I’ve been here in Nashville since Tuesday.It’s not always easy to understand or describe “The South.” Downstairs in my hotel is an informal breakfast buffet arrangement which seems to mean that there are more people needing to sit than there are spare tables. I can’t imagine wanting to talk to anyone over breakfast so I reluctantly asked to share a space with a bloke doing the crossword in USA Today. He recognised I had “an accent” and struck up conversation. Turns out his half-brother lives in Peebles and he was in town on business from Mississippi. We chatted about oil spills, hurricanes and the usual stuff and I remarked that I found the south the bit of the USA I really found the most fascinating. I remarked that it was here that seemed to be the birthplace of so much of the cultural America came from. It’s a great place, I offered.
As I got up to pick up my toasted muffin I almost missed him saying. “Shame that most people don’t know that.”When I asked him to explain he gave me some interesting insights. ‘Most people think we’re racist and everyone knows we’re poor – compared to the north.’ I realised there is a lot of truth in what he said. When I grew up in the seventies the south was understood by my generation through the words of Neil Young’s Alabama. Now, I think – perhaps because of Randy Newman- but also because I’ve spent some time here that it’s a much better place than that. Equally, the northerners are no angels. ‘The KKK was started in Indiana,’ my breakfast pal told me. Maybe it’s good I didn’t get that table on my own after all.
I picked up a great book last night down town. It’s a portrait and mini biogs of classic country singers of the first half of last century. In the introduction Douglas Green makes an astute observation: ‘ Country Music may have existed before 1925 but it didn’t become country music until the advent of the radio and new stars were born.’ How true that is. It’s the radio that is omni present in these great films from our movie club – Coal Miners Daughter, Walk The Line and The Last Picture Show.(that one’s for next year!)
And it is to the radio that I go most often when I’m here. The great station is WSM 650 on the medium wave. ‘Some things sound better on AM.’ I bet there’s a few radio bosses would have killed for that cool strap line. There’s a truth in it too. I’ll play some radio highlights tomorrow including, Nanci Griffiths, Faith Hill and the most important record store boss of in this town (apart from Jack White), Ernest Tubbs.
We’ll also have a visit from East Nashville’s Diana Jones who will sing tracks from her new album and we’ll get a chance to talk to her about the Nashville Flood of a year ago which informed her great new record, ‘High Atmosphere.’ We’re not forgetting Bob backwards. In the current edition of a Nashville Listings Paper there’s a great piece about ‘Blonde on Blonde’ being the first time many people outside country realised what a great recording centre Music City was. Sadly this week’s album is no Blonde on Blonde but is Empire Burlesque…still, some nice things to play.
I’ll also tell you about my own adventures in Music Row which today takes me to a writing session with Cary Barlowe, the man who wrote American Honey.
It all starts tomorrow at 2…that’s my time….5 past 8 for you. BBC Radio Scotland.
Crumbs… I just did the maths (or math in the local parlance) and it’s nearly two decades since I was in Nashville! That makes me feel old, but nevertheless I cherish memories of that trip. Those chance meetings in bars or diners and the like can be such insightful happenstance, bringing together people who might never otherwise speak but find common ground anyway. Looking forward to the show all the way from stormy Tennessee, Ricky, congratulations again to the whole team on the Sony award and you be sure to enjoy the rest of the trip. I’m fairly sure you will.