Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Friend, Musician, Teacher & Business Owner
By: Tammy Curtis, Managing Editor
Dennis Horton entered life 72 years ago within 10 miles of the place he passed away. The soft spoken, patient man was known for his smile and love of family and music. He left the area with a gapping hole on Feb. 14. He was most known for his music and sense of humor. His accomplishments were many. Friends and fellow musicians from miles away came to pay tribute to him and the life he led at his funeral. Born in Possum Trot, between Agnos and Ash Flat or in the “suburb of Kittle,” as his brother Stacy described his birthplace, Dennis slowly built his life around his love and talent for music. In tenth grade he played guitar and was performing at small shows at Franklin, Viola and Rio Vista, at Hardy where weekend dances were held. Jim Wallis, fellow musician and original member of the Sharp County Band with Horton said he met his lifelong friend in 1968.
They had just graduated from high school and had life by the horns. He recalled coming home and spending time with the Horton family while in college and how special they were to him. Soon after, the young men, along with friend Jerry Bone, decided to head to Washington to pick apples. They stayed in a provided cabin for apple pickers. “We found out real quick that was something we weren’t too good at,” Wallis laughed, stating they needed to do something to supplement their apple picking income. Because they all had experience playing musical instruments and singing, that was the obvious choice. “We ripped out our guitars and started a band.” The only problem was they didn’t have a drummer. After learning of a young drummer in town named Steve Dugwyler who had also recently graduated they sought him out. “We found out where he lived and went to his house. As we walked down his sidewalk he looked at us like he was going to get arrested or killed,” he laughed. They persuaded Dugwyler to play drums with them and began practicing at the cabin, eventually playing nightclubs in Wenachee and Cashmere Washington. While performing one night, a club owner from Kodiak, Alaska came in and invited them to come to Alaska. He flew the young band to Kodiak and gave them a six day a week job performing for five to six hours a night in his nightclub. It was while in Alaska that Dennis and Jim got the call from Uncle Sam and both left, to serve in the United States Army. As they were the last of the draftees, luckily, neither got an all expense paid trip to Vietnam. After both got out of the military, they resumed with the band as if they never missed a beat. Joining them was Eddie Cooper and Wil Waters. They eventually ended up in Dallas, but performed across the United States, fronting big names like George Jones and Ray Price. As single young men, they lived out of suitcases and Wallis explained they created a novelty type song that they rarely performed but sung amongst themselves. One night while playing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, they sang the song, “Who Stole My underwear?” Aman heard it and invited them to come to Euless, Texas and they cut the record. “It was a fluke, it really was but it got played a lot on late night radio in the South,” Wallis explained. “They loved the three part harmony on it. We were Alabama before there was an Alabama,” he said of their musical talent. Dugwyler even relocated permanently to Arkansas from Alaska, and married his wife, Nancy, who was the manager at the Mammoth Spring State Park. The Sharp County Band also recorded an album with a lot of their songs on it but it was never published. With a southern rock style like the Marshal Tucker or the Allman Brothers Band, the Sharp County Band did well with gigs and continued to play until they were in their late twenties and started “marrying off.” Dennis married first, the band’s bass player, Mike “Snake” Harber was next, followed by Wallis. This was when they all started to rethink their career choice.“ We got a bird’s eye view of what that lifestyle was like and I don’t think any of us really wanted it. We all wanted the white picket fence, yard and family. It scared us. When it came time to stop, we didn’t fight it much,” Wallis explained. “It was a ton of fun while it lasted.” After the Sharp County Band quit, Wallis, Snake and his brother played shows at a dinner club in Greers Ferry and then they all kind of went their separate ways, but have always maintained a close friendship over the years. Wallis said the brotherhood the men had was some-thing that is very hard to accomplish within the con-fines of a five piece band. With varying tastes in music, lifestyles and personalities, the men still meshed. They were able to stay together as a band for years and as life-long friends, having reunions every year or two. Wallis said, “There may be a better guy out there than Dennis, but I don’t think I have met him.” Another musician with who Dennis was great friends was a man he met years earlier while playing with Bone and the Mystics at Rio Vista. In his later years, he and Horton performed together often. David Lynn Jones and Friends, was the name of the musical collaboration of Jones, Horton, Billy Joe French, Chuck Young and Garrett Duncan’s. Jones, said he and Dennis became fast friends many years before he joined the band.
