“Blame it all on my roots,” sang Garth Brooks in “Friends in Low Places,” his 1990 hit.
That line always resonated with me. Not because of friends I had in low places, but the opposite: my roots were a notable line of ancestors who occupied a somewhat higher social stratum.
I’d like to introduce you to three men, all born in the 19th century, who gave me my name.
And a reason for maintaining facial hair.
These men represent consecutive generations of the family. They were all born in Augusta, Georgia and lived there. They were all lawyers.
The first of these, Joseph Bryan Cumming, was born in 1837. He studied law at Harvard, married a woman from Connecticut, and brought her back to Georgia in 1860, just as secession was tearing the country apart. He served as an Confederate officer during the Civil War.
Their son, Bryan Cumming, was born in 1862. Like his father, he became a lawyer, during the "New South" period after Reconstruction, from 1884 until his death in 1943.
The next in line, my grandfather, was born in 1893. He continued the tradition, entering his legal practice in 1920.
These photos were assembled by my grandfather, listing the years that each man served as a lawyer (“counsel” was the more dignified title.)
They were all named, like me, Joseph Bryan Cumming, with one exception: the second one in this particular sequence, Bryan Cumming, was given only the two names, without the “Joseph.” The convoluted explanation we’ve received is that his father wanted to avoid the embarrassment of his son inheriting a name that could become a burden, if the father somehow dishonored his own social standing.
Missing from these three photos is the next in line, also named Joseph Bryan Cumming (with a Jr. added at the end). That was my father, born in 1926, who deserves special credit for NOT becoming a lawyer.
His natural personality was much more creative. He played music, wrote poetry, danced to swing bands, and staged musicals. He was not built for continuing the family tradition.
He was the first in this line to leave Augusta.
He definitely paved the way for my life as a musician. And the rest is history.
He never grew a mustache. It just didn’t quite fit his face.
It’s funny how styles come and go.
When I was a teenager, listening to music and noticing the winds of change that brought various political movements - civil rights, antiwar, environmentalism, etc. - I began to see the mustache as an expression of rebellion, or at least cultural innovation. Many of the activists of the time were wearing them as they shouted their slogans to disrupt the system.
Of course, the Beatles appeared with mustaches, all four of them, on Sgt. Pepper in ’67, which validated the style as a countercultural item.
Facial hair was part of what happened in the sixties. But after a few years, styles changed. I shaved mine off, then grew it back, then shaved it off again. Finally, after years in New York and L.A., I came to Nashville, and settled on the mustache as an essential part of my look. I think my ancestors were talking to me.
So, blame it all on my roots.
Or genealogical momentum.
-Blogging Bryan, 7 April 2018