I recently read Ronnie Hardcastle’s commentary about Mike Meinert’s death in the El Dorado News Times with dual emotions: deep sadness and great joy. Sadness because of the loss of a wonderful and talented childhood friend—joy because of the memories of the Dixie Land Band, the Hi Fis, that came in like a flood. The guys in that band were a mainstay to my youth and each one was richly talented, admirable, unique and full of life. As Ronnie wrote, Mike was our leader and we never heard him belittle or bully anyone—it was against his principles and his personality. He also had a deep sense of fairness and compassion for all.
I played bass fiddle in the group and sometimes transported the band to our out-of-town gigs in my 1946 Dodge. Mike loved that gangster-style automobile and always wanted to drive it. I would lodge the bass with the neck protruding into the front seat and we would pack ourselves around it like sardines. One night when Mike was driving at peak speed back from a gig in Smackover, about 60 miles-per-hour, the Dodge threw a rod. Mike was so remorseful, feeling the full responsibility for the event. I told him over and over that the engine was about to blow anyway and would have done so no matter who was behind the wheel, but he was not satisfied until he arranged to have the car towed to my house and offered to pay for the repairs. He and our guitar player, Joe B. Lawler, did tow the old car to my house, but it was beyond repair. When I dropped the oil pan, there were pieces of cam shaft and cylinder wall in there. We got to our gigs in other ways from then on.
Years later, Mike came to see me in the dorm at Southern State College when we were both enrolled there. Jacque and I lived in an apartment in back of McCrary hall at Southern State College. We were dorm parents. When Mike and I talked, our conversation was full of the quiet laughter of reminiscence and I’ll never forget his effervescent good will. He told my wife about the demise of the old Dodge as if it had happened yesterday. It was as if we were related because of the musical connection.
One of my best memories of the group is the night we all discovered that we sounded pretty good. We had practiced a lot both individually and as a group and on our third or fourth gig, I believe it was at the TAC house in El Dorado, everything fell into place. Our rendition of “When My Baby Walks Down the Street” sounded so cool that people stopped dancing and gathered around the bandstand. Then, when we played Clyde McCoy’s “Sugar Blues” even the chaperones paid attention and joined the applause. I discovered that night that it is far better to be proud of your group than of yourself.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.