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Dirtdobber Blues

by Cyril E. Vetter

Louisiana State University Press | 2011 | 134 pp., | $22.50

Reviewed by Michael Carey

book cover

Cyril E. Vetter is a successful businessman with several accomplishments in the entertainment industry. He has recently added Dirtdobber Blues to his list. It is a novel dedicated to the memory of his old friend, Charles “Butch” Hornsby, who was amongst other things, a musician and an artist.

This fictionalized version of Butch’s life is told in episodes that paint a charming and touching picture of the man Cyril knew so well.

We’ve all had a friend (or friends, if we’re lucky) whose zest for life, friends, and parties make us love him or her even as they ruffle our feathers. Vetter knew Butch as such a friend and introduces us to him slowly, constructing an image of the whole man. I was repelled at first by how inconsiderate Butch could be, even with his cute and quirky pranks and mannerisms. However, he won me over when, in one of his usual imprudent spending sprees, he blew through two weeks of hard-earned cash to recover a friend’s guitar.

From then on, I felt like one of Butch’s friends: he would frustrate me and drive me to the edge, but he could never push me over it. However, he still tried, and often, like the time he asked the author to help him be responsible with his money, but before Cy (as the name he goes by in the book) could deposit it, Butch had stolen it back to go on a bender.

The book walks with Hornsby through drugs, alcohol, mild successes, and blown opportunities as he tries to realize his dream of being a star. Along the way, he finds the love of his life and a family to which he gave everything.

Dirtdobber Blues is an extraordinary tribute to Butch Hornsby. It is a portrait of a man’s dream and his hard reality, of love and pain, and of what in life is most important. The novel is a roller coaster ride of laughs, anger, pride, and disappointment. I even found myself on the brink of tears at one point in the story.

Butch Hornsby was a man who chased the blues and found struggles, love, and a family. I found his life summed up in the lyrics of his song “Knockin’ Around:” “Oh, I’ve been drunk amongst you all. You know me for some jives. Sometimes I slip so far down… I’ve looked all my life and I’ve found I’ve been dissatisfied for a long time now. I’ve just been knocking around… And without you, everything is would, or should, or could… And in the end it wasn’t money that matters.”

Dirtdobber Blues is a real treat, and is literally a whole package, including an engaging story, pictures of some of Butch’s art, and a CD of songs he wrote. The music is a little raw, but works as a combination of country, blues, and pop/rock. As I find myself singing some of his lyrics, I feel comfortable recommending this book and am appreciative of the opportunity to have shared in the life (however fictionalized) of the obscure Butch Hornsby.

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