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Old Folks Night At The Bluebird

Under the Neon Bluebird: On the left, Don Henry;
hiding under hats L-R: Tom Kimmel, Dana Cooper and Michael Lille

The Bluebird Cafe figured pretty prominently in my early days/years in Nashville.  I went there a lot.  I don’t go there as much as I used to.  Since the venue was a featured location in the TeeVee show Nashville for several seasons, it is near the top of most visitors’ ‘must see/do’ list when they come to Music City – which means reservations are very hard to come by unless you jump on the website within minutes of tickets going on sale.

It’s kinda like Yogi Berra once said of a popular club in New York,

Nobody goes there any more – it’s too crowded.

I don’t monitor the Bluebird schedule like I used to, and if Dana Cooper hadn’t called me and let me know this show was happening, I would have been kicking myself if I heard about it after the fact.

Because all of these guys – especially Michael Lille and Tom Kimmel – played a pivotal role in those early years.

I think I first heard Michael Lille at the Commodore Club on West End in 1994.  The first thing I noticed about Michael was his approach to the guitar, it had a very ‘Michael Hedges/New Age’ quality to it – very unlike the shredding metal sound I heard from most plugged-in acoustic guitars (I still hate that sound).   Then he performed a song called ‘Life On the Run’. The song describes a trip Michael took to Indonesia, and waking up to the sound of “laughing children at the edge of the sea” – and contrasts that to his (our) lives in Western what–we–call ‘Civilization.’   I’ll put the only recording of the song in a playlist below, here’s the chorus:

They kneel on the ground
And raise their heads up to the sky
And thank the lord for another day begun
The wheel goes around
Far away on the other side
You and I live life on the run

To this day I cite that as the moment I realized that there was more to Nashville than the popular perception (think Hee Haw) that most people outside the 440 beltway have of the city – that there is a deep well of talent that flourishes just beneath the thin crust of mainstream country music business.  That was one of the two primary motivations at work when I started to ask the people I was meeting ‘what would you think if I tried to sell some of your CDs on the Internet?’ This was 1995, so a common answer was ‘what’s the Internet?’

Similarly, I met Tom Kimmel at the Bluebird,  in roughly the same time frame that I met Michael Lille. I was still on a bit of a ‘spiritual’ quest at the time – I had worked ‘A Course in Miracles’ while I was living in Los Angeles before coming to Nashville.  I heard Tom perform a song called Angels.  That chorus also resonated with me:

We’re lifted up by Angels
Higher than the world
Strong enough to leave it
Bound to learn the secrets
Angels never heard
We’re lifted up by Angels

I was still playing a bit myself in those days, covers mostly. When the show was over, I introduced myself to Tom and asked if he had a recording of Angels that I could learn the song from. Tom said it was not recorded on any of his CDs but kindly offered to send me a cassette and lead sheet and I learned the song from that.

Fast forward to the spring of 1995: Tom was one of the first people I approached with the idea of selling CDs on the Internet.  Unlike most of the people I spoke with, Tom had some idea what I was talking about because he had participated in the “Internet Quartets” – a traveling series of Bluebird-style ‘in the round’ shows promoted by folk-on-the-web pioneer Alan Rowoth.

“That’s a great idea!” Tom said, “I’ve been thinking I need a home page of my own.”  He not only needed a home page, he volunteered to help with the enterprise.  He introduced me to Michael Camp singer/songwriter with some tech experience.  The three of us talked it over, we each pitched in ~$300 to secure some server space and a domain – which turned out to be ‘songs.com‘ – and the rest is history.  Ancient history by now.

Dana Cooper, the Hardest Working Road Warrior in All of Show Business, was one of the first people we signed on to the service.

And Don Henry… well, I started talking to Don in the early days but never quite managed to get him on the site.  I’m glad to see he’s finally got a website.

So, I go waaaaay back with all these guys, and it was just heart warming to hear them all again for one night.

As he was introducing his first song, Tom told a story about the first time he ever played at the Bluebird, “for a room full of little old ladies…”  And I could not restrain myself from blurting out from my seat,

Tom, those old ladies are our age now!

So, yeah: Old Folks Night at The Bluebird 🤣.

I had the presence of mind to bring my camera:

 

And I’ve compiled a playlist of my favorites of their recordings.  Not all of these songs were performed that night, but some of them were.  I have included two tracks from Dana Cooper’s latest CD, I Can Face The Truth – which Dana said that night is his 30th album!  I’ll will have more to say about that one in a future post.

In the meantime…

 

Unity: April 10, 1865 – 2015

appomattox

April 10 – 1865 / 2015

People who know their Civil War history recall that Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant when they met in the parlor of the McLean House near the village of Appomattox Courthouse in Western Virginia the morning of April 9, 1865.

Less known is the story of their second ‘interview’ the following morning.