Life took the men different directions but their friendship remained. Jones said, “I always had a tremendous respect for his playing and back in the day, he was also a great singer. But, he lost his singing voice over the years.” Jones said he thought he might have just wanted to play guitar more. He recalled the last song he sang the weekend before he passed away was “Memphis.” Jones said if he couldn’t sing it good, he wasn’t going to sing it at all. Obviously he sang “Memphis” well. Jones’ remembered Horton, who also worked at the Thayer Post Office and at a Spring River campground and shared a funny memory. “I bought his guitar he wanted to sell in 1985. It was very old and valuable. I paid him like three times what he paid for it. I just took it back and let him keep it. For the last 10 years he had in under his bed. When I told him to take it and keep it as long as he wanted to, he said, “Why ya want me to do that?” Jones said he always felt bad for buying his old Fender Telecaster. He explained Horton wasn’t upset at all about it and told him selling the guitar saved his life. He was able to pay off hospital bills and took his family to Disney World.“He did more for keeping music alive. In his mind, it was his goal … his responsibility… to bring music back to Hardy,” Jones explained. “I am a believer in destiny … that God puts you where you need to be. He got in the music store. He is the best guitar teacher I have ever seen.” Jones spoke of Horton’s undying patience with not only children, but also elderly folks who sought lessons. “I remember him teaching three children whose parents were killed in a car wreck that were from three and up to keep their mind off it. He was teaching them all the same lesson at the same time. He had more patience than any ten people. He could communicate to a three year old as good as he canto the 88 year old man.” Jones worked in Horton’s Music Store in Hardy. While Dennis worked more on the electronics end, Jones, who had experience with re-pairing broken guitars and worked necks and other parts at the front so Dennis could teach his guitar lessons in the back uninterrupted. “I sat in amazement at his patience with teaching guitar. Some kids were in there only because their parents made them and had no gift or want to learn. He would just plod through that keeping them focused and never hollering at them. Horton was Mr. Patience and always was. He will certainly be missed in this neck of the woods. ”Billy Joe French was also a close longtime friend of Horton’s. As others whose lives he touched, French was also deeply saddened by his passing but said he carried many good memories of their years as musicians with him. “I’ve known Dennis Horton and his family most of his life. They lived near me in the 60s and I got to watch and hear him develop his skill at playing the guitar as he grew up. Dennis was very talented but, he also was a great teacher. He not only taught students, but he taught other bandmembers and musicians about chord changes, timing and other things. Dennis liked many genres of music, as long as they were good. We stood on a lot of stages together for a long time and we were close friends. The best part was that we had a lot of fun times and made a lot of memories. I was always honored to play music with Dennis and cherish our friendship. I sure am going to miss him.” Jones spoke of his talent, and patience forteaching children guitar, but one of his best examples is that of Garrett Duncan, who, along with his wife Ashton are great musicians and perform across the state. After opening Horton Music, he began to also repairs, sell hard to find guitars and other instruments and give guitar lessons.
Duncan began taking lessons from Horton when he was just ten. “He was like a grandpa to me. I met him and started taking lessons. At the beginning, I would bring him these heavy metal tracks like Metallica songs and such. He never thought metal was his specialty, but he’d teach me the main riffs at least. Eventually, we found we had a common interest in The Beatles. As far as I can remember, I never really bothered to play any Beatles songs on guitar before Dennis. So it gave him an opportunity to show me some really neat tricks from their catalog. It gave me more of an appreciation for The Beatles, realizing how technical some of the songs were.” Duncan said Horton challenged him with more Beatle’s tunes and they played several together at shows. Garrett was very young when he was accepted as what he felt was a “plus one” to the Da-vid Lynn Jones and Friends Band. “When I was around 12, Dennis asked if I wanted to start doing songs with him at Downhome Country Kitchen. He and his groups played every Saturday evening and had a dance. That eventually turned into me being a plus one in the David Lynn Jones and Friends band.” From that experience, Horton taught Garrett to function within a band and always encouraged him to experiment. “My weekly lessons eventually turned into weekly jam sessions. The day before his funeral I thanked God for putting Dennis in my life and having my dad take me all those years.” Jennifer Pickle was equally thankful for Horton’s in-fluence on their family’s lives when he began teaching her daughter, Kayla Sue, to play guitar in 2014 when she was just eight. “He didn’t have to include my two other children when we went to practice, but he did, Through the years, we build a bond that felt like family. He was very special family to us. He was a kind and loving man who