The air was humid as I opened the door at the Carter Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, and there he was. The sun settled on his wrinkled, worn face with a glow that immediately caught my attention. He was alone and was hard smoking a cigarette with two packs on standby – one in each pocket.

At first, Bill Hicks is not the guy you might just randomly walk up to and ask to take a picture. He wasn’t wearing a Columbia shirt and clean khakis like most of the folks who came out a on a Sunday afternoon to see Marty Stuart and the Superlatives in a rare appearance during the Appalachia Rising series.

Instead, Bill was the subject every photographer hopes to capture – honest, real, and worn. It’s a picture that exceeds a thousand words, and although we talked for just a few moments, I felt there was much more to his story, and perhaps the photo will leave that poetry to its own place and time.

Bill didn’t hesitate to let me take his picture. He looked straight into the lens, and I finally encouraged a subtle smile from beneath his wooly set of grey whiskers.

As he brought the small cigar-like cigarette back up to his yellow/gray beard and pursed it with his lips, I asked him his name.

“Bill Hicks,” what’s yours?” he asked.

I told him my name and that I was shooting pictures for the Carter Fold. When I asked him where he was from, he surprised me by responding, “Bluff City.”

It wasn’t long before we had a connection in space here in the Tri-Cities. When I moved out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment, I live on the small river in Bluff City that feeds into Boone Lake. That gave us some landscape to talk about, including Chinquapin Tn and Morrell’s or Worley’s Cave as I recall both names.

Bill told me that he’d been on the front page of two newspapers in his life owing his right-place / right time to a moment in Waffle House where someone else grabbed his image.

I asked him about the two packs, and he just admitted, I like to smoke and don’t want to run out today. He also said he was in his mid-seventies and had recently visited his brother who was ill with Cancer. He hated seeing his brother like that, and for that reason, I could see the worry in his tired blue eyes.

Bill may have been talking about family or perhaps I mentioned something about the mandolin I’d just shot a picture of behind stage. Jerry Lee Lewis’s signature was on the body, and I may have mentioned Jerry’s legacy of marrying his 13-year-old cousin.

Without hesitation, Bill said he married a 15-year-old girl when he was 22. They were married for nine years. he said, “Times were different back then.”