Kipling, Service and Tom T. Hall

I keep these volumes of Kipling and Service and Tom T. Hall's How I Write Songs on my desk for inspiration

I keep these volumes of Kipling and Service and Tom T. Hall’s How I Write Songs on my desk for inspiration

Rudyard Kipling doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a poet. It is my observation that if people refer to any of Kipling’s poetry, If and Gunga Din usually get mentioned. But what about Danny Dever, The Betrothed or The Ballad of East and West? Perhaps Kipling’s poetic ability is overshadowed by his books and short stories. Perhaps the “too cool to rhyme lines” crowd could assert that rhyming and regular rhythm make his poems too simple, but I understand them.

In his poetry, Kipling weaves stories with rhyme, meter and the use of dialect that are as complete as any prose. From the beginning, through the middle and all the way to the end of his poems, the reader takes a journey and reaches a final destination. Whether a first person account (Mandalay) or a third person narrative (The Female of the Species), Kipling’s poems leave the reader knowing exactly what he has read.

I have similar feelings about Robert Service. Asking some to name a Service poem beyond The Shooting of Dan McGrew is akin to asking a country music fan to come up with the title of Ernie Ashworth’s other hit (although he did have many besides “Talk Back, Trembling Lips,” a song that addressed body parts as emotional, thinking entities decades before “Achy Breaky Heart.” But that’s another issue altogether).

Service is famous for his story-poems about The Yukon but he was a well-travelled wordsmith whose subject matter stretched way beyond adventures of gold-crazed hooligans, saloons and mysterious women out to separate prospectors from their precious dust. One of my favorites is The Absinthe Drinkers, inspired by Service’s service in World War I in France. The story is as captivating and action-packed as the Yukon pieces and has a slam-bang surprise ending.

Someone whose work could also be considered pure poetry is songwriter Tom T. Hall. Although not officially a poet, Hall’s words stand alone as stories and just plain good observations quite capably without music. In The Homecoming, listeners may identify, as I do, with the musician on the road too long and far away to get back home. The first person account reveals that he couldn’t even get home to attend his own mother’s funeral. Or they may relate to the character’s father, who never sees his son. Those two characters could be found in any situation regardless of the wayward son’s occupation.

Mr. Hall graciously autographed this album cover for me

Mr. Hall graciously autographed this album cover for me

Like Kipling and Service, Hall uses humor to make some serious points. In Harper Valley PTA, his clever lines reveal hypocrisy. The little girl’s mama socked it to accusers who, themselves, had more to hide than Mrs. Johnson’s short dresses revealed.

The stories that Rudyard Kipling, Robert Service and Tom T. Hall have written and sung with rhyme and rhythm motivate me to develop my own way to communicate in the one-to-one style I admire in their work. The challenge of writers and performers who revere those with such distinctive styles is to emulate but not imitate. However, if a little flavor of these fine writers seeped into one of my musical recipes, I would consider it a welcome ingredient.

As I read Kipling and Service and Hall
I can’t help but be most inspired by them all – Les Kerr
Copyright 2015

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Slicin’ Sand

I created traction by spreading sand on the ice-covered driveway.

I created traction by spreading sand on the ice-covered driveway.

Snow and ice are no day at the beach, at least for a Gulf Coast boy like me. So here I am in Nashville, Tennessee where we have to deal with it every year (which makes me wonder why people in Nashville always say, “We’re not used to this”). But the February, 2015 batch thrust upon us has been unusually harsh and lengthy.

Streets are dangerous but there have been moments when they were fairly safe to drive and anticipating that I would need to get out of the house at some point, I parked my car on the street instead of in the garage one night. The driveway is on an incline and I thought driving up and down an ice-covered driveway wouldn’t be wise.

The garage is a luxury I had never experienced until I moved into my current home in 2004. Growing up, my family had unenclosed carports. As an apartment dwelling adult, none of the complexes I lived in had any cover at all for vehicles. I did lots of ice scraping accompanied by language that could have turned the snow and ice from white to blue. My garage means a lot to me.

