This past week in Nashville brought some new experiences to the table for me, and today I would like to share a few quick thoughts on these events.
Indie Connect and the “New to Nashville” Monthly Meeting
There is a Nashville-based music industry organization called “Indie Connect,” and once a month they have a “New to Nashville” meeting at The Red Rooster. I first discovered this organization last year when I stumbled across their website, a fairly elaborate site with all sorts of interesting and useful articles. Upon signing up for their newsletter I began to receive notifications about different meetings and workshops held monthly, themes ranging from “New to Nashville” to Songwriting, and “Singing in the Studio ” to PR Campaigns. While I’m certainly not new to Nashville, I have wanted to check out these meetings for a while as I have been asked to be a guest speaker at one of their luncheons next month.
The meeting, hosted by longtime Nashville songwriter Marc-Allen Barnette, was very laid back and began with each person in attendance sharing a little bit about their background, as well as their Nashville goals. After the introductions Marc began sharing his thoughts and views about being a songwriter in Nashville as well as some other perspectives about the scene. Several valid points were made regarding songwriter nights.
After hearing some of us Marc’s ideas and advice, a back-and-forth conversation ensued with everybody participating and offering their thoughts and ideas. Also in attendance was Vinny Ribas, the founder of Indie Connect, and he also interjected his thoughts on different subjects. All in all the meeting was up tempo and informative and certainly worth checking out if you are “New to Nashville.”
Derek St. Holmes at The Red Rooster
Have you ever listened to the music of Ted Nugent? I have. I used to love hearing his song “Stranglehold” as it blared out of FM radios during my teenage years, back in the 80s. As distinctive as the guitar parts are to that song, the vocals are almost even more mesmerizing – a high and emotive rock and roll lyric belted out with power and conviction, by a distinctive and colorful voice. So maybe that’s why during our “New to Nashville” meeting on the outside patio of The Red Rooster last week it became difficult to focus on the discussion after the band began playing. Little did I know at that moment that the voice in the band that was booming out onto the patio was none other than that of Ted’s original lead singer, Derek St. Holmes. As I would later learn after the meeting let out, Derek lives in Nashville, and when he’s not on the road with Nugent, he can be found performing on Tuesday nights from 7 to 9 at The Red Rooster on Demonbreun Street.
Even though I couldn’t see the band from where we were sitting on the club’s outside patio, I knew they were quite good from the moment they began playing. By the time they performed a blistering version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” midway through the set it was obvious that this was not your typical Nashville bar-band. As I was firmly committed to the conversations at hand, I did my best to not be sidetracked by the music. But by the time they played the last song of their first set, which just happened to be the anthem “Stranglehold,” it was almost impossible to not become completely drawn in. This music is rock ‘n roll at its finest, and their performance was fit for a stadium crowd, let alone the 30 or 40 Nashvillians that had gathered on this cool spring night!
I left during their break as I already had commitments elsewhere, but as this is a regular Tuesday outing for this rock ‘n roll legend and his band, I’ll be back for sure.
Later on the next day, another significance of the Derek St. Holmes show occurred to me. The folks at this “New to Nashville” meeting were just that, new to Nashville. And the one thing most Nashville newcomers are lacking is contacts. The only reason I knew Derek St. Holmes was the performer inside was because I asked, mostly out of curiosity because it was so good. There were obviously some heavy hitters in his band too, all whom are likely connected to many other important avenues within the Nashville music industry and beyond. I recognized some players that work for national acts in the audience as well.
I guess it just goes to show that you never know who you might see or hear in a Nashville club. Next time you hear some great music by an unsuspecting bar band, stick around and listen a little, maybe chat with a few folks on the break. You never know what you might learn or hear. If you’re lucky, you might even hear “Stranglehold!”
There was one bright spot on our recent concert destination to Speedwell, TN, and that was our brief stay at the Hampton Inn in Caryville, TN. We arrived back to the hotel around 3 PM on Saturday after our tense and stressful outing in Speedwell, and had about eight hours to pass while our driver, Steve slept. About an hour north of Knoxville, and nestled in the hills of the Smoky Mountains, at first glance this hotel simply looked like just another typical Hampton Inn, not unlike many we have stayed in over the years.
