“It” is still music for me

The original Ernest Tubb Record Shop is still going strong on Lower Broadway.

The original Ernest Tubb Record Shop is still going strong on Lower Broadway.

The new “It City.” That designation was bestowed upon Nashville by the New York Times in 2013 but is now the apparent collective self-image of our town. In attending and viewing recent mayoral forums and debates, it seemed to me that the frequency of references to Nashville as the “it city” by all seven candidates began to approach songwriter John Sebastian’s estimate of the number of guitar pickers in Nashville in his song Nashville Cats (1,352). A few of the candidates even had trouble coming up with the name of any song that represents Nashville when asked to do so. The volume of construction cranes cropping up on an apparent hourly basis to change the landscape also looks to be approaching Sebastian’s estimate of pickers, if it hasn’t already exceeded it.

The guitar that fueled my dreams of someday moving to Music City to make music.

The guitar that fueled my dreams of someday moving to Music City to make music.

Nashville may be “It” city to some but it is still Music City to me. In the spirit of “dancin’ with the one that brung you,” we mustn’t forget that music is still our calling card to the world. The blues and country music legacies of Nashville are something to remember, to be loyal to and to respect. I realize that we were the capital city of Tennessee and the Athens of the South before we were Music City, USA. However, it was Roy Acuff’s fiddle, Bill Monroe’s mandolin, and the country blues of Hank Williams and Deford Bailey that took us to worldwide recognition.

Despite the trendy restaurants and high-rise “mixed use” condos and retail space in our old railroad gulch, the one-story Station Inn still holds forth as that area’s best known

The Station Inn has become surrounded by high-rises and trendy boutiques and restaurants.

The Station Inn has become surrounded by high-rises and trendy boutiques and restaurants.

establishment, delivering world-class bluegrass on a nightly basis.

Contrary to the opinion expressed by some newcomers and non-residents that the songwriting mecca the Bluebird Café was made famous by the three year old ABC TV series Nashville, the iconic music venue opened in 1982 and has been the gold standard for performing songwriters ever since.

The Bluebird Cafe

From Garth Brooks and Keith Urban to others who are known to most only by the hits they have written, the writers who play their own songs at the small café speak of it in almost reverent tones. The Bluebird stage was the site of my first Nashville performance in 1987 and I’m still proud to play there every time the opportunity arises.

A few ticket stubs from Opry shows I have seen over the years.

A few ticket stubs from Opry shows I have seen over the years.

In 1983 when I was a radio news director visiting Nashville, I interviewed Roy Acuff in his dressing room at the Grand Ole Opry. He told me that there was a time when many in Nashville didn’t want to acknowledge the Opry because of the backwoods image they perceived it gave to the city. Mr. Acuff was happy that the attitude toward country music had changed among those in “society.” The Opry has existed since 1925 in many locations including the Belcourt Theatre, the Ryman Auditorium and its longest point of residency, the Grand Ole Opry House which opened in 1974. The success and longevity of that show is due in part to its continual broadcast on WSM AM, a 50,000 watt radio station. WSM’s strong signal sent country music direct from Nashville, Tennessee to as close to a nationwide audience as possible in pre-television, pre-cable and pre-internet signal days. The Opry may have been the only reason many listeners had ever heard of Nashville in the show’s early years and, probably, through the 1970s.

The Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs classic song Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ just came into my mind. Let us not forget who brought us to the dance and helped us become the “It” city (whatever that really means). “It” is still music for me.

Fans arriving hours early to see country star Tim McGraw's August, 2015 Nashville concert

Fans arriving hours early to see country star Tim McGraw’s August, 2015 Nashville concert

Click to download Les Kerr's video Contributor. New CD coming soon!

Click to view Les Kerr’s video Contributor. New CD coming soon!




Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr

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Rambling in the Ryman

One of Porter Wagoner's famous "Nudie" suits on display at the Ryman Auditorium

One of Porter Wagoner’s famous “Nudie” suits on display at the Ryman Auditorium

Last week, I read in my friend Mary Hance’s “Ms. Cheap” column in The Tennessean that the Ryman Auditorium has updated and improved its building tour and added a café on the Fourth Avenue side called Café Lula. A free tour was offered on Sunday and I decided to take it since I attend Downtown Presbyterian Church, just up the street on Fifth Avenue. After church and a potluck lunch in the fellowship hall, I wandered down the hill to the Ryman that bright, sunny afternoon.