So the day after I left my car on the street, the roads were indeed passable enough for me to get out and procure certain necessities for the next round of cold weather. Dog food for the dog and eggs, milk, beer, shrimp to boil and Jack Daniel’s for me. You know – the stuff you need. But when I returned home, the inclined driveway was too slick to get the car into the garage. Traction just didn’t exist on it. I then decided to create some and turned around and went back out to Home Depot to see what they had. Every bit of salt and driveway ice prevention stuff was gone and all that was left was sand. In seventy-pound bags. I bought three and headed home.

I used this Flora Bama Lounge beer pitcher and spade to "slice and spread" the sand.

I used this Flora Bama Lounge beer pitcher and spade to “slice and spread” the sand.

The Home Depot man told me the easiest way to distribute it was to open the bags and pour sand into something you could use to spread it on the ice. When I got home, there in the garage were an old Flora Bama Lounge and Package Store beer pitcher and a garden trowel. If a beer pitcher could think, this one would probably feel very far from its Florida/Alabama beach home sitting there in the cold garage. But that pitcher had served me well in its original purpose and now, it and the spade would be my tools.

Click this photo for video of Elvis singing "Slicin' Sand" in Blue Hawaii.

Click this photo for video of Elvis singing “Slicin’ Sand” in Blue Hawaii.

As I dug the spade into the first bag of sand, I thought of a song from the 1961 Elvis Presley movie “Blue Hawaii” called Slicin’ Sand. It was in a dance scene featuring the King of Rock and Roll kicking sand around with a bunch of other young men and women at a beach party. There I was with my Flora Bama pitcher slicing sand from a bag in the frigid, Tennessee air. Not quite the same thing.

But I spread my traction and got the car into the fabulous garage, out of the elements (ironic, since the vehicle is a Honda Element, itself). Belle the Beagle, the Honda and I settled in for a night of

24 hours after the sand had been spread on the driveway, it was barely visible thanks to more snow.

24 hours after the sand had been spread on the driveway, it was barely visible thanks to more snow.

warmth as temperatures again plummeted. The next day, more snow covered up the sand I had carefully installed upon the driveway. But with nowhere to go and plenty of supplies, I was fine with that.

Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr.

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Phone call from Hank

This record, and other train songs by Hank Snow, inspired me to send him The Little Rebel

This record, and other train songs by Hank Snow, inspired me to send him The Little Rebel

“Hello?” I said when I picked up the telephone receiver.
“Is Les Kerr?” drawled the voice I heard.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
“This is Hank Snow.”
Stunned, I took a deep breath and said, “Hello, Mr. Snow. I’m honored to hear from you!”

It was August, 1987, about five months after I had moved to Nashville. Before I left Mobile, Alabama where I had lived for seven years, I recorded a twelve-song cassette of songs I had written called Sand in My Shoes. One of those songs, The Little Rebel, was inspired by my grandfather who had spent his adult life working for the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad. “The Rebel” was billed as “The South’s First Streamlined

The Little Rebel was included in this cassette album in 1987

The Little Rebel was included in this cassette album in 1987

Air-Conditioned Train” on its official GM&O timetable and fare brochure. It was Granddaddy’s favorite train, always the one he recalled most fondly.

Hank Snow still appeared regularly on the Grand Ole Opry in 1987. He always opened his portion of the show with his classic train song, I’m Movin’ On. Among my favorite Hank Snow train songs is The Golden Rocket and that summer, I bought his album, Hank Snow Railroad Man. While listening to it, I thought, “The Little Rebel would fit right into this album! Who knows, maybe he’ll do another railroad record and include my song.”

The letter I wrote to the Country Music Hall of Fame member that accompanied the tape I sent probably went like this:

Mr. Hank Snow
c/o The Grand Ole Opry
2804 Opryland Drive
Nashville, Tennessee

Dear Mr. Snow,

I have long admired your work and enjoy hearing you perform on the Grand Ole Opry. Of all your songs, the ones about trains and railroads are my favorites. Here is a song I wrote about a train that ran on the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad called “The Little Rebel.” I’m sending it to you in hopes that you will consider recording or performing it.

Thank you for your consideration.


Les Kerr

So when Hank, himself, called me on the phone to discuss the song, I thought I was dreaming. As we talked, it occurred to me that my answering machine recorded incoming messages on cassette tape. While trying to be as cool as possible on the phone, I did my best to make the machine start recording. It never did and I’ve often wondered if Hank Snow heard the clicking noise caused by pushing the record button that never engaged throughout the conversation.