When we walked to the edge of the fence, one friendly fellow was kind enough to pose with me for a photo. Another peculiarity was a couple of old “Model-T” style cars, circa early 1900s, on display in front of the main entrance.
Upon entering the hotel and walking down a long hallway to our rooms we began to view some fascinating pictures and folk art lining the walls.
A common theme in many of the photographs was moonshining, and many of these photos were accompanied by descriptions.
The photos themselves told amazing stories, but upon reading the accompanying descriptions we learned that the owner of this hotel, Hack Ayers was a “third-generation moonshiner”, and his father was killed in a moonshine raid in the 1950s.
Other photos and news clippings told of a long-since forgotten era in our recent history when moonshining was an important part of the local economy of “the Mountain people.”
Other photographs captured a moment in time of a simpler, but very different America.
One of the most fascinating newspaper clippings was an original copy of a 1913 Boston Globe newspaper telling the story of the sinking of the Titanic.
There was plenty of unique folk art of lesser historical significance that still brought us back in time, like this original movie poster of the film “Casablanca.”
Even the stair wells were decked out with everything from photographs of movie stars to a John F. Kennedy campaign poster – a reprint of the Constitution to sharecroppers in the cotton fields.
Luckily, my phone takes a pretty good picture, as I had forgotten to bring our digital camera. After capturing a handful of these striking images, we decided to walk to a sitting area off of the front parking lot. We sat on an old ski lift chair that had been converted into a porch-swing and enjoyed a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains, and the lake below.
On our way back, we stopped by the front desk and I asked the receptionist about the history of all this décor. She informed me that “The owner likes to keep everything,” and that he owns another motel which is similarly decked out.
“Do people come here specifically to see all of this, or is it kind of an added bonus?” I asked
“I think it’s kind of an added bonus, but when people come back for the second time, they make it a point to see anything they missed the first time.” she responded.
She also told me that all these photographs and newspaper prints were originals. I thanked her for her hospitality and headed back to the bus, as it was just about time for us to be heading to Florida. This quaint, little gem of a hotel was definitely a bright spot on this day. The rooms were clean and comfortable, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the experience was unlike that of any other hotel I had ever stayed at. Luckily for us, this unsuspecting place is owned by a man who takes great pride in preserving American history and culture and, although I never met him, his passion for storytelling is evident by the astounding display he has presented.
Hotel room – $89 plus tax
Dinner at Waffle House – $7.63
American history lesson – priceless
Our concert last Saturday in Speedwell, Tennessee was a wash, and not because of the rain. We arrived on site to this would-be country Woodstock a little after noon, and from the moment I stepped off the bus I knew something wasn’t quite right. You could just sense and feel the tension in the air.
Everything was in place for this mega-country bash – a great lineup featuring Rhett Akins, Jimmie Van Zant, Confederate Railroad,Bush Hawg, Matt Stillwell, and several others; a great concert stage and production; vendors; campsites – yes, everything was in place, except for the people. Somehow, despite considerable advertising, there were only 100 or so folks scattered across the giant field in front of the stage on this second day of the festival.
At this point we still remained optimistic as there have been plenty of shows that started out this way and still turned out okay. But our optimism would begin to fade quickly. As I began walking around looking for the promoter’s office, I started overhearing conversations that the festival was falling apart. Somebody said that the promoter was running out of money and that “the beer truck and the Porta Potty Company were pulling out.” Obviously, this wasn’t very encouraging news.
A few minutes later I found the promoter’s office and was greeted by the contact with whom I had advanced the show. When I asked him how it was going his reply was honest, but grim.
“Not good at all. The promoter is out of money and I’m not sure how this will all go down.”
“I suppose this means we won’t be able to get our bus stock?” I replied, half jokingly.
He responded, “That was one of the first red flags. When I told him I needed $300 to get bus stock for the different bands, he said he didn’t have it.”
“Ookaaay. I guess I should talk to him so we can figure out what we’re doing. ” I replied, realizing that if a three day festival was broke at noon on Saturday, and already losing their beer truck, that things could get ugly.
