Jimbo Mathus is like a living musical encyclopedia, especially when it comes to the music of the American South. The former Squirrel Nut Zipper and member of the South Memphis String Band takes pride in keeping his favorite kinds of roots music alive and breathing.
“I can’t express why it’s important other than it’s ingrained in me to do so,” he tells CMT Edge, while talking about his upcoming album, Dark Night of the Soul. “I’ve always felt the pull of the old, while still bucking and fighting to make something new and lasting.”
On the new album, “Hawkeye Jordan” stands out as a myth-making country funk jam in the vein of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses.”
“It’s based on my runnin’ buddy from back in the ‘90s,” says Mathus. “I met him up in North Carolina when I moved out into North Orange County. His real name is Michael Jordan — like the great Tar Heel basketball player — but Hawkeye is a Vietnam vet, eyepatch-wearin’, mandolin-pickin’ outlaw just as described in the song. But there’s much, much more than that! He’s one of my best friends and most influential compadres of all time.”
In the song, Hawkeye’s “built like a motor,” so he’s got to run. He lived “so far back in the hills, it wasn’t even funny.” He makes “all kinds of foldin’ money just to tote moonshine” and might “sell a little reefer,” too, but he’s really just a big ol’ teddy bear.
“If he can’t help you, he won’t hurt you none,” sings Mathus.
It sounds like a character too good to be, but Mathus says even the melody was inspired by this real-life mountain man.
“Hawk used to actually do this ‘doo doo doo’ kind of little song all the time,” Mathus says. “He did it kinda out of the side of his mouth. He watched Gunsmoke all the time on TV and just did all this outlandish stuff constantly and had the most toe-curling stories imaginable.”
Introduce yourself to the great American character that is “Hawkeye Jordan,” from Jimbo Mathus’ album Dark Night of the Soul, scheduled for a Feb. 18 release.