I’d say get it while you can, yeah,
Honey, get it while you can, yeah,
Honey, grab it while you can,
Don’t you turn your back on love, no, no, no.
“Between grief and nothing I will take grief.”
Restless, Aaron finally turned to the fellows sitting next to us at the bar and asked, “But what about Macolm Yelvington’s ‘Rockin’ with My Baby’?”
With that question, I knew Aaron Irons was the real deal. We’d been eavesdropping on the conversation, two guys debating Sun Records’ greatest songs, when Aaron dropped that rockabilly obscuro on them. He wasn’t flexing his encyclopedic knowledge or trying to one-up anyone; he was just thrilled to join any conversation about the music he loved, whether it was with some fellow barflies or with me, his new friend.
I met Aaron in ’98 or ’99, after I’d moved to Milledgeville to finish up college. I first saw him waiting tables at Brewer’s, the downtown restaurant favored by us humanities types, and was instantly taken by him. He looked like Charles Starkweather at a parole hearing, if he’d ever been given one. On the clock, Aaron did his part to dress the type–white oxford shirt, black slacks–but his greaser hairstyle, his famous open collar, and motorcycle boots suggested someone who wasn’t impressed by authority. And when I saw him off the clock, usually at Buffington’s, he looked like someone who was beyond the realities of employment and real-world responsibilities. I couldn’t imagine him concerning himself with things like bills, groceries, or rent. He looked that cool.
Of course, over time he became real to me. He wasn’t from Parts Unknown, but Thomson, Georgia-via-Elkins, West Virginia. He loved comics, Star Wars, horror movies, wrestling, and Larry McMurtry, specifically Lonesome Dove. He was also every bit the rock n’ roll devotee as I. For us, the music offered a way of life, and folks who didn’t understand that, folks who weren’t affected the same way, were suspect. On stage, performing as a solo act or in Tiberius Suede with Cordell Walker or later with The Liabilities, Aaron played with a hell-for-leather audacity that explored anarchy, heartbreak, loneliness, and fellowship. His voice in the air, the raw nerve of slashed guitar chords, you felt hope, that for a few moments that anything was within your reach. I know I did: With his blessing and template, I didn’t feel ridiculous approaching my band Thee Crucials with a similar sense of life-or-death gravity. It all mattered. And if we sought notoriety in that small, sleepy college town, it was because we had both escaped small towns, and this was a chance to explode that banality we’d cursed the first 20-something years of our lives.
Of these years, one memory distances itself from the rest. We coveted the Norton Records semi-regular catalogs, our fingers smudging the black and white newsprint as we made note of the rare and reissued rockabilly, punk, and R&B 45s and LPs we wanted. Between my student loan refund and his tips, we had enough money to place a large order, including our own copies of Hasil Adkins’s Out to Hunch and Esquerita’s Vintage Voola. I sent the check to Norton’s HQ, so the records were coming my way, but since I didn’t have a phone, Aaron would show up to my home—a treehouse on Frank Bone Road– every couple of days, hoping our records had arrived. And one afternoon they did, so we spent the rest of the afternoon on the deck, drinking Southpaw and whiskey, listening to the neglected history of rock ‘n’ roll play out on songs like Adkins’s “She Said” and “No More Hot Dogs” and Esquerita’s “The Rock-A-Round” and the devastating “I Got a Lot to Learn,” a recording so lo-fi that you can hear someone shut a studio door a few minutes into the song. That detail—that fingerprint of imperfection—validated our obsessions.
I’ve returned to that memory a few times since we lost Aaron, almost falling for the lie that we were at our best that afternoon—young, avid, unaccountable. That’s myth a lot of us have bought into: We peak early, and the rest is afterthought and aftermath. But Aaron didn’t settle for youth. He grew up. After a few years in Milledgeville, he moved to Macon, where he worked at The Hummingbird, roadied for The Marshall Tucker Band, and eventually landed his own radio show, Honky Tonk Hell, on The Creek 100.9, delivering roots and rockabilly fire to an unsuspecting Middle Georgia audience. Soon enough, he was a full-time employee, becoming the lead editor for The 11th Hour and the station’s digital content, including Sound and Soul, which morphed into The Creek, where he tirelessly championed independent and major label artists he believed in and also worked to restore Macon as a destination spot for touring acts. Along the way, he traded his greaser cut for a beard and a cowboy hat. Most importantly, he became a loving and devoted husband to his wife Amanda and a proud, protective, and adoring (and adorable) father to his daughter Carter Wray. (If you knew Aaron, you know whom she was named after.)
