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.

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

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.

Click photo for Les Kerr’s online CD and download catalogue.

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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.

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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

Learn more about Les Kerr’s music, books and appearances at www.leskerr.com

Blog text and photos Copyright 2011

Jimmie Rodgers clipping from the collection of Les Kerr

Click photo to view Les Kerr’s online CD and download catalogue.

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Comfort Music

Shrimp Po’Boy, fully dressed.

First course: comfort food

Sometimes a good shrimp po’ boy does the trick. Shrimp Creole, the way my mama used to cook it, always made me feel better, even when I was feeling fine already. Boiled shrimp, Trout Amandine or broiled flounder can’t help but improve my mood. Other times, a perfectly cooked filet mignon (medium rare, but not too medium) makes life right. Don’t even let

Red beans and rice – mighty nice!

me look down the Southern fried chicken-fresh tomato-fried okra road. You’ll never see me again. Then, there’s that moment when only vanilla ice cream will do. All of that falls into the category that people now call“comfort food.” You may agree with my choices or have completely different delicacies that just make you feel good when you think about them, but we all enjoy special dishes that make us feel better.

Entree: Comfort Music

A little of my comfort music: B.B. King, John Hartford, Mac McAnally

It is my belief that music also provides a big dose of comfort, just when we need it most. These days may be the perfect time to reach for those records, CDs or that playlist and let ‘em do their jobs. We often can’t control what happens in the broad, wide world or even in our little piece of it, but we can always reach for those melodies that bring us a little comfort. Those are songs and singers we might have grown up listening to or recently discovered when something they sang or played seemed so meaningful, that it went straight to our hearts. Be they old standards or brand new tunes, when we hear them, it’s as if they were written just for us. Comfort music can make us remember when days were better, even if only the passage of time has made them so. Comfort music brings a smile or a fond tear or an outright belly laugh when all we do is play our mind’s record player.

More of my comfortable choices: Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Kristofferson, Buffett

Lately, I have found myself retreating to those old melodies. I rely on everyone from Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash to Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford, Lester Flatt, and B.B. King to brighten moments of my day. Just as with comfort food, the universal music menu allows me to lean toward what is just right for my mood at the moment. It is my hope that you have your own comfort music “recipe” and that those songs are brightening your world these days.

Please enjoy my song “Comfort Music,” in this video prepared just for this piece. More importantly, I hope your own collections of songs that just make you feel good are close at hand and that they are serving you well.

Click this photo for “Comfort Music.”

Click to see video

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr

Click photo to download album or order The Americana Boogie CD featuring Comfort Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Minnie Pearl: from Grinders Switch to Seoul

Many pearls of wisdom are found in Minnie Pearl’s Diary

I am a huge Minnie Pearl fan. So much so that I keep a copy of her 1953 book Minnie Pearl’s Diary on my desk to open when I feel the need for Minnie’s down-home, dead-on philosophy. The life lessons she learned in “Grinders Switch” hold true today.

Performing with the Grinders Switch Ensemble

Since 2010, I have had the honor to perform music in Centerville, Tennessee, the Hickman County  city that includes Grinders Switch, Miss Minnie’s hometown. It’s always a treat to be a guest on the Grinders Switch Radio Hour, broadcast live every Saturday morning on KiX96, the local FM country music radio station.

My Minnie Pearl’s Chicken box autographed by Miss Minnie

In 2013, I was pleased to appear at the Centerville Independence Day Celebration with the Grinders Switch Ensemble, the excellent musicians who perform each week on the radio show. I wrote a blog about that appearance that featured a photo of another of my prized possessions, a Minnie Pearl’s Chicken box autographed by Miss Minnie, herself. She ventured into the fast food business for a while and this box is among the remnants of that excursion into non-entertainment business.

Four years later the blog and that photo found their way to a South Korean journalist writing a story about franchise businesses in the United States. Reporter Gwanghyeon Gim contacted me and asked permission to use my photo of Minnie’s chicken box in the story.

So the photo and Miss Minnie have traveled from Grinders Switch to Seoul. Readers of Culture & Biz 저널 (weekly.cnbnews.com) are getting a good look at Miss Minnie’s broad smile as she offers a plate of Southern fried chicken to the world.

If Minnie Pearl doesn’t promote world peace, nothing will.

 

Click photo to view Les Kerr’s online CD and download catalogue.

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr.

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Off Broadway

Lower Broadway, Nashville’s popular honky tonk and tourist district

“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” According to baseball great Yogi Berra in The Yogi Book (I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said), he made that comment in 1959 to Stan Musial and Joe Garagiola about a favorite restaurant in St. Louis.

Many residents of Nashville may say the same thing about the city’s iconic honky-tonk district, Lower Broadway, today.

Crowds rock at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Lower Broadway

As Nashville has become the “it city” in recent years, many people who find their entertainment on Lower Broad are tourists who never leave the area.

As a thirty-year Nashvillian, let me quickly and simultaneously say to those visiting for the first time, “Welcome” and, “You don’t know what you’re missing by not exploring music beyond downtown Nashville.”

Historic Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in the heart of Lower Broad definitely deserves a visit by tourists and it should be a required stop for locals, as should the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium. But do yourself a favor and explore the eclectic mix of entertainment to be found all around the city, as do those of us who live here. Here are some photos taken during the summer of 2017 of entertainment I have seen “Off Broadway.”  Enjoy!

