange Blossom Special, that is — and probably the only other one of mine that most anyone ever heard was a little tune I wrote for my dear mother, called “Sweeter Than the Flowers.” Of course she remembered, as did all of us sitting around listening. He added, “The Special belongs to everybody by now, I guess, but it used to be my best number.”
I asked, Mr. Rouse to be my special guest on the show that night. The house was packed for two shows, and when he did Orange Blossom Special they tore the house down. It was hard to coax him to encore, and when he did, I asked him to sing “Sweeter Than the Flowers.” At first, I thought he was going to flatly refuse. He said, “It’s just too sad, and it hits too close to home, and I’m not in the mood for it.” However, the audience wouldn’t let him stop. His sincerity and his magnetism automatically commanded complete silence throughout the auditorium as he sang “Sweeter Than the Flowers.”
The customers in the coffeehouse in New York and other big cities haven’t seen Ervin Rouse. The tidal wave of discoveries of folk-music performers missed this man. Most of the young folk-music authorities throughout the country have not seen him perform. And I doubt if Mr. Rouse has heard a few of the countless recordings of his songs. He said he wouldn’t know what to do if anyone asked him to prove that he wrote either of the two numbers.
Since that night I have seen the man many times and spent many hours talking to him and listening to him sing. He’s probably past sixty, and I don’t think he would mind telling you so, but his voice is as clear as it must have been thirty years ago.
If you went looking for Ervin Rouse, you would have a hard time finding him. He might be miles out on the Everglades alone with the nature he loves, hunting, fishing and trapping. Or, you might be lucky enough to find him in a garage somewhere near Miami where he makes his “swamp buggies,” rugged amphibious vehicles that are powerfully propelled by a giant six-foot fan. They go across the Everglades as smoothly as if they were on a freeway. Mr. Rouse makes them and sells them to hunters and fisherman who want to go into the Glades.
He’s been everywhere, including New York, where he quit rambling temporarily, but rode back to Miami on the Seaboard Line. I didn’t ask him, but I am compelled to believe that he must have gone home to the life he loves on a train he called the “Orange Blossom Special.” At least from the way he sings the words, I’ll say that he definitely did, and gave him credit for having lived every minute of it, plus much more that the song didn’t tell.
And I’ll just bet that right now — somewhere down in Florida — he’s got sand in his shoes — clean, white sand.
– Johnny Cash