Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund

Gail Kerr

Gail Kerr

The outpouring of love and good wishes since the death of my lovely wife Gail has been astonishing and very comforting to me. Thank you all so much.

One of the frequent questions I receive is, “How can we honor her memory?” A great way is to support Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund, a project she proposed before her death and is now being implemented, thanks to The Tennessean, How’s Nashville and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. The biggest difference in her proposal versus the way it is now is the name. It is now named for her and she would have been so honored by that. Like many others, Gail recognized the homeless issue in Nashville and did her best to bring focus to it in her columns.

Not only did Gail write about it but, in her very “hands-on” way, she volunteered on projects that helped those who slept under no roof and had fallen on hard times. For several years, she served lunches prepared weekly at Downtown Presbyterian Church for the homeless and urban poor. She bought every issue of The Contributor, Nashville’s independent newspaper designed to help the homeless get off the street (and succeeds beautifully at that mission).

If you were one of Gail’s readers, I don’t have to tell you that she pulled no punches and did not advocate causes in which she did not believe with all her heart. Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund was her idea and she was looking forward to getting it going. So now, it’s underway.

Donate here

How it works

Gail learned about an organization called How’s Nashville and wrote a column about it last year. Through How’s Nashville, people are getting off the streets and staying off the streets. The program’s success in keeping people in housing after moving in really impressed her. The following paragraph explains it:

How’s Nashville aligns itself with the national 100,000 Homes and is a collaborative community campaign to assist individuals and families who have experienced long-term homelessness and are among the most vulnerable population in the most vulnerable people in Davidson County. Currently more than 30 organizations representing the nonprofit, government, and business sectors work together to help individuals and families move from homelessness into permanent supportive housing as quickly as possible. We believe that a focus on the most vulnerable individuals and families in our community will save lives while we work together on streamlining our city’s housing placement process.

The How’s Nashville campaign focuses on:

* Implementing Housing First(moving people from the streets/shelters directly into permanent supportive housing)
* Collecting data (so we, as a community, understand the populations we are serving)
* Tracking our progress (evaluating outcomes to improve our approach)
* Improve our local system (streamlining our systems to benefit all populations)

Donate here

Thank you

I would personally like to thank The Tennessean for continuing this project and re-naming it for Gail, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee for implementing the financial parts of this fund, How’s Nashville for this wonderful program, and everyone who has already donated and will donate to Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund.

She would be so happy to see this wonderful program now in place. So honor Gail by donating to Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund (click here to donate).


Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr.

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Devastated but grateful

While the pain from the death of my lovely wife Gail is impossible to describe and terribly hard to bear, I am very grateful for the outpouring of love, prayers and thoughtfulness so many have sent my way.

Please accept my heartfelt thanks and I appreciate your understanding that I’ll write again when the time is right.


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Southerners and Irishmen, revisited (audio link included)

Les Kerr & The Bayou Band have played St. Patrick's Day at Jimmy Kelly's in Nashville each year since 1996. This song is always on the set list.

Les Kerr & The Bayou Band have played St. Patrick’s Day at Jimmy Kelly’s in Nashville each year since 1996. This song is always on the set list.

Songwriters are often asked where they get song ideas.  I hope you’ll enjoy this story behind my song, Southerners and Irishmen.

When I lived in Mobile, Alabama in the 1980s, I developed a near-addiction fondness for coffee with chicory, readily available in local grocery stores at very resonable prices.  New Orleans (where I have also spent a lot of time) is most associated with this flavorful and potent treat, but it’s also found up and down the whole Gulf Coast.  When I moved to Nashville in 1987, I realized that finding it on grocery shelves here was nearly impossible, and always expensive.

So whenever my performance schedule took me back to the Gulf Coast or New Orleans, my standard operating procedure included loading up at (the late, great) Delchamp’s and other local grocery stores on coffee with chicory.  I chose every opportunity to load up with vacuum-sealed bricks of Community or Café du Monde coffee every time I made it down South.

