Mighty oaks
are falling

Vivian Heyl
Staff Writer

I lost two good friends and Arkansas lost two of its talented native sons with the death of Mark Sallings of Wynne and Paul "Bix" Smith of Jonesboro.

An early morning phone call from Mark's wife, Sandi, let me know that he had died in a car wreck. He was a Grammy-winning musician, extraordinary songwriter and one of the hardest-working touring acts I have ever known.

Mark began playing professionally before he graduated from high school. He was a skilled saxophonist and pianist, but it was the harmonica that brought him real fame.

Mark's funeral was filled with music. In a way the music was his eulogy. Mark had a deep love of blues, gospel and jazz and all three were part of the service.

Mark wrote "Mighty Oaks," as a tribute to his longtime friend Albert King. King's death rocked many blues fans, and Mark's lyrics struck a chord with audiences everywhere.

"All the mighty oaks are falling. Things aren't what they used to be."

Mark Sallings has joined the mighty oaks, and things are not what they used be.

***

I got the call telling me that Bix had died two days after the call about Mark. Bix Smith was also a mighty oak in his own right. He was a musician, artist and writer. He had an amazing ability as an artist. Whether he was drawing courtroom drama for national news media or just sketching for the fun of it, his art was fantastic. His ability to capture the mood of a moment brought whatever he was creating to life.

Bix loved to perform, and when the mood was right he would grace the stage as a solo act. An accomplished guitarist and bass player, he was often sought after as a band member. He played the ukulele on occasion and dredged up songs people hadn't heard either for a very long time or depending on their age, at all.

He was a consummate storyteller, and he led a life that was rich in story telling material. As a photojournalist, Bix was often caught up in dramatic situations.

After the Kent State massacre a photo appeared in worldwide media showing a young girl kneeling by the fallen body of a student. Her face showed the horror and terror of the event as she tries to comprehend what is happening.

The photo was taken by John Filo, but it was Bix who located the girl and told her story.

I thought of Mark and Bix as unstoppable, and in a way they were. Both will live on in what they've left behind. After all, as the words to Mark's song said, "What they've left is what they'll be."

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