He was 15 as he sat on the back porch of his grandpa's farm in Milroy. To some outside the Mifflin County line, Milroy was little more than a "hole in the ground."
But that didn't matter to him, because every time he opened up that cracked brown guitar case and let his hands fly over those frets, it felt like he was on the most famous stage in country music history-the Grand Ole Opry. He'd slide his fingers to a G chord, a C, then D. His voice danced with the picking of the six strings.
He played every song from George Jones to Hank Williams Sr. The music simmered in his soul like a pot just about to boil until it rushed up to his throat and came out in the form of a hard-core country ballad.
He listened to all the country records, mimicking that untouchable sound while thinking, "That's going to be me someday." The Gibson guitar became his best friend and proved to be one of the best ones he would ever have. That piece of wood and wire would never let him down.
He started to play steel guitar in a local band, the Kauffman Family. Credit should be given to his experience in that band; it sparked the flame of starting his own band. He made frequent trips to Nashville. Although Music City was packed with opportunity, it also remained behind closed doors. None of them opened for him.
He made a lot of friends there - musicians on the same journey he was making. They exchanged music, honky-tonk stories and well-kept secrets of the town. Pennsylvania was home to him, but he corresponded with friends and businessmen in Nashville in the hope that sooner or later the networking would make a difference. By day he worked driving nails, but by evening and come late Friday and Saturday nights, music drove his soul.
Eventually, overcome by exhaustion and the frustration of playing the small gigs and churches where he sang, he cut his first record - a gospel 8-track tape. The tape featured a gospel trio on the front cover including, in addition to himself, his wife and Darren Kauffman - a member of the Kauffman Family with whom he had gotten his start.
He played the small-town fairs and festivals in the area surrounding his home, singing his recorded songs, but it didn't take him any closer to his dreams - just to another level of obsession.
Some time after, he cut another album, Men Like That, titled from a track he had written about his deceased grandfather.
Many complimented his songs and the quality of his "backwoods band." But he wanted more than that - a lot more. He longed for his name to appear in lights and to be valued along with those of Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb and Gene Watson. The Opry, however, continued to elude his grasp.
Over the next 20 years, he cut five different albums and sang all over Pennsylvania. He opened for names like Confederate Railroad, Steve Holy and Tracey Byrd. He met Joe Nicholas, Aaron Tippen, Darryl Worley and Blake Shelton. But none of those who reached out to shake his hand had any idea how long he had waited, how much he had wanted, how much he deserved, to be on a stage of his very own.
His big break never came, but not because of a lack of talent - he had more than enough of that - but because he had an unmarketable realism that no makeup artist or photographer could wrap their craft around. Something about his raw talent and uncanny personality earned him the reputation, to put it lightly, of being just "too country."
So, this "too country" singer continued to travel short distances to play, all the while hoping and praying for the phone call from a record executive eager to sign him. It never came.
All those years of singing and playing for people who never listened and never cared; all those late Friday and Saturday nights that he never got paid for - it all seemed worthless, an aimless toss into a dark tunnel of abandoned dreams.
The hundreds of people who offered words of encouragement, saying, "Keep it up son, you're good enough to get there someday," were now a flickering flame of hope that soon burned out. The hard work of setting up his sound system for every concert, never making a dime, but doing it for the love of the music, now seemed vain. All this work. And for what? To be called a country star.
What he didn't know was he never had to toil for his dream of being a star, although I'm glad he chased it. He never had to sing and play, but it melted my heart when he did, because in my mind Daddy was, and always will be, a country music star.
He's older now, but I see that faded dream still distant in his blue eyes. He still sings at fairs all over the Keystone State, and I travel with him now, singing as he taught me to sing. Although his chances of being an Opry star grow less and less with every passing day, he's a star to me.
Chills run up and down my spine when he sings, and tears come to my eyes when he plays. He doesn't need to be standing on the biggest stage in the world. He doesn't need the bright lights and thumping amps or the millions of screaming fans to be a star. He has me.
The day Daddy traded chasing all that for sitting on our couch with his guitar in hand, with me down by his feet looking up at him, was the day I became his No. 1 fan.
Of all the singers I've ever listened to who influenced my voice and my opinion of what true music is, Daddy is the biggest star of them all.
More importantly, he's just Daddy to me.
Valerie Bonson is a student reporter and columnist at Indian Valley High School.