Retro

Art deco or just old? You tell me.

From the first apartment I lived in after leaving home up to and including the house I live in today, some of my furniture was accumulated from different friends and relatives. My first coffee table was one my parents no longer wanted. I still use that table to hold legal pads I write songs with, books and odds and ends that just seem to fit on it.

In the early 1980s, the table and I lived in a poolside apartment in Mobile, Alabama. Steve Smith, an artist friend, saw it for the first time and said, “Where did you get that great art deco piece?”

“Art deco piece?” I said. “I don’t know what that means. I always thought it was an old table.”

45rpm-Ready Teddy by Little Richard with Rip It Up on the “flip side.”

In the years since then, I have noticed that there seems to be an indefinable moment in the history of people, places and things when they cease being “old” and are suddenly “retro.” The resurgence of vinyl records is a good example.

My solid-state transistor radio kept me entertained day and night.

I remember well when they were the only way other than A.M. radio that recorded music could be heard. By the way, I still listen to A.M. radio, too. The little red transistor I had as a kid and a college student in Mississippi is still with me. Often, I went to sleep with it under my pillow as it played hits of all musical genres from local or far-away 50,000 watt clear channel stations like WLS (Chicago), WSM or WLAC (Nashville) or WWL (New Orleans). That may be why I have always been able to remember song lyrics so well.

2 of my favorite “45s.”

As these thoughts were running through my head I decided to put them to music in a song called Retro. Some of the lyrics refer to buying vinyl records and how much fun it was to take them out of the shrink wrap and to play them for the first time on the “record player.” The irony that two versions of this song can be now downloaded from many Internet sites is not lost on me.

My first and only 45rpm vinyl record, The Camellia Grill.

My first professional recording was released on vinyl. I often joke on stage that in 1986, I was the last person who made a 45rpm record who thought people were still buying them. But my “original compact disc” with The Camellia Grill on side A and Seductive Eyes on side B, recorded at Southern Sound Productions in Mobile, Alabama, got me going.

The lyrics to Retro are below, as is a link to a video of a live performance of the song at the Bluebird Café in Nashville. I hope you’ll watch, listen and enjoy. It is also my hope that you will skip becoming “old” and go straight to “Retro,” as I am attempting to do. In the words of Bill Haley who sang them and Bobby Charles Guidry who wrote them, “See you later, alligator.”

Click photo to see Les Kerr perform Retro at the Bluebird Cafe, Nashville

Retro
Words and music by Les Kerr

I play a thirty-year old guitar
That I bought when it was new
Through and old tube amplifier
Built by Leo Fender, too
I remember when The Beatles
Were a brand new band
My solid state transistor played
I Want to Hold Your Hand

Chorus:
If I live to be a hundred, well,
I guess I’m middle-aged
Life is one unfinished book; 
Each day you turn a page
Looking at the years ahead
Can’t help but make me smile
I’m not older, I’m just “retro”
That’s always been my style

I was loyal to The King
All through his movie years
And on the day he died, 
I cried a hunk of burning tears
Thinking of how long that’s been
Could really bring me down
But time moved on and I did,too
I’m glad I’m still around

Bridge:
They call it vintage vinyl now
But I remember when
You found the latest album 
In a retail record bin
You couldn’t wait to get it home
And hear the music play
Now, you can download it
But the feeling’s gone away

Repeat chorus
If I live to be a hundred, well, 
I guess I’m middle-aged
Life is one unfinished book
Each day you turn a page
Looking at the years ahead
Can’t help but make me smile
I’m not older, I’m just “retro”
That’s always been my style

Words and music copyright 2008 by Les Kerr
Publisher: O.N.U. Music (ASCAP)

Click to download Retro.

Text, photos, video and music copyright 2017 by Les Kerr.

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Glen Campbell – Still gentle on our minds

With the news of Glen Campbell’s death, I couldn’t help but remember seeing him at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville during his Farewell Tour in 2011. He was truly an inspiration to me. I hope you will enjoy this account of the evening. Thanks, Les.