Grant knew that Lee only had the authority to surrendered his own defeated Army of Northern Virginia, which had been the primary military force of the Confederacy. Lee did not have the authority to surrender any of the other armies still in the field or, for that matter, the Confederacy itself.

The morning of April 10, 1865, Grant summoned Lee to a second meeting. They met on horseback for roughly a half hour, on a ridge surrounded by the mist of a cool spring morning. Grant urged Lee to use his influence on the other generals to likewise surrender and put down their arms.

That moment was recreated – at the exact time, in the exact spot, and under very similar conditions – 150 years later as part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

I spent a fair amount of time over those four years working with @Thomm Jutz @Peter Cronin and @Karen Cronin and many of Nashville’s finest singers and songwriters on “The 1861 Project” – a collection of three CDs of original recordings about the Civil War.

I did all the photography for that project, and went to several re-enactments over those years – Fort Donelson and Bull Run (among others), and finally Appomattox. I had hoped to photograph the recreation of Lee’s surrender and perhaps recreate the paintings that have survived that period, but alas, that task fell to a photographer sanctioned by the US Parks Department.

But somehow, I managed to get myself in the right place at the right time for the re-enactment of that second encounter, and got this shot, which I still consider one of the defining moments of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. In post-processing I have rendered the original as a ‘digital tintype’ – a type of photography that was popular in the 19th century.

I submitted the photo to the Parks Department to consider for merchandising at the gift shop at the Appomattox Courthouse National Park.

A few weeks later I got their reply: “The horses are too fat.” Jeezus.

If the horses aren’t too fat for you, you can order prints – and read the rest of the story – from this website.

Or visit Spotify to listen to the recordings from The 1861 Project:

And see the rest of the photography here:

 

I Made A Music

Like the rest or the country/world right now, I’m trying to make meaningful use of the abundance free time that fate and the Coronavirus has bestowed upon me/us.

What to do… what to do…

This morning I picked up my electric guitar for the first time in… well, months. It’s a Gibson ES-335 – the electric guitar that I had wanted for decades but only finally got about 8 years ago (but that’s a whole other story.)

It had been so long since I’d played it, it took me a couple of minutes to remember how it all fit together, to get the amp set up and the guitar plugged in and tuned. Then I tried to recall what I used to play on it – really, it’s been that long.

Then I remembered Albatross. Except I didn’t really remember it. I just recalled that it was something I learned from Nashville Guitar Guru David Isaacs when I took a workshop with him a couple of years ago (January, 2018).

Albatross is a dreamy guitar instrumental first recorded in 1969 by an up-and-coming little band from England called Fleetwood Mac. Maybe you’ve heard of the them? Probably so, but you probably haven’t heard Albatross, which was composed by the band’s lead guitarist at the time, somebody named Peter Green (click the link if you want to know more about his brilliant/tragic story).

OK, I thought, let’s see if I can remember how to play Albatross. So I went digging around in my hard drive to find the file that Dave had given us for the workshop.

Thinking I had found the original recording, I listened to an MP3 file that I found. It was the right tune but… it didn’t sound like I remembered the original. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what I was listening to or who was playing the layered guitar parts.

Until it finally dawned on me: it was me.

I slowly recalled that I’d been dorking around with GarageBand at the time. There are a couple of sections of Albatross that feature bendy melodies played on two guitars a third apart. I’d completely forgotten that I played and recorded all the parts on my ES-335 over a backing track that Dave had given us to practice with.

And as I’m listening to it for the first time in two years, I’m thinking, “damn, that sounds pretty good!” (except for one slipped-string clam somewhere in the middle).

So here, use this to fill up about 3-1/2 minutes of your quarantine time. It’s the first music I’ve ever recorded and put online.

It only took 69 years (OK, only 25 years since I got on the Internet…but… that, too… is a whole other story).

Podcast Review:
The Long Ride w The Wild Ponies

Clearly there are not enough podcasts in the world, so what’s not to like about just one more?? (#sarcasm)

Funny thing is, despite the virtually infinite selection of podcasts available nowadays (which nomenclature I find ironic, since who uses an actual iPod anymore?) it can actually be hard to find a new one that you want to subscribe to.

The vast universe of podcasts is perhaps rivaled only by the vast universe of independent singer-songwriters, so I guess it makes some kind of Ven-diagram sense that I would actually find a lot to like about a new podcast created by a couple of singer-songwriters.

I am speaking of “The Long Ride with The Wild Ponies.”

Hosts Doug and Telisha Williams (aka “The Wild Ponies“) have come up with what seems like a fairly original format. The first episode features a solo performance by singer/songwriter extraordinaire (really) Will Kimbrough, peppered with conversational breaks about life as traveling and performing artists. I can’t say whether it’s because Will is such a tremendous (phenomenal, really) solo performer, or because the hosts do such a great job of keeping the conversational interludes brief and on-point, but between those elements the whole format just sorta works.

