By Alan McGuckin
Between the ears of a professional angler is a noisy place. A life that appears glamorous to fans is more like a mental mosh pit to those that play the game. Misperceived. Stressful. Catch ‘em good, or don’t get paid. All while spending at least half the year away from the people and things you love the most.
It’s loud and turbulent in there. And perhaps that’s why even accomplished pros like Gerald Swindle and Kevin VanDam are drawn to the peaceful sounds of a fellow angler’s strong soothing voice dripping with a South Carolina drawl, and fingertips born to pick the strings.
VanDam and Swindle don’t care that 28-year-old Casey Ashley is one of their young competitors with two blue first-place Bassmaster Elite Series trophies to his credit. Casey’s a friend, actually, more like a little brother. And they appreciate the ground wire he provides through his willingness to create a musical mental sanctuary on the front porch of a lakeside cabin, or in a hotel lobby, hundreds of miles from their homes.
“Skynyrd’s 'Simple Man' and Kid Rock are my favorites to hear Casey play because they mean something personal to me,” VanDam said. “I love 'Simple Man' because it was the song used in a commercial I did with Anheuser-Busch a few years ago. Plus, I don’t think of myself as anything special or better than anybody else, so the lyrics really register with me.
“I like Kid Rock because he’s a Detroit guy who never forgot where he came from. He still lives in Michigan, and likes to hang out with the common people."
“The only reason I learned to play a couple of Kid Rock songs is because I knew KVD would like it,” Casey said with a grin. “Music is a great get away. Music can take you many places. Places you wanna be. Places you’ve been before. Music can make ya’ grin. And it can make ya’ cry.
“The funny thing is, nobody in my family can sing or play an instrument. But as far back as I can remember, I loved listening to the radio. I learned to sing by singing along with the radio. I won second place by singing in a talent show that my friends dared me to enter. And when I turned 18, my daddy bought me guitar lessons. Soon after, I cut a gospel cd for my grandpa."
Ashley’s talent is not limited to the bass fishing scene. He recorded a demo CD in Nashville in 2011 that contains six songs entailing everything from young summer romance, to deeply heartfelt songs about life on-the road. And even one tune about a grandpa’s perspective on life’s deeper goodness brought forth through fishing.
“The thing is, KVD’s always gonna catch ‘em, and Swindle’s always gonna make ‘em laugh, but me … well …whether I catch ‘em or not, I’m gonna sing and play guitar,” says Ashley.
And many nights away from home, out there along the emotionally reflective path of the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, he does just that. He plays. He sings. And they huddle-up to listen.
“Every time we gather around Casey’s guitar, it seems like there will always be one or two people there that have never heard him play,” VanDam said. “And watching the first-timers’ sense of amazement over how awesome Casey sounds is the part I love the most. It just never gets old.”
“I enjoy the heck out of it,” Ashley said. “I just hope they never grow tired of listening.”
“Sing ‘Em Good my Friend” – Kenny Chesney