The extended guitar solos in Galveston and Wichita Lineman were worth more than the price of admission for me.  Glen Campbell’s Goodbye Tour came to the Ryman Auditorium November 30, 2011 and the performance was an unadorned look at a man whose music has brought much joy to many people for over  four decades.

There was a lot of love for Campbell flowing from the audience who packed the hard old Ryman pews and from those around him on stage.  The band  included his son Cal playing drums, daughter Ashley playing keyboard, banjo and guitar, and son Shannon playing guitar.  With each song, everyone in the room was pulling for the star whose memory is leaving him.

After a teleprompter glitch caused a false start at the show’s beginning, Campbell launched into Gentle on My Mind, the song that brought him into the consciousness of most of the world in the 1960s.  And then he did them all. The aforementioned Galveston and Wichita Lineman, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Where’s the Playground Susie, Dreams of the Everyday Housewife, Try a Little Kindness and on and on from his early career.

This is a man with soul, joy and dignity who knows what he’s about.  He laughed about his memory loss and said, “Did you ever go into a room and forget why you went in there?  That happens to me a lot.”  As he moved around the stage with the agility of a much younger performer, Campbell’s eyes sought and found the teleprompter screens with a determination to offer the showmanship for which he is famous.  While they didn’t catch all the lines at the right time, those eyes still had the twinkle of a singer delighted to be on stage.  He referred to Nashville throughout the evening, sending the message that he was truly happy to be on the Ryman stage singing for us.

A Picker’s Picker

Song lyrics may have been elusive at times but the notes on his guitar came as naturally as the smile on his face.  The intro Campbell played on the electric 12-string as he began Southern Nights and his acoustic guitar part on Dueling Banjos with Ashley playing banjo showed that his fingers remembered every lick.  I was reminded why I wanted the Ovation acoustic guitar I received as a high-school graduation present – that was his trademark ax in the sixties and I still play my mid-1970s Legend model today.  To call Glen Campbell an inspiration for guitar players is a vast understatement.

Ghost on the Canvas

Campbell performed songs from his CD, Ghost on the Canvas, and the lyrics seemed to be perfect for where he is in his life.  Especially poignant are the title song and A Better Place.  I have never heard a singer perform more personally honest music.

Toward the end of the evening, his hit Country Boy was a standout.  Finally, being ever the entertainer that he’s always been, Campbell led the audience in singing Rhinestone Cowboy as one of many standing ovations again swept the auditorium.

Minnie Pearl once said that Grand Ole Opry master of ceremonies George D. Hay advised her to, “Go out there and love the audience – they’ll love you back.”  Well, Glen Campbell loved those of us in the audience that night and we loved him back.

For a great video including an interview with Glen Campbell about his 2011 Ghost on the Canvas CD and archival footage, visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbr_rCrEPVE&feature=player_embedded#!

Text copyright 2011 Les Kerr

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

 

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The music of McDill

Songwriter Bob McDill donates pads, lyrics, guitar to Country Music Hall of Fame.

Amanda. Good Ole Boys Like Me. Don’t Close Your Eyes. It is hard to read those song titles without their melodies and the voices of the singers who made them famous coming to mind. The songwriter who built those works of musical art, and many more, donated his construction bench to the Country Music Hall of Fame July 31, 2017. In its collection now are 217 of Bob McDill’s legal pads, boxes of work tapes and the guitar he used to write Good Ole Boys like Me. On the pads are handwritten lyrics to over two hundred songs later recorded by artists ranging from Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs and Perry Como to Bobby Bare, Don Williams and Alan Jackson.

Hall of Fame member Bobby Bare performs “Amanda.”

In honor of McDill’s gift to the Hall, several country music luminaries performed his songs. Country Music Hall of Fame member Bobby Bare sang Amanda, which was a hit by both Don Williams and Waylon Jennings. Bare recalled that he admired McDill’s work so much, he recorded a whole album of his songs called “Me and McDill” in 1977.

