Actually the first few times on a Greyhound bus. In 73, a distant cousin and good friend at the time, Don Schlitz was working all night at the Vanderbilt Computor Center and sleeping in his car during the day at Centennial Park where of course the full scale replica of the Parthenon is. I talked him into getting a apartment (his money) and then moved in with him. I only stayed a few weeks. 1 had a wife and a young baby and a drama I had yet to play out back in Durham, North Carolina. The singer-songwriter phenomenon that was going to take Nashville away from that hillbilly honky-tonk thing was about to happen but hadn't yet. There was nowhere to play if you weren't stone country. 1 came back in '74 and almost immediately got a job at a mom and pop bookstore in Hillsboro Village at the time the only semi-"hip" little area of Nashville (right below Vanderbilt University which is old Southern money and has exhibited not even a hint of hip in the nearly 30 years I've been around. There was a neighborhood bar, The Villager, I would stop in for happy hour when 1 got off work. The first afternoon 1 did there was a man in a kilt playing bagpipes. This was not the type of bar a man wore skirts in but this fellow survived very well as 1 recall. The other person I recall playing there with more regularity than most was Dave Olney. Dave barked out his songs with a straight ahead glare on his face as the locals buzzed around seemingly oblivious to the fact he was up there. 1 was fascinated and Dave was one of my earliest heroes. A truth 1 learned years later is you can never know the effect you might be having on people at any given time. Dave built a fanatical fan base from years of playing this bar and others like it in Nashville. And if there was any indication anyone was listening in those early days. it was scant. Anyway wife came and got me this time. She had to go to Europe for some nonsense. 1 went back to North Carolina and was Tom/Yiom for my daughter Kirsten.for 4-5 months. Her mother came back. All got ugly and finally came to the good end. 1 was back in Nashville in '75 and things were beginning to change. All the Texas guys were starting to network, but I had North Dakota to ravage and a telephone pole to make the acquaintance of as the sun was coming up a beautiful dusting of new snow and me a curve I didn't quite make. Cost me a lung and a stint rehabilitating but also sense of self as a songwriter was starting to come into focus. So, July 5, 1976 the day after all the Bi-centennial nonsense I woke up on the floor someone's house with Hank Williams blaring from the stereo, a' big old fellow named Igor dancing all around my head, and sold the little 14 inch television 1 had on my lap as we gassed up to the attendant and with about sixty some dollars to my name and my friend Steve Balaskey, I declared my independence from Durham, North Carolina and moved to Nashville for the umpteenth and final time ...
Nashville in '76 was much changed. There were beginning to be a series,of "writer's nights" all around town. Some you could just go by sign up in the early evening and play your 3 songs your slot. Some became bigdeal bullshit affairs pretty quickly (harbingers what was to be) but oddly enough the most "open" was a little club called "phranks-n-steins". It was in the cellar of what might have been at one time a three-story rooming house. The middle floor graced by a large front window as you came up the walk was a massage parlor where the women dressed to nines and look very nice indeed would try to wave you in. A Nashville phenomenon I'm assuming exists to this day, friendships are built with them get to town around the same time you do (This precludes those on their way into the industry where friendship holds other meanings altogether) This was the magic time '. Early evening, folks like me and Steve just getting our feet going/ there was always a "prime-time run" when Schlitz, who would write "The Gambler" during this period which ultimately I think signaled the end our particular coterie's "innocence" though it has probably happened over and over. Each subsequent generation young writers hit Nashville with truth and passion in their eyes only to disover all the other possibilities. and John Scott Sherril who wrote "Wild and Blue" for John Anderson and "Holding on to Nothing but the Wheel" for Patty Loveless maybe Hugh Moffat a longhaired Texas boy wrote "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to you" for Dolly and Gil Francis a hardcore bluesman moved to New Orleans for 10 years playing his funk but did write 'Can I Have this Dance" for Ann Murray ---- point I'm making here those days making the monster run didn't necessarily corrupt the soul... and after the "prime-time run" would go on into the night with Larry Reynolds and Cadillac Holmes who have ended up numerous bluegrass cuts (Cadillac a case unto himself--fronted a band ever since I've known him kind of the Waylon/Haggard/Johnny Cash soul but has been written up in bluegrass magazines for number of folks have taken those same songs that genre and just recently stumbled into a cut on a Trish Yearwood album projected to be the third single if they pull that many the CD. But there's as many guys (and from that period I'm afraid it is mostly guys) who have done what they do and many of them damn brilliantly with no manifest signs of success except that accumulation of nights over 20 years performing live an audience someone remembers a song or a performance affirmed their own spirit or sense of self denying this world can beat me down hell no 1 don't think so...
