Music City at Night

Music City at Night
Nashville: the City Where Some Dreams Begin and Others Die...

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Three Types of S. O. B.

In 2012, Alan Jackson released a new single, "You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore," penned by songwriters Jay Knowles and Adam Wright. The knockout line for most folks was "I'll be the S. O. B." in the first verse.

This great song was included on Jackson's album Thirty Miles West that same year.

IMHOP there are at least three kinds of S. O. B. -- (1) the person who consistently by his deeds and words is a true S. O. B., (2) the person who makes a stupid mistake that hurts someone or a group, and (3) the person who deliberately plays the role of S. O. B. to get something done.

(1) First, there's the real, authentic S. O. B.  Most of us have known a few. They might be in our family or maybe we worked for them or with them. But they're pretty good at disguises and deception so some of them go into politics. :-)  I don't think I personally belong in this category (although I know a few people who might disagree).

(2) As for category 2, I guess most of us have done or said something stupid a few times in our lives. I know I have, and I still remember and regret those times today. I've made some mistakes, said some stupid things that hurt someone. I can't go back and erase those things, all I can do now is accept my mistake and hope for forgiveness.

(3) At other times a person plays the role of S. O. B. in order to do a job. I'm thinking for example of the executive or administrator who because of circumstances has to fire someone, or of the military TI who has to discipline a recruit, etc. I've been in this category at least a couple of times, but it was over fifteen years ago, so the statue of limitations has probably run out.

The narrator in Jackson's song fits in this category as well. He's willing to play the S. O. B. role if it will make his lady's life easier after their breakup. The Knowles/Wright lyric is simple and unadorned, but emotionally -- very powerful. To illustrate, here's that first verse:
I'll be the bad guy, I'll take the black eye, When I walk out, You can slam the door, I'll be the S.O.B, If that's what you need from me, So you don't have to love me anymore. 
This great song has it all. A son of a bitch (at least a guy willing to play that role), a breakup, a broken heart, a sacrifice, a sense of regret...the very life blood of country music. And then there's the great singer who brought all that emotion to life -- Alan Jackson. All that makes it a top 100 country song in my book.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Songwriter Wisdom I

“A song ain’t nothin’ in the world but a story just wrote with music to it.”
Hank Williams, Sr.

“Loving is the only sure road out of darkness, 
the only serum known that cures self-centeredness.”
Rod McKuen

"I am putting to music and words things that angered me and hurt me."
Nanci Griffith

“Country Music is three chords and the truth.”
Harlan Howard

 “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.”
Dolly Parton

"I was rolling cars and wrecking motorcycles, drinking and doing everything I could to die early. But it didn't work."
Kris Kristofferson

"Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself."
Shel Silverstein

I don’t know why I write really depressing songs.
I’m a kind of melancholy guy, I suppose. But I figure I’m about normal.”
Townes Van Zandt

Monday, October 5, 2015

Kris Kristofferson and Jonathan Swift Talk Poetry

The narrator in Kristofferson's talking blues song, "To Beat the Devil," says,
It was winter time in Nashville, down on Music City row,
And I was lookin' for a place to get myself out of the cold.
He says, "It'd been a month of paydays" since he's been paid and his "hungry needed beans." He steps inside a tavern and begins a conversation with an old man in a bar who tells him that songwriter poets' lead a "tough life" and asks the narrator, why waste your time speaking the truth to people who don't listen.

The narrator recognizes that this is the devil he's talking to and that "the devil haunts a hungry man."

So, in the end, the songwriter narrator doesn't claim to have "beat the devil," but he "drank his beer for nothing./ Then I stole his song." In other words, instead of giving in to the devil because he's hungry, he makes poetry out of it.

Listening to this song again recently reminded me of a poem by Jonathan Swift, the Anglo-Irish writer best known for Gulliver's Travels. In "The Progress of Poetry," Swift says pretty much the same thing Kristofferson says. He compares the poet to a goose who when fat "with corn and sitting still," can't "get o'er the barn-door sill," but when forced to look for food and exercise will eventually grow "lank and spare" which will enable her to successfully try "her wings" and take flight.

Both poets indicate that poetry is born from hunger and suffering and that success and riches might work against its creation. This explains why a successful songwriter's earliest work might be much better than that which comes after he's achieved success and has grown fat "with corn and sitting still."

Here's Swift's poem (you can find it and other poetry at The Literature Network).
The Progress of Poetry
The farmer's goose, who in the stubble
Has fed without restraint or trouble,
Grown fat with corn and sitting still,
Can scarce get o'er the barn-door sill;
And hardly waddles forth to cool
Her belly in the neighbouring pool!
Nor loudly cackles at the door;
For cackling shows the goose is poor.
But, when she must be turn'd to graze,
And round the barren common strays,
Hard exercise, and harder fare,
Soon make my dame grow lank and spare;
Her body light, she tries her wings,
And scorns the ground, and upward springs;
While all the parish, as she flies,
Hear sounds harmonious from the skies.