“I like your song,” The Singing Ranger said. “It tells a good story and it’s a solid railroad song.”

My excitement was building like a head of steam on a six-eight wheeler as our conversation moved down the track. “Hank Snow likes my song and he called to tell me so!” blew through my mind as loudly as an air horn on a diesel locomotive.

But just as air brakes can slow a train moving at breakneck speed down a dangerous grade, my enthusiasm was about to come to a screeching halt.

“I wish I could help you out with it but I’m not doing any recording these days,” said Hank. “I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you sending me the tape. Would you like for me to send it back to you?”

The image of Hank Snow, probably dressed in one of his rhinestone covered Nudie suits, going to the post office to mail my tape back to me flashed in my mind’s eye for a split second. Then, like an engineer sensing just the right moment to throttle back, I regained my composure.

“No sir,” I said. “I would hate for you to go through that trouble. But if you know anyone else at the Opry who might be interested in my song, feel free to pass it along to them.”

“Mighty fine, Son. Keep on writing and good luck.”

“Thank you Mr. Snow, I will.”

Click to hear The Little Rebel

Click to download The Little Rebel from ITunes.

Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr.

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New Orleans entertains me

It was a treat to perform at the Louisiana Music Factory.

It was a treat to perform at the Louisiana Music Factory (click photo for a video clip).

The weekend of December 19-21, 2014 in New Orleans, I was fortunate enough to play solo shows at the Louisiana Music Factory, the Everette Maddox Memorial Poetry and Prose Series at the Maple Leaf Bar and do a guest spot on Kathleen Lee’s Swing Session show on WWOZ FM. Because of my schedule, I realized that I could just go out and enjoy music Friday and Saturday nights. I did a little homework before my trip and realized that it would be possible to see some musical friends and a couple of other fine acts while I was in town. Here’s who entertained me and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it all.

In order of appearance:

Friday: Lena Prima at The Carousel Bar and Lounge, Hotel Monteleone

The daughter of New Orleans and swing icon Louis Prima, Lena Prima delivers an

With Lena Prima at The Carousel Lounge

With Lena Prima at The Carousel Lounge

excellent show featuring her father’s music and her own songs, as well. Blessed with a fine voice and magnetic stage presence, Lena leads a great band that includes a horn section that sparkled with renditions of Jump, Jive and Wail and Sing, Sing, Sing, both written by the late Louis. The band had the whole Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone dancing. Since I had not heard her perform I downloaded one of her albums and one of Louis’ to inform and keep me company on the road to New Orleans. I also grabbed her Christmas CD and bought her Starting Something album the next day at Louisiana Music Factory. Lena keeps her father’s swing tradition alive and offers her own original music at the same time.

Saturday, 1:00 p.m. Benny Grunch and the Bunch, Louisiana Music Factory

I first learned of Benny Grunch and the Bunch in the mid-nineties when I picked up one of their albums in the JazzFest music tent. Although I had never heard of them, the title The 12 Yats of Christmas told me I would enjoy their music and it didn’t disappoint. The title song is a Crescent City send-up of the Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with local references and a variety of New Orleans dialects, of which there are many. Think: Santa moves to the Lower 9th Ward. It’s a hoot.

Benny Grunch leading his "Bunch!"

Benny Grunch leading his “Bunch!”

Celebrating the anniversary of the original release, Benny and the Bunch now have a two-CD set that includes the original and Christmas versions of another piece of poetry, Ain’t Dere No More. If you remember Schwegmann’s, Holmes’, Ponchartrain Beach and other Big Easy retail and entertainment icons, you’ll enjoy this. The group’s live show was just as entertaining as the recorded music and the entire audience at Louisiana Music Factory seemed to be made up of locals who knew all “da woids.” Yeah, you’ right!

