All the stories from ‘All the King’s Horses’
“All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Friends,” By Ken Upright. 180 pp. $16.
By Paris Goodnight
Ken Upright said he thought his first book would turn out a little differently.
“I thought I’d write a true crime story,” he said. “But it never happened.”
Instead, he’s just published “All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Friends.”
He said he’s enjoyed writing forever, “even in high school.”
He was a fan of Ann Rule’s novels and actually talked to her. He’s done some interviewing for radio and newspapers in his day, and he thought he’d get Rule’s advice on having his own first work published. Her suggestion, “Write and write and write some more,” she told him. “Every day.”
So he went with King’s Barn, something he was familiar with from his family and growing up around the tall tales he heard over the years there.
Another key supporter ó that is, someone who prodded him along ó was Victoria Slywka, a former English teacher from Michigan that he met while working in Kannapolis.
She told him to try to come up with a title, so he did ó try, that is.
Upright, 43, said he spent what was probably a good 20 minutes staring at a pen and paper on his desk one day without anything coming to mind. So he put it away until the next day, when he spent another 10 or so minutes thinking. “I turned in my chair and just like I was struck by lightning, the name came: ‘All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Friends.’ ”
His family still owns the barn, which originally went up in 1934.
“There were not a lot of horses in this area at that time,” Upright told the Post in 2002. “I’ve heard it said several times a lot of horses in Rowan and Cabarrus counties, their bloodlines can be traced back to horses at King’s Barn.”
Horses weren’t the only animals traded at the barn, but men also sought out cows, goats, chickens and other animals. By 1980, the trading stopped.
The barn stood empty for a couple of years before the family leased it to an insulation business.
With the help of a few Google searches, he was able to contact Country Music Hall of Famer Tom T. Hall and got him to write a short forward for the book. And he got radio personalities John Hancock of WBT and Robert D. Raiford of the John Boy & Billy Big Show to write blurbs for the book jacket.
The book is broken up into short chapters, so you can read just a few at a time ó or finish it entirely in one sitting. It’s sprinkled with humor, such as the time when Coot Follette’s dirty mouth got even dirtier. He dropped his false teeth in a pile of manure at the barn. Of course, he just brushed them off on his jacket, gave them a quick rinse out back and plopped them right back in his mouth.
Another highlight noted in the book was Upright’s stroke of luck in getting to shake Roy Rogers’ hand in 1975 at the Gem Theater. The “King of the Cowboys” would have loved King’s Barn, Upright figured. He points out that some lament the loss of cowboys like Rogers and that way of life a generation grew up with on big screens and small. But he notes that “cowboy is a state of mind. If you ever experience it, you never can put it behind you.” That’s part of what he’s trying to keep alive with the book ó that and the memory of good friends and relatives who treated a young boy like the cowboy he was from an early age on.
Known as “Little Bud” in his younger days of hanging out at the barn, Upright titled the last chapter of his book “Bud Remembers” and concludes with “Even now … I rely on lessons learned around the barn. King’s Barn is my connection to my great-grandfather, Paw King, who I never met, as well as Paw-Paw and Uncle Fred. I will never get away from the barn. It is simply too big a part of who I am, or who I will ever be.”
Upright will sign copies of his book from 7-9 p.m. on Monday at Waldenbooks in the Carolina Mall in Concord. You can also contact him at kenupright2@ ctc.net.
Paris Goodnight writes for the Post and has known Ken Upright since they were both members of the Marty Lefler Band in the 1980s.