On August 24, 2019, we said farewell to an iconic music figure in Muskogee. Ronald Boren was a favorite of about any musician in the area. He became a musician as a young teenager, telling me the story often of how he snuck in Cain’s Ballroom to see Bugs Henderson play guitar. After successfully defeating Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a teenager, he soon became a staple in the local music scene, playing with The Shakers and working at various music stores in town.
My first encounter with Ronald was in early 1998, soon after I moved to the area from Nashville. I was looking around in John Michael’s Music Store and Ronald happened to be the sales associate to help me. I was immediately impressed with his music knowledge, genuine interest in his customers, and he ability to play any instrument in the room. I ended up leaving with an electric fretless bass that I did not need.
A few short years later, in 2002, I decided to move in the city limits. After an evening of touring houses with my Realtor, I dropped in at a tribute to Lee Wiley in Miss Addie’s Tea Room. The place was packed, and when I walked in, Ronald was playing drums with a make-shift band that included Suzanne Barns on piano and Jermaine Mondaine on saxophone. Dr. Hugh Foley was emceeing the evening, and a film crew from Japan was there to document a Japanese artist named Miko and her obsession with Lee Wiley. Ronald immediately pointed at me and Hugh Foley announced my name to the room, and soon I was singing “Route 66” with the band. Unknowingly, Ronald was recording the evening and a few days later produced a CD with that tune on it.
It wasn’t long before I purchased a home on the same block as Ronald. He loved to tell the story of how he once drove by my home with the City Moon tour bus out front and tunes coming out the front door, then hearing another band coming from the home of David and Andy Kay, before arriving at his home to rehearse with his band, 6 Foot Landing. To Ronald, this was Muskogee’s Music Row. I often ventured down to record with Ronald, either with my daughter, Valerie, or on a project he was producing for one of his many friends.
Recording was a passionate pastime for Ronald. Very few know of his countless compositions that exist on the miles of ¼-inch tape that Ronald stored in his home. He recorded many jam sessions with local musicians and countless demos and recording projects with local artists. His recording studio in his home was not much different than NASA’s mission control to me. Wires and cables ran in and out of countless devices and a large mixing board that he maneuvered around effortlessly. Surprisingly, Ronald would never think about operating a smartphone or a debit card.
The songwriter in Ronald was always working. He was always quick to respond to something you would say to him with “Hey! There’s a song in that!” And then he would commence to repeating the phrase you said in an impromptu song.
Not long after The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame opened a museum in The Frisco Depot, Ronald became the full-time curator and tour guide. He took great pride in his guided tours, sharing unique facts about the various artists who had been honored and had their picture on the wall. It never failed that when I would walk in on one of his tours, he had to point out to his audience that my mother’s picture was on the wall. I would often respond that Ronald had a couple of cousins on the wall, Mae Boren Axton and Hoyt Axton, to which he would shy away and divert attention to something else. Ronald was extremely proud of his lineage with Mae and Hoyt, but rarely shared his connection with guests. As a gift one year, Ronald presented me with an autographed book Mae wrote about her years in the music industry, which I will always cherish.
In 2013, being engaged to serve as music director on “The Buddy Holly Story” for Muskogee Little Theatre, I approached him about playing in the band for the last scene, set in Clear Lake, Iowa. Of course, he responded with “Man, I don’t know,” shaking his head no, and then conjuring up a number of excuses why he shouldn’t take on the job. Eventually, he gave in and accepted the role. For the next six years, he repeatedly thanked me for that role, stating that it was a huge factor in overcoming a void from performing as he had left 6 Foot Landing, and his regular gig with The Swon Brothers was interrupted by their move to Nashville.
Not long after Ronald’s death, I recalled telling someone about the man who lived at the end of Boston Street. Immediately I envisioned Ronald smiling, pointing his finger at me and saying “Hey, there’s a song in that!” I’m sure it will surface soon.