Southerners and Irishmen, revisited (song link included)

Les Kerr & The Bayou Band perform their annual St. Patrick's Day Concert at Jimmy Kelly's Steakhouse, Nashville, TN

Les Kerr & The Bayou Band perform their annual St. Patrick’s Day Concert at Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse, Nashville, TN

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 reasonable 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 when 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.

2018 marks our 24th St. Patrick’s Day appearance at Jimmy Kelly’s in Nashville

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.  The recorded version is simple: Robby Shankle plays flute, Jeff Lisenby plays accordion and I sing and play acoustic guitar. It is included on my Bay Street album and you can click the link below to hear it.

I hope you will enjoy the lyrics, printed below.

Click here to hear 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
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To do: 1-meet Jimmy Dean. 2-do laundry.

The view from the balcony of my apartment after a snowfall.

The view from the balcony of my apartment after a snowfall.

The apartment I rented when I moved to Nashville in 1987 was high on a hill in a complex surrounded by beautiful trees. I was fortunate because mine was on the hill side of the highest point in the complex. When the leaves were just right in the fall, the view was spectacular. I lived there until 1993 and have fond memories of that period.

Early one evening, when I was carrying my laundry across the driveway behind my building to the place where several washing machines and dryers were provided, I stopped to let a big, black limousine pass. But it didn’t pass. It stopped right in front of me. The back door opened and out stepped country music legend Jimmy Dean. I dropped my laundry basket full of dirty clothes. There, beside his limousine, stood the man who had given the world one of the best selling records of all time, Big Bad John. There, beside my dirty clothes stood a young songwriter in awe. I, in my worn-out boat shoes and blue jeans, and he, in his perfectly tailored black western suit and shiny cowboy boots, were within two feet of each other. His fiancée, country singer Donna Meade, lived in the apartment that backed up to mine. He had come to pick her up for a date. I had met Donna not too long before this chance encounter with her soon-to-be husband. Had she been with us, I told myself, she would have certainly introduced us. But since she was still in her apartment, I seized the opportunity.

“Mr. Dean?” I said as I extended my hand.

“Yes, sir, and who might you be?” he answered.

I told him my name and how much I admired him. He politely thanked me for remembering his music. I said I really loved Big Bad John but when I was a kid, the flip-side of that forty-five was the one I went around the house singing. It was an upbeat novelty tune called I Won’t Go Huntin’ With You Jake (But I’ll Go Chasin’ Women).

Jimmy Dean’s face lit up when I mentioned the flip-side of his biggest hit. He flashed a wide grin, let out a loud spontaneous laugh and said, “Son, you won’t believe it but the fellow that wrote that song about chasin’ women wrote some of the biggest gospel songs ever recorded.” The songwriter he mentioned was Stuart Hamblen whose compositions include It Is No Secret (What God Can Do), Known Only To Him and Dear Lord, My Shepherd. And I Won’t Go Huntin’ With You Jake (But I’ll Go Chasin’ Women).

Mr. Dean and I chatted about music for a few minutes and he wished me well in my own career. He was the perfect gentleman during our moments together in the driveway and I’ll always remember how friendly he was. I’ll never forget that genuine smile he showed when I mentioned my preferred song.

Jimmy Dean knocked on Donna Meade’s door and I picked up my dirty clothes and went to the laundry room. I lived on the top of a big hill but right then, it qualified as Cloud 9. A childhood hero had lived up to my expectation of being like the person he had described in Big Bad John – a big, big man.

Text and photos ©2013 Les Kerr. Learn More about Les at

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Comfort and joy


Perhaps God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is my favorite Christmas carol because I aspire to maintain the countenance of a “merry gentleman,” myself. The song is cheerful and positive, as upbeat now as it must have been when sung with gusto in 18th Century England. It also has a dandy rhythm. I like that.

The Hymnbook, the old red one-my favorite, was published in 1955 jointly by the Presbyterian Church of the United States, Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, United Presbyterian Church of North America and Reformed Church in America. In the mid-fifties, these organizations represented factions of the Church with differences between them. Differences strong enough to keep them separate from each other, while still maintaining basic Presbyterian principles.

But they all agreed on at least one thing: Selection 166 in The Hymnbook used by each group would be God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. It’s a hit, with all the things modern songwriters revere: catchy lyrics, strong melody, memorable hook line, and a universality that makes it appeal to the masses.

Good news

According to Webster’s Seventh Collegiate Dictionary, the word “tiding” means “a piece of good news – usually used in plural.” So today, I hope the tidings you hear will be the ones admonished to the proverbial merry gentlemen: Comfort and joy. And I hope we will all find comfort and joy throughout the coming year.

