At the drop of a hat, I am inclined to sing out loud.

Those who are around me might be amused or entertained by it, but in all likelihood, they probably are more annoyed than anything else, as I never will be confused with Frank Sinatra. I apologize. I also won’t stop until the day I drop.

Until recently, I never gave much thought to how I came to be an eager amateur crooner, always ready to break out into song anytime I hear a favorite tune or even find the lyrics running through my head.

Then, the excellent documentary, “Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns,” appeared on public television. Shortly after tuning in, a realization came to me.

My fondness for country was instilled in me by my late uncle, Bob McSwain. A native of the Missouri boot heel, he spent all of his life there except for the two tours of duty he completed in Vietnam from 1965-68.

We often would travel from Kankakee to my birthplace and his hometown, Poplar Bluff, Mo., as I was growing up. Shortly after arrival, my uncle would whisk me away for a trip to the local American Legion or VFW hall. As proud a veteran as you ever will meet, Bob McSwain was a local leader in those organizations.

He would order a Pabst Blue Ribbon for himself and a soft drink for me. Then, he would put some coins in the jukebox and spin some tunes, mostly staples of his two favorite artists, George Jones and Merle Haggard.

Moments later, he would break out in full throttle to a classic, such as “She Thinks I Still Care,” a Jones hit from 1962.

“Just because I asked a friend about her.

Just because I spoke her name somewhere

Just because I rang her number by mistake today. She thinks I still care.”

He sang about as well (or poorly) then as I do now, but I would listen and watch on with glee. Those times forever will stand out among my top childhood memories.

Then, in spring 1997, my uncle suffered an untimely, tragic death. His funeral was one sad experience. As it ended and the crowd filed by his casket, the Jones classic “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was played. Some of his fellow veterans snapped off the most stunning salutes as they filed by. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Mine aren’t dry as I write this.

I don’t recall being so apt to sing out loud before that day but have been prone to do so ever since. It was until recently a subconscious tribute to Uncle Bob. The documentary brought this realization to light.

For those who don’t like my singing, blame Bob McSwain. I prefer to thank him for being a role model and hero to me then and a lasting influence now.

Mike Frey is the editor at large of the Daily Journal. His email address is

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