Andrews music legend Solesbee left lasting legacy
Whether people will remember him for his award-winning smile, signature flashy coats or charismatic performances of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” L.B. Solesbee’s legacy will never fade in Andrews.
For more than 30 years, the 86-year-old Solesbee provided entertainment at restaurants, festivals and other events by singing his favorite country music songs. To many people, he was the face of having a good time in Andrews, which is why Solesbee’s death on Sunday broke the community’s collective heart.
Lisa Briggs, owner of MakAly’s on Main, said she stayed with Solesbee at Asheville Veterans Affairs Hospital while his health was declining. She put on a George Jones, then a Johnny Cash CD, and sang to him.
“I knew that he would know I was there,” Briggs said. “I told him multiple times that we loved him and that he was going to be OK. L.B. was my world, he was just a good man.”
Soon after she left the hospital, she received a call from the doctor that Solesbee had passed away from basal cell carcinoma. She said the doctor told her Solesbee wasn’t in any pain when he died.
Every week, even in his weakened state, Solesbee performed at MakAly’s on Main during karaoke night. Before then, Steve Jordan, owner of Jimmy’s Pick N Grin, said Solesbee sang on his stage every Saturday for six years.
“He had this dream that he was going to be on the Grand Ole Opry,” said Jordan, a longtime friend. “He would sometimes go to the bridge and sing to the water. He fantasized about being on a big stage.”
For years, Solesbee traveled to Townsend, Tenn., to perform with Jordan and Sonny Reighard. He would sing songs by Hank Williams, George Jones and other influential country musicians.
Reighard said Solesbee was a true entertainer, and the best harmony singer he had ever known. Not only would he look people in the eyes, point at them and smile, but he could sing almost any country or bluegrass tune on request.
“I would say he was always ready to entertain, and the money was the farthest thing from his mind,” Reighard said.
Steve’s wife, Sue Jordan, also a longtime friend of Solesbee, said he would never ask for anything, but would give away his music generously.
“Years ago he would carry a guitar on his back, and if there was no one to sing to he would go under a tree and sing,” Reighard said.
Sue Jordan traveled often with Solesbee to his Townsend performances, making fond memories. One of her favorite stories took place around five years ago while staying in a city. While driving back to Andrews, Solesbee panicked because he couldn’t find his signature jacket.
Solesbee quickly realized that he put the suit jacket in the back of the wrong truck. The Jordans bought him another jacket, which looked plain in comparison. So Sue added makeshift embroidery and buttons to the jacket to dazzle it up like Solesbee’s normal suit.
“I gave it to him, and he said, ‘That’s good, I thought I was just going to have to wear my blue one,’ ” Sue said.
After going through the trouble of bedazzling the jacket, someone reached out to Solesbee, claiming they found his misplaced suit.
“We thought he would have no suit, but he ended up with three,” Sue added with a smile.
Before he became a local music star, Solesbee spent more than 18 years serving in the U.S. Army. He served two tours of duty during the Korean War and one more during the Vietnam War.
Kandy Barnard, the Andrews Journal’s history columnist, said Solesbee had one of the most interesting lives out of all the veterans she has interviewed. Even with his shy personality, Barnard said Solesbee blew her away with detailed accounts of his military service.
“He’s very smart and intelligent,” she said. “He knows the very day and time that he got drafted into the Army, and when he caught the bus.”
For his 86th birthday in December, MakAly’s on Main held a surprise celebration for him. They memorialized his legacy by encasing photos, a plaque, awards and a guitar from Solesbee’s local country legend friend, Rob Mashburn.
Sue said in Solesbee’s eyes, that recognition was like being nominated to the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He touched so many people in the community, filling their hearts with joy during every performance.
“He was the same great guy every time you were around him, and we are going to miss his presence in Andrews,” Mayor Nancy Curtis said.