By Bob Arnold
Back in the 1950s and 1960s when he was growing up in Brookhaven, Shaw Furlow really didn't have the skills to go far in sports, which he loved, nor did he enjoy the work his studies in school required. But from the sixth grade on, when he started playing the baritone horn (euphonium) and learning to be part of a band, music has been his passion.
"My father used to say he couldn't easily rouse me from bed to go to school, but when the band director called, I would jump and run," he says.
For 41years, Furlow taught music and directed bands at schools across Mississippi and Co-Lin. In retirement, he has turned a hobby of writing songs and playing them on his guitar into career of sorts, promotes his fellow musicians, and even finds time to write a column covering the arts world for the Wesson News.
Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, Furlow settled in Brookhaven at age 5 with his parents and siblings when his father returned to his hometown to build a retail business and play golf, which was his passion. He grew up with two brothers and later a sister and played baseball, football, golf and tennis before discovering band and music. In the ninth grade, he played on the football team, but "I decided I would rather sit in the back of the bus with girls as a band member than sweat at the bottom of a pile under a bunch of boys on the football field," he jokes.
Furlow graduated from Brookhaven High School in 1969 and attended Co-Lin, giving up plans to attend Mississippi State University after his father died in his senior years to be near his mother, left on her own at 45 years old. Following two years at Co-Lin, where he studied music education, he headed off to Delta State -- a school he didn't even know existed until Co-Lin professors told him it was the place for budding musicians and band directors to go. "I drove there, referring to a roadmap throughout the trip, and left two years later with a BA in music education to start a career teaching music and directing bands," he says.
He would later return to Delta State to earn a Master's Degree in music education after deciding that graduate studies in guidance counseling and secondary education to become a school principal didn't lead to careers he wanted to pursue. "That would have been hard work," he notes.
Although Furlow says his dream job was being the ring master for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, his career before retirement revolved around teaching music and directing bands -- first at Crystal Springs High School, where he rebuilt a band that had 13 students from sixth grade through high school when he came into one with 75 students at the high school level alone when he left five years later. He subsequently spent one year in Newton, Mississippi, seven years at Yazoo City High School and 13 years at Jackson Preparatory School before coming to Co-Lin, where he served as band director for 16 years.
"People will tell you the best part of being a band director is working with your students and their parents, getting to know the people," Furlow says. "All that is true, but I also enjoyed the events -- traveling on a bus and directing the Yazoo City jazz band at the All American Jazz Festival in Mobile, Alabama, going with the Co-Lin band to a football bowl game.
"At Jackson Prep, I directed a band from a school with a reputation for being aloof and snotty," he recalls. "At one stadium appearance, we were booed. When we returned the following year, we were greeted with a standing ovation. That was a great feeling'"
When he retired from Co-Lin in 2015, Furlow recalls facing two options: "Sitting on a deck chair, drinking beer on my back porch or doing something productive." Furlow chose the latter.
For a brief a period, he directed and managed the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame. He worked part time with area high school bands for Brookhaven Music and Sound. In 2010, Furlow had started to become more serious about his songwriting and performing, and he intensified his work in retirement, turning what was once a hobby into a job. "My music has a country flare and it tells stories," he says. "I'm not a poet -- I wish I was, but I try to write clever lyrics. My music isn't about beer, trucks or mama."
Trips to singer-songwriter festivals throughout the region connected him to "great people with real jobs who also want to share their music and help each other," inspiring him to start his own -- the annual Overbrook Singer-Songwriter Festival at Brookhaven, which brought 29 of them from throughout the southeast to five local venues this past weekend to perform and tell their stories for the third year since 2019. "In contrast to other festivals which charge musicians, we pay our artists," he says proudly.
In retirement, Furlow also started working in video production, hosting his own show that promotes local musicians, co-hosting one with local singer-songwriter Charlie Hewitt and helping produce a documentary on Brookstock, the annual summer Brookhaven rock festival.
Among his many accomplishments, Furlow cites rearing his son Cole as his most rewarding and satisfying. An accomplished musician in his own right, Cole writes and produces music and operates a recording studio, where Furlow has worked with him on projects. A few years ago, Furlow traveled with his son in Europe when he was on tour.
What are your hobbies? Since writing songs and playing them became a job, playing with my dog Flint has been my chief diversion from work. Whether it's in work or play, I do enjoy working with words -- not only as a songwriter, but as a columnist for Wesson News on the overall arts scene as well.
Are you a reader? I am into fiction mainly, particularly murder mysteries, like the Greg Iles books. I also enjoy reading the late Larry Brown, a gritty Southern writer, the author of Dirty Works.
Do you enjoy movies or theater?
Like my reading, I enjoy shoot-em-up and crime stories, although I have directed and acted in musicals -- several as part of Brookhaven Little Theater. I have written plays that have never been produced. One takes place in an elevator. I called it "Going Up." I've always wanted to play Cervantes in "Man from La Mancha" and wanted to write something like "Chorus Line." I am also very much a television fan because I enjoy stories.
Do you enjoy any music beyond your own?
I am eclectic -- from Texas Blues guitarist Stevey Ray Vaughn to Beethoven, whose melodies can change any mood I am in. When I was in Yazoo City, I got into jazz, meeting and working with Allen Vizautti and Ray Poazy there.
What would you do with lottery winnings if you were so lucky?
I would redo my backyard, building a new garage, hire a full-time housekeeper, use it to live happily ever after and give away the rest, mostly for scholarships.
How would you change the world? I would make sure everyone is properly fed and housed.