Merry Christmas, Y’all!

Click here to listen to Nat “King” Cole sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr.

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My thirty-five white Christmases

My mother always gave me underwear for Christmas. She did this until I was thirty-five years old, the year before she died. I think it was her way of reminding me that she was “mom,” no matter how old I was. She would give me other presents, too, but I could always count on some new Hanes briefs and V-neck t-shirts.

In 1986, I was asked to contribute a Christmas poem to the Azalea City News and Review, a fine weekly newspaper published in Mobile, Alabama, where I lived then. Of all Christmas poems, stories, books, songs, movies, dioramas, printed reminiscences and TV shows, I had never seen one that focused on underwear, so I decided to make my own mark in the holiday tribute genre with that topic.

My mother and step-father lived just across Mobile Bay in Montrose, Alabama when the poem was published. Mom was beside herself to be referenced in print and took the paper to the drug store, restaurants and the beauty shop to show her friends. I’m glad she liked it and I hope you will enjoy it, too. Remember, snow is not the only thing that can give you a White Christmas.

The poem as it appeared in the Azalea City News & Review, December, 1986

The poem as it appeared in the Azalea City News & Review, December, 1986

Christmas is Always White

It’s Christmas when I’m given
Many things I’d never buy
A drug store gift cologne set
A green and yellow tie
No matter how mundane the gifts
Impractical or bold
My mother always saves the day
With something I can fold
Mom always gives me underwear
It looks so nice and white
The new stuff always lasts me
All the way to New Year’s Night
Then I have to wash it all
And put it in a drawer
With all my other skivvies
Which were washed and worn before
But memories of opening
The box of virgin cloth
Last me many lonely moments
As the new wears off
So, Mom, I’d like to thank you
For making Christmas bright
You always give me underwear
And Christmas is always white

Text and photos copyright 1986, 2012 by Les Kerr. Visit Les Kerr’s web site at

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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  Friday night

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 and guitar through a PA monitor speaker, I appreciate that silence.

If silence speaks, it does so on cold, dark  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 seven 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 chilly 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.

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Text and photo copyright 2014, 2017 by Les Kerr.

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Saints of Houston

The Houston Astros are the saints of their hometown today after winning the 2017 World Series in a hard-fought, seven game contest against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the people of Houston are real heroes, too, having gone through Hurricane Harvey just a few weeks ago. Perhaps the spirit of the Astros and their fans reflects the tenacity of that fabled Texas city.

Football commemorating the Saints Super Bowl victory.

It is hard not to draw a comparison to the New Orleans Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Quarterback Drew Brees led his team to its first championship, just as the Astros won their first World Series this year. New Orleans, still in recovery after flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, got an emotional shot in the arm by the Saints win. Houston will certainly be infused by the Astros’ World Champion status.

I called Houston as “fabled” because of the many references to it in popular song. Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, admonished everyone to “walk right” if they ever went to Houston in his song The Midnight Special. Artists ranging from Credence Clearwater Revival and Paul McCartney to Andy Griffith have performed it over the decades since its introduction.

Dean Martin’s hit album Houston.

Other songs spotlighting the city include Dean Martin’s Houston, one of his biggest hits. The title song of Glen

Glen Campbell’s Houston, I’m Comin’ to See You

Campbell’s album Houston, I’m Comin’ to See You, is not one of his best known songs but it is one of my favorites.

One of most exciting references to Houston in a record occurs in Tighten Up with the declaration, “Hi, everybody! I’m Archie Bell and The Drells of Houston, Texas…” Then, there was Larry Gatlin’s, Houston (Means that I’m One Day Closer to You). More recently, Rodney Crowell, “The Houston Kid,” released East Houston Blues.

Jim Weatherly’s original Midnight Plane to Houston became Midnight Train to Georgia

And had Gladys Knight not chosen to change the destination and mode of transportation, Mississippi songwriter Jim Weatherly’s original Midnight Plane to Houston may have been a bigger hit than Knight’s edited Midnight Train to Georgia.

Now, more lore for Houston. Just as Babe Ruth was known as the home run king, he was also the strike-out king. Just as 2017 was a year of tragedy for the people of Houston, thanks to the Astros’ victory, it is also a year of great joy.

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr.

