Mackenzie Curl has been playing piano and assorted keyboards for 56 years and you can hear Memphis in every note, especially his left hand. We stopped by The Corner Bar for a drink last night, and I complimented him on his playing, and then asked for a song, “All The Way,” the old Sinatra chestnut. He nodded pensively and responded with “All Blues,” copping that distinctive bass line with ease. We sat and talked about music, and then he asked me to play something. I considered my rather limited repertoire and politely declined. Listen and learn.
Carl Knight is 83 years old, and suffice it to say, has seen, and heard, it all in country music. As the winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nashville Songwriters Festival, Carl has had 63 of his songs cut by artists including Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Pride and Norma Jean, among many others. He’s also the nicest man in the world, and more than happy to sit and tell stories about the old days. And does he have some stories. To listen to him, the artists of an earlier era not only made great music, but they also managed to have some serious, and also some not so serious, fun along the way. As I was leaving his beautiful home in Hendersonville, after a beyond-compare dinner, he bade Mitzi and me farewell by saying, “You and me, young man, we’ll have to write together sometime.” Yes sir, I believe we’ll do just that.
Fanny’s House of Music is perhaps the only woman-owned music store in Nashville. It features vintage guitars and other instruments, and curiously enough, vintage clothes as well. A perfect place for my old friend Bob Saporiti, also known to his many fans as Reckless Johnny Wales. The man is vintage is every way, and I use that descriptor with the greatest respect. Long may you rock, Mr. Wales.
Country music rules in Nashville. But it ain’t the only – uh – stuff in town. Far from it. Tonight we dropped by B.B. King’s joint for a bit of blues, soul, old-school R&B and just plain rockin’ good fun. The house band is a great band, from the rhythm section on up. When lead singer Larry Springfield kicked off the set’s final song, “Let’s Get It On,” Mitzi and I could not resist, and we jumped up to join the bumpin’ crowd on the dance floor. It takes a lot to get a musician to dance, particularly one of a certain age. But these cats did it, with room to spare.
Thanks to my good friend Bob Saporiti (blowing harp at right), not to mention my new friend Annie McCue, I found myself onstage last night at Neighbors, a cozy little club in West Nashville. Didn’t know any of the tunes, but we managed somehow. Four chords are four chords, after all. And three is even better. Of course, these pickers can make one chord sound like a symphony orchestra. When the beers are flowing, the crowd’s roaring and the music’s rockin,’ life here in Nashville is good; very good, indeed.
The Nashville scene comprises a lot more than country music, and that fact was never so evident as this morning, when I encountered Barfly on Lower Broadway. His repertoire includes gems from the golden era of rock and roll and the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard, progressing to the Beatles, the Stones, and finally to Jimi Hendrix and even a bit of Prince. Heck, if asked the guy could probably play a John Denver tune or two. Taking a break, and in a nod to my hometown, Barfly mentioned that he had once appeared with the Grateful Dead. Apparently, Pigpen heard him jamming on harmonica outside an arena in Cincinnati, back in “Oh, maybe 73 or 4,” and called him up on stage to play “Little Red Rooster.” According to Barfly, it was rockin.’ I believe the man.
“Like to check in, please. Last names are Ngim and Donald.”
“Here it is, Tom Donald and – Mitzi, ah, what is it – well, anyway, from San Francisco, it says.”
“So whaddya doin’ here?”
The answer, on its face, is simple. Visiting family. Here is Strongsville, Ohio, a sturdy suburb of Cleveland consisting of some 50,000 souls, among them my first cousin, her husband and three sons, as well as my eternally-glorious 95-year-old Aunt Jean.
Do we feel out of place, amidst the seemingly endless string of fast food outlets, enormous malls, thunderous Chevy pickups and all the rest? Maybe at first, maybe a little. But it’s enlightening, and even a bit humbling to realize that full and enriching lives are being lived well outside the confines of our favorite 49 square miles, thank you very much. Ah, the curse of the hipster ethic. No one could possibly be doing anything more important than sipping the right brand of coffee at the right cafe on Valencia Street, could they? No one could possibly be doing anything more important than making art (or talking about making art), could they? Even if the art is unwatchable, unreadable or indeed, unendurable. And even if the talk is utter blather.
What are we doing here? Visiting family, and that, in the end, trumps all.