Jamie Johnson sings “The Door is Always Open.”

Performing The Door is Always Open, Jamie Johnson expressed his admiration for McDill, as did William Michael Morgan, performing Don’t Close Your Eyes and Jon Byrd, who sang Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold).

Don Schlitz sings a moving version of “Good Ole Boys like Me.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment came when Don Schlitz, the songwriter responsible for The Gambler and many other hits, performed Good Ole Boys like Me. Schlitz, scheduled for official induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame himself this October, recalled his days as a young songwriter in Nashville. Schlitz said he received nothing but encouragement from the older, established McDill. Playing the 1967 Martin D-28 that McDill donated to the Hall of Fame, Schlitz gave a moving rendition that made everyone in the room feel like a “good ole boy,” in the most dignified sense of that phrase.

It is said that a public appearance by McDill himself is a rare occurrence. But there he was, gracefully accepting the accolades heaped upon him by his peers. Speaking modestly and with honesty, McDill talked about the fact that when he began, he wondered if he had what it took to be a writer of country songs. He came to Nashville from Texas via Memphis. He was influenced by everyone from Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers to Hank Williams and Jackie Brenston, the Sun Records artist who gave the world Rocket 88.

Among his goals, McDill said, was to show the world that “those who make country music are not culturally isolated.” One good listen to Good Ole Boys Like Me, whose lyrics refer to Hank Williams, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe and Nashville R&B radio announcer John R. proves that Bob McDill more than made his point and adds his own contribution to our cultural landscape.

Text and photos copyright 2017 by Les Kerr.

Click to order Les Kerr’s Bay Street CD. Also available on ITunes, Amazon and other online outlets.

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In reverence of reverie

Are “devices” “the vices” of our age? No. It is our dependence upon anything with a screen that seems to make them so.

As an independent career person, I strive to  to lead a balanced life between personal happiness and success as an entertainer and freelance writer. Through books and podcasts by career coaches Michael Hyatt, Ariel Hiatt, Seth Godin and Dan Miller, I picked up some tips that have really helped.

In 2011, I began making lists each night of my day’s successes and what I needed to do the following day. When I heard Miller say that Henry Ward Beecher called the morning’s activities during the first hour, “The rudder of the day,” I began to take a serious look at what I did upon waking. Instead of going straight to my phone or computer to check messages and see if I need to put out fires, I now read as I drink coffee. My morning fare always includes a short devotion from a book by Presbyterian minister P.J. Southam and a bit of the Bible.  If time permits, I’ll read part of a book or a newspaper.

Reclaiming Conversation author Sherry Turkle, songwriter Les Kerr

More recently, I read a book called Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle. Its basic premise is that technology isn’t bad, it is our addiction to it that is causing people to literally avoid talking to one another if they can send a text message or an e-mail instead. (Aside: to me, the word “text” is not a verb. It describes printed words.) My friend Dr. Randy Cross invited me to a conference at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, AL to listen to Professor Turkle speak and to meet her. She was fascinating and illuminated the issue that seems to be an epidemic.

Considering all of this input on the non-stop inundation of information which can consume us all if we let it, I wrote a simple song called In Reverence of Reverie. I sing it to remind myself to take a deep breath, look around, appreciate my surroundings and never pass up the opportunity to look someone in the eye, have a conversation, shake a hand or offer (or receive) a hug.

Click image to see video of Les performing In Reverence of Reverie

In Reverence of Reverie
Words and Music by Les Kerr

In reverence of reverie, I’m turning off my phone
There I’ll be with all my thoughts
So I won’t be alone                                                                             
No multi-tasking, reply-asking
Message on a screen
I’ll be aware of what is there
A moment just for me

So many think they’re on the brink 
if they have to converse
Face-to-face seems out of place
To them, there’s nothing worse
Than speaking without tweaking
And no edits before, “Send.”
But there’s a choice: a sound, a voice
A smile from a dear friend

