Never too late
On Sunday, the Columbia Chorale will perform music from "The Ballad of Jesse James" written by Bend novelist D. B. Newton more than 50 years ago
Those were the good days, trailing with the boys.
Hell for leather! Hit the road together!
Boys who would never let you down!
The way we'd ride into a town!
When folks found out why we rode in there,
They knew, by God, that Jesse James had been there!
From 'The Ballad of Jesse James' by D.B. Newton
Those words were written more than a half century ago by a young and ambitious Dwight Newton as part of a musical showcasing the illustrious Jesse James. The musical was commissioned by the then-president of the University of Missouri as a fundraiser a few years after Newton had graduated with a degree in Western history.
The show never made it to the stage.
'They couldn't get funding, so they sent it back,' said Newton, who is now a sprite 92 years old and lives in Bend with his wife of 67 years, Mary Jane. 'I'd gotten disgusted after all the work I put into it so I just put it on a shelf.'
But, on Sunday, Newton's long-shelved ballads will finally be performed for an audience. By a freak accident, Newton's work was heard by someone who could do something about getting his music to the public. Newton's daughter, Jennifer Kirkpatrick, who is a member of the Columbia Chorale, happened to mention to conductor Ryan Heller, who is always looking for new material, that her father had written a Western-themed musical in his youth. Heller was interested and Kirkpatrick gave him a copy, never dreaming anything would materialize. 'I didn't hear anything for months,' said Kirkpatrick. But, Heller loved what he'd heard. Now, Newton will finally hear his music performed in public after more than a half century. 'I've never heard it sung,' said a tearful Newton.
The public will have the opportunity to attend the debut of Newton's jaunty tunes at the Olmscheid Auditorium in St. Helens on Sunday at 3 p.m. 'It's dramatic,' said Newton. 'It has some of my best writing in it - all the complicated harmonies. It kind of wrote itself.' The Columbia Chorale will be performing many of Newton's songs from the musical along with songs of Americana to compliment Newton's music. Various guest soloists will also be featured at the concert.
Newton's way with words didn't stop at music. Even as a youngster, Newton knew he wanted to write. He starting writing stories at age 12 and had his first sale when he was 22. In college he began writing musicals which were performed by college drama groups.
In the early '40s Newton and Mary Jane moved to Bend and he continued writing and selling stories for pulp-fiction paperbacks, which, at the time was not the most lucrative way to make a living. 'In those days, they sold for 25 cents apiece,' said Newton.
Then in 1957, he moved his family to Hollywood working as a writer for TV Westerns. He was the original writer for the popular show 'Wagon Train.' He also wrote for 'Death Valley Days' and 'Tales of Wells Fargo.'
'I was down there longer than I wanted to be,' said Newton. 'I didn't like the people at all. I had no control over what I could write, but it was an experience.'
In 1965, Newton and his family returned to Bend and he went back to writing Western fiction under the pen name D.B. Newton. 'That first year was scary getting back into a business I'd abandoned,' said Newton. 'I became a novelist -- no more pulp fiction for me.' All told, Newton, now retired, has written more than 70 historical Westerns, with the distinction of having written the story for the first original paperback by Pocketbook.
Newton's works are now even becoming collectible. 'Somebody said they paid more than $50 for one of my books,' said Newton. 'It's a strange business.'
Tickets for the concert are available at the door for $8 for students and seniors and $12 for adults ($10 in advance at St. Helens Book Shop, Houlton Bakery in St. Helens and Flowers 'N Fluff in Clatskanie). Log on to www.fantasticfiction.com for a listing of Newton's works.
What: 'The Ballad of Jesse James' performed by the Columbia Chorale
Where: Olmscheid Auditorium at St. Helens High School
When: Sunday, March 16 at 3 p.m.