In the late 1990s, I had spent a few days in the Mobile Bay area before performing at an event in Destin, Florida.  As usual, I made sure to buy a bunch of coffee to take back home. Around that time I had heard some report about how nostalgic people from Ireland and from the American South become when they leave the familiar places where they were raised.  In my own case, I was raised in Mississippi and had spent a lot of time in New Orleans and I have always felt like coffee with chicory is a way to start the day with a taste that part of the country, which I still so dearly love.

So with my car full of coffee with chicory heading back to Tennessee, the thoughts of this song occurred to me.  I stopped at a roadside gas/convenience store somewhere in Alabama and bought a pad and wrote these lyrics as I drove back home.  Songwriters might relate to this – drive a while, stop and write.  Drive a while, stop and write.

By the time I got back to Nashville, I had finished the song, and it’s been a good one for me.  I recorded it with just an acoustic guitar and my friend Robby Shankle joining with his tasteful flute playing.

I hope you will enjoy the lyrics, printed below.  You can listen to the song at this link:   Southerners And Irishmen

And, by the way, I’m happy to report that coffee with chicory now found in many Nashville grocery stores.  But I still “stock up” every time I’m on the Gulf, just in case!

Southerners and Irishmen
Words and Music by Les Kerr/©1999
Southerners and Irishmen always long for home
No matter how far they’re away or how long they’ve been gone
The little things that take them there for moments at a time
Are elevated to a place that’s sacred in their minds
To hear a fiddle play a piece of some old Irish reel
Can cause a man from County Cork to genuflect and kneel
A Georgia lady in New York might fall down on her knees
If someone merely speaks the words, “My mama’s black-eyed peas.”
Show a cotton boll to a Mississippi son
Or talk about the bluegrass with an old Kentuckian
Find a displaced Dubliner and sing, “Oh, Danny Boy,”
And smiling eyes will soon be filled with grateful tears of joy
I do my best to keep a taste of home right close at hand
I guard coffee with chicory like smugglers’ contraband
Be it Irish Whisky or fried chicken with green beans
Southerners and Irishmen are brought home by such things
Southerners and Irishmen always long for home
No matter how far they’re away or how long they’ve been gone
Others have a sense of sight, of hearing, touch, and taste
But Southerners and Irishmen are blessed with sense of place
Southerners and Irishmen always long for home
Text copyright 2012 by Les Kerr
Learn More about Les & join the e-mail list for free downloads, including Southerners and Irishmen
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Gaga for gratitude

No coffee-filter hats for me. I'll stick with Stetson- dark for winter and straw for summer.

No coffee-filter hats for me. I’ll stick with Stetson- dark for winter and straw for summer.

Well, there she was wearing a dress made out of coffee filters and talking to Jimmy Kimmel. Her coffee-filter hat just about reached to the top of our television screen. She had to approach his desk carefully because of the very tall white wedge shoes she wore. Lady Gaga, in all her white, coffee filter glory, held court.

The Jimmy Kimmel Show has been broadcasting from the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas and I happened to catch Thursday night’s episode that featured Lady Gaga. I don’t know much about her music but I have always admired her showmanship (though I don’t see myself in a meat dress or a coffee filter hat). Her ability to communicate with her audience through music, wardrobe and makeup is remarkable. As I watched her talk last night, I found something else that I really like about her: sincere gratitude for her fans.

She is a very articulate conversationalist. She said she had gone incognito throughout the week to eat barbecue and to watch up-and-coming music acts perform at different venues around Austin. When asked if a celebrity had ever visited one of her salad day shows, Lady Gaga said no but that she would have loved it, had it happened.

As the conversation went on, she began to talk about how much she appreciated her fans. The singer said it meant so much that they have stuck with her throughout the different stages (and costumes) of her still very vibrant career. Referring to fan loyalty and the fact that they are the reason for her success, she said, “I’m a lucky girl.”