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October 18: Dewey’s Tune

Railroad Man

Granddaddy, me and a toy train (click photo to enlarge)

October 18, 1900: My grandfather’s birthday.  It was just a few months after legendary  railroad engineer Casey Jones was killed in a train wreck and later immortalized  in song.  My grandfather, George Dewey Pittman, became a railroad man, too, on the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad, or the GM&O, as most people called it.  Granddaddy eventually became Master Mechanic in charge of the mechanical shops in five of the states where the GM&O operated.

In 1954, he and my grandmother moved from Louisville, Mississippi to Jackson, Tennessee, with the Iselin shop as his GM&O base until he retired in 1971.  I was born October 19, 1956, just one day and fifty-six years after Granddaddy, as we often  joked.  He was a hero to me and instilled a respect and fascination of railroads in me that exist to this very day.  Jackson was also the last home of Casey Jones.  Granddaddy took me to Jones’ home and museum so many times when I was young that he was issued a lifetime free admission pass to the museum.

On Christmas and summer visits, one of the thrills of my life was going to the railroad shop with him.  He had bought an old Ford from my dad to take to “The Shop” so grease
and debris wouldn’t get on the prized Buick Special that he and my grandmother loved so much. I remember piling into that old Ford, leaving Arlington Street and heading for The Shop where mechanics, engineers and office staff got to know me by name. “This is Leslie, my pride and joy,” he would beam to them as he pointed to me.

I’m in a big, red GM&O locomotive! (click photo to enlarge)

Granddaddy would take me up into the cabs of diesel locomotives with the engineers and let me blow the whistle.  Or into dusty old cabooses where I could climb up into the cupola and look out as if I would soon radio an engineer about matters of a train’s operation. Once, he took me from Jackson to Humboldt in the cab of a GM&O RS-3 diesel engine when he was checking something up the line.  To me, that ride was better than any jet airplane, ocean liner or even a moon rocket trip could have  been.

I feel that music right down to my toes

My grandfather also loved music. As a young man, he was a big fan of Jimmie Rodgers, The Singing Brakeman.  Later, while he still loved country music, he became a devoted fan of the Lawrence Welk TV show.  And until he died, he talked about the time my grandmother made him take her to see that Russian “sympathy awkstra” that  came once with much fanfare.  My mother used to make me watch Leonard Bernstein’s classical TV broadcasts on Saturday afternoons and when Granddaddy visited us, he would switch to the Wilburn Brothers, Porter Wagoner and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs’ shows the minute she left the room.

Granddaddy clipped this Jimmie Rodgers promo and we found it in the family Bible after he died.(click photo to enlarge)

When I was a kid with a toy guitar, I used to stand right in front of our old Zenith black and white TV set and pretend I was on with Lester and Earl or Porter.  Granddaddy loved that.  Once, due to the vibration of that big television, I said, “Granddaddy, I feel that music right down to my toes!”  He remembered me saying that the rest of his life and when I started playing real guitars in high school bands, he often reminded me of it.

After almost fifty years with the GM&O, Granddaddy retired and moved to Pascagoula to live with my mom, step-father and me.  I treasure the many hours spent with him during my high school and early college years.  He helped me learn to drive in his big Buick (this one was a 1967 Riviera) and we often took spins out Old Highway 90 where he would buy fresh tomatoes from a farm stand he knew about.  He taught me how to pick the best ones and how to shell black eyed peas and butter beans, which my mother “flat knew how to cook,” as he used to say. As we shelled and talked, he reminisced about his youth, including the thrill  he had as a young man when his musical hero Jimmie Rodgers drove through Louisville in a shiny Stutz Bearcat automobile.

IMG_2257 - Copy (3)

Still playing the guitar Grandaddy gave me.

As my high school graduation approached, Granddaddy told me he wanted to buy a new guitar for me as a present.  I picked an Ovation Legend, which was stolen the next year.  So he bought me another one to replace it and I still play it, forty-two years later.  Granddaddy died in 1976 and I’m glad that he got to see me play that guitar on WLOX, the Biloxi television station. He often told me that he knew in his heart that I would be playing it in Nashville, Tennessee, someday.

On October 18, 1981, five years after Granddaddy died and the day before my twenty-fifth birthday, memories and emotions inspired a song I wrote about him called Dewey’s Tune. I always play it on his birthday whether I’m on a stage or in my house. I hope you will listen to it and download it free by clicking here.

Click here to download Dewey’s Tune free.

Dewey’s Tune ©1981 Words & Music by Les Kerr; from the CD Southern Sound Sessions

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Blog text and photos Copyright 2011

Jimmie Rodgers clipping from the collection of Les Kerr

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