The Station Inn

Larry Cordle, Ashley Campbell, Val Storey, Mike Bubb and Carl Jackson routinely deliver truly authentic country music at this legendary Nashville spot.

Musicians Corner at Centennial Park

The Secret Sisters are among the nationally touring acts who perform at this free concert series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovery Saturdays at Red’s Wine and Spirits in Bellevue, broadcast live on Roots Radio, WMOT FM

Mark Robinson (pictured here) and others perform as part of this series that takes place in the West Nashville community of Bellevue.

Homegrown Taproom and Marketplace, Donelson

Eclectic is the word when it comes to this Donelson spot for locals. From Bob’s Your Uncle (pictured here) to bluegrass great Roland White, each music act brings unique talent and individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bluebird Cafe

I am always honored to step on stage at this legendary songwriter showcase, located in Nashville’s Green Hills neighborhood. Each night is filled with many writers who bring their original music to local and tourist audiences.

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr.

Click photo to view Les Kerr’s online CD and download catalogue.

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The moon, Sun and Hemingway

The Moon

My 1969-era globe of the Moon, a testament to the inspiration the astronauts gave me and so many others.

It was a product of the pride the people in the United States had in the 1960s for our race to land a man on the moon. A globe of the moon. As a boy in Mississippi approaching my teens, I was consumed with all of the news, images and incredible prospects of space exploration. In 1969, when that hero of American heroes Neil Armstrong set foot in the Sea of Tranquility, a lot of other Boy Scouts and I watched the historic moment on one of the TV sets dispersed around the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Idaho. We were also given small American flags to attach to our tents to commemorate the historic occasion. Upon returning home, I made it my mission to learn about the space program. I wrote to NASA and they sent 8”x10” full color photos of the astronauts who flew several missions after the first moon landing. Each time a new one arrived in the mail, I immediately set out to learn everything about these brave men. I wore out my friends and family with my knowledge of our American space pioneers.

Sun

I’m proud to have this original Sun record autographed by one of my heroes, Johnny Cash.

Prior to my fascination with the moon was a preoccupation with Sun. Not the star that lights our world each day but Sam Phillips’ record company based in Memphis. Sun Records lit the musical landscape of the globe by launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Sonny Burgess. Elvis and Johnny Cash were my favorite rockabilly astronauts. As I set out to learn more about them, I naturally learned about Sun Records. I still learn from them and the other Sun luminaries who have graced the world’s musical heritage.

The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway was not the first person to coin that phrase. He got it from “The Preacher,” who wrote it in Ecclesiastes.

“The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he rose.” – Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, Verse 5, Old Testament, King James Version, The Bible.

The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite books. Images created by Hemingway of young people in Spain interacting with each other as the bulls ran have captivated many and I am among them. I was around the age of the characters in the book when I read it. I have seen the sun rise on the French Quarter in New Orleans more than once. Not because I woke up early but because I went to bed so late, it had become early. One early morning on Royal Street, as I wearily made way back to my hotel I said out loud, “The Sun Also Rises down on Bourbon Street.” Later, with much more clarity, I put pen to paper and the song that resulted is below.

The moon may briefly eclipse the sun occasionally but it is comforting to know that once again, as The Preacher wrote, the sun also rises.

Click photo to see Les Kerr perform The Sun Also Rises at the Bluebird Cafe, Nashville

The Sun Also Rises (Down on Bourbon Street)
Words and Music by Les Kerr

A little boy down in New Orleans spied my shoes
He made me an offer that I couldn’t refuse
He said, “If you got a quarter
That you ain’t afraid to lose
I’ll tell you where you got them shoes.”

He said, “You got ‘em on your feet, 
Right here on Bourbon Street, 
That’s where you got ‘em; 
That’s where you got ‘em 
You tapped out your ol' soul 
Tryin’ to find the hole 
Down in the bottom; 
Down in the bottom 
You been up all night 
Tryin’ to see the light 
But those neon moonbeams
Just don’t make it right 
I hate to tell you, Mister, 
But you just met your de-feet 
The Sun Also Rises
Down on Bourbon Street”

‘Bout the time they turned the lights out
At the Famous Door
That sticky Southern sun 
Began to rise once more
I gave that boy a dollar, yes, 
I paid my dues
He told me, “When you’re lost, man,
You’re just following your shoes”

French Quarter philosophy served me well
I headed back to Royal Street to my hotel
When I think about it now
Wnd want to lose my blues
I thank that little boy
Who made some money off my shoes

He said, “You got ‘em on your feet,
Right here on Bourbon Street,
That’s where you got ‘em; 
That’s where you got ‘em
You tapped out your ol' soul
Tryin’ to find the hole
Down in the bottom; 
Down in the bottom
You been up all night 
Tryin’ to see the light
But those neon moonbeams
Just don’t make it right
I hate to tell you, Mister, 
But you just met your de-feet
The Sun Also Rises
Down on Bourbon Street”
©1994 by Les Kerr
Publisher: O.N.U. Music (ASCAP)
Click here to download
The Sun Also Rises
(Down on Bourbon Street)

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr

Click photo to view Les Kerr’s online CD and download catalogue.

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