Among the things that impressed me when the Ryman was renovated and reopened in 1994 was that the integrity of the building was carefully preserved. That is still the case. Therefore, Café Lula is not in the Ryman itself but just outside it. Had I not just eaten Presbyterian barbecue and appropriate accessories, I would have stopped in for a bite. The café is

Bob Hope and Hank Williams both at the Ryman in 1949.

Bob Hope and Hank Williams both appeared at the Ryman in 1949.

named for Lula Naff, the longtime manager of the Ryman credited for keeping it booked with stars ranging from Roy Rogers to Katherine Hepburn and making it a performance venue whose entertainment lineup rivaled those of Carnegie Hall and other notable theaters.

Those of us who live in Nashville are fortunate to have the opportunity to attend events at the Ryman. Each time I have done so, I have enjoyed seeing the display cases containing memorabilia and posters commemorating the stars who have appeared and presentations that have taken place in that historic building. Now, there is even more to see with larger displays and audio-visual presentations, starting with a ten-minute movie that includes music from Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Darius Rucker and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. That is a rousing way to begin a tour.

It is much more comfortable to tour the old building than it was in 1973 when my Pascagoula High School friend Phil Howell and I travelled to Nashville from the Gulf Coast to see the Grand Ole Opry during the last twelve months of its thirty-one year residency at the Ryman. In addition to seeing the Friday and Saturday night Opry shows, we took the tour. The building was not air-conditioned that July, nor had it ever been. But we sweated and marveled at the fact that we were even standing in that hallowed hall. A highlight was when Ramona Jones, wife of long-time Opry member Grandpa Jones, invited everyone to join her on stage to sing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” which she played on her autoharp. “Now, you can say you sang on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry,” she told Phil, the other tourists and me.

Always “The Mother Church of Country Music”

These stained glass windows grace the Ryman Auditorium walls

These stained glass windows grace the Ryman Auditorium walls

I realize that since its inception as Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892, the building has offered concerts and events that reach far beyond the realm of country music. In the last twenty years, I have personally attended shows there by artists as diverse as one that featured John Prine and Leon Redbone, to performances by Randy Newman, Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell, Mary Chapin Carpenter and even the B-52s. All great concerts.

But the building’s popular nickname “The Mother Church of Country Music,” sums it up for me.

Some of the shows that reinforce that reputation happen during the summer Bluegrass series. They bring the Ryman back to the roots of the music for which it is best known. I’m so glad this series is still going strong. Del McCoury will be there tonight, July 2, 2015, as part of it. Over the years, I have seen McCoury, John Hartford, Doc Watson and many others in this acoustically superior theater that complements guitars, banjos and fiddles.

This wonderful building is a true Nashville treasure. Whether you come to the Ryman Auditorium to hear a concert (the Grand Ole Opry is still presented there periodically) or to soak in the atmosphere and take the tour, a visit is well worth it. As Grand Ole Opry founder George D. Hay, “the solemn old judge,” used to say at the close of each Opry show, “That’s all for now, friends…the grasshoppers hop, the eavesdroppers drop while, gently, the old cow slips away…So long, for now!”

This balcony was constructed to accommodate Confederate veterans who gathered for a reunion in 1897

This balcony was constructed to accommodate Confederate veterans who gathered for a reunion in 1897

Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr

Click to download Les Kerr's new song Contributor from ITunes

Click to download Les Kerr’s new song Contributor from ITunes

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For the love of beagles

June 19 is the birthday of Creole Belle, my beagle. This is number twelve for her and I’m happy to say she’s doing just fine, thank you. A little more mellow than she was several years ago but she still has plenty of “puppy” in her. I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughts I have posted before about owning beagles. Consider them both advice and a warning if you are thinking inviting one into your life.

My advice to anyone considering a beagle puppy as a pet is to go ahead and name the dog “Dammit” when you get it.   This will save the beagle much confusion throughout its life because, “Dammit,” is how you will end up addressing the animal most of the time.  Having said that, beagles are personable, charming and loyal especially when there is food involved (for them).  They are also extraordinarily energetic and stubborn and they “ain’t nothin’ but hound dogs” once they get on a scent. My definition of a beagle is this: a nose and a tail which are always in motion connected by a stomach that is always hungry.  Funny and frustrating, they are never boring.


