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A night at the Bluebird Cafe

Last night, I participated in my first 'writers in the round' at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN.

I knew the reputation of the Bluebird, and I'd seen the movie The Thing Called Love a long time ago, but I guess I wasn't prepared to find the place in the midst of a small shopping center.

The first show let out, and my friend Annie Clements and I went inside and out of the cold. Annie is bassist and background vocalist for the band Sugarland, but I've known her for years. She used to babysit my eldest daughter back in New Orleans where Annie grew up the daughter of one of the city's finest guitarists, Cranston Clements. Then, after she'd shown considerable aptitude on the instrument, I had her play bass with me at my record release party for Out Of My Way at Tipitina's. (Carlo Nuccio, who was the drummer that night, asked me "Why, in this city full of great musicians, is the best bass player going a FIFTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL??!!") Since then, Annie graduated from Berklee College of Music and had played with Theresa Andersson and the Sons of William before landing the great gig she has now. Annie offered to host me, picking me up from the airport as well; I'm so proud of my young friend and her continued and growing success, and it was a great pleasure to get to hang with her again and catch up on her family and mine.

We were informed that "Darius' guitar had just arrived" as we walked in. Minutes later, my bandmate Darius Rucker walked in, accompanied by former Hootie guitar tech Mike Costanzo who is now pursuing a career in recording engineering in Nashville.

Then Tim Krekel came in, and we greeted each other warmly after not having seen each other for probably twenty-some-odd years. Tim is a phenomenal writer, a soul man from Kentucky who had a band in the Eighties called the Sluggers. He also wrote "I Can't Help Myself" which Jason and the Scorchers recorded.

I was thrilled when Bill Lloyd had told me Tim was going to be a part of the proceedings tonight. I met Bill at an R.E.M. show when he gave me a demo tape of his band Sgt. Arms. Later on, he joined forces with Radney Foster as Foster and Lloyd for a three album run at RCA, making a splendid hybrid of modern country and NRBQ-flavored roots rock. Bill has co-written with everyone worth their salt in Nashville. They even had the impeccable taste to cover "White Train" (which Bill and I sang at this outing). Bill's now the Stringed Instrument Curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame; I twitted him about having to change the strings on one of Bill Monroe's old mandolins, but I'm thrilled for him to have such a cool job. He also got to play guitar with Cheap Trick when they performed Sgt. Pepper with a 50-piece orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl recently. Bill is a renaissance man and he's our host for the night.

Bill said "Well, she's not here yet, but Marshall will just slip on in here right before the show." Marshall Chapman is another fantastic rootsy writer. I used to sell her Epic albums when I worked at a Gramercy Park record store in the late 1970's. And her songs, covered by everyone from Jimmy Buffett to Joe Cocker, are direct and extraordinary, chronicling her life and the people around her. She and Tim worked together in Buffett's band, and they've written a bunch of cool songs together.

Sure enough, six-foot-one and dressed in a black sweatshirt and tan Uggs, Marshall sat down next to me, got out her blue guitar and the evening began. She plays with a thumb pick, at least, in a percussive style that reminds me of Pat McLaughlin's. Eventually, the Uggs came off, and at one point, she ate a sandwich and drank a jar of milk she brought from home.

Obviously, these affairs are an informal sort of event. Everyone was encouraged to play and sing on each other's songs, whether we knew them or not. I was serving the dual purpose of performing my own songs and also accompanying Darius on his stuff, some from his forthcoming country album. I even get to wail some high harmonies with Darius' lovely baritone.

Some songs I knew, like Bill's "Niagra Falls" from Set to Pop, his second solo album. Marshall and I joined in on the chorus which references the Three Stooges routine, which was not lost on the audience.

Some I didn't, like Tim's "Wilson Pickett". Tim lives near a cemetery in Louisville, and one day while he was out strolling around the grounds as he often does, a line of black limos and a hearse pull up. Little Richard gets out of one of them, and Tim realizes that they were burying Wilson Pickett practically in his back yard, obvious fodder for a great song.

Bill played bass (Fender Precision with flatwound strings!) for much of the evening, including "Lonely Is (As Lonely Does)". It would be an understatement to say that Bill Lloyd has been a huge champion of my songs over the years; he's been begging me to come to Nashville for just such an occasion as last night, and I am so glad I finally got there.

Marshall is given to introducing her songs with engaging stories, like her new "I-16 Blues" which celebrates the desolate stretch of road between Macon and Savannah, Georgia. Musically inspired by "I'm Stickin' With You" by the Velvet Underground, her travelogue got good laughs from the audience. She played the beautiful "Call the Lamas!" which I stupidly asked if it was a real story. ("Of course" she replied dryly. "I haven't got a lot of imagination.") Upon reading her book, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller, I discovered it's a tribute to her late brother. Oops.

Darius' new songs got a great response. That bodes well for the reception of his country album, I think. He also did "Let Her Cry" and "Hold My Hand" which everyone loved, of course. His voice is universally loved, no matter what style he takes on.

Bill played a song called "The World is a Different Place Without You" and looked over at me at the end to find me quietly crying.

We had guests, too. The legendary Sam Bush, who toured with Hootie years ago as a Flecktone, and Beth Nielsen Chapman joined us and sang and played. Al Jazeera TV was filming the show (!) as was CMT, and I have to think they got a pretty great show for the folks back in the Middle East, as well as Middle America.

It was all over too soon. I put my guitar away, and I visited briefly with my old friend Steve Gorman, drummer for the Black Crowes, and his wife Rose Mary who I hadn't seen in years.

We had a picture taken of the performers which I hope I can get a copy of for my archives.

All in all, the night at the Bluebird inspired me greatly. I felt proud and thankful that Bill had asked me to play with these fantastic writers, and I believe I held my own among them. The crowd seemed to dig my songs as much as anyone's, and that made me feel I should return to Nashville on a regular basis and sink my talons into the healthy writing scene that's there. There might be a future in music for me yet!


Jeff Hart said…
bill lloyd does get around, doesn't he. he's someone i really admire. from all i've read about him, we seem to have the same taste in a lot of areas. glad to see things went well there. i've got lots of pals in nashville, but i just haven't gotten my schedule worked out to make it out there in the songwriter mode, other than a tour that happened ten years ago.

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