As the Bayou Band and I get ready to play our annual St. Patrick’s Day Concert at Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse in Nashville on March 17, this song and its story come to mind. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about how the song came about and that you’ll join us for our show!
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 resonable 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 whenever 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.
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.
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 Learn More about Les & join the e-mail list for free downloads, including Southerners and Irishmen at www.leskerr.com