He approached the second act of his life with the same gusto that waylaid me when I first met him. What’s more is that his zeal was always infused with integrity. He never fell for another myth, the belief that creatives need suffering and substances to thrive. He was never seduced by the death wish of the back seat Hank William’s 1952 Cadillac or Johnny Thunders’s New Orleans hotel room. He had no time for waste; he was too busy juggling devotions.
I, on the other hand, did fall for that myth, losing touch for a few years with Aaron and some mutual friends that I loved as I worked my way from dive bar to dive bar, from low point to lowest point. When I emerged sober a few years ago, unsure if I could create without a drink in my hand, Aaron immediately gave me the chance to write for him. Along the way, I gained a family of my own, and with his example, I’ve never looked back. I often thanked him for the opportunities and his guidance but could never approach repaying him.
After his first stroke, we messaged back and forth about his recovery and some writing assignments, but I didn’t dig too deeply into his health. I didn’t want to intrude or jinx anything. He finally broke the ice and said his biggest fear had been dying on the same day as Jimmy Buffett. With that joke, I was sure he had turned a corner and would live at least another 40 years. But here we are, all of us, heartbroken, stunned, confused, angry.
I wish he were for all of you, for his family, for Amanda and Carter Wray. Selfishly, I wish he were here to check out the new Booker & The M.G.s’ reissues, to text me about a Halloween playlist, to try to sell me on Springsteen one more time, to maybe commit to seeing Nick Lowe in November, and to listen to the remastered version of The Replacements’ Tim. But that’s not gonna happen. What we can do is listen to his archived radio shows, blast The Liabilities’ self-titled record, and follow his lead in remaining fiercely loyal to our passions and loved ones.
Speaking of The Replacements, Tim features one of Paul Westerberg’ most haunting verses, found in the song “Bastards of Young.” On the remaster, the lines cut like ribbons with an icy clarity:
The ones who love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones love us least are the ones we’ll die to please
If it’s any consolation, I don’t begin to understand them.
Those lines stung when I was a kid; now they overwhelm me as a terrible warning. We don’t have to let our memories and affections diminish into obligations while we obsess over the undeserving. Instead, share your stories about Aaron; embrace the memories, even if they’re inevitably embellished by time. I can vouch for almost everything I’ve written today. It’s the truth I need right now. The poets Nick Flynn wrote, “We all need to create the story that will make sense of our lives, to make sense of the daily tasks.” That sentiment works for me, but if that’s not convincing enough for you, turn to The Liabilities’ “I Used to Know Here,” with Aaron coming clean — “It ain’t the truth/ but I remember it that way”— and join in the conversation below, already in progress:
Richard Hawes (The Liabilities, El Capitan and The Reluctant Sadists)
I met Aaron Scott Irons when I was a freshman in high school. He was a senior, and he went by Scott back then. If you knew anything about where we grew up, you can imagine what an unlikely person he was to find there. I was a self-conscious, insecure kid and he possessed an air of confidence and cool that I envied. What made him different, especially in a small-town high school, was that he didn’t act aloof and snotty to try to maintain a veneer of superiority. He didn’t need to. He showed me you could be that cool and still read comics, play tabletop roleplaying games, watch schlocky movies, and all sorts of other stuff I’d either not discovered or forgotten the joy of.
He introduced me to cooler stuff during that time than everyone else I knew combined. We had a group that did all night gaming (mostly bull) sessions. We’d hang out in Waffle House until 2am drinking coffee and talking about books, movies, life…whatever. He always had an opinion about whatever. Sometimes those opinions were highly developed in ways most people would never conceive of even if they could. As I got older, I realized that some people do that as a way of making up for not having much of a personality otherwise. Not Aaron. He was just like that, and part of what made him so worthwhile to talk to was that you didn’t always know what that opinion was going to be.
Time passed and we went our respective ways, but always got together occasionally, usually around the holidays if nothing else since we were both home. His younger sister and I were friends so that kept me up to speed on what was going on with him. In those years I got really into rock ‘n roll and wanted to be in a band more than anything. I lived in a few different cities, but no matter where I went or how I tried, nothing came together. I eventually moved to Athens, mostly out of a lack of any other move to make. One night I went to The 40 Watt to see The Cramps, and just inside the front doors, standing there holding up the bar, was Aaron. We were both surprised and happy to see each other and found that our musical tastes had only grown more alike over the years. Since he lived just over an hour away in Milledgeville, we decided that we had to start a band. We found our drummer, Billy, pretty soon after we started practicing, and that became the first incarnation of The Liabilities.
