Dewey Simpson (5 photos)

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Title

Dewey Simpson (5 photos)

Description

Organ tuner and jack-of-all-trades, Dewey Gibson of Evergreen, Alabama, 1968.

Dewey Gibson was an itinerant piano tuner, organist, preacher, poet, typewriter repairman, ironing board manufacturer, and all-purpose mechanic. A husband and father of five, Gibson lived in a cave near Evergreen at the time these photos were taken; his traveling repair shop, the bus seen here, was a his home on the road.

Gibson had been on the road since 1931. A 1949 profile in the Evergreen Courant depicted Gibson, then 45, “pedal[ing] across south Alabama on a bicycle, pulling a trailer large enough for him to live in.” The forerunner to the bus in these photos, the 345-pound homemade aluminum home was eleven feet long, thirty-four inches wide, and five feet high, furnished with “a combination folding bed and chair, a stove, typewriter and table which folds onto the wall, bookshelves for Gibson’s volumes on music and other literature and a shaving stand.” The paper observed that “some folks here refer to Gibson’s tiny trailer as ‘the coffin’, but to the piano tuner it is a perfectly practical and economical home.”

A childhood injury had left Gibson partly deaf for life, but he built a reputation as a first-class tuner, despite the loss of hearing. As he explained to the Evergreen Courant, “A chapter on sound in a high school physics book gave me the idea that, although I was hard of hearing, I could master the art of tuning by working out my own system of sound beats.” In one of the recommendation letters Gibson kept stuffed in his pockets, a Jackson, Alabama, musician marveled that “he seems to feel what he cannot hear.”

The 1949 article quoted above also notes that “In addition to working with his hands, Gibson takes time out during the lonely evenings in his tiny trailer to write music.” He also preached sermons, composed poetry, wrote letters to the local newspapers, and played the organ for weddings and other occasions.

Gibson is seen here with Betty Cooper of Camden, Alabama, in the spring of 1968; she had recently acquired the pump organ in these photos from a Wilcox County Baptist church (the church had abandoned the older instrument in favor of a new electric model) and hired Gibson to repair it. For several weeks, until the job was finished, he parked his bus at the car dealership belonging to Cooper’s father, working on the instrument and entertaining passersby.

Photos courtesy Betty Cooper Mathews. Also included, below: a 1932 advertisement for Gibson’s services, as seen in the Evergreen Courant.

Citation

“Dewey Simpson (5 photos),” Southern Music Research Center, accessed July 18, 2024, https://southernmusicresearch.org/items/show/724.