It might seem like yesterday to some, but it’s been five years since Susanville’s Luke Sheehy, 28, a California Smokejumper, lost his life when a portion of tree fell on him during the Saddle Back Fire in the South Warner Wilderness near Alturas June 10, 2013.
In loving memory of their family member, his father, Doug Sheehy, sister Meg Sheehy and longtime bandmate John Tew recently released “The Ballad of Pale Rider,” a CD that’s also dedicated to all wildland firefighters.
Copies of the CD are available at the group’s website, thesheehtyswom.com (or at their live gigs), and once the production costs have been recovered, half the proceeds will be donated to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.
The CD features five original songs as well as a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire.”
“I’m so pleased that we finally got this project done,” Doug said. “The CD’s done. That’s really cool.”
But even more than that, Doug said he’s happy with how the project turned out, including the design by his son-in-law and the eventual resolution of the various artistic opinions of the musicians in creating the final product.
“First and foremost, it’s about Luke,” Doug said, “but it’s also a journey for Meg and me through our feelings about his death, and that comes across on the CD.”
Sheehy said the CD “sounds pretty good,” and he’s proud, “we did it all ourselves” with the bandmates recording, mixing and mastering the CD themselves.
Doug said the band plans to hold a release party in Susanville and an appearance at Margie’s Book Nook in the near future, but no dates have been set yet.
Doug, who now lives in Anderson, said he enjoys getting to spend more time with his daughters and frequents the smokejumper base, and “Those guys and girls are just dear to me, That’s a really positive thing.”
Doug said he collected many comments from many different sources before he and Kate Sheehy wrote “The Ballad of Pale Rider,” a song based on Luke’s nickname among the smokejumpers (Jinete Palido.) He said he left a box at the smoke jumping bases seeking comments, “and the guys left ideas.” Taking ideas from Kate helped and then Doug said, “I kinda pulled it all together and made it into a song. All those credits are on the CD.”
Doug handles the lead vocals on the song that follows Luke’s career from his days as a rookie firefighter in 2009, playing his dues and moving up through the ranks and finally his untimely and tragic death. The chorus is, “Pale Rider, his spirit and his smile / Pale Rider, he’s now forever free / Floating down under a canopy of blue and white. Flying is his destiny.”
Doug also handles the lead vocals on “Jumpin’ the Warners” with supporting vocals and harmonica with the chorus, “Never to die an unlived life / Never to be afraid to fly / What will we do without your smile / Jumping it down on a pale ride / Ridin’ it hard is his only style / How will we ever say goodbye?”
Finger-style guitar dominates “Song of Lament” with lead vocals by Meg. The song begins, “All I want to sing are sad songs / It’s just the way I feel inside / I do my best to keep on movin’ / But without you in my life / I feel so empty, so alone.”
Doug and Meg offer a duet on Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire.”
Meg takes the lead vocal on “Take Me Home,” with a nifty banjo and guitar accompaniment with the lyrics, “I’ve never felt this kind of cold / Out on this God-forsaken road / It seeps right down to my bones / The trail it seems to have no end / It’s getting dark once again / And there is no direction for me to go / I just know I can’t be here anymore.”
Friend Ira Alexander wrote, plays rhythm guitar and sings “Jumpin’ Smoke,” a song that imagines Luke still working as a smoke jumper with lyrics, “I’ve been cryin’ cuz my heart’s so broke / Finished off the whiskey and the fire is stoked / The midnight breeze blows such a cold, cold air / Out here on the front lines I know you’ll be there / Jumpin’ Smoke.”
Johnny Walker plays harmonica on “Jumpin’ in the Warners” and “Jumpin’ Smoke.” Johnene McDonald plays cello on “Song of Lament.”
Comments at the timeof Luke Sheehy’s death
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of this brave young smokejumper who lost his life yesterday working with his team to control a blaze on the Modoc National Forest,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in June 2013. “We are launching a full review into the cause of his death to learn everything we can to prevent future tragedies like this.”
“Anne and I were saddened to learn of the death of firefighter Luke Sheehy, a young man who devoted his life to protecting his fellow Californians,” said California Governor Jerry Brown. ‘Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues.”
Capitol flags were flown at half-staff in Sheehy’s honor.