Saturday, 5:00 p.m. Matt Hoggatt at Margaritaville, New Orleans

Matt Hoggatt and I met in 2011 at a songwriting festival on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He grew up in Gautier, Mississippi, just across the river from Pascagoula, where I spent (or misspent) much of my youth. Matt has become a friend and he is a fine songwriter and a

Matt Hoggatt at Margaritaville, New Orleans

Matt Hoggatt at Margaritaville, New Orleans

clever performer who has recorded several CDs. A song he wrote, Dear Jimmy Buffett, landed him on stage with the King of Somewhere Hot and an album released on Buffett’s Mailboat Records. His new CD, produced by Keith Sykes, is an entertaining disc full of incredible wordplay called Workaholic in Recovery. It was five o’clock somewhere, specifically at the Storyville Tavern at Margaritaville, New Orleans, where I joined others in enjoying not only Matt’s musical delivery but his clever (and sometimes bawdy) comments between songs.



Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Kitt Lough at The Bombay Club

Kitt Lough at the Bombay Club

Kitt Lough at the Bombay Club

The Bombay Club is within walking distance of Margaritaville but a world away in atmosphere. Nestled in the Prince Conti Hotel, its elegant and plush furnishings, martinis and mixed drinks are the perfect complement to Kitt Lough’s beautiful delivery of New Orleans and American songbook classics. Kitt and I met during her time in Nashville around a decade ago at the late, great Tower Records, where her CDs and mine were available. She played F. Scott’s and other Nashville jazz venues before moving to the Gulf Coast, first to Pensacola and now, New Orleans. Kitt is at home in the Crescent City and does New Orleans proud with the way she sings. When I saw her in December, performing with her was New Orleans icon Jimmy Vidocovich playing drums, an extra treat.

Saturday, 10:00 p.m. Double Dee at Margaritaville, New Orleans

Not only did I hear some great music in New Orleans that Saturday night, I got some exercise walking up and down the French Quarter to listen to it. My friends Darwin and Dana Nelson, known as Double Dee, were playing the 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. show at

Double Dee at Margaritaville, New Orleans

Double Dee at Margaritaville, New Orleans

Margaritaville’ s Storyville Tavern. We met in 2011 at the festival on the Mississippi Coast and we have shared the stage in Nashville. Prolific songwriters and engaging entertainers, Darwin and Dana have stayed true to their Gulf Coast roots with songs like Call It Gumbo and my favorite, Jumpin’ Like Mullet. I joined them on stage at Margaritaville for an impromptu version of Folsom Prison Blues and it was a joy to see them again.

Sunday, 3:00 p.m. The Everette Maddox Memorial Poetry and Prose series, Maple Leaf Bar

Everette Maddox was a one-of-a-kind man known for his poetry, his wit, his general persona and his drinking. He excelled in every one of those areas and those of us who were privileged to have known him were constantly entertained and fortunate in his presence. What a thrill for me when, in the late 1980s through some friends we both had in Mobile, Alabama, he asked me to come to New Orleans to sing my original songs in the weekly poetry reading series he had started at the Maple Leaf Bar.

Poet Nancy Harris at the Maple Leaf Bar

Poet Nancy Harris at the Maple Leaf Bar

Everette died in 1989 and Nancy Harris, a fine poet and person, has kept the series going and has continued to include me throughout the years. It was a treat to perform at the event and to hear poets, including Nancy, present their work. Nancy’s most recent collection, Beauty Eating Beauty, follows The Ape Woman’s Story and Mirror Wars, the other collected volumes of her work.

After I performed, Nancy held an open mic

The Loving Apparitions

The Loving Apparitions

where others were able to read or sing their original words and music. I enjoyed hearing the original music of New Orleans’ Mike True. It was also a pleasant surprise to hear for the first time The Loving Apparitions, a duo made up of my friends Victoria and Colt Burkett.



Sunday, 7:00 p.m. Kathleen Lee’s Swing Session, WWOZ FM

The Maple Leaf Bar is down on Oak Street (that always seemed ironic to me). It’s off Carrolton Avenue and a fair distance from the French Quarter. After the poetry event, I headed back to the Quarter to WWOZ to join the ever gracious Kathleen Lee (a fine singer and recording artist) on the air. Kathleen’s Swing Session features an ever-expanding array of classic and contemporary Big Band and Swing music.