Devices have divided us; 
We can’t see eye to eye
It’s text or instant message, 
Information on the fly
Avoiding all emotion, 
We just pass along the facts
And if we need to laugh or cry, 
We’ll find an app for that

I’d like to say we’ll see a day 
Not built upon the trends
Of social mediocrity 
And never-present friends
It’s haunting and it’s daunting
But there is hope, in the end
Let’s ditch the hype. 
Let’s talk, not type,
And we’ll be better friends
In reverence of reverie, 
I’m turning off my phone

Words and Music Copyright 2016 
By Les Kerr/O.N.U. Music (ASCAP)
Click to download song In Reverence of Reverie

Click for Les Kerr's complete 
online music catalogue.

Text and photos copyright 2016 by Les Kerr.

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Two Longs, A Short and A Long (song link included)

As the grandson of a railroad man, I grew up hearing more than my fair share of stories about trains. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, Dewey Pittman, especially after he retired and moved to an apartment my parents had fixed up for him in our backyard in Pascagoula. While he and I shelled black-eyed peas, picked the best tomatoes from a roadside stand and when he helped me learn to drive a car, he always found a reason to talk about trains.

When he stopped driving, I was often his designated chauffeur. Once, as we stopped at a railroad crossing after the red and white crossing bar was down but before the oncoming locomotive arrived, he said, “Listen – here it comes!”

“The train?” I asked. “I can see it.”

“No,” he said impatiently. “Listen for the whistle.”

Then I heard four urgent, lonesome air whistle blasts. The engineer made two long pulls on the whistle, one much shorter, and then another long one.

“You could set a railroad watch By that old crossing bell”

“That’s the whistle code for a crossing,” Granddaddy said as he smiled at me. “The engineer is required to use just that pattern so you’ll know the locomotive is coming. Other blasts are for bridges or just to let people know they’d better get off the track if they don’t want to get hit. But two longs, a short and a long always mean the train’s coming to a crossing.”

“Pass the torn-down market and the old Masonic hall.”

Thirty years later, after I had moved to Nashville, I lived near the railroad crossing on Old Harding Road near Bellevue Road. A minor back problem woke me up several nights in a row around 1:30 a.m. At precisely 1:40 each morning, I heard the train speak its language to my darkened community as it passed between the then torn-down Bellevue Market on one side and the Masonic lodge on the other as the crossing gates fell. Two longs, a short, and a long. I checked the railroad approved wristwatch I wore each time. Yep, it’s train time.

A song came out of those nights hearing the train go by and memories of my grandfather. To this day, I still wear my railroad approved wristwatch and look for slices of life that happen as they should. And each time I have to wait for a train to pass before crossing a railroad track is a chance to remember the locomotive’s lonesome song: Two longs, a short and a long.

Click the image of the “torn-down” market steps below to listen to “Two Longs, A Short and A Long.”

Two Longs, a Short and a Long

Two Longs, a Short and a Long; a diesel locomotive’s crossing song
One forty every morning, roll through Bellevue, then you’re gone
Two Longs, a Short and a Long

This time of night there’s no need to slow down
Hi-balling through a sleeping little town
You pass the torn down market and the old Masonic hall
You ain’t disturbing anyone at all

I begin to ramble in my mind
When I hear you rumbling down the line
I want to climb into the cab and let you take me far away
But I’ll wake up right here come break of day

You could set a railroad watch by that old crossing bell
You’re always right on schedule with your lonesome tale to tell

Three diesel engines, headlights burning bright
Pulling freight and tank cars through the night
You’re hauling railroad memories I just can’t turn a loose
You can’t un-couple dreams like an old caboose

Copyright 2003 by Les Kerr
Publisher: O.N.U. Music, Nashville, Tennessee ASCAP

Click the steps of the “torn-down market” to hear Two Longs, A Short and A Long

Text and photos copyright 2002, 2017 by Les Kerr.

Click to order Les Kerr’s 2016 Bay Street CD (includes Two Longs, A Short and A Long). Also available on ITunes, Amazon and other online outlets.

