Johnny Jones’ red Gibson guitar stood on stage alone as a symbol of its late owner and others who cut their blues teeth in Nashville during the city’s R&B glory days. Jones was a fixture in the Music City blues scene during the 1960s and a mentor to many, including Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix migrated to Nashville after a stint in the army had him stationed at nearby Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. Jones and Hendrix were part of the house band for Night Train, a blues TV show. The man later known for setting his guitar on fire at Woodstock actually played it, and played it well, when he lived in Nashville.
But to the concert itself, July 30, 2014: It is only fitting that the radio/concert/video series Music City Roots dedicated an extraordinary episode to blues and rhythm and blues. Produced in conjunction with the 10th anniversary celebration of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Night Train to Nashville exhibit and compilation albums, this blues celebration and reunion brought many of Nashville’s surviving blues legends together for a concert that won’t be forgotten by those on stage or in the audience.
The Music City Roots show included performances by Nashville’s “Queen of the Blues,” Marion James, The McCrary Sisters whose father, the Rev. Sam McCrary, founded the Fairfield Four, and the Fairfield Four, themselves.
Charles “Wigg” Walker, The Valentines and LeVert Allison performed during the show and joined the all-star finale, as well.
The house band for the evening was the Jimmy Church Band, rocking as only they can as they played for all of the acts and showed the crowd why they have such a stellar reputation as performers in their own right. Also performing was legendary songwriter Mac Gayden, known for writing the standard Everlasting Love. Robert Knight, the artist with the original hit record of the song, was also on hand to perform it.
Among other Gayden/Chuck Neese-penned hits was She Shot a Hole in My Soul, performed flawlessly at the show by the man who made it a nationwide hit, Clifford Curry. (On a personal note, I have been part of several shows with Clifford and you will not find a more generous and humble performer.) At the Roots show, he told a story that started similarly to the tales by others who have pursued success in Nashville. But the ending of this one changed his life. Curry recalled periodic trips from his hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee, to Nashville as a young man trying to get his foot in the door as a songwriter. As fate would have it, his voice got more attention than his songs and he stepped before a studio microphone and shot a hole through everybody’s soul.
Music City is the home of many “musics,” including the blues. Many people who don’t live in Nashville, and far too many who do, don’t know the impact of the blues traditions begun on Jefferson Street. The music that was taken to the world was created by musicians and songwriters just trying to make a living playing what they loved. The good news is that the blues is still alive in Tennessee’s capital city and legends and more recent artists perform it every week. To quote Lou Rawls, you can still “put some blues in your shoes and some soul in your bowl,” in Nashville, Tennessee.
Text and photos copyright 2014 by Les Kerr. Click here to preview, order or download Les’ new album, Les Kerr As Is.