With Kathleen Lee at WWOZ

With Kathleen Lee at WWOZ, June, 2014

She has been kind enough to play my New Orleans-flavored Jingle Bells (Christmas in New Orleans) for many holiday seasons. I usually listen to her Christmas show online from Nashville and it was a treat to be a part of it in the studio with her and “St. Nick.” Kathleen put me in good company playing my music along with classics from Burl Ives, Gene Autry and Louis Armstrong on the 2014 version of her Christmas Swing Session.

Where to look

I highly recommend looking at online music calendars before any trip to New Orleans. It’s like looking at the JazzFest schedule before you go – you can plan to catch the acts you really want to see. I recommend the WWOZ Concert Calendar, OffBEAT Magazine’s Events page, and the Louisiana Music Factory’s Concerts and News page and the Maple Leaf Bar’s Calendar. The WWOZ and OffBEAT calendars cover events all over the city while the Maple Leaf and Louisiana Music Factory pages show what’s coming up at those venues. Of particular interest about the latter, the Louisiana Music Factory is a great record store with music every Saturday afternoon. It’s free and you’ll hear some great acts in a non-bar atmosphere.

Look for the acts I mentioned and there is no question you will be entertained. But if they’re not playing while you’re there, you know you’ll hear some great music in New Orleans.

Order Les Kerr CDs from Louisiana Music Factory – click here!

Text and photos copyright 2015 by Les Kerr
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Birthday 335

Reflecting on my birthday this year found me remembering my favorite of them all. In 1996, for my fortieth birthday, I was surprised by my wonderful wife, Gail, and friends with the gift of the cherry-red Gibson ES-335 electric guitar I play to this day. The surprise of the thing is a tribute to Gail’s ability to keep a secret and ensure that a lot of my friends would, too.

Imitating Elvis with my Epiphone 335, Pascagoula High School, 1973

Imitating Elvis with my Epiphone 335, Pascagoula High School, 1973

The first decent guitar I ever owned was an Epiphone knock-off of the Gibson ES-335. It, too, was cherry-red and had a vibrato tailpiece that caused me to be out of tune more than in. I played it in talent shows, at school pep rallies and wherever my high school group, Les Kerr and The Blue Suede Band, could corral anyone into listening to us. For our first paying show, we made twenty dollars. For the whole band, not per person. We immediately spent our initial professional earnings on chili-cheese dogs at Edd’s Drive In in our hometown of Pascagoula, Mississippi (Edd’s is correctly spelled with two “d”s, incidentally).

During that period, I imitated Elvis Presley and the band focused on his music and that of other gutsy rockers, including Chuck Berry. Berry was famous for his guitar wizardry and wielded a “335.” During the 1970s he was experiencing a career comeback with hits that included Reelin’ and Rockin’, among others. While my friend Garry Downs took the lead parts as we belted out Johnny B. Goode, I still felt proud to play my imitation 335 and sing, “Go…Go…Go, Johnny Go!”

As time went on and I went to college, I traded my electric Epiphone for an acoustic guitar and got into the singer/songwriters who were popular then – Jim Croce, Mac Davis, John Denver, Dan Fogelberg and others. I was also the youngest member of a bluegrass band at Ole Miss, the only freshman in the group whose other members were graduate students. So my interest in playing electric guitar lay dormant for many years.

However, by the 1980s, I had begun to really listen to the blues, especially to B.B. King. He was not only “King of the Blues,” but “King of Guitars” to me. In his early career, the guitar most associated with him was, you guessed it, the Gibson ES-335. He later used the ES-355 and eventually designed the “Lucille” model, his pet name for all of his guitars and the one he still plays.

When Gail and I married in 1993, she noticed that every time I saw King or anyone else

The first CD I released featuring my "birthday 335"

The first CD I released featuring my “birthday 335″

playing a Gibson ES-335, I would say, “I would sure like to have one, cherry red, like my first little Epiphone.” As I was about to turn forty, she got the idea to surprise me with one. She enlisted many friends to contribute to the purchase of the guitar, swearing them all to secrecy so it would be a surprise to me. With the help of Tommy Goldsmith, journalist and guitarist extraordinaire, she searched high and low, eventually locating one within budget at Gruhn Guitars in Nashville. She and Tommy purchased the guitar with money she had collected, hid it at the home of some friends, and then presented it to me at a party we had planned to celebrate my birthday.