Such is the poet fresh in pay,
The third night's profits of his play;
His morning draughts till noon can swill,
Among his brethren of the quill:
With good roast beef his belly full,
Grown lazy, foggy, fat, and dull,
Deep sunk in plenty and delight,
What poet e'er could take his flight?
Or, stuff'd with phlegm up to the throat,
What poet e'er could sing a note?
Nor Pegasus could bear the load
Along the high celestial road;
The steed, oppress'd, would break his girth,
To raise the lumber from the earth.
But view him in another scene,
When all his drink is Hippocrene,
His money spent, his patrons fail,
His credit out for cheese and ale;
His two-years coat so smooth and bare,
Through every thread it lets in air;
With hungry meals his body pined,
His guts and belly full of wind;
And, like a jockey for a race,
His flesh brought down to flying case:
Now his exalted spirit loathes
Encumbrances of food and clothes;
And up he rises like a vapour,
Supported high on wings of paper.
He singing flies, and flying sings,
While from below all Grub-Street rings.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Nashville Indie Writer Wins Top Award

Nashville, TN. October 3, 2015. There's poetry in Music City. Writer Dan Jewell’s collection of poems, A Nashville Woman and Other Sorrows, received the highest award given in the love/romance poetry category of the international 2015 Readers Favorite competition. This year’s contest was the largest ever with thousands of entries ranging from indie authors to NYT bestsellers and authors.

Jewell’s poems tell the story of a Nashville songwriter whose life spirals downward after he loses the woman he loves. The collection also includes poems and songs about rejection, writer’s block, pickup trucks, Taylor Swift, cowboys, and the struggles of the dreamers who come to Nashville seeking fame and fortune. Readers Favorite Reviewer Lorelai Rivers gives the book a five star rating and says, “These poems ring true, as though author Dan Jewell has first-hand experience of the hope and heartbreak of being a working or non-working, musician/songwriter.”

Jewell says that some of the poems and songs were written over thirty-five years ago. “I was born in Nashville, so songwriting was in the very air I breathed every day. It was only natural that I would try my hand at it. My wife and I cut a demo of some of my songs once in the old Woodland Studio, a legendary place where artists like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Shania Twain once recorded.”

But, like most of the other dreamers in Nashville, Jewell says his songs went nowhere. “This collection of poems is about those women and men as much as anything, the ones who come here and struggle but keep at it, and the others who don’t make it in music but end up making a life for themselves instead. We know more than we want to know about all the ones who make it big. It’s the others I write for.”

Music fans, aspiring songwriters and performers, and anyone whose dreams didn’t quite materialize will enjoy this provocative book. More information about the book and the author can be found on the website Nashville Woman & Other Sorrows is available as an eBook on Kindle and Nook, and in paperback (68 pages) on

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

There's Poetry in Music City

There's poetry in Nashville, Music City.

Many country music songs are poetry in the oldest and most traditional sense. But there's also poetry in the struggles of those who make the music, in the beautiful city of Nashville itself, and in the hearts and souls of those anonymous dreamers who arrive here daily seeking success in the industry.

A Nashville Woman and Other Sorrows is a book of poems, over thirty-five years in the making, which recently received the highest award given in the love/romance category of the 2015 International Readers Favorite contest.

These simply worded, mostly narrative poems describe the experiences of a Nashville songwriter and musician whose life spirals downward after he loses the woman he loves. He stops for awhile in a mental place he refers to as The Catatonic Hotel before he eventually finds his way back to writing and living again.

Other poems in the collection tell the stories of those involved in the day to day struggles of those trying to make it in the music business and others who come to Music City filled with hope and dreams but end up marginalized, desperately hanging on the edges of the bright, glittering life they aspire to.

Readers Favorite Reviewer Lorelai Rivers gives the book a five star rating and says, “These poems ring true, as though author Dan Jewell has first-hand experience of the hope and heartbreak of being a working or non-working, musician/songwriter…These snippets of life, feelings, moments, scenes, and snapshots read to me like an epic song put together with the best book openings and chapter closings from every great novel never yet written.”

Another Readers Favorite Reviewer, Jack Magnus, says, “Jewell’s words are spare and eloquent, conveying worlds within a few well-placed words. While suffused with melancholy and loss, these poems also hint at redemption.”

A Nashville Woman & Other Sorrows is available in these formats: Kindle, ebook, Create Space, paperback, 68 pagesNook eBook.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Day Country Music Died

The Day Country Music Died

People live, people die. It's an inescapable fact of human existence.

If  people are famous when they die, the world takes notice.

