On the first day of the year in 2008, a young woman named Meredith Emerson, hiking in the woods, happened upon a stranger named Gary Michael Hinton.
She was out with her dog on Blood Mountain near Dahlonega in north Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. Not long after, Emerson was reported missing and on Jan. 8, her body was found in the woods. Hinton, the confessed killer whom she met on the trail, is in a Georgia prison. He received a life sentence.
Joe McClure of Cataula knows the north Georgia mountains — and this particular mountain — well. He’s gone there for years to hike and recently bought a nearby cabin. Though he didn’t know Emerson, he was affected enough to write a song about her plight, called “Blood Mountain.”
“I took it personally,” McClure said. “It’s a holy place and this guy defiled it.”
“Blood Mountain” is one of 12 songs on McClure’s debut album, “Let My Life Be a Song.” A member of St. Luke United Methodist Church, where he plays in the Lighthouse Praise Band, McClure by day is a businessman and entrepreneur.
For more than four decades starting in the ‘50s, his family owned and operated a group of radio stations. The flagships were WRCG and WCGQ.
His father, Chuck McClure, died in 2004. Joe McClure also once owned an outdoors store on Veteran’s Parkway.
McClure’s downtown office, with expansive views to the north and west, bears testament to his many interests: pieces of art, gifts from friends, copies of telegrams under a coffee table glass, musical instruments.
“I’ve been writing about 15 years, since I got out of radio. When I was writing, I was really writing poems; but they were songs to me,” McClure said.
Like a pot of soup on simmer, the public unveiling of his craft has happened over time.
“I didn’t sing in the shower, much less the stage,” said McClure, who was first encouraged to do so by friends.
Now in the church band, he plays guitar and sings. In front of people. All the time.
The first time he performed at the Loft, he didn’t sleep for two weeks.
In a strange way, in a way he doesn’t really understand, his passion for hiking and the outdoors feeds his passion for writing and for music. “I’m not sure how it works,” he said. “One day I’m wearing a backpack and then I come back with a pen and paper and start writing. Sometimes it’s magic.”
After 1997, he would have gotten a good deal of material.
That’s when the married father of two took a monthlong National Outdoor Leadership School course in Wyoming. From there, McClure was certified to teach others how to survive in the wilderness. Among other things, the course simplified life for him.
“The only thing important was how to get where you were going,” he said.
As for his artistic side, McClure gets it honest: Mother Dot has frequented the Springer Opera House stage for years.
Columbus photographer and musician Grandin Eakle has been one of McClure’s friends for decades. They recently traveled to the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, which they’ve both attended for years. Eakle not only took the photographs for the album cover, but he also is among the musicians featured on it.
Eakle described his friend as “a regular guy” — or “regular Joe,” to be exact. “He has an artistic streak that has been trying to bust out his whole life, and now it is. ... He can be intense. He’s a savvy business person but can also be a loving, and supportive friend.
“I’m glad to see Joe jumping out and doing this,” Eakle said.
In April, the two ventured to the farm of Allen Levi, another local musician, to shoot the photos. Levi has a chapel on his property. It serves as a background on the cover.
Eakle wanted to do the shoot in “the golden hour” — just before sunset.
McClure knows that he’s come a long way with this album, in more ways than one. He and Eakle and other friends and family were to unveil it last night at the Loft, where he likely wasn’t as nervous as his first time around.
Around the time of the sale of his family’s radio stations, McClure started writing in the Goose Creek Cabins, which sit in the shadows of the 4,458-foot Blood Mountain. The mountain has a famed history, as the site of a battle between Cherokee and Creek Indians in the late 1600s. Then came the 2008 kidnapping that led to a song from a man many miles away.
“It’s a miracle that I now play and sing in front of people,” McClure said. “Sometimes I think, ‘Is that really me?’ ”