springwater's writers' night
it's a late club getting started
to an empty house around ten maybe
ten thirty they start drifting in
all primed to play and i bullshit
and sip a little whiskey stay on top
of it all
cat's first time down
he usually plays spankeys monday nights
for the hundred bucks "you don't have
no prize?" he wants to know
"this ain't no cattle show"
i tell him
john and marsha bring the house down
sticks and hubcaps and mississippi mud stomp
stop-and-go guitar people beating on tables
and ashtrays pounding the walls
other nights the place is loony
jumping around who knows who,on who knows what
cigarette smoky gospel burned out rockers
and crooners the hardcore extravaganza
the city's longest running defiant in the face of indifference
i get paid five bucks a week (and beer)
to stand up there tell whoever shows up
this is it can you handle it?
Springwater's a rundown wooden beer tavern right off West End Blvd. in
Nashville right across from the Centennial Park one way, the Vanderbilt football
stadium the other. To its left is a McDonald's with a way too small parking
lot. Why the rundown bar has survived the last 20 years in such a high dollar
area is anyone's guess. Rumors have it owned by someone out of state just
sitting on it and why Terry will put so little into its upkeep. Though let
me say the floors inside are marble and the building has been there long enough
legend has it a speak easy during prohibition. Terry Cantrell is the man runs
it. he started having music there in the late 70's on a regular basis. Before
he came on the scene, it was known as Norma's and music was hit and miss.
In its heydey, the last years of the 70's and the early 80's the place was
packed to overflowing every Friday and Saturday night..Dave Olney and the
X-Rays were playing what was basically roots rock years before anyone would
give it that name. - Pat Mclaughlin with whatever band he'd put together would
play alternate weekends Pat favored horns, a sax, a trombone', a jazzy sometime
rhythm and blues influence always powered by his revved up style and compelling
voice.Was always point of contention which was the better band but really
made no difference. Crowd was there to drink and smoke and dance and generally
just get wild. And more often than not at 3 AM last call the crowd was still
to overflowing. Hard to figure then (or now) but Terry who was raking in the
bucks on beer sales balked at giving the bands more than $125 for around 5
hour gig divi- ded between 5-6 band members. Both bands moved on to bigger
(though never again so raw venues) and Springwater began a slow descent.
Moving up to around '83-'84 was no music there. The back room, the ceiling trestle had popped and sections snapped and sagged so badly there were holes when it rained water ran back there. Basic Reality 101 saying through this period poker and other gambling machines in front room were making the big bucks plus seems there might have been some problems with various song licensing agencies Terry had decided not to pay. Anyway, a bunch of us had played there and were having a hard time the "new" Nashville emerging the 80's where you had to be a little slicker, a little more "modern" tilted and this meant James Taylor/Jackson Browne as much as Randy Travis and we approached Terry about playing back there. We had to bring our own sound system and were not allowed to advertise in any way. Plus we agreed not to do any cove tunes was no problem we all wrote our own songs and saved him from having to deal with BMI or ASCAP or whoever he was having his problems. This was how the Working Stiff's Jambouree was born. Against all the BS of the time. we instituted no rules. Whoever showed up signed up could play. From folks who could barely play their Instruments to bands who would go on way to long (and believe me the democracy of the ideal has caused some opportunism and exploitation by folks came along adhered to nothing we believed in but just discovered "oh boy an open stage" there's a lot of musicians no balls to get their own thing going I have discovered this through the years) but it still runs to this day.. Currently many of the original crew are old and stay at home. The hardcore, Rob Stanley, John Allingham, Ann Tiley, Steve Balaskey still there, but the night has evolved into a late night crazed rocker's extravaganza. And even though It can be damned inconvenient trying to even get on the list the show I instituted when I'm in town, the format remains the same..
