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Kingsland musician Bill Evans goes on tour of duty for ‘forgotten’ veterans

Connie and Bill Evans recently returned from a five-state tour during which they entertained veterans and disabled veterans. The couple was returning home and was between Lampasas and Burnet when the engine in their van seized. They hope to find a replacement engine so they can return to the road to visit other veterans’ homes. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

KINGSLAND — At 77, Bill Evans is no stranger to the road. As a young buck of 16, he and a buddy slipped away from home and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.After a stint with the Marines, including a trip to Korea during that war, Evans landed in New Mexico, where he served as a deputy sheriff. But it was in Alaska, where his brother lived, that Evans eventually settled for many years.

Though “settled” might be a misnomer because even in Alaska, Evans spent a great deal of time on the road, whether it was checking remote facilities for the Coast Guard or the government or touring with his band, the Timber Tramps.

Evans, however, enjoyed some of his warmest receptions during his most recent trip. While it didn’t include climbing a 1,300-foot tower in subzero temperatures, fishing with John Wayne or opening for David Frizell and Shelly West (each of which he has done), the recent five-state journey reminded him and his wife and traveling companion, Connie Evans, about the importance of remembering those who many people have forgotten.

“We have all these veterans who are in these homes and hospitals that nobody really thinks about,” Bill Evans said. “They’re just wanting somebody to come by and visit with them.”

In Evans’ case, he broke out his guitar and instruments and entertained the veterans, many of them disabled.

“It was wonderful to see their responses,” his wife said. “They really appreciated what we were there doing.”

The two loaded up their Chevy van and, along with their three dogs, hit the road in June. The journey started at Kerrville Veterans Hospital. Evans wasn’t sure what to expect. The staff dropped a CD that Evans recorded in 1985 in Nashville into the player and turned it up as he entered the hospital.

At first, only a few veterans gathered in the chairs before him. But with almost 70 years of entertaining under his belt, Evans knew how to draw a crowd and then keep them. Within a few minutes, staff members were bringing in veterans in wheelchairs and even in beds.

For the next three hours, Evans entertained.

He even challenged himself by asking for requests. Evans, who has probably 138,000 songs in his computer, never missed one. He even nailed Hoagy Carmichael’s “Buttermilk Skies” when somebody called for it.

From Kerrville, the Evans group headed north.

They stopped at veterans’ homes and facilities in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois.

With only their Social Security checks supporting them, the couple would play in VFW and American Legion halls (and an occasional bar) to raise traveling money.

“We’d play two or three halls or bars for gas money and then go on to the next place,” Evans said.

Evans began performing as a toddler when his father, a musician himself, just basically sat him in a spot one day and told him, “Sing.”

When he moved to Alaska in 1957 (before it was even a state) and was working as one of the territory’s first sworn correction’s officers, Evans still found time to perform. Which wasn’t always easy, since as a correction’s officer, the frontiersman often found himself heading out in the bush searching for wanted men.

While in Alaska, he owned several businesses, lived in Dutch Harbor before it was the thriving seaport it is now and even helped get water and wastewater facilities for the numerous Native American villages in the state.

Amid all that, he routinely toured with the Timber Tramps and rubbed elbows with some of the biggest names in country music, including Ernest Tubb, Willie Nelson and Ray Price.

“It was just a life few men get to experience,” Evans said.

All those experiences, lessons and stories Evans folded up into his entertainer’s heart and offered to the veterans and their families he and his wife met on their recent tour.

“I think having me come in and entertain them meant a lot to those veterans,” Evans said. “I know it meant a lot to me.”

The trip took them as far north as Grafton, Ill., before they headed back to Texas.

As they rambled south of Lampasas, the Evans’ van broke down. The engine seized up.

A truck towed it to Mitchell’s Automotive in Kingsland. The mechanics told the couple they needed a new engine for the van.

“They offered to replace it if I can find another one,” Evans said. “So, I’m looking for anybody who has a 350 (engine) they want to help me out with.”

Though the couple stopped at numerous veterans’ homes during the recent outing, both said the journey is far from over.

“We get calls all the time from veterans’ homes that want us to come,” Connie Evans said.

Bill Evans nodded.

“I’d really like to get to most of them before winter,” he said. “At 77 and still able to do something for them, what better way than entertaining veterans. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be upright, but after seeing all those vets and seeing how appreciative they are, I’ll keep doing it as long as I can.”

daniel@thepicayune.com