The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 5, 2012

For the love of music

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

— He’s been a salesman, a teacher and a coal miner, but all throughout his life, his true passion for music always found a way back into his life.

David Runion, a Mullens native, knew he loved music when he was 5 years old.

He was born in Pembroke, Va., but his father came to West Virginia seeking work in the coal mines.

With a smile, Runion recalled his brother taking him along to school with him in Itmann, asking him to sing for his classmates during lunch time.

When Runion was 8 years old, his father bought the family a new piano, a Baldwin Acrosonic.

“I remember the day they brought it to the house,” Runion reminisced. “They carried it in the back door.”

His entire family was talented. His father could sing, his mother and sister played piano, and his brother was very artistic.

As he grew, he learned how to play piano, and eventually how to play the organ.

During high school, he and a few friends started a band called The Rebels Five. They played a few gigs, but the band was short-lived.

Runion also got his first taste of life as a coal miner during his high school years, working at mine sites during his summer vacation.

He left coal mining as a career for a while, as he headed off to college at Marshall University and Beckley College.

During this time, Runion joined a band called The Born Losers, who played a lot of Beatles songs.

“I played bass with them because I couldn’t afford a keyboard.”

With the help of a friend, Runion was able to acquire an organ, so he began focusing on that.

After graduating from college, Runion took a job teaching music in the Wyoming County Schools system, traveling from school to school.

“That was one of the best experiences, being able to teach kids.”

He said recently he was out watching a local band play and a woman approached him. Her son was playing guitar in the band and she recognized Runion as his old music teacher.

Runion hadn’t even realized he had taught the boy in school, but he said it’s always great to see how music has impacted a student’s life.

“With music, kids all start out on the same level.”

He said he especially loved teaching music to special needs children.

“Even though they may have handicaps in other areas, it seemed like music was really a way to reach them.”

Runion was able to touch the lives of many kids, teaching them about music and showcasing their talents at holiday musical presentations.

But after a few years of teaching, his brother called and convinced him to leave his career as a teacher and become a coal miner with him.

“We both quit and the next thing you know, we were underground. It was a lot different, but boy, the money was a lot better.”

Runion shook his head a bit and said, “It was a big change. I went from teaching school to pinning top. I worked all shifts, but mostly evening. You woke up, went to work, then back to bed.”

After a few years, music began calling his name again.

He joined a band called Stonecastle, left the mines, and began traveling. Runion says some of his best memories were on the road with this band.

All the members were in their 20s and they played their first gig in Columbia, S.C.

The guys were playing for about two weeks and the booking agent who paid them gave them a bad check. The agent told the band to go back home and he would set up another gig for them, but they said no thanks.

Stonecastle traveled the town, looking for another place to play. Finally, they met a gruff-voiced man who owned The Copper Door.

He said, “You guys can bring your stuff in here and if I like you, you can stay. If not, hit the road.”

When they got set up, the man visited their dressing room and instructed them, “No warm-up. Hit them with the best thing you’ve got.”

Runion laughed and said, “We ended up playing there for six months.”

Stonecastle was the opening act for many bands, including Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.

After their six-month stay in the college town, they headed to Atlanta for a while.

Another phone call a few months later from his very convincing brother led him back to the coal mines of West Virginia once more.

But one day, on his way to work, he heard about the Wrangler Jeans Star Search on the radio.

He had written some songs, so he decided to enter.

Runion not only won the local competition, but the state competition as well, landing him a trip to Nashville.

Although he was unsuccessful in the Nashville competition, his interest in music was back once again.

Upon his return home, the mine shut down and over 1,200 employees were laid off.

Fortunately for him, the judges of the Star Search owned a music store and offered him a job selling pianos.

He had no sales experience, but his musical knowledge provided an excellent service to the customers.

Runion still continues to work at Showtime Music and performs at local venues, sometimes solo and sometimes with his band, River Chase, which plays mostly oldies and country.

Every Friday from 6 to 9 p.m., you can hear the musical talents of Runion at Calacino’s Pizzeria at 3611 Robert C. Byrd Drive. Make sure to jot down a few favorite songs, because Runion takes requests.

River Chase is also looking forward to an upcoming event — it will perform Friday at the Dogwood Festival in Mullens.

Runion also serves as the church organist at St. Mary’s United Methodist.

“Music has just about taken over my life. It’s there every day. I enjoy the different paths it takes me down.”

Although music has taken Runion on some great adventures, he gives this advice to the next generation of musicians: “Get into it for the love of music, because there’s not a lot of money in it. Get into it for the love of it and then look at the financial opportunities.”

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