Playing the ES 335 in Nashville, Tennessee, October, 2014

Playing the ES 335 in Nashville, Tennessee, October, 2014

I was overwhelmed that night and still remember the tender loving care shown by Gail and everyone involved who made my fortieth birthday so memorable. Until she died this year, we often laughed about how much better that was than a bunch of “Lordy, Lordy, look who’s Forty,” gag gifts she successfully prevented from coming into our home. I do not step on stage with that guitar without thinking of her and the nice friends who made that all happen, and will be forever grateful for this gift that continues to give. Thanks to everyone who helped in this dream of mine that is still coming true.

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr.

Click photo to download Les Kerr's Live CD, As Is!

Click to download Les Kerr’s Live CD, As Is!

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Kristofferson IV

My Kristofferson concert tickets dating back to 1977

My Kristofferson concert tickets dating back to 1977

September 13, 2014, for the fourth time since 1977, I saw Kris Kristofferson in concert. Truly a man who needs no introduction, he walked on stage with his guitar over his shoulder, smiled at the thunderous applause reverberating through the Ryman Auditorium and began singing Shipwrecked in the Eighties. The song, from the 1986 album Repossessed, may not have been as familiar to the audience as Help Me Make it Through the Night, which he performed later, but Kristofferson doesn’t need to play the hits to be a hit on stage. With no band, this man and his guitar delivered the well-known and obscure products of his pen throughout the two set show.

He sang up all the songs

The number of songs Kristofferson was able to get in during the concert astounded me. But he sang each one all the way through, digging deep into his catalogue with songs from his first album up to present day material. I was especially happy to hear Duvalier’s Dream, To Beat the Devil and Casey’s Last Ride from his first album and Feeling Mortal, the title song of his 2013 release. He sang Me and Bobby McGee early in the first set, bringing down the house with the line, “Feeling good was good enough for me,” inserting “and Janis,” at just the right moment. For the Good Times, Sunday Morning Coming Down, and Jody and the Kid all brought great crowd response, but then so did everything else.

In light of recent personal events, I heard Loving Her was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again) in a way I never had before. It brought me to tears and reminded me that the meaning of a song you’ve heard one way for years can change as life unfolds.

From an 8-track in a driveway to the Ryman in ‘14

Kristofferson on vinyl

Kristofferson on vinyl

Kris Kristofferson was one of the reasons I started writing songs. My first memory of hearing his music is from my high school days in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Around our junior year, my friend Phil Howell said, “I have something you need to hear.” We sat in his Ford parked in his driveway and listened to Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee album on the eight-track player. I remember that we listened to every song and how impressed I was that Kristofferson had written them all and how deep they were. So before long, I was buying Kristofferson records and learning the songs, including The Pilgrim: Chapter 33, from his second album, The Silver Tongued Devil. It’s a gritty, flawlessly written chronicle of, “a poet and a picker and a problem when he’s stoned.” I look back now and wonder how I must have appeared, a clean cut, short-haired middle-class kid who had never been without anything, singing about someone so down on his luck. I couldn’t help but go back to that eight-track moment in my mind as I watched the seventy-eight year old balladeer weave his magic at the former home of the Grand Ole Opry.

The first three

During the time I was in college at the University of Mississippi, I spent many days and nights in Memphis. My grade point average reflected that, as my parents pointed out when they got my grade reports from Ole Miss. One such moment occurred during the 1977 summer semester when Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge appeared at the Mid-South Coliseum. Some friends of mine and I bought tickets and drove up to see the show. Kristofferson was still enjoying the success of the movie A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand, and his then-wife Rita Coolidge’s recent hit records included Higher and Higher and The Way You Do the Things You Do. She did the first set, he, with full band, did the second set and they did several songs together to close the show. That was my first time to see this songwriting inspiration and he did not disappoint.

By 2000, I had lived in Nashville thirteen years and was plying my trade as a singer/songwriter and bandleader. A benefit for the W.O. Smith School of Music was scheduled for the Ryman Auditorium featuring Willie Nelson. As part of the show, Kristofferson, Willie and another legendary songwriter, Billy Joe Shaver, did about thirty minutes together. It was a magic moment.

