A Walk Down Music Row by JOtwell (click to buy)

From The Desk… SEAT OF THE PANTS JOURNALISM

A Walk Down Music Row by JOtwell (click to buy)
A Walk Down Music Row by JOtwell (click to buy)

When David Ross launched Music Row Magazine back in the day, as a hand-to-mouth mimeographed ‘zine, I helped him out from time to time. He was a pal of mine, and not too fussy about journalistic credentials, as his venture was more or less a one man operation, and he welcomed any content that might flesh his meager mag out. I was reasonably set up at the time, with a couple of rock and pop artists as production clients on major labels, an office on Elliston Place (Rokblok) that I shared with Steve Gibson and Bill Martin, and my first solely-owned publishing company. However I still had the time and youthful energy to consider other creative avenues, and had always been interested in prose writing, so when Dave suggested I could maybe contribute a feature bit from time to time, I thought it might be fun. I didn’t know how to type, and the new computer technology, into which Dave was starting to delve, scared me to death, so my only tools were legal pads, pencils, and the phone…about as low-tech. as it got, but it was mainly a giggle and a bit of a new experience- no big deal.

I did a couple of little pieces to get my feet wet, and then one day I started thinking about the various connections that The Beatles had forged with country music over time, a subject that, at that point, had largely been ignored, and I mentioned it to Dave as a possible subject, given my ties to Liverpool as Nashville’s resident Scouser, and my personal in-depth knowledge of the popularity of Country and Western music ( as it was then known over the pond) in my home town.

Any Liverpool musician was familiar with Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and the rockabilly boys-it was all American music to us, and influenced us every bit as much as the Rhythm and Blues music with which Merseybeat later became more closely identified. Ringo was a very knowledgeable fan of the genre, his solo spots with Rory Storm & The Hurricanes usually featuring his take on a country hit of the day, and he brought that repertoire with him into The Beatles. George Harrison was crazy about Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins, and John and Paul’s harmony vocal chops were already informed by the “brother act” tradition of The Everlys and Louvins, to name but a couple. Liverpool even boasted a full-bore country band, Sonny Webb and The Cascades, who had actually traveled to Nashville to cut some sides under the watchful eye of Owen Bradley at his Quonset Hut recording facility.

The magazine was starting to get a bit of a footing, largely due to Dave’s tireless hustling, and he thought it might be an appropriate time to take on a feature that had some depth and scope, while also having a solid hook to Nashville, so he told me to give it a shot.

I was already friendly with Ernie Winfrey, who had worked with Paul McCartney on several tracks during the Wings visit to Nashville in 1970, and I had a nodding acquaintance with Pete Drake, who had put together Ringo’s 1974 homage to country music, “ Beaucoups Of Blues”, also recorded in Music City. Most relevant was the fact that McCartney had just issued his post-Lennon album “ Tug Of War”, which had involved Carl Perkins’ participation in a significant way, so there was also a current reason to examine The Beatles Country Connection, which was what the piece came to be called.

As I assembled a list of my potential sources, my confidence grew that this might be something worthwhile. Getting Ernie on board was no problem, and Pete Drake proved to be quite amenable to sit for an interview, so I figured that getting Carl would be the icing on the cake. Asking around, everyone said that he was the nicest, most easygoing guy you could hope to meet, and I managed to get his home number in Jackson from somebody, so I went ahead and called-cold…stone cold, I swear. The man himself answered, and whether it was my Liverpool accent or what, he agreed to an interview, but explained that as he had no plans to be in Nashville in the immediate future, we should do it by phone.

In addition to my other journalistic shortcomings, I didn’t know how to take shorthand, so I ran over to Radio Shack and bought one of those primitive telephone microphones that could be stuck on a phone, then plugged into a cassette recorder, and prepared for the following day, when Carl allowed he’d be available after he’d mowed the yard .I called after lunch, with a 90 minute cassette loaded….I ended up using three of them, as he was not only a warm-hearted guy and a natural raconteur, but ended up covering his entire history with The Beatles, going back to the start of their career, when he’d attended a party they threw specifically for him, and the session that followed, where they cut their classic Perkins covers with him on hand to witness it. His affection for the lads seemed totally genuine, and over the course of the two and a half hour conversation he gave me a wealth of material, both old and new.(A couple of years later, I actually met Carl face to face at a rockabilly festival at The Brickyard in Indianapolis, where I was playing with Del Shannon on a bill that included The Crickets and Carl. Remembering my name and the circumstances of the interview he said to me “Heck. If I’d known you were a picker, I’d have told you more!”)

Over the following days I transcribed every word in longhand, with rising excitement, so when I met Ernie, and thereafter Pete Drake, I was well pumped. Ernie allowed me to use one of his private photos of the McCartney sessions, and I planned to use as a lead image an early picture I’d snapped at Hamburg’s Star Club of the front line in all their leathered glory.

After the Drake interview, I had a more casual conversation with Jerry Shook, a studio acquaintance of mine who’d participated on the Ringo sessions, and an equally casual chat with the legendary drummer, D.J. Fontana, who’d also been on board. I now had a mountain of yellow legal paper, which I rewrote and edited over and over before presenting the whole thing to David. From his reaction I gathered that this was maybe more than he’d been expecting, but he went at it enthusiastically, and when the magazine hit the street it was well received, and I’d like to think that the timing of the article maybe helped Music Row attain the next level of it’s development.

Seeing a prose piece of mine in print did wonders for my confidence and so my next brainwave was to suggest a feature on the legendary Quonset Hut, which resulted in an interview with Owen Bradley, and a memorable sit-down with the delightful Brenda Lee, plus a more cursory one with Grady Martin, who seemed like he had better things to be doing with his time. Mining my connections, I then tapped Brent Maher for an overview of his career, which also included a cameo print appearance by his then new discoveries,The Judds.

The magazine was experiencing a growth spurt, and David linked up with Robert K. Oermann as a contributor, who was the real thing, a bona fide wordsmith and musical historian, with all the requisite technical skills I was so sorely lacking. David suggested that my stacks of yellow legal pad scribbling were becoming a bit too time consuming for the efficient working of a burgeoning venture, so I went back to my day job, still bereft of the tech. savvy I would need down the road, when I would devote more time to authorship, but with my appetite whetted for the world of prose, having seen those early efforts seductively displayed on the printed page.

It was an eye-opening interlude for me, and probably not something that one could get away with in the much more formal setting of the industry’s current media structure. Great fun!

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