We started with some covers; a combination of old rock ‘n roll and country songs that Aaron wanted to do, and punk and surf instrumental songs that I wanted to do. We both adored Social Distortion Link Wray. All this gelled into a cowpunk sound we were really happy with, and as we got more shows under our belt, we added more original songs as Aaron wrote them. This version of the band was pretty different than what came later, but it was always a vessel for Aaron’s songwriting. I don’t have to tell anyone that knew him why he was an ideal frontman, and I couldn’t have asked to be in a better band with better guys.
By the time Aaron moved to Macon I was planning to move away from Athens, and the drive was too much to do on the regular, so I sadly stepped away. Justin Smith, who’d joined on lead guitar in my final months with the band, moved over to bass, and they eventually became the band that released the album, The Liabilities.
We stayed in touch over the years, but not as frequently as we each went about doing our respective things. He would always reach out when he heard about something I was doing with one of the bands, recommend stuff he knew I’d dig, etc. That was the kind of guy he was. He booked both of my bands in Macon a few times over the years, and it was always great to see him. Anyone who knew him will tell you; he was the most ardent and sincere advocate of the music he loved and the people doing it as you could imagine. I was really glad to see how much he loved the work he was doing at The Creek, and how obviously happy he was being a husband and a dad.
When I heard he had the first stroke, I texted him to see how he was doing, and we were bullshitting via text like it was nothing. I told him I’d come down there to see him when he was feeling better. I should have gone right away. We lost one of the best this past week, and we won’t see his like again.
Like so many you will hear from or have heard from, my friendship with Aaron was rooted in music. Everything we talked about began and ended with music. A few months ago I was talking to another friend of mine and I described Aaron as my “musical sherpa.” That dude led me down so many paths that I may have discovered eventually but probably not. I owe my love of Steve Earle, Townes Van Zant, Chris Knight, Justin Townes Earle, and so many more to the education that Aaron provided me. When we met I was listening to heavy metal, punk rock, and hip hop. One of my earliest memories of Aaron was the night he came into Buffington’s while I was bartending and he could only have one beer and a shot because he had bought Transcendental Blues by Steve Earle and he was heading back to his dorm room to listen to it all night. Cut to a couple of years later and we were roommates, and I spent a solid year exploring his CD collection and learning about a bunch of stuff that just blew my mind. I must have listened to his copies of Jerusalem by Steve Earle and the eponymous album by Chris Knight a thousand times each. Once we went our separate ways we kept in touch and music stayed at the forefront. Aaron Irons and my father have been the two most influential voices in my musical taste. Pretty damn good company.
The music he turned me on to changed my way of thinking but I honestly prefer the music he made to any of that other stuff. I lived with him twice for a total of about two years. I got to see him play solo, play as Tiberius Suede with Cordell Walker, and the original lineup of The Liabilities started in our living room. I loved seeing him perform on stage. But the real pleasure was just getting to sit there and listen to him to play sitting on the couch or on the front porch. Dude had a mind that was preternaturally built for lyrics. He could hear the words and disseminate the meaning and the sound at the same time. And he never forgot the words. I would just sit there, and request songs and he would play them. It was an amazing experience. I have no musical aptitude but it is one of the things I love the most. I’ll remember some of the shows, but I was wasted at a lot of them so the details will be fuzzy. I will clearly remember watching him play in the day-to-day. He was never not playing and singing.
The last thing I’ve got is one of my favorite memories of him on stage. In 2002 I was working a bullshit job and renting a room from Aaron for about $130 a month. It was a dark time for me besides getting to hang out with Aaron. He wanted to play out of Milledgeville and I didn’t have anything going on so I started helping him book some shows. I got him a couple of gigs at The Somber Reptile in Atlanta. They weren’t the best slots but we were proud of them. The first time he played up there he was the headliner and I think there were maybe 10 people in the audience. They were not his target audience. Probably some metro Atlanta kids going to Georgia State. They didn’t know him or the music he was doing. He broke into his set and played the loudest, most raucous show I have ever heard someone do with just guitar, a harmonica, and a bass amp. His music was on point and it’s probably the best I ever saw him perform. The great thing about the set was that in between songs he kept up a nonstop rapid-fire conversation with the audience. It was funny and endearing and completely off the cuff. By the end of the show, he had that group of 10 people thinking they had just seen the second coming of Bruce Springsteen. They all came up to us after the show and were asking about him, his original songs, and the covers he had played. They were not who he was looking for that night I know damn well he was not what they were looking for. But it turned out that we were all where we were supposed to be. It was an amazing night. I will never forget that night.
