“Joe came to Nashville with The Crusaders to sing on a couple of songs for an album they were recording. This was Joe’s first foray back into music after his self-imposed hiatus, and he, the band, and Will Jennings, lyricist extraordinaire, were in our midst for several weeks. The big hang-out in those days was Close Quarters, a/k/a the rock ‘n’ roll hotel, which actually was a boutique hotel, but the bar and lounge were ground zero for the local record people and for the visitors, too. Joe and Will were actually staying up the street at Spence Manor, which was even more exclusive, while The Crusaders were ensconced in The Quarters. For many a night, after their sessions, they all held court in the conversation pit, around a roaring fire, and I made a point of being a regular, as I was anyway, only living around the corner myself. I’d run into Joe a time or two, back when he was still living and working around Sheffield, but I couldn’t say we’d been even passing acquaintances, yet he was happy to have another northern lad to chat to, so we got quite matey. Very late on the night the album was finished, after the celebratory intake had done its work, Joe decided that he had to have a full English breakfast …
Spence Manor prided itself on the fact that they could get their guests anything they wanted, at any hour, so Joe asked me to come back and do the ordering, as he was somewhat compromised, and Will wouldn’t know what to ask for. Armed with a fresh bottle of Scotch, we took the short walk to The Spence, and arrived in Joe’s suite at about four-thirty (that’s a.m.).
I figured I should call my wife to let her know I was OK, as this looked like it might take a while. I no sooner had a very sleepy Patti on the line, when Joe commandeered the phone … “Ello, missus, I’ve kidnapped your husband, ‘cause I’ve got to have an English breakfast and I need him to order it from these folk … y’don’t mind, do you? Aye, good, well thanks then.” Handing the phone back, he said, “Yer alreet, son,” and addressed the bottle while I got busy with the concierge.
You can imagine explaining the intricacies of a full English breakfast to someone who’d never heard of such a thing: “Yes, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, yes, that’s right … no, that’s fried bread, not rye bread, you heard me right, fried bread, fry it in the same pan you cook the bacon and sausage in … ,” etc. etc. Now, I wasn’t stone-cold sober myself, but eventually the task was accomplished, and by dawn’s early light we tucked into a brilliant full English … Joe was a happy man! (When I saw my wife that evening, she said, “Was I imagining it last night, or did Joe Cocker call here.” Affirmative, my dear, affirmative.)” – an excerpt from Mersey Me! A Liverpool Lad On The Loose In The Swingin’ 60’s
I trust the heavenly kitchen had the full English Brekkie ready for Joe when he arrived – complete with black pudding!
Forty years ago, we experienced our first Nashville White Christmas, not the sooty snow of London or Liverpool, but pristine powder, shin deep on the side roads, ankle-deep on the main stems. We were nesting in Madison at the time, which was still a town on its own, rather than a bedroom community of Nashville, and as our little girl was safe with her grandparents in Florida, we decided to venture out on foot to seek some Christmas cheer. The nearest tavern on Gallatin Road was about half a mile away and the streets and the main road were hushed and muted , bereft of traffic, either motorized or pedestrian, except for us foreigners in the Southland….until we arrived at the bar, which was full of locals, creating their own warmth, and willing to share it with us.
Thus fortified, we trekked back through the drifts…the only people walking, or so it seemed. The experience led to a song, natch, as such was the way of things in those far off days. A sorry effort at a country tune, it was, as that genre was still as foreign to me as I was to it….I didn’t even know that the general area was referred to as Middle Tennessee, so my little refrain referred to” the only people walkin’ in Central Tennessee”. When this faux pas was later pointed out to me, I dropped any further effort on the wee tune, reasoning that if I couldn’t even get the geography right, I was not yet ready to be attempting to write country songs.
Over the years we developed the British tradition of a Boxing Day party on the 26th., which grew and grew until people were marking it on their calendars in January, and our initial Xmas adventure was stored away in the memory banks as our legion of friends brought the season to us, White Christmas or not, and that first adventure receded, except for the very real warmth two strangers experienced in that little snow-bound tavern so many years ago.
May your season be filled with precious warmth, kindness and love !
THE AMERICANA MUSIC TRIANGLE
Today’s feature in The Tennessean on the efforts of Aubrey Preston and Jed Hilley of the Americana Music Association to solidify The Triangle as a bona fide tourist destination took me back forty years to when I arrived in the States as a true rock ‘n’roll and r’n’b disciple, determined to put down roots in the birthplace of the music which had irrevocably changed my life … the very triangle of which we now speak.
The music had already offered me some success in my native England, where I’d been part of the rock ‘n’ roll boom, then the Soul boom, but with the bloom going off the swingin’ sixties, and waning interest in the gritty, great music to which I was forever committed, I determined that I had to go where that music had emerged and continued to thrive. So, with my young American wife and three-year-old daughter in tow, I set my sights on my personal Land Of Dreams.
With my in-laws’ home in Sarasota, Florida, serving as our staging area, we arrived at Christmas-time 1972 to begin our great adventure. We bought a used Toyota station wagon with the idea of working our way by road to who knew where. But I already had my pilgrimage planned: from New Orleans, Congo Square and the Quarter, to the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia, where Little Richard had been a dish washer (that town also being the birthplace of James Brown and my beloved Otis Redding); to Beale Street in Memphis and Highway 61, with all that those legendary roads implied; then on to West Memphis Arkansas, following the footsteps of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins up Highway 70 via Jackson, to Nashville- just starting to stake it’s international claim as Music City, U.S.A.
Once we arrived in Davidson County, I realized that Nashville was the geographic hub of it all, in easy reach of all the key areas that embodied the roots and branches of the music that had transformed me. In 1973, Jefferson Street was still one of the great thoroughfares of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Soul, and Rock ‘n’Roll, and they welcomed this white boy (with the funny Beatles accent ) with open arms. I felt like I was home where I belonged, and even though the racial situation was still tense, especially to the sensibilities of a liberal Northern European and his Yankee wife, it just felt likethe place we were meant to be.
I had the advantage of an already-established friendship and working relationship with Buzz Cason, the pioneering producer, writer and studio owner, already a great success in the pop, soul and r’n’b genres, so I wasn’t limited to trying to make it in “straight country,” with which I couldn’t claim as much affinity as other genres thatsprang from the fertile lands of the Deep South. But Brenda Lee, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name just a few, were classic rock ‘n’rollers in my book anyway, and if Charlie Rich was classified as a country singer, then I was O.K. with country, too.
It was a time of a growing influx of out-of-towners … the Muscle Shoals and Memphis boys, the early transplants from L.A. and N.Y.C., and very soon fellow Brits such as Roger Cook, Ray Flacke, Ralph Murphy, Pat McInerney and Tony Newman, who took care of any pangs of home-sickness I might have felt, although those pangs were always few and far between!
It was inevitable that what is now being labeled as Americana should crystallize as a movement in and around the Nashville area, because all the strains that weave into Americana are from around these parts, as they’ve always been.
The resurgence of the “Americana Triangle” bodes well for the future of music in general, as our region opens its arms once more to those that play it and sing it from the heart. I feel blessed to still be around to see it happen in my beloved adopted home.