Songwriter Pays Tribute to Tennessee Veteran in ‘Mama’s Bible’
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. — Often a song can capture a life better than a long story. Songwriter Don Goodman knows this well.
He helped write the song “Mama’s Bible,” about World War II veteran JB Stubblefield who died Sept. 8 and was honored at this year’s American Mule and Bluegrass Festival.
The album, “Freedom Sings WWII” in which Stubblefield’s song is featured, contains 15 songs, all written about other WWII veterans. “To sit there and listen to their stories and go back to World War II with them is amazing,” Goodman said.
Goodman said he wanted them to tell them their whole story so he could make the song really personal. “It’s not just another war song; it’s their song,” he said. He likes details like where they were born, where they served, who they married when they got home.
“I want to release what they never told anyone,” he said. That works. Family members come up to Goodman and say, “I didn’t know my dad did that…” or “I think I know now why my dad cries so much…”
“That’s where I know I’ve succeeded,” he said.
Some 22 veterans, of all ages and from all wars, commit suicide every day. And of those 15 album veterans, Goodman says only two are still alive today. The average age is 100 years old.
“So we are losing our veterans,” he said. Goodman said each of the veterans’ songs were played at the funeral. Even through the heartache, Goodman takes it as a compliment because it shows how important the songs are to the family.
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“To me, it’s like a kid finding a diary and going wow, it’s grandpa,” he explained.
Goodman, who is 78, has been writing for Freedom Sings USA for about eight years now. He was 70 at the time and felt the music industry was changing too much. “New music wasn’t me and I didn’t want to write it,” he said.
One day he was invited to the VA where he participated in one of the writing sessions with the veterans. “It was life changing. I walked out of there that day on a mission,” he said.
Born in Hohenwald and raised in Detroit, Goodman came to Nashville in 1971. He says you don’t “go into songwriting; it penetrates you.
“Honestly, I hitchhiked all the way to town, with a shoebox full of songs. And they were awful. But I just felt in my heart, that’s where I was meant to be,” he said.
“Back in the day”, Goodman wrote several hits, including “Ol’ Red”, sung by George Jones, “Angels Among Us” recorded by Alabama and “Feelin’s” by Conway Twitty.
“I wrote, I don’t know, 2-3,000 songs maybe.” He jokes that he’s the worst guitarist in the world and an even worse singer. He therefore always surrounded him with talented musicians and singers.
“After a while you can hear the melody in your head,” he said.
Today, he has written over 300 songs with veterans, ranging from World War II to Korea to the Gulf Wars.
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JB Stubblefield’s story is remarkable, and Goodman said he was able to capture it in three and a half minutes.
While serving in World War II, Stubblefield was separated from his troops while stationed in New Guinea. He went MIA. They did not find him until two years later. Goodman said he was lying halfway in a river, suffering from amnesia and dying of malaria. But they identified him thanks to a pocket Bible given to him by his mother, where his name was written on the inside of the cover.
“I tried to cram all the real information into this song that I could. I mean, I could have written a book,” he said.
Donovan Chapman, a Billboard Top 40 singer, sang the song “Mama’s Bible.” “I appreciate that I can help capture the story and capitalize on what they’ve done,” he said.
The day before Stubblefield died, he got to hear “Mama’s Bible” for the first and last time.
Goodman recalls, “We recorded the song that afternoon. They gave me the mix around 6:30 p.m. At 7 am I sent it to Perry Stubblefield, JB’s son. And at 7:30 p.m. they played it for him. And he died the following night,” he said. “We got it there, at the 11th hour.”
But songwriting isn’t just for veterans. Goodman remembers one time he sat down with an 8-year-old girl whose father was killed in Iraq.
Goodman quotes: “She wrote: Mom pushed me in the swing so high, up to heaven where angels fly. I want to go where daddies go and never die. Mom pushed me in the swing so high.
He says the biggest compliments are when veterans say they’ve listened to the song a hundred times. “When you get a phone call from a veteran and he says, ‘You saved my life,’ a gold or platinum record – a whole wall of them – is just a candle to that phone call.”
“You know when you have a good one – and it doesn’t matter if the whole world likes it or not – if you know you’ve done it right and as good as you can, there’s no better feeling” , did he declare.
They are expanding Freedom Sings USA, including female veteran classes and more opportunities with the VA. To access their music, go to www.freedomsingsusa.org. Every penny raised goes to veterans.