How refreshing!

In an era when others on the national and international stage commit embarrassing blunders off-stage, Lady Gaga shocks people on stage because she knows that’s what her audience wants. From what I’ve read and heard, she leads a quiet normal existence when she’s not performing. Off the top of my head, I could not name a single Lady Gaga song. But the fact that she appreciates those ultimately responsible for rise to stardom, the fans that buy the music and come to the shows, makes me a little “goo-goo for Gaga.”

I treasure this autographed Minnie Pearl's Chicken box given to my by my wife Gail

I treasure this autographed Minnie Pearl’s Chicken box given to my by my wife Gail

I never thought I would refer to Minnie Pearl and Lady Gaga in the same sentence, but I am reminded of Miss Minnie’s account of her first Grand Ole Opry appearance. She said the “solemn old judge,” George D. Hay told her when he saw how nervous she was about facing the audience to “just go out there and love ‘em and they’ll love you back.” Probably without realizing it, Lady Gaga follows the same advice.

All of us who write and play music should be reminded that if it weren’t for the people who enjoy and support it, the biggest venue we play might be our own living room.

Having said that, I’ll close with a heartfelt, “Thank you.”

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr. Click here to visit Les Kerr’s web site!

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Two lane silence

Lobelville, Tennessee, around 10:00 p.m. on a January Friday night, 2014

Lobelville, Tennessee, around 10:00 p.m. on a January Friday night, 2014

It is a silence you can almost feel. A winter night on Tennessee State Highway 13 lends itself to quiet during the ride from Linden to Waverly. After three hours of hearing my own voice through a PA monitor speaker, I appreciate that silence.

If silence speaks, it does so on cold January nights along this two lane road. I am always ready to listen. Sometimes, there is a Hank Williams moon sliding behind a cloud so no one can see its tears. Other times the moon is a bright white sun lighting up the countryside and my spirits.

After making these periodic trips for about five years, I can almost tell without looking when the speed limit sign will suddenly declare “30 mph,” and when the more palatable “55 mph” will ring loudly on a glorious black and white rectangle clinging to the road’s slim shoulder. Around 10:00 p.m. as I approach Lobelville, about half way to Waverly, most people there are settled in for warmth on a cold night. Not much traffic for the thirty-mile-per hour speed limit to slow down.

Soon, I leave Perry County and cross over to Humphreys County, knowing that my fling with silent darkness is coming to an end. The green and white Buffalo (Unincorporated) sign signals the last few moments before I reach Waverly and Interstate 40. The quiet two lane gives way to fast food restaurants, motels, so-called travel centers and signs pointing the way to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch at Hurricane Mills. I point my 4-wheel gasoline-powered buggy east toward Nashville and home.

Click here to visit Les Kerr’s web site, hear his music and follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Click photo to enlarge. Text and photo copyright 2014 by Les Kerr.

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Les Kerr’s personal winter survival kit

What I stock up on in cold weather (and other weather, for that matter)

What I stock up on in cold weather (and other weather, for that matter)

Weather predictions in Nashville this week included a high temperature of four degrees Monday, January 6. This news, as usual, sent people scurrying to the grocery store to stock up on milk. What is it about cold weather that creates an unusual necessity for milk? The parking lot at the Publix grocery store was packed when I stopped to get some beer. Once inside, I witnessed a bunch of frantic shoppers cleaning out the dairy department. Well, O.K., that’s what they need and it’s none of my business.

But this gave me pause to make sure I have all of the essentials when I got home. I made a checklist of my own needs in case I am stranded inside my own house. These items always come in handy for me, bad weather or not, but it gives me a feeling of comfort to know I have them on hand. If I do get snowed in, I hope I’ll have a song to show for it, or at least a nice warm feeling that can be provided by coffee (with chicory) or Jack Daniel’s, depending on time of day.