I believe, and this is just my belief, that Aaron would want to be remembered as three things: A loving dad to Carter, a loving husband to Amanda, and an artist that loved what he did and wanted to share that love with the people around him. I have three stories that I think highlight each category.
Adam McIntyre (The Pinx)
When The Pinx played Macon, Aaron Irons would play us on the radio all week and then interview me when I got to town for the show. And then he’d hand me the article he wrote for the entertainment magazine about the show. And the questions he would ask on-air would surprise me, that anyone would ever notice some of the meanings I’d put into the songs, and he would know all the influences behind something, not just the main one. And he was like that … with everyone. I watched him do it over and over, he would just … love these people. He would love music and musicians so hard… you felt it around Aaron. It wasn’t some kind of fawning adoration; it was love. He knew which spot in the river of inspiration that you’d been fishing in. He encouraged music to be its best because … I think that’s how he felt Macon should be.
In the old days, Aaron’s band The Liabilities and The Pinx would do shows together not only in Macon but up and down the highway, as far as Savannah. I have my own story about what happened when the power went out at The Jinx on that fateful St Patrick’s Day. If the camera follows Aaron Irons, however, it’s a perfect Aaron story: Right as I said “How y’all doing, The Jinx, we’re The Pinx” the power went out. The patrons got restless, the bar got nervous… and we couldn’t do anything. Aaron immediately started asking around “anybody got an acoustic guitar?”
We pointed flashlights at Aaron Irons while he played Johnny Cash and Hank Williams covers for close to an hour. He kept the patrons in the venue, and the bar resumed service as cash-only … which was funny, considering the music. Aaron saved the evening, or at least propped it up for a bit longer. He had all those songs, chords, lyrics, locked and loaded and ready to go in case of emergency. We were only on that bill because Aaron had said “if y’all are free tomorrow, I’ll talk to Suzanne, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” And it was. But it was and remained Aaron’s show.
It was always so much fun playing in Macon and heading back for what felt like a middle school spend-the-night at the Irons’, sleeping on the roof while Roger Riddle dreamt of posing for a Pinx postage stamp, or watching Blackula in the living room. My band got invited to play the Irons’ wedding at the Capitol Theatre, an unforgettable, perfect evening. Aaron and Amanda were a pair I believed in. I believed in that love, and I believe in it still because I can still feel every bit of love Aaron poured into this world while he was in it. I still feel the love he spoke of when I took Amber to Macon for lunch with Aaron and sightseeing, Aaron spoke so much of Carter and Amanda that day.
Like I’ve said many times the last two days, “love was kind of the main thing with Aaron.”
I’m going to miss all of it so much. Every single bit of it, not just because of everything Aaron always did for me but because he was just that person, with anyone he loved.
Love fearlessly today.
William Dantzler (Fresh Produce Records)
There is so much that can be said about Aaron, and we will do our best to use these fond memories to fill the void that will be felt by so many who loved Aaron and he loved in return.
I first met Aaron way back in the day when I was a scrappy punk running around downtown, playing shows, and starting to familiarize myself with Macon’s community.
I remember seeing him with The Liabilities and thinking this guy is an absolute character, someone truly embodying their art and living it fully, an important lesson for anyone considering any sort of life in entertainment.
Even though what we were doing was somewhat different, there was an instant mutual respect and I felt like he welcomed us into the scene with open arms.
Flash forward to several years later when I opened the record shop, I got to know Aaron more as the musical scholar and historian that he truly was. He was one of those customers that would always teach me something when they came in, and I always valued and appreciated those nuggets of wisdom.
Truth be told, I didn’t see him as often in the early days of the shop and I realize now it’s because my inventory wasn’t up to his standards!
As the store grew and we expanded and got organized into who we are today, we saw Aaron more frequently and that shared well of knowledge grew deeper and deeper.
Aaron was a favorite customer of mine and William’s, and we took joy in trying our best to turn him on to something new or find that deep cut gem we knew he would want.