In 2006, my wife Gail and I went to see Kristofferson’s solo concert at the Ryman. As was the most recent performance, it was completely acoustic and mesmerizing. We bought the Hatch Show Print commemorating it and, just last year, had it framed along with two others as presents for ourselves on our twentieth anniversary. Those posters are still proudly displayed on the wall above the living room sofa.

I believe performers should perform as long as they feel like it and can draw a crowd. It was gratifying to see Kristofferson in such good form, gravelly voice a little “gravelly-er,” perhaps, but his spirit soared and he held the audience in the palm of his hand. It was obvious why he’s a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and why no matter how sad or serious the subject matter of his songs may be, we will remember him for the good times.

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr

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Why I’m “just saying no”

First, let me say how happy and proud I am that so many organizations have honored the memory of my wife, Gail Kerr, since her death March 25. I have participated with enthusiasm in the ceremonies and events I believe she would also have been happy to support. She knew about two of them before she died: Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund and the “Not So” Sure Shot Rabbit Hunters Association charity fund-raising event.

With The Tennessean, she was about to launch the House the Homeless project for How’s Nashville this spring. She would have been so pleased at the results because the issue of homelessness in Nashville was something she took to heart. After coming face to face with so many homeless people when she volunteered to serve them lunches at Downtown Presbyterian Church for several years, she knew the need to fix the problem. Gail saw the success of How’s Nashville and realized they had found a way that works. Her House the Homeless project ended in July and raised over $50,000, more than ten times the amount that Gail had envisioned. She would have been so happy about the response from the community.

This year, Fate Thomas, Jr., resurrected the “Not So” Sure Shot Rabbit Hunters Association Dinner started by his colorful father as a charity event. He contacted Gail and me about honoring her. We were looking forward to attending. Some of the proceeds from the event were donated to Gail Kerr’s House the Homeless Fund and I know she would have appreciated that.

The Tennessee General Assembly honored Gail Kerr with this resolution

The Tennessee General Assembly honored Gail Kerr with this resolution

Other recognitions involving Multiple Sclerosis events in which Gail was active (she was diagnosed with MS in 2000), the Human Relations Commission, Tennessee’s General Assembly and the Bluebird Café were embraced by our family.
I am very grateful that those organizations sought my approval for these honors.

There were seven major events honoring Gail between her death in March and mid-August. And, again, I am enthusiastic about these causes that she would have also supported. However, requests are still coming and I am now respectfully declining them, at least for the foreseeable future.

Here’s why:

Respect for our family’s emotions
Our family appreciates the accolades bestowed upon Gail since her death. However, with each one, we are reminded all too vividly that she is gone. Nashville and the world lost a heroic, powerful voice wrapped up in honesty, courage and humor. We lost a wife, daughter, sister, aunt and great aunt, as well as the love she shared with all of us on a very personal level. I have broken into tears a couple of times accepting awards on her behalf. I have also made it through accepting some of these honors without crying. However, I have begun to weep while walking down courthouse steps and other locations minutes after the ceremonies.

During this time, we also dealt with her birthday and what would have been our twenty-first wedding anniversary. It was not easy. While we are so proud of Gail’s legacy, we need an emotional break.

It is my belief that the integrity of the impact she had will be diluted if too many organizations and individuals use her name for awards and honors. Gail was a very special person and knew when not to spread herself too thin regarding commitments. I intend to continue that philosophy regarding honors and awards that use her name.

This relates to the integrity of her name, as well. I believe that if every organization or individual who has requested the use of Gail’s name for an award or honor went through with those events, people would begin to say, “Oh, it’s another ‘Gail Kerr’ award.” I would never want that to happen.

I appreciate the fact that certain individuals and entities realize that having Gail’s name attached to their cause or enterprise would help it. Sometimes, however, it’s obvious that’s the only reason for the request. My question is, then, “Where were you last year when she could have enjoyed this?” Gail’s memory deserves more than that.

Thanks for your understanding
Again, I appreciate all of the honors for Gail that I have approved and that she would have enjoyed. I am also grateful that other groups and individuals think enough of her name to want it to be associated with them. I am sure that as time passes, there will be some that are completely appropriate for the use of Gail’s name. I may welcome those opportunities. But for the time being, thanks for understanding that I may, “just say no,” to other requests.

Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr

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