It is my hope that you will stay warm in the coming days and nights and that you’ll have everything you need. In my case, I can safely say, “Let it snow. Or not.”

The Official Les Kerr Winter Survival Kit:

1. Coffee with chicory from New Orleans for cold winter mornings
2. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey for cold winter nights
3. A stack of ideas for song lines and titles
4. Plenty of ink for my favorite songwriting pen, a wood-barreled fountain pen Gail gave me on our first anniversary
5. Plenty of legal pads upon which to administer aforementioned song ideas
6. Extra guitar strings (D’Addario medium gauge phosphor bronze)
7. Enough creativity and initiative to put all of these items to good use

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr

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Yes, Virginia, it’s Eddie Jones

The classic 1897 newspaper response to a letter from an eight year old girl asking if Santa Claus existed has always fascinated me. The words, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and the accompanying message of reassurance make me stop and reflect while a feeling of warmth wells up inside as I hear or read them. I’ll never forget listening to veteran CBS anchor and reporter Douglas Edwards read the piece on the radio. Inspiring and sensitive, he delivered the words in a way that made people suspend their Christmas frenzy and contemplate a sincere response to an age-old childhood question.

Former Nashville Banner editor Eddie Jones types for our recording of Yes, Virginia

Former Nashville Banner editor Eddie Jones types for our recording of Yes, Virginia

In 2002, I decided to give this auspicious piece a go on my Christmas on the Coast album. I had met Eddie Jones, former editor of the Nashville Banner in the late 1980s when the paper was still thriving. My wife Gail, who still writes for the now-gone Banner’s main competitor The Tennessean, knew him much better than I did. She told me that even in the twenty-first century, Eddie still typed on a manual typewriter, hunt-and-peck style. While I wanted to read the editor’s words myself, it dawned on me that having an actual editor get us into the piece one stroke at a time would give it some atmosphere and authenticity. I don’t know if Francis P. Church, who composed these classic words, used a typewriter or not, but I still thought having Eddie Jones type away on my record would be an eloquent addition.

By this time, Eddie was on staff at the prestigious Nashville public relations firm now known as DVL. I asked him if he would consider typing for us and he graciously said yes, joking that he may need to get a manicure since his fingers would be recorded. Bryan Cumming, the musical and technical wizard who engineers and produces my recordings, and I loaded up equipment and headed downtown to DVL. With a boom microphone hovering over his old Royal, Eddie Jones worked his magic with an amazingly fast, “Click, click, click.” He only used the index fingers on each hand but pounded out some rapid-fire copy as Bryan recorded.

Caroline Stoker reading Virginia's letter.

Caroline Stoker reading Virginia’s letter.

Not only did Eddie type for us, but Caroline Stoker agreed to read the words of Virginia. The daughter of my dear friends Brent and Jeanne Stoker, Caroline happened to be the same age Virginia was when the letter was written. At age eight, Caroline delivered every line with care and her voice beautifully conveyed the honesty of the question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”

Caroline is now college age and Eddie Jones passed away several years after we did our recording. However, every time I saw him after the CD was released, he would grin and ask, “When we gonna make another record?”

The age in which we now live seems to take every opportunity to rob us of the one thing we all have in the same quantity: time. Throughout my life, the “Yes, Virginia,” editorial has always seemed to give back a little of that precious commodity and has reminded me that there’s more to life than checking things off a to-do list and rushing to the next appointment. The generous participation of Eddie Jones and Caroline Stoker on this record also caused a change in the urgent, get-it-done mentality that sometimes pervades recording studios. We stopped. We listened. We cared. And when we were finished we knew there was hope, as Virginia surely must have known after reading Mr. Church’s words.

Merry Christmas.

Click here to listen to Yes, Virginia

Click CD cover below to download Yes, Virginia from I-Tunes.

Click image to download Yes, Virginia from I-Tunes.

Click image to download Yes, Virginia from I-Tunes.

Copyright 2013 by Les Kerr

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