As the interactions grew more frequent, we started working more closely with Aaron. We were so blessed to share some guest spots and playlist take overs on The Creek which really made us feel connected with a much larger musical conversation.
Aaron was a driving force in that expanding musical conversation in Macon, and here he was again over a decade later welcoming us to the table with open arms and a smile.
I always appreciated his intolerance for bullshit, he would cut right to the point and he wasn’t afraid to admit when he didn’t know something. Similarly, he would call you out if your facts didn’t quite add up, an expectation of honesty that stems from his personal integrity, respect for the subject matter, and the eternal search for the genuine article.
There’s no way to replace the light he brought into this world, but I will always hold a flame for my man Aaron Irons.
Whenever I find something cool in the record bins, I’ll play it proudly for him knowing he is smiling that bright smile of his as the joy of our shared musical journey continues into the infinite.
As a writer I like to pretend that I know what to say for at least most occasions. However, ironically, I have struggled to find the proper words to adequately capture my love and respect for the first person to call me that. I sadly didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him in school in Milledgeville, or spending time with his small family that he loved so deeply. I met him about three years ago in what seemed like an inevitable collision given our almost identical musical tastes. Thee Aaron Irons had an abiding love of songwriting and for the people that did it well so every time I saw him we spent most of our time marveling over well-crafted words. As someone that wrote to impress him and thrived on sending him material just to receive what
to me was coveted criticism, the best I can muster is a cliche to which I hope he would’ve rolled his eyes at and said, “Matt I think you could’ve said that in a less banal way”. But here it is: “Tell the people that matter to you what they mean to you while you can; otherwise, you will always remember them wishing you had.” Had I known that I didn’t have many years to come with him I would have told him that he was a hugely influential voice in my development as a writer! I simply craved his advice and opinion as a mentor and fellow artist. I will forever think of him while listening to poignant words of Guy Clark, Billie Joe Shaver, Chris Knight, or Waylon, and to paraphrase Guy Clark from his song “Randall Knife” when I do think of the man, loved so well by so many, I will try to shed a “worthy tear”… He has now moved on across that great divide and will forever be Thee Late, Great Aaron Irons.
Leslie Rouffe (Songlines)
It was always a pleasure working with Aaron. His joy in championing artists was ever-present. I knew whenever he interviewed one of my artists, that they were in more than capable hands. I looked forward to seeing the wonderful result when he posted his feature on The Creek’s web site.. You could tell he did his homework and usually was the best interview this artist had done, including all national press outlets. He was a shining light in the Americana community and he will be sorely missed.
Angela Backstrom (Americana Radio, Angela Backstrom Productions)
Aaron Irons was a champion of Real Country Music. Every so often in life you meet a real kindred spirit, someone who feels as passionate and enthusiastic about lifting others up.
That was Aaron. Full of positivity and he had a golden ear for the best of music. I always respected his opinion and I feel a sense of great loss in my circle of music loving pals.
I will never forget the light and joy it was to know Aaron Irons. He was taken too early as I know he had much more to do in the world.
My heart goes out to Amanda and Carter. I cannot begin to fathom the pain they are going through.
Joe “Kern” Garner, The Kernal
Last night we lost Aaron Irons, a great friend and champion of music. He was a Managing Editor and on-air host at 100.9 The Creek in Macon, GA, and while I only saw him a few times a year, he made an undeniable impression on me. There are a lot of great people working in music who don’t get up on stages and hold guitars and drumsticks—there’s no doubt about that. But there are a good number of people who write about music, promote it, and play it on radio stations as more of a job than what you might call a passion. Aaron loved to talk to me about my lyrics, where I was coming from, what I was thinking, and he always did it with the purest, most genuine smile. Not only did he know music but he could write about it and talk about it on air with a voice like a chainsaw through fresh pine. We were just in Macon a few months ago on a little run with Caitlin Rose, and there was Aaron, as always, cowboy hat and boots, grinning ear to ear, making sure we had everything we needed and buying up a bunch of merch at the end of the night. True to human fashion, I wish I’d have known it would be the last time I’d see him. I’d tell him how much it meant to me that he really listened to what I was doing and was spreading it around to his listeners. I could feel that he loved the music the same way I did, which is the greatest gift you can give to someone who dawdles around with strings and scraps of paper like we do. Thank you, Aaron. Thank you for doing whatever you did to get yourself a seat at 100.9 The Creek. You gave me all sorts of hope and encouragement, and still do. May we be blessed with more like you.