HAZEL COX (Hiram’s first wife): I was pregnant with our first the night he played the Russian Roulette. We was in a dive bar after a show in Lubbock, Texas—I’ll never forget the place, neither, ’cause it had a sawdust floor and the piano played itself. He was drunk, of course. Except for that first year we knew each other—from the day he walked into my music store to the night of our wedding—he always had something to sip on, whether it was a bottle of rye or a bit of sippin’ cream.
He lost. But, in a way, he won. He survived. The bullet was only a .22. It went under his skin, ricocheted off his temple, bounced up and around his skull, and tore out behind his right ear.
HANK SADLER (Hiram’s oldest son): Yeah, Pa fought in the World War, the second one, even survived the Battle of the Bulge with nothing more than frostbite in his picking hand, which the docs had to cut out. They took his pointer and bird fingers. Still got em, though. Shoot, ask him about it next time y’all bunch head out to his house. Keeps ‘em up there on the mantle in a TOPS Sweet Snuff tin, all blackened and wrapped in frayed tissue. Likes to take ‘em down anytime he got company over.
“SWEET TOOTH” (convenience store clerk in town where Hiram resides): I coulda done told youins how the ole boy got the Cancer in his throat. After all the business up at the Ryman, after they’d done blackballed him over the lawnmower, he stayed in town more and he drove down here every day for two packs of Winstons. Rain, snow, sleet, hail, he’s here. About twice a week, when I’m just about to leave for home to take my supper, he comes back in, stands on them tiles—those two sticky ones there—and gets him anotheren.
PARSON LYMON (preacher at Hiram’s church home): It’s always a good Sunday to see Hiram strut through those back doors, under the brick arch. Although, he’s late every single Sunday. I can’t recall a time he ever arrived before the hymn that leads into my sermon. We tried to work it out to where he could play backup banjo to the piano sometimes, something to encourage him to come early, but it never worked out.
HARRIET SADLER (Hiram’s eighth daughter): It’s not like he was around anyways, but, yeah, Mom—that’s Erin Massey, his third, dead now—left him. He came in roaring drunk one night and threw turtle stew at me for smarting off, something about how fat he’d got. Luckily he missed, and it splattered on the dresser that Mom kept in the dining room. What they had left, which isn’t much, was over after that.
PARSON LYMON: Rambling man as he was, he always seemed to stay married. I officiated all seven of his weddings, but I think Hiram only counted six. He had one annulled on the grounds of incapacity. However, that argument could probably be made for all his marriages, except the one with Hazel; I know without a doubt that he was sober for the year before they tied the knot.
HUNTER SADLER (Hiram’s fifth son): If I ever wanted to see him, had to go to his shows.
LEE SHARR (former friend of Hiram’s) After that whole mess with the lawnmower on the Ryman stage, he was bored and sitting around with me in the carport most days, chain smoking Winstons, taking pulls off my rye. That’s when I suggested we should make Brunswick stew, give us something to keep busy. That’s the shit that he later jarred, labeled and sold as “Brunswick Blue.” Stole my recipe, the bastard.
HAZEL COX: He won’t admit it to you, but there wouldn’t be no Hiram Sadler without me. Sure, he was good, but he was in a bad place when we met. After they cut off his picking fingers, he about drank himself to death and it didn’t stop until the day he came into my music store, where I showed him a left-handed banjo, the one he bought, the one that made him who he was, the one with the blued head on it. He won’t tell you that I was the one who taught him to play again, play left-handed. He never even told them kids how it happened. Told ‘em that he taught himself to play over again. Bet he said the same thing to y’all folks.
CLAIRE SADLER (Hiram’s second daughter): All of us kids seemed to get different Hirams. A few, like Hank and maybe Steff, say that he was good to them, and I think he tried with me, at least when I was young, but I wish he hadn’t.
There was this one time: my school had a Career Day and I’d begged and begged him to come. I mean, what kid wouldn’t? He was Hiram Sadler, the living Bluegrass legend. When it was my turn, he wasn’t there and I did all I could to not cry in front of everyone.
He was two hours late, but he came, smelling like rye. Mrs. Dubbie only let him talk because she felt bad for me. Didn’t bring no banjo. Didn’t bring no finger picks. Came dressed in his old fatigues and passed around his TOPS Sweet Snuff tin for all the kids to see.