If they're famous and they die with other famous people in the same incident or at the same time, their death can become a kind of historical marker for a shift in the direction or substance of culture.

The history of pop and rock music was significantly altered in February of 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, and their pilot Roger Peterson were all killed in a small plane crash in Iowa. This event was immortalized in Don McLean's "American Pie" in 1971 as "The Day the Music Died."

Four years later, on March 5, 1963, the landscape of country music and pop music was abruptly changed as well when Lloyd Estel "Cowboy" Copas, Patsy Cline, Harold Franklin "Hawkshaw" Hawkins, and pilot Randy Hughes, who was Cline's manager and Copas' son-in-law, were killed in a plane crash near Dyersburg, Tennessee.

In years to come, Patsy Cline's legend grew, but at the time of the crash, most people in country music and its fans as well would have said Cowboy Copas was the bigger star of the three. His first big hit was in 1946 with "Filipino Baby," and he had a string of others on into the early '50s including "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered," and "'Tis So Sweet to be Remembered." Then his career went South for a few years until 1960 when his biggest hit ever, "Alabam," reached the top of the charts and stayed at No. 1 for three months. Copas was an excellent guitar player and he demonstrates his fast thumb picking style in this video of "Alabam."

Patsy Cline was a recognized and honored star in country music at the time of her death in '63, but since that time her legend has grown. The re release of her great records, the successful stage plays about her life, and the movies and TV shows about her have made her the most famous of the four who died that stormy night back in '63.

was best known for her rich tone, emotionally expressive and bold contralto voice and her role as a country music industry pioneer. Along with Kitty Wells, she helped pave the way for women as headline performers in the genre. Cline's was cited as an inspiration by singers in several genres....Her hits began in 1957 with Donn Hecht's "Walkin' After Midnight", Harlan Howard's "I Fall to Pieces", Hank Cochran's "She's Got You", Willie Nelson's "Crazy" and ended in 1963 with Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams".

In the years before she died, Cline bought her dream home in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, which is part of the Metro Nashville area. Several stars from that era made their homes in Goodlettsville and neighboring Hendersonville; today's stars seem to prefer the much more upscale area in Williamson county.

Here's Patsy Cline's last recorded song, "I'll Sail My Ship Alone." This is a nice video with lots of candid shots of Cline.

The third country star who died that fateful night was Virginia native, Hawkshaw Hawkins. Although he began his career back in the late '40s, Hawkins had only just begun to achieve the kind of success that would have more than likely propelled him to a star status comparable to that of Cline and Copas at the time.

Wiki says that

He gained his nickname as a boy after helping a neighbor track down two missing fishing rods: the neighbor dubbed him "Hawkshaw" after the title character in the comic strip, Hawkshaw the Detective. He traded five trapped rabbits for his first guitar, and first performed on WCMI-AM in Ashland, Kentucky. At 16, he won a talent competition and a job on WSAZ-AM in Huntington, where he formed Hawkshaw and Sherlock with Clarence Jack. 

The 6'5" Hawkins served in WWII and won four battle stars at the Battle of the Bulge. His first two recordings with King Records in the later '40s were "Pan American" and "Doghouse Boogie." Both were top ten country hits.

He continued to record through the '50s but didn't have a hit until he recorded "Lonesome 7-7203" in 1962. The song didn't appear on the charts until March 2, 1963, three days before his death. By March 23, the song had reached No. 1 status and it remained in that position for twenty five weeks.

Randy Hughes, pilot of ill fated Piper Comanche, was a studio guitarist and Cline's manager. He signed on with her in 1959 and was instrumental in getting her to change labels; she went from Four Star to Decca. Because of this change Hughes was able to get her records produced by "legendary female-singer country music producer" Owen Bradley. Bradley was a proponent of the more lushly produced "Nashville Sound" which Cline initially feared. But he and Hughes eventually persuaded her to accept this style change which led her to greater success with "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy."

Most country stars of the time toured in car caravans or in buses. But Hughes, who had hopes of managing several stars, felt the Comanche would be a more convenient way for his clients to travel. The weather was bad that Tuesday when he and his three traveling companions took off from the Kansas City airport. They stopped once in Missouri to refuel and then made it as far as Dyersburg, Tennessee, where they landed at 4:30 p.m. Hughes was not instrument rated and the owners of the Dyersburg airport urged him to wait till morning when the weather was supposed to improve. But Hughes, Cline, Copas, and Hawkins were all tired and wanted to get back to Nashville which was just 170 miles away. So, they took off into the stormy night.

The wreckage of the plane was found in a forest in Camden, Tennessee, roughly 90 miles from Nashville.

Kathy Hughes, Randy's wife, faced a double tragedy that day; she lost both her husband and her father, Cowboy Copas, in the crash.