Since the profusion of podcasts offered up lately are mostly just two people talking and pretending to laugh at each other’s lame attempts at humor, this format is a welcome relief. I found it thoroughly engaging from start fo 46-minutes-later finish – although Will Kimbrough – have I mentioned how exceptional he is? – has placed a rather high bar for future guests to rise to.

Of particular note is the “Speed Bump” segment near the end where Doug and Telisha ask a series of quick either/or questions, like:

Telisha: “Sunrise or sunset?”

Will: “Sun Ra. “

Such depth of insight is rarely found this side of Malcolm Gladwell. And Gladwell can’t sing or play guitar.

So get ye over to your Podcast app and listen to “The Long Ride.” It will make your next long ride go faster.

Aso: H/T to Laura Schneider, who had to mention this several times before I finally took the hint.

Suzy Boggus

Performing a benefit concert for the Bells Bend Corridor at Sulphur Dell Farms in Scottsdale, aka the Last Vestige of Old Nashville (off the Ashland City Hwy, Rt 12, btw Briley Parkway and Ashland City).

Gretchen Peters – Guitar Mash 2019

This is one of my favorite shots from the second (annual?) Guitar Mash at City Winery Nasvhille on May 11, 2019.  Also dubbed “The Urban Campfire,” this event encourages the audience to bring their instruments and play along with the artists on stage.  The house band is led by Mark Stewart (musical director for Paul Simon) and Nashville’s own Jerry Douglas, International Dobro Maester Extraordinaire.  The lineup also included, in addition to Gretchen, Amythyst Kia, Nicole Atkins, some guy named Jason (Isbell) and some other guy named Buddy (Miller).  I’ll post some more pix this week. 

David Crosby

…at City Winery, Nashville – May 16, 2019

David Crosby has always been one of my favorites from the Classic Rock Era (aka “my youth”). Maybe cause our voices are in a similar high-tenor range, and I have learned to play several of his songs over the years. Or maybe because the Jefferson Airplane version of “Wooden Ships” – which Crosby co-wrote with Stephen Stills and the Airplane’s Paul Kantner – lives prominently on my “All Time Top 5” songs playlist.

Apart from the fact that it’s amazing he’s still alive (he has too much in common with Keith Richard), he continues to be a stellar writer and performer. At age 77 (!) David Crosby’s voice is every bit as clear, bright, and crystalline now as it was 50 years ago.

He has been touring of late in support of his 2017 album “Sky Trails.”  Last night was the second time I’ve seen him on this tour.  The first time was in December 2017 at the CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame (my new favorite venue in Nashville). 

Last night he returned to City Winery to play to a very enthusiastic (admittedly, mostly Boomer) crowd.  He does an outstanding job of mixing his back catalog with the more recent material, making “nostalgia” seem “current” in the mix.  I was particularly pleased to hear him perform “The Lee Shore,” which has only ever been released on the CSN&Y concert double LP, “Four Way Street.”  That song was a favorite back in my own sailing days, when I lived in Hawaii in the 1980s.  

After the encore (“…everybody sing: ‘Four dead in O-hi-o…’”) I thought about the extraordinary legacy that David Crosby has created since The Byrds released “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1965. Besides The Byrds, he played with Buffalo Springfield in their waning days; Crosby Stills and Nash (with or without Young) was a staple of the era; and I’ve always considered his first solo release, “If I Could Only Remember My Name” one of the most sonically layered and textured vocal works of that or any era. I’ll put a link to that release on my website.

As we were leaving, I turned to my date and said “ya know, I never did get to see Paul McCartney, but this is pretty close….” In his own way, David Crosby has been every bit as lasting and influential as any Beatle. 

©2019 paul@cohesionarts.com

Caution

Nerves of Steel At Work

After the GuitarMash at City Winery, we were treated to an after party at Gruhn Guitars, one or the premier vintage guitar dealers in the whole world. Most of the festivities were held in the main showroom of Gruhn’s three-story location on 8th Avenue, on the outskirts of downtown Nashville, but the real treat was getting a chance to go up to the second and third floors.

On the second floor – that’s where the really expensive stuff is on display. From the $5-10,000 guitars on the ground floor, now we’re looking at $25,000 and higher instruments. I’ll post a photo later of me playing a $55,000 1940s D28.

The real treat was getting a tour of the workshop on the third floor, led by Greg Voros,. the Repair Department Manager. Here, Greg is explaining how the neck of a vintage Martin – in this case a 1940 D-45 worth something in the neighborhood of half a million dollars – is “re-set.” After nearly 80 years, the neck has to be removed through a very delicate process. One false move, Greg explains, and the value of the instrument can plunge by as much as $150,000.

Clearly not a job for the faint of heart.