In “dog heaven” with Freckles & my two-tone shoes

My first beagle, Freckles, came into my life when I was a pup, myself, on Myrtle Street in Jackson, Mississippi.  Memories of Freckles are fond and, as an only child, I must have found him to be someone to play with and keep up with my own pre-six-year-old energy.  My dad was an accountant and one of his friends found Freckles for us and he certainly kept me busy as a kid.  One day Freckles disappeared and never returned. We always believed he might have gone off after a rabbit or something in the woods that were later removed to make room for Interstate 55.  That taught me in later adult beagle ownership to always have a fence or a pen – a beagle will follow a scent wherever it may lead.

Travis McGee…or “I gave my love a beagle and she married me anyway.” 

When my wife Gail and I were dating and getting serious, I decided that I would give her a beagle.  She already had a big, lovable retriever/something/mix named Gold Rush.  Her beloved dachsund Huey had died so she began to talk about getting an “emergency backup dog” for Gold Rush.  She had a dog pen behind her house, so I knew she loved dogs and had a place to keep another one.  When Gail got home from work one day, I escorted her to the dog pen where I had made a sign that read, “Travis McGee, Salvage Expert.”  And there in the pen was the barking beagle puppy I had named after mystery author John D. MacDonald’s legendary private investigator.

The ever-curious Travis McGee, Salvage Expert

“Salvage expert” was a good job description for Travis because he was, like all beagles, an incessant snoop with his nose always in action.  He proved to be an escape artist by jumping from the roof of his doghouse over the fence of the dog pen.  This happened several times and he always went around the front door of the house, proud of himself, as if to say to us, “Look, I did it again!” After Gail and I married and moved to a house with a fenced-in backyard, he and Gold Rush seemed determined to reach Beijing through one of the many deep holes they dug in the yard.  We had a deck with a built-in bench and Travis would mount it with his back feet on the bench and front feet on the rail and survey the backyard kingdom he and Gold Rush shared.  When he struck that pose, I referred to him as “Captain McGee on the poop deck.”

Once, after he began to get older, he jumped off that deck running at American Pharoah speed chasing who knows what and broke his leg.  After costly surgery, Travis had to wear one of those odd looking cones around his neck to prevent him from bothering his stitches.  Beagles live to sniff and the cone just about drove him crazy because it kept his nose from reaching the ground.  I composed a limerick about his situation:

There was an unfortunate beagle

Who thought he could fly like an eagle

He jumped off the deck

Broke his leg -not his neck

And the vet bill should be deemed illegal.

A diva by any other name

…is the beagle I have now.  The current critter is a little diva named after the Mississippi John Hurt song, “My Creole Belle.” She is the most cheerful, fun-loving dog I have ever seen.  And why wouldn’t she be happy?  Belle acts as if she might brag to other beagles about her “2,200 square-foot air-conditioned and heat-controlled dog house, complete with a butler to provide my every need.”  She’s the first female dog I’ve ever owned and she seems to be far and away more intelligent than Travis was.  That’s good and bad, depending upon what she has a mind to do.  When she was a puppy, I took her to obedience school.  It really worked well because I seem to do everything she wants me to.

My Creole Belle

If it weren’t for Belle, I might never consider things like my blood pressure or what it’s like to sleep until daylight.  But just as those things cross my mind, she’ll do something really funny or curl up beside my desk and snooze away as I work.  The peaceful, loyal office dog, right out of a Norman Rockwell painting or the L.L. Bean catalogue. Who could resist a scene like that?   Then she wakes and howls at a volume that would give a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier a run for its money. Put another dollar in the jukebox, baby, she’s on a roll!

But all in all, it’s like this: Beagles – you gotta love ‘em.  Dammit.

Click to download Les Kerr's new song Contributor from ITunes

Click to download Les Kerr’s new song Contributor from ITunes

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Text and photos copyright 2012 by Les Kerr.

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The Mississippi-Nashville music connection

This marker is located at 1111 16th Ave. S., Nashville

This marker is located at 1111 16th Ave. S., Nashville

The list of Mississippi musicians and songwriters who have made their way to Nashville over the years would almost stretch the length of the Natchez Trace. The Mississippi Country Music Trail recognized that legacy on June 4, 2015 by unveiling the Mississippi to Nashville marker on Music Row. It was a treat to attend the event acknowledging a path I am proud to have taken in 1987 when I followed the footsteps of fellow Mississippians who moved to Music City to pick, sing and write.