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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

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.

2017 marks our 23rd 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 anevent 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
Learn More about Les & join the e-mail list for free downloads, including Southerners and Irishmen
at www.leskerr.com
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“Saints”

“Saints.”  Say that word to a New Orleans jazzman and he will know what you mean.  If you are in the French Quarter on the street or in a club, he also may respond by extending the hand not holding his horn as he looks you in the eye and says, “Fifty.”  You may then reach into your pocket in search of a green/gray piece of paper with Ulysses S. Grant’s picture engraved on it.  If you can’t find a Grant, a Jackson may do – possibly a Hamilton but never less than two Lincolns (paper, not copper).  What you will learn with no uncertainty from this exchange is that to get your toe tapping to the familiar notes that follow the words, “Oh, When the…,” it’s a matter of dollars and Saints.

I heard it from “his master’s voice”

My mom’s huge hi-fi

These thoughts come to mind around Mardi Gras or anytime during the year when my Bayou Band and I play When the Saints Go Marching In.  My earliest memory of it comes from my mother’s record collection.  She loved the music of New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt and Crescent City clarinetist Pete Fountain and played their records on our big, furniture-sized RCA Victor Hi-Fi every night after I went to bed.  Along with Basin Street Blues and South Rampart Street Parade, “Saints,” always marched in as sure as the turntable went around and around.

As I grew older and became more familiar with New Orleans music and especially Louis Armstrong’s version of the song, it dawned on me that of all the songs ever linked to places, “Saints” is one of the strongest.  And unlike New York, New York, Kansas City, Tennessee Waltz and other songs about places, the city itself is not mentioned in the lyrics.  That’s because the song organically became part of New Orleans culture originally through churches, then parades, funerals, parties, nightclubs and any number of special occasions where an upbeat song came in handy.

According to author Thomas Brothers in Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, Satchmo himself said about jazz, “It all came from the Old Sanctified Churches.”  Brothers also writes that the rhythm and movement to music by the Sanctified Church members, who called themselves “saints,” showed unity among those whose denomination was perceived to be inhabited by the lowest social class in New Orleans.  He then asserts that around 1900, church music, most likely including When the Saints Go Marching In, began to creep into New Orleans dance halls through musicians such as the legendary Buddy Bolden.

And when the sun…

Les Kerr & The Bayou Band playing “Saints”

There are probably as many theories as to where the content for the lyrics of “Saints” originated as there are versions and verses of the song.  One popped into my head a few years ago at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville where I am a member.  The scripture came from the book of Acts.  It occurred to me as I read along that I was reading some of the very references found in the version of the song I sing.  I adapted it from David Cohn’s 1930s classic book God Shakes Creation.  Cohn went to a church attended by sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta and transcribed When the Saints Go Marching In as he heard it that day.  Based on those lyrics, this is how I heard our scripture reading in the 21st Century:

Acts 2, verse 20 (King James Version) states: The sun shall be turned into darkness. I heard, “And when the sun refuse to shine; and when the sun refuse to shine.”

Verse 20 continues:  and the moon [turned] into blood.  I heard, “And when the moon goes down in blood; and when the moon goes down in blood.”

Verse 21 sums it up with: Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  I heard, “I want to be in that number,” and don’t we all, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

So the next time you’re in New Orleans and ask a horn player for “Saints,” don’t be offended if you’re asked for money in return for the tune.  Just think of it as putting a little something in the collection plate.

I couldn’t resist including a little “Saints” at the end of my song Below the Level of the Sea. Click here to listen.

Recommended reading: Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans by Thomas Brothers                                                                                                                                                   Where I Was Born and Raised by David L. Cohn (includes God Shakes Creation)

Photos & text copyright 2012 Les Kerr                                                                                     Below the Level of the Sea from the CD New Orleans Set.  Words & music copyright 1988

Visit Les Kerr’s web site at  www.leskerr.com

This blog was originally posted in February, 2012.

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