MARION -- The beginning of Michael Gene Craft's life sounds like the lyrics to one of the original songs he might write, "born in Lick Creek at the bottom of 3-mile hill."
In fact, Craft, a local musician with quite a following, has written over 50 original songs. He debuted his latest, "One Last Mountain to Climb," during a recent appearance at Heaven's Kitchen Marion.
"I wrote that after I was called and asked to play," he said. "I had a chorus but it had just sat there. I just went ahead and finished it."
For Craft, his music, especially his originals, are what gives meaning to life.
"This is what it's all about," he said, as he graciously accepted a hug from a young boy about kindergarten age after his performance at HKM. "This is why I do what I do. The sincereity that you feel. It's more of a feeling than anything else."
Craft has spent most of his adult life in the music scene as he continues, often one class at a time, working on a degree in business management.
After graduating from Marion High School in 1987, Craft worked as the midnight disc jockey at WGGH in Marion for about six months before being hired as the master control operator at WSIL-TV.
"I stayed there for a couple of years," he said. "Then I was offered a position with a group out of Florida."
Craft traveled with that group, the Diplomat Quartet, singing gospel music across the country, "mostly the eastern half," he said, for about two years.
He then worked with a Georgia company doing fundraising for about two years.
"I was only home about three or four weeks a year," he said.
He decided to move back home to help his son and began playing music.
"I play mostly country, some classic rock, and I even did an acoustical version of the John Legend song 'All of Me.'" he said, grinning.
Craft said he's played the guitar "seriously" for about four or five years.
"People will ask me when I became a musician," he said. "I tell them I've always been one."
Craft has a local band with a huge following. When he's not playing with Righteous Rebels, he enjoys doing two-man acoustic shows with other locals including Dave Clark, Eli Tellor and Patrick Lee Beasley.
"I just started doing solo shows," he said.
If that doesn't keep him busy enough, Craft also hosts a weekly radio show. "Music Scene with Mike Craft" airs on Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. on WGGH, 98.5 FM and 1150 AM.
"I guess I'm back where I started," he said laughing, "except when I started here is was only AM."
For Craft, it's never been about money.
"As musicians, we put in thousands and thousands of hours practicing," he said.
Craft acknowledge that it can be frustrating at times, but it always ends up being worth it.
"A lot of people don't understand that," he said. "To get paid is great, but there's so many other things."
While he knows he'll probably never earn a Grammy or have a gold record to hang on his wall, it's not really about the accolades.
"Every now and then something will happen," he said. "Like that little boy hugging me the other day ... it kind of puts things in perspective for you and makes it all worthwhile."
Craft said he is planning a short tour in Florida and Georgia in the spring, but what he loves is what he calls his "home crowd."
"I love southern Illinois, I love the people, and I love playing here," he said.
Craft's love of what he does is included in the lyrics of his song, "Can't take it with you ... we've all got that final resting place ... let them know I did my best ... one last mountain to climb."
"Yeah," he said. "I'm going to keep playing music until I can't play music anymore."