Of particular significance is that the Music Row marker is the first one on this trail planted outside of Mississippi. Visit Mississippi director Malcolm White said that Mississippi Blues Trail markers have been erected in Chicago and even Europe, but this is the first out-of-state plaque on the Country Music Trail. It was a treat to see Malcolm again. He co-founded the well-known

L to r: Malcolm White, Craig Wiseman, Marty Stuart, historian Barry Mazor

L to r: Malcolm White, Craig Wiseman, Marty Stuart, historian Barry Mazor

Jackson, Mississippi music venue Hal and Mal’s and I have been fortunate enough to perform there many times. Now, as director of Visit Mississippi, he is taking the state’s music message far and wide.

It is fitting that the marker’s location is just outside the office/studio of Big Loud Shirt Industries, the brainchild of Mississippi songwriter Craig Wiseman. Wiseman, whose hits include Live Like You were Dying by Tim McGraw and The Good Stuff by Kenny Chesney, has written twenty-one Number One songs and has had three hundred songs recorded. Originally from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he moved to Nashville in 1985.

With his usual flair, Marty Stuart talks about the importance of Mississippi to music as Craig Wiseman watches.

With his usual flair, Marty Stuart talks about the importance of Mississippi to music as Craig Wiseman and Malcolm White watch.

It was also appropriate that Philadelphia, Mississippi native Marty Stuart spoke and helped in the unveiling of the marker. I remember seeing a teenaged Stuart playing mandolin with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass in Monticello, Mississippi in 1975. The multi-instrumentalist’s talents, love of country music and Mississippi patriotism have grown larger as the years have passed.

Something else about this marker appeals to me – it recognizes songwriters from Mississippi, as well as artists. Hank Cochran, Johnny Russell, Mac McAnally and Wiseman are there along with Conway Twitty, Charlie Pride and Stuart.

The next time you’re on Music Row, make a point to see its newest point of interest. It doesn’t cost a thing to stop by 1111 16th Avenue South and read both sides of this marker. The back has interesting facts, photos and details about the Mississippi to Nashville connection. Whether you are from Mississippi or not, the names on this marker and the songs they bring to mind will spark some musical memories made possible by the Magnolia State.

Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr.

Click to download Les Kerr's new song Contributor from ITunes

Click to download Les Kerr’s new song Contributor from ITunes

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From the Tallahatchie Bridge to the company store

Yesterday was “the third of June,” and since I was not in the Delta, I can’t tell you if it was sleepy or dusty this year. But I can tell you that each year on that date, the song that begins by telling us what day a famous, fictitious mystery occurred runs through my mind like the river that created the fertile soil perfect for growing cotton in my home state, Mississippi. Ode to Billy Joe conjures fond memories of seeing the songwriter who made it famous, Bobbie Gentry, in concert, while the song was still high on the charts.

As I have written before, Jackson, Mississippi has always been a city that appreciates the arts. During the 1960s, when I lived there as a boy, my mother made sure to take me to as many concerts as possible. She took me to see everyone from Carl and Pearl Butler and the Wilburn Brothers to Andy Griffith, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Andy Williams.

This album played on this "hi-fi" many times.

This album played on this “hi-fi” many times.

Among my fondest memories was the concert at the Mississippi Coliseum that featured one of my heroes, Tennessee Ernie Ford. I still have our old Sixteen Tons “thirty-three,” (as my mom called LP vinyl records) which has a crack in it from all the times we played it in our house. In looking at it now, I realize that in addition to the Merle Travis-penned title song and Woody Guthrie’s Philadelphia Lawyer, several of the other songs were written by Ford, including my second favorite on that album, Shotgun Boogie.

Opening act

Bobbie Gentry was Tennessee Ernie’s opening act. Ode to Billie Joe had recently been released and she was the toast of Mississippi (and the rest of the country). This was an extra treat for us in Jackson since her song brought something about Mississippi to the national stage besides civil rights conflicts. Her literate, well-written and superbly performed record produced smiles and positive energy about our state around the world.

She wore a baby blue pant suit and delighted the audience with her kind words about Mississippi and other musical references including the song Mississippi Delta, the flip side of Ode to Billy Joe. Years later, when a movie based on her hit was released, she told Johnny Carson that Mississippi Delta was originally the “A” side of the record but “Billy Joe” ran away with programmers’ and audiences’ hearts.

