Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
You can check William Elliott Whitmore's blood as frequently as you'd like, but there's a good chance that you're never going to find it without some whiskey or moonshine in it. We'd guess that the bathtub at his corn crib house down in Lee County, down in the southeastern part of Iowa, along a portion of the Mississippi River that still feels like it's from the turn of the century, if he even has one, would be kept full of the makings of corn liquor shine. There would be a smell of the stuff that he sings so lovingly about in "Horrible White Dynamite" and "South Lee County Brew." It's that potion that "bites like a shark and kicks like a mule" that brings the fun out in the people and the nights in this part of the country. Whitmore knows that it's time to go home when "you can't stand up no more and you can't tell the ceiling from the floor," but he also thanks the Lord for the fun that comes from that strong stuff that will get you to that point of stumble, that state of mind and that brand of breath that could start fires.
More than anything, Whitmore epitomizes the ethic of the old-timers who live in his part of the country, those creaking old men who get into their routines of going to the diner in the mornings to talk about the weather, over coffee, with all the other codgers. He frames this part of life, the autumn years, when all of that hard work has bent them over, sometimes in half, and these mostly worn out, but chipper and mostly spry men are still full-bellied laughers and sweeter than most, having lived through so much hardship, just trying to get the crops in the ground, making sure they lived and feeding their big families through the lean years, when there was nothing profitable about being a man of the soil. What they had was the satisfaction that the smell on them at the end of the day - which often moved right on into the early evening, until all of the work was finally done - was of honest strain and toward a noble pursuit.
Whitmore also embodies these old men as they would have been as younger versions, with that insatiable thirst for the strongest gauge of alcohol that could be found, something that could low the back of your head off, that could shoot a warmth out to every inch of you the very second that a drop of it touched your tongue. He's of the mind that sometimes this stuff is good for forgetting, but it's also that greased wheel to get a night to take off, even if it's spent outside on a porch with the loudest locusts you'll ever hear harping, beneath a sky of stars that burns your eyes red and a blackness that's interrupted by the swooping flights of owls from bough to bough.