Randolph County residents and country music fans remember Woodland-native Vern Gosdin, 74, who died in Nashville early last week, as a singer and songwriter whose lyrics were at times aching with lonesome and other times soaring with love-struck.
Friends remember him as an ordinary country guy, a lover of fried okra mixed with cream corn, who was relatable and intelligent.
Gosdin's country music wasn't the slick-marketed alternative rock blend that has since blurred the lines between Nashville and Los Angeles.
His three number one hits and 41 solo singles between eight albums spanning three decades helped to set the tone for what is now known as classic country.
But for a man who sang duets with George Jones, Emmylou Harris and Tammy Wynette, he seemed to never forget where he came from and helped budding songwriters and musicians like Cleburne Probate Judge and County Commissioner Ryan Robertson.
Robertson said Gosdin was always very intelligent and funny.
He helped give him a shot at a music career by taking Robertson to Nashville and also asked him to open for him in Birmingham and at Gosdin's music theme park in Ardmore.
Gosdin has deep Alabama roots and still has family near Woodland.
He left the nearby community of Bethel East for Bessemer when he was 13 years old.
The lessons he learned singing harmony at Bethel Baptist Church, where his mother played keyboards, stuck with him throughout his whole career, he said in past interviews.
Tommy and Phyllis Hartley, of Woodland, longtime friends of Gosdin, said he was just an ordinary country guy who liked antique cars.
Gosdin would just pop in at the Hartley's unannounced, Phyllis Hartley said.
He'd be in nearby Bethel having just visited his mother and looking for a place to eat. Then he would just call the Hartleys up, she said.
"One on one he was lots of fun. He just did what ordinary people do," Hartley said.
But for a small community, Gosdin was someone to be proud of.
"When you're out of town and out of state, very few people have heard of Woodland, Alabama. But you can ask them, 'Ever heard of Vern Gosdin?' and they'll know," she said.
When Gosdin came back to visit Woodland, residents would have their picture made with him and get autographs, she said. But Gosdin was still comfortable enough in his hometown to go with the Hartleys to fellowship at their church.
Gosdin's path to fame was winding. After a stint singing with "The Gosdin Family Gospel Show" every morning on Birmingham's WVOK radio station, he left for the West Coast in 1960 to sing with his brother Rex as the Golden State Boys and later the Gosdin Brothers.
The Gosdin brothers also played with Chris Hillman before Hillman went on to start the seminal folk rock band The Byrds.
Gosdin even wrote "Someone to Turn To," a track recorded by The Byrds and used on the soundtrack of the movie Easy Rider.
Raised on the Louvin Brothers and Grand Ole Opry, the Gosdins wanted to play pure country music.
After putting down his guitar for a few years to run a glass and mirror company, he made a trip to Nashville in 1976.
Over the next decade, he released 27 hits on minor labels before signing with Colombia Records.
His number one hits include "I Can Tell By the Way You Dance," (1984), "Set 'Em Up Joe" (1988), and "I'm Still Crazy" (1989).
He also won distinction for "That Just About Does It (Don't It?)," which was nominated by Country Music News for video of the year and "Chiseled in Stone," the Country Music Association's song of the year in 1988.
Fans have voiced their sadness and support for Gosdin on Internet forums and social networking sites across the Web. His death has spurred a Facebook.com group called "Induct Vern Gosdin into the Country Music Hall of Fame" with 88 members and numerous other fan groups with thousands of subscribers.
Robertson said his best memory of Gosdin is when he came down to play a show in Wedowee to help Robertson fund his demo album.
"I was singing an old John Denver song, 'Be Back Home Again,'" Robertson said.
As he was playing the crowd began to cheer and applaud wildly.
"I thought they were cheering for me but they were cheering for Vern, who had sort of snuck out on stage," he said.
Gosdin also returned several times to Wedowee for benefit concerts for a leukemia victim and others.
Hartley recalls one year when Gosdin was in town for the Woodland annual Christmas parade. It was during the peak of his fame and he and his manager came to the Hartley's house to relax for a while between the parade and a concert.
Gosdin and Tommy Hartley talked about Tommy's 1949 Plymouth, she said. Gosdin said he had always wanted a 1940 Ford and Tommy happened to know where to find one.
They went to look at it and Gosdin left Tommy with some money to buy it for him, so that he would not be recognized.
Gosdin came back later to pick the car up.
The Hartleys attended a private funeral service for Gosdin on Sunday in Nashville. At the funeral, next to a wreath from Reba McEntire, was a picture of the 1940 Ford.
In the declining years of his life, Gosdin had health issues including a recent stroke. The Hartleys and other friends heard less and less from him.
Robertson said the last time he talked to Gosdin was about a year and a half ago.
"He told me about four or five jokes and we talked for a bit, then he said 'Son, it's good to hear from you. Just checking in on you,' and that was it," Robertson said.
Gosdin now represents a bygone era, one that some classic country fans lament like a lost love that's packed her bags and left. Yet "The Voice" will always linger in country music history, singing, "I've got a lonely feeling that I'm hearing the sounds of goodbye."