In addition to the songs she had recorded, Gentry sang the first song she ever wrote. It was about her dog, “Sergeant.” I especially liked that one because I also had a dog named Sergeant. I’ll always remember the lyrics to her song:
“Sergeant, Sergeant, Sergeant, Sergeant, my dog Sergeant is a good dog.”

And then, she sang “THE song.” Sitting on a wooden stool playing a classical guitar, she played Ode to Billie Joe to several thousand mesmerized fans. I probably don’t need to tell you that she received a standing ovation. Bobbie Gentry singing Ode to Billie Joe in Mississippi. What a moment.

The importance of being Ernie

Other artists may have been hesitant to follow such a performance but if Tennessee Ernie Ford was nervous, he never showed it. He confidently walked on stage holding something I had never seen before – a wireless microphone. It had a little antenna that transmitted his voice to the sound system. “Neat,” I remember thinking. His opening number was Chuck Berry’s upbeat song, Memphis, Tennessee, and the “ol’ pea-picker” proceeded to charm an audience that had already witnessed greatness just a few minutes earlier.

When Sixteen Tons arrived on the set list, Ford started by snapping his fingers and asking the audience to snap, too. The coliseum has a total capacity of about 10,000. It was fairly full that day, and that show might have been a sell-out. That many people snapping their fingers in time with Ernie was impressive. From the first snap to the last “owe my soul,” the lyric that slows down, we stayed with him. As the standing ovation began, Ford said, “I could have used y’all on the record!” More thunderous applause.

From the Tallahatchie Bridge to the Company Store, all of us who were there were transported from Jackson to the Delta and the coal mines for a couple of hours of pure enjoyment. When times like that happen, the magic of music and the good will it can provide become tangible. As do the vivid memories years later for music lovers like me.

Text and photo copyright 2015 by Les Kerr. Click here to download Les’ new single, Contributor.

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Music in Music City

The view of Downtown Nashville from the Grammy Block Party

The view of Downtown Nashville from the Grammy Block Party

Living in Nashville is a wonderful thing, especially if you love music. After all, it’s Music City, USA. I’m sure I speak for other music business professionals when I say that even though you may pick, sing, write or produce for a living, you never get over being a fan. It was being a fan that got me interested in music as a child, and I’m still a fan of singers, entertainers and performers.

Recently, I attended the 2015 Grammy Block Party, an annual event hosted by the Nashville chapter of The Recording Academy, the organization that brings us the Grammy Awards. It was a fascinating event for a music fan like me. Not only is the Block Party an opportunity to visit

Lee Ann Womack

Lee Ann Womack

with other music business people, it’s a way for the Nashville chapter to prove that this town is not just about country music. Of course, country music was represented with a top-notch performance by Lee Ann Womack (also a 2015 Americana Music Association award nominee) but the delightful Meghan Trainor, a Nashville resident, sang her pop hit “All About that Bass,” among other songs.

Meghan Trainor and uke

Meghan Trainor and uke

Serving as master of ceremonies was Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor for the Nashville Symphony. There is a strong classical music presence in Nashville and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra itself has won seven Grammy awards. The maestro was masterful in his introductions of country, pop, gospel and R&B acts.

Nashville Symphony conductor Giancarlo Guererro

Nashville Symphony conductor Giancarlo Guerrero

Although I spend a lot of my life working to get ahead in the music business, it’s nice to relax and enjoy the melodies and rhymes Nashville has to offer.

As much as I focus on building my own career, moments when I am purely entertained remind me why I moved to this town in the first place: I love music.

Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr
Download Les Kerr’s new single Contributor from ITunes here.

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Sharecropping Cotton Chopping Delta Blues- for B.B. King

Originally posted on Les Kerr's Liner Notes:

I was saddened to learn of the death of one of my heroes, B.B. King. I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughts and the song Mr. King inspired me to write.

Although B.B. King wasn’t there, it was exciting to perform in the club and restaurant that bears his name in 2011. This great Mississippian and bluesman is someone I have admired for a long time. Having grown up in Mississippi myself, I’ve certainly been aware of his music for many years. The first time I saw him perform was in the early 1980s and I’ve seen him many times since, including his shows at the opening of his Nashville club several years ago and more recently at the 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I was able to attend his last Nashville performance in April, 2014. Although he was obviously weaker than he was in 2010 in New Orleans…

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