Groove to the wheat

Long days on the farm translate into songs for lifelong resident

It's 1936, a time "when you had to get by with what you had," and 6-year-old Gene Counts is huddled on the living room floor, absorbing the sounds of the large, boxed wooden Filco.

That radio -- a monster by today's standards, composed of seven tubes, five batteries and two dials -- was the family's messenger, a conveyor of both news and entertainment.

And music. Especially music.

Young Gene didn't get to pick much of what his five sisters and four brothers chose to listen to, but he sure liked the sweet sonic symphony of what came across.

"I couldn't pull my ear away from that," said Counts, 76, a lifelong Moffat County resident. "We sure enjoyed that radio. ... We enjoyed that radio more than we do the TV today."

What came across the dial most often in those days were "old cowboy songs" broadcast from a low-frequency, backwater station in Clinton, Texas. Those old songs, relaying the bittersweet life of cowboying, ropin' and ridin', love and the loss of it, laid the seeds for the rattle and hum musical style Counts later came to produce.

"I just always enjoyed it," he said. "When I was little, I always loved listening to country music."

If such a thing as a Renaissance man still exists today, you'd have to count Counts as one of them. A wheat farmer and mechanic by trade, he's also a singer-songwriter, part-time poet and a collector and restorer of antique tractors.

He's lived on his spread on Moffat County Road 31 since 1958 with his wife, Loretta, a homemaker. The couple has been married for 56 years, and spent a lifetime together raising crops and children.

For the couple's 50th wedding anniversary, Counts surprised his wife with a song he wrote, performed and recorded. The song, titled "Happy Thoughts," is a two- to three-minute track recapping the couple's history from their first date onward.

"I cried," Loretta said about hearing the song for the first time. "I love that song."

As a wheat farmer, there are the inevitable long days spent working on the land -- pestering it, peppering it, coaxing it, pleading with it to produce the desired bounty. Sometimes, after hours spent on the tractor, the mind wanders, and it's during those moments that songs pop into Counts' imagination.

That's how he came up with "Happy Thoughts." That's how he came up with the Christmas song, "I Know There is a Santa."

"I just wrote those on the spur of the moment," he said. "That's where I think up a lot of my songs."

On this day, a peaceful, quiet Sunday morning, Counts plays both on the stereo. "Happy Thoughts" comes across with the laid back approach of early country, and speaks with affection about "this little gal of mine" with the "pretty smile and long black hair."

"And I'd sure like to make her mine," Counts hums. And, "I thank the Lord she's still mine," he concludes.

The Christmas song, a tune Counts wrote for his grandchildren in the 1990s, challenges the children who don't believe in Santa to "just wait 'til Christmas morning and look under your tree."

He sings the song every Christmas.

"You don't only sing that for the kids," Loretta corrects Gene. "The adults like it, too."

Gene and Loretta met on a blind date, set up by Counts' sister, in October 1949. They married a year later, in October 1950, and have been together ever since.

The secret to their longevity? There really isn't one.

"Our work and our family," Counts said. "It just seems like we were always working as a team to keep things together. It kept us busy, and we've enjoyed it all."

Gene and Loretta have three children, Audrey Rutz, of Windsor, and Donna Jean Curtis and Robert Eugene Counts, both of Moffat County. They also have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

At 76 years old, Counts said he has no plans to stop farming, which in turn means he won't stop rattling about a new song or poem now and again. With Loretta at his side, and two of his three children living nearby, he's got plenty of people to write for, and plenty of them requesting new tunes.

"I imagine I'll keep doing it until they bury me," he said. "I suppose I don't have any plans on retiring."

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