(The Tennessean's Peter Cooper has a long and interesting article about the crash, the events leading up to it, and its aftermath if you'd like to do more reading about these performers.)

The contributions these stars might have made had they not been killed that night in March fifty years ago are obviously unknown, but judging from their prior accomplishments, it's my opinion that whatever they might have done had they lived would have altered the shape, culture, and direction of country music.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Country Rain Songs

I know there's a big snow slamming into the midwest today and the Chicago Tribune says the Windy City will get up to ten inches.

Winter in Tennessee, however, usually means rain.

The last couple of days have been sunny, but, as I said, it's winter and it's Tennessee, so the rain is about an hour actually. From midnight tonight and all day Tuesday, the cold rain will be falling.

Be patient with me now, I'm fixin' to ramble a bit.

That weather forecast started me thinking about rain songs and wondering how many of those water soaked lyrics have been written over the years. I'm not talking here about using the word "rain" in a line or two, I'm talking about rain all through the song, or a verse, or, at least, as a major motif or theme or image.

There have been lots of them. Many memorable ones. All of those on the list below except the last two popped into my head as I was writing. I suspect Goggling would turn up quite a few more. You who are reading this right now are probably thinking of a couple I didn't mention.

Singin' in the Rain
Hard Rain's Gonna Fall
In the Early Mornin' Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Who'll Stop the Rain?
Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head
Kentucky Rain
I Love a Rainy Night
Listen to the Rain
November Rain

Rain falls in Bluegrass Music too. Some of the truly classic bluegrass songs have used rain as a major theme.

This first song is my favorite country/bluegrass song. Really I suppose it's my favorite song period. "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." It was written by the great Johnny Bond, but it's become a part of our family's history, part of my history.

I remember those Christmases in the '70s when Joyce's whole family (all six siblings and their kids) would come home to her parents' house. Her younger brother Mark was in his late teens and early 20s then and had learned to play the guitar. We practiced a couple of songs over and over and almost drove the other family members crazy. One of the songs was CCR's "Lodi" (for a future post) and the other was "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." Mark and I would sing and sometimes Joyce would join it harmonizing. We had such great fun doing that. Great fun. Even though it was usually raining outside, we had a roaring fire and there was cake and pie and coffee. And music. Lots of music.

Mark's gone now, he passed away unexpectedly in 1999 in his forties. But I still remember those great times and our duets on "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight." If there is heaven and a Deity, especially One who digs old bluegrass songs, I know where Mark is tonight.

I enjoy "I Wonder Where You Are Tonight" so much I'm posting two versions of it. The first is in the true up tempo bluegrass style and it's sung by a great group called the Cluster Pluckers. They've been around since the early '80s, and three original members of the group are still playing: Margaret Bailey, Kris Ballinger, and Dale Ballinger. The video isn't dated, but I would guess late '80s - early '90s.

Like in most bluegrass songs, the fast tempo becomes an emotional counterpoint to the heartache. In this song the cold, slowly falling rain underscores the loneliness of the singer and reminds her of how cold hearted the bastard was who left her. He treated her mean but she can't get him our of her mind.

This time, the rain falls in the chorus and it's used as a metaphor for her ex's cold heart and even colder love. In the fast versions of this song, I love that split second between the last line of the verse and the beginning line of the chorus. This is a crude comparison, but if the musicians do it right (and the Cluster Pluckers do it mighty fine), the guitars and other instruments sound almost like an automatic hemi shifting into what we used to call "passing gear." Like I said, crude. But I hope you get the point. What I feel the music say at that precise point is, "listen up, this is about to get damn serious here."
The rain is cold and slowly falling
Upon my window pane tonight.
And though your love is even colder
I wonder where you are tonight.

Here's another great version of the song that I found while foraging on Youtube. It's by the great Johnny Rodriguez, who slows the song down and turns it into a ballad, complete with a verse in Spanish. This is from a Hee Haw show in '73.

Okay, last rain song coming up. If you like Bluegrass, you've heard of Rhonda Vincent. I believe this is one of her first recorded songs; it's "I'm Not Over You." The rain in the first verse is an intensifier, it adds to the speaker's heartache. The falling rain is compared to the tears she's crying and then becomes a storm of emotion which blows full force into the chorus.
Tonight the rain that's falling
only adds to my heartache
It runs quietly down my window
Like the tears upon my face
And each time the lightning flashes
And I hear the thunder roar
I'm reminded of the closing of the door
I'm not over you
the storm still rages
The waves of pain remind me
That we're through
I'm slowly drowning
In a sea of endless heartbreak
I'm going under
'Cause I'm not over you
Guess it's time to sign off now and climb in bed for an afternoon nap. Our bedroom is on the second floor and the ceiling angles up with the roof line so I can hear the muffled raindrops falling as I go to sleep. Keep dry y'all.