Forgive me. Tonight, some words are just going to come out, and it's me dealing with something, so if this gets disjointed, or confusing, I apologize in advance.
Tonight, I'm toasting absent friends.
As life would have it, another friend has been called home.
His name was Dwayne Ward. We called him Cooter.
I forget exactly how the name "Cooter" came to be. As I search the corners of my memory, I seem to recall it was at the suggestion of Kim Stevens, the man who found Matchbox Twenty and Rob Thomas, who worked for Atlantic at the time. I seem to recall taking one of his calls - or maybe it was over an IM - when he told me to call Dwayne "Cooter" because he was "country, crazy, and, well, you know, like "Cooter" from the Dukes of Hazzard."
Dwayne was country. He was crazy. So 'Cooter' fit and I suppose it stuck, because here we are, almost a decade later, and "Cooter" is still, well, "Cooter."
But what you may not know is this: that he was the most loyal man I've ever known.
When I got the call to come to Tampa, so many things in my life changed. Suddenly, almost as if overnight, while in Lancaster, I heard from people in the industry I'd never heard of before. It's as if I was - all off a sudden - catapulted to place in this game which, suddenly, commanded the attention of, well, virtually everyone.
Among the noise, a couple of voices cut through. Steve Ellis's was one of them. He told me that Atlantic "needed someone to talk to" in Tampa and that "your local, Dwayne Ward, is a great guy and we just want to have a relationship..."
I'm not sure what prompted the call. I'm not sure why. But I'm sure of this. That night at that Italian joint off Dale Mabry, with Ellis, Cooter and Stan the Man, when I said that I felt "'FLZ had no better partner than with Atlantic Records," I meant it.
Make no mistake about it: Dwayne Ward was the reason for that relationship.
Cooter had access to FLZ. To XTB. To all of us. He could walk into 4002 Gandy and come to my office. Jeff's office. Promotions. The studio. Stan's office. Back to the Rock Barn. Wherever. It didn't matter. He was Cooter. We even discussed giving him a FOB and keys to the place at some point. He was just that good -- just that kind of rep. The kind of rep that I bet the majors wish they had nowadays.
Dwayne Ward was something special. He was a force. A once in a lifetime agent of being who found a way to connect, deliver and thrive in a game that was evolving and changing around him.
At a time when relationships and conversations were at a premium, Dwayne had them with our cluster of stations. He valued them. And we were his biggest fans to our colleagues and friends in radio and in records.
Funny. So many locals now - and nationals - could learn from Cooter. It's a strange irony that he wasn't working in the game for whatever reason. Sad. His charisma alone opened so many doors, commanded adds based on relationships and - yes - even spawned drops when push came to shove.
Dwayne was a man who had real relationships. And regardless of what you felt about his mannerisms or his tact or whatnot, this man got business done with WFLZ Tampa while I was there. He got it done honestly. Fairly. Above board. In the clear. With no shade.
He got "sh*t" done by the power of his own will and the strength of his own character. That's why he was special. In a world that is so fake at times, Dwayne -- Cooter D. Wayne -- was real.
I was lucky to become a PD and work with Cooter in Columbia, South Carolina. He was with Capitol, and let me tell you, HE was the reason things got done. Dwayne. Our relationship. Our belief in one another. I could go on and on about the professional, but, when it comes to Dwayne, the majority of the loss I feel comes from the personal.
In my heart, I miss my friend.
At some of the hardest times I've faced as a man, Dwayne was there. He happened to be in town in Tampa when I, due to my own selfishness, came to a point in my life where my own indulgences reached critical mass and forced me to make a choice.
A year later, in Columbia, where my personal life's **ish hit the fan, I can still hear Cooter telling me to "come out to dinner with me at Mr. Friendly's, crash in my room, because you don't need to be around this right now -- and remember that life is this thing that we have to keep kicking in the ass, because it's worth it."
I woke up the next morning with a sense of purpose, a sense of direction, and thanks to Cooter, a sense of, yeah, hope. Even in the midst of some very personal stuff crashing down around me in a very public way.
Like a faithful friend, Cooter was there for me.
Further down the line, when a different situation - hung over from the Carolina's, ironically - had reached an interesting conclusion, Cooter offered me more wisdom. He reminded me that the journey we were on is a strange "fucked up road trip" and it's not always gonna be easy, but that "it's a helluva ride, isn't it?"
Cooter, you were right. And you have no idea how right you were that in the end, it all works out.
Cooter wasn't doing what he should have been doing at the end of his time on this sphere in space. He was figuring out what to do with the rest of it. I am told he had written a book. I can't wait to read what truths it will reveal.
Cooter and I had drifted a bit at the end, but not so far that a text, or a Facebook message, or a Tweet didn't still connect us. He still had "my number" as is the case no doubt with so many. I'll say this. If Cooter needed anything from me, and if it was in my power to see it through, I'd have made it happen for him.
He'd no doubt have done the same for me.
If you've let a friend drift away tonight, let me encourage you to pick up the phone and make a call. Tell them hello. Let them know you care, and that they occupy a piece of your soul. Don't let those who are --- or were -- closest to you just fade away into the sunset of time's passing. Stoke the fire. Stir the coals.
Make sure you let them know that you remember, that you care, that you love and that you appreciate the role they've played in your life. Even if they've chosen - or if you've chosen - that the role isn't the same as it was when it comes to your life. They had something to offer. They probably still do. Even if it's someone for you - like it is for me in some cases - that you might not really desire to hear from.
Time is. It was. It's going to be.
Don't let history pass without you having the chance to pass along your love - and devotion - to a friend.
Tonight, I toast my lost friend, Dwayne Ward. Through so many times of my life, like a river, he flows through the timeline of my existence here. I'm a better man for knowing him....
... and I miss him.
Tonight, at dinner, by candlelight, Renee and I shared a toast to "absent friends..."
She never knew Cooter.
In describing him, I used one word:
Tonight, one of the most loyal men I've ever known has joined the ranks of "legend..."
And let me tell you... he's earned it.
May we all live with the passion that Dwayne Ward lived with.
Goodnight. And rest well, my friend. I look forward to seeing you again...