was truly genuine. I still have that Seagull guitar he gave me and I plan to hold onto it till I pass. He will be missed. ”Other projects Horton worked on through the years included radio jingles, including the one for Fred’s Fish House. He accumulated many friends throughout his path in life and influenced many a musical talent. One with many fond memories of Horton, came from Sandra Stallings, who credits him with helping her over-come stage fright. Stallings met Horton many years ago, when he and Brad Ackerman started a songwriters association in Thayer, Mo. “I was maybe 25 years old and I’m almost 62 years now. I was the only one who showed up for the meeting besides them and we hit it off right away. It wasn’t long before Dennis and Brad had me singing with them at little performances and then they went on to write the Blue Skies of Arkansas play. I performed as April May nine out of the 10 or so years it ran. ”She recalled Dennis and Brad writing the old Fred’s Fish House radio commercial and she sang as Bone played bass. “Dennis would just bust out laughing every time we got to the line ‘They’ve got catfish cooking on an open fire, ice tea, coffee and a hot food bar.’ Dennis would laugh at how he and Brad wrote the line to utilize a Southern drawl with the words fire and bar to rhyme. We would record up to that point and then he would stop and laugh and then you know how he had that little way of shaking his head and smiling and he would say, ‘Sorry guys, but that’s just too funny’” She said there are far too many great memories to recount. “Dennis always inspired anyone who desired to sing or play an instrument and encouraged and looked past flaws or weaknesses. He saw the best in people. ”Three weeks before he passed, Wallis said they visited with his lifelong friend. Horton talked about his siblings and how their relationship was so close. “He said it has grown sweeter and sweeter as the years goby and he was so thankful for them.” His siblings mirrored that feeling, each speaking about their brother’s legacy. Stan said, “It’s hard to lose someone you’ve been around and known your entire life. He was a wonderful big brother who I admired and loved all these years. He would sometimes give me a thrashing when I deserved it, but he also made sure no one else did. I’m sure I was obnoxious and at times could be annoying, but he always let me know he loved me. Dennis was a self taught guitar player and really could play almost anything with no lessons. He taught hundreds of people how to play guitar and never told them what to do. He showed them how todo it. He will be missed by thousands of friends and people he met and knew in his lifetime and leaves a legacy in the community that will never be forgotten. ”His brother Stacy had so many memories of the happy times with his brother and said he was always in awe at his talent. “I would tell him he gave so much joy and pleasure to those who heard him play, yet he was so humble. He would say ‘Well, I hope so.’” Stacy was able to go with Dennis to his most recent reunion with fellow musicians. “We were on the way this year and he told me he thought he had finally figured out how to play his guitar. His imagination and sense of humor was extraordinary. He was a veteran, a postman at Thayer, Mo., a music store owner, magnificent brother and my hero. I was so blessed to have had him in my life. ”While his bandmates, students and brothers saw one side of Dennis, his sisters saw a much softer and gentler side. Shannon testified to his love of nature and ability to create things with his hands. “Dennis loved nature and was intrigued by how things melted in together like water and rocks and dirt. He poured his heart and soul into a beautiful masterpieces on the land our parents had before they both passed. He used tools and his hands to pull dirt from rocks to uncover the most beautiful landscape. He did that for our Momma. My favorite memory is going to his house and in the back yard there was a creek. He was so excited to show me what he had uncovered and his plans for making it adventurous and beautiful for his grand-children to play there. He was a kid at heart always. He was a very loving kind and giving man. ”His sister, Donna Reeves. told of how her brother was such a family man and the grandfather every child dreamed of. “Most people know him for the brilliant musician and songwriter that he was. But he was also a devoted father and grandfather and was fiercely proud of each son and grandchild. His grandchildren speak of him as being their favorite person in the whole world. In my estimation, your legacy doesn’t get better than that . ”Anyone who knew him would agree. His sister Diane Harris seconded Donna’s sentiments and recalled how when his grandchildren were young, they would sit in amazement as Dennis would talk to them in his Donald Duck voice. “Dennis loved his grand-kids more than anything. He was a great man who had so man talents, he was kind and gentle and had a huge impact on many people’s lives, mine as well. I will forever love and miss him until we meet again. ”Horton’s legacy will continue in the community he called home for 72 years through the sights and sounds of all who gained something from his presence. He will be sorely missed. Dennis is survived by his wife, Susan; sons Chad, Josh and Scott Horton; grandchildren Fynn Clarke, Jamie Horton, Joe Horton, and Taylor Horton; sisters Donna Reeves, Diane Harris and Shannon Kendrick, and brothers Stan and Stacy Horton.