The Springwater like the Working Stiff's Jambouree in my mind is not
the one that exists now. In those early days, there were a number of split
open areas the roof and there were supports held it up and garbage cans to
catch water though we did have gigs rained out the water got so high. In the
early days, we'd begin our Saturday night shows, catching the tail-end the
afternoon Rugby team played their match over in Centennial and did their "ritual"
keg and obnoxious bully play on into our night. There were many nights of
lively back and forth. Plus the crowd came to participate in the attitude
most of the performers stood for and it was not a stage for the timid. 1 remember
2 very nice women were doing a very studied rendition of God Bless the Child
from the sheet music pissed Bill Johnson off (as things were wont to often
enough in those days) and he walked up to the stage and set fire to their
music. And there was a sense of community forged all those years. It wasn't
just an evening of music as much as a shared vision. This was Greenwich Village
South. People talked about Leadbelly, Louis Armstrong. Woody Guthrie as much
as any of the country icons (though there was always a strong bluegrass and
old-timey music presence felt and appreciated too) The women drank "girl"
whiskey (usually Crown Royal) and the guys drank "boy" whiskey (usually Evan
Williams) and,spoke disparagingly of the "girl" whiskey until all the "boy"
whiskey was gone and then the boys and girls were rejoined in relationship.
The audience took it as part of their duty to inform dull performers they
were boring, and it was not all that unusual to have the - - room empty (outside
for a number) or to the front room and the pool tables a particular performer
with dulled wits or a too thick hide. 1 think the place honed many tenets
my performing sensibilities. ---- I remember another little club years ago
this particular woman was mad people were talking through her set and she
went to the owner wanted him to tell them be quiet. His retort those are my
paying customers I'm letting you on my stage for free. Getting them quiet
is your job. That always stayed with me. The Bluebird Cafe is famous for hushing
anyone dare speak while the performers are singing. Always seemed a little
phony to me. Sure some crowds are unbearable. But some performers are too.
Springwater and the Working Stiff's was a good 10 year run for me where the
music was just fun. One of my favorite tapes (we used to record the nights
on boombox recorders--I started cause'Marsha would accuse me of saying doing
things I'd say no I never !!) Scott Chase who still plays with me was playing
a washboard at the time had a cymbal attached and we closed the night a crazed
set where we did not get a single song right as far as lyrics or making much
sense but howling and shrieking throughout and got a standing ovation and
did a quiet and beautiful rendition of Si Kahn's "Aragon Mill" I learned from
a Hazel Dickens record. There's a magic no one working with a net. But some
of that the magic of youth too ...
Somewhere in the midst writing all this stuff last few days realized
1 have not really lived in Nashville the last 5 years, never more than a week
or so at the most and I'm not sure 1 could ever live there again. Initially,
I was a little put off by some of Tom Ovan's perceptions but I'm not sure
how entirely-wrong he is. There's a good hardcore crew here I know Tom was
exposed to at the Working-Stiff's. I met him at a few of them Lou Ann performed
Tom declined. I get the idea Tom kind of stands off. Irony is a lot of those
folks are the stand off types too. Just have 20 some years warming up to each
I got to know Tom better I met him again in Austin. Tom's tried to take on the music world and has an understandable bitterness with it. Many of the Springwater regulars actively wanted nothing to do with the music industry/ world as they perceived it for many years. My only real complaint with Tom's perceptions. Nashville is full of ass-licking star-blind sycophants sell their mother for a song on the radio. There are others and many some of my best friends told that world to kiss their asses a long time ago. Don't need to be lumped some blanket condemnation this town become a symbol no better no worse really what America everywhere has become.
Nashville's what made me who I am. The clubs, the people I still embrace. Fellow artists. The bookstore 1 worked for 15 years. Many very talented people also many good-hearted people and some folks whose philosophical and social strengths they lived. Core instincts. What I miss these days. And maybe some of why I prefer to wander anonymously. Meeting truth becomes a matter of chance. I think I've been on a particular path 35 years or so now. I don't discount my Nashville years as part of my strength. I can't defend what's not there now. Then again, it may be. I saw a Buck Owens biography show one of the cable stations and lots of the things he was saying about early 60's in Nashville exactly what I'd say my time there probably could still say these days. Nothing's changed even going back to Hank who Roy Acuff didn't want on the Opry because of "image" but it's still where you've got to go if you're southern and you've got southern in your soul. That may be a generation or a heartbeat gone.
the Tom Ovans interview Tom House refers too is HERE
I came to Nashville the first time on a Greyhound Bus......
memories of the Nashville scene
Tom House has released three discs
The Neighborhood is Changing
White Man's Burden
'til you've seen mine
the first two on Checkered Past records, the third on Catamount.
read Brian Lillie's review ofWhite Man's Burden in FSR#4