I walked into the next room to speak to the promoter, and saw that he was in a meeting with a couple of other event coordinators and three or four state police. Realizing this was not a good moment to approach him, I returned to the bus to tell Rhett and the gang of the situation. No sooner had I opened the bus door when a tall fellow wearing an orange “security shirt,” and sporting some really bad teeth, poked his head in and yelled into the front lounge where Rhett was sitting.
“Is that him, is that Rhett Atkins?” he yelled, incorrectly pronouncing Rhett’s last name.
“No, I’m Ricky Nelson.” replied Rhett playfully.
The fellows reply was astonishing, “You ain’t nothin’ to me, you’re just another feather in my bird!”
Quickly ushering him out the door, I assumed he was just really stupid and socially inept, or that maybe perhaps he was a meth-head.
A few minutes later I walked back to the promoter’s office to find out about getting some food. I asked if we could get some meal tickets for catering and if we could at least get a case of water and a case of beer. I was presented with meal tickets which were good for some “ham sandwiches” and chips, and I was also presented with an interesting box of bus stock consisting of:
1 case of spring water
1 open case of Bud Light (with about 8 beers in it)
1 jar of peanut butter
1 bag of corn chips
1 open bag of potato chips (about half full)
“Thanks, I guess somebody was already hungry.” I said, amazed that we got anything at all.
A little while later I was able to finally speak to the promoter who informed me that it was our option to play, and that he might be able to pay us “some money” but that it was unlikely he would be able to pay us our entire fee, and that this would be the case for the other bands as well. I told him I would check with the boss and get back to him.
After relaying all this to Rhett, he decided that in spite of not getting paid that we might as well play anyway, as we were already there. On the way back to the promoter’s office to relay this message some other folks who were hanging around backstage told me that they had heard the Porta Potties would be pulled out by seven o’clock, at which point the police or Board of Health would shut down the festival. When I asked one of the state troopers if he had heard anything like this, his reply was “yes, I have heard those rumors too, but I can’t confirm anything. I can tell you that we are pulling out our extraction team and that the remaining officers will be stationed on the perimeter.” I wasn’t entirely sure of this significance, but it sure didn’t sound good.
As I approached the promoter’s office, I could hear a loud argument. In front of the main entrance stood a big, tall state trooper, his arms folded in front in an intimidating power stance. As I got closer I heard several event workers demanding to see the promoter about their pay, as they had apparently heard rumors that they were going to get stiffed.
“I need to see him now!” demanded an angry worker.
“I’m sorry sir, nobody can see him right now.” the trooper stated firmly. After another minute of yelling and arguing by the crowd of 8 or so, the trooper restated his position – “Nobody is going to see him right now, I’m just doing my job and trying to make sure that nobody gets hurt or shot!”
Over my seven years of working as a road manager, this was the first time I had ever heard or seen anything quite like this, and the angry mob-like scene was enough to send me scurrying back to the bus. Along the way back to the bus a drenching rain set in, and we overheard more angry workers with comments about people getting shot. This would-be country Woodstock was beginning to look more like Altamont – only without the masses. Despite Rhett’s willingness to play for free, in light of the most recent developments, we decided it was best to head on down the road. I’ll have to check, but I’m pretty sure that getting shot is not one of the requirements in our rider.
After our hasty retreat we arrived safely back to our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Carryville, TN. A little while later, Nick, our drummer, received a text from one of his friends who was playing in another band at the festival – something to the effect of “We’re getting out of here before the shooting starts!”
From what we could tell, there were no riots and nobody got shot at the festival. But still, the whole situation was quite unnerving and unfortunate. Obviously, several other bands besides us were leaving town without their pay, as were many vendors and event workers. The festival goers who were in attendance were ultimately shortchanged. And the promoter obviously lost his shirt, not to mention credibility.
On a brighter note, we did have a great time hanging out at the Hampton Inn and the guys did enjoy a fabulous dinner at the local Waffle House!
Apopka, Florida here we come!
The Hampton Inn in Caryville, TN, was the most unique Hampton Inn we have ever visited – the walls of the lobby, hallways, and stairwells covered with hundreds of old photographs, newspaper clippings, and folk art and providing a retrospective of the old South. It even had an adjacent llama farm. I’m going to try to write a blog over the next couple of days as there’s not enough space to do it justice here.
Come out tonight for the official book release party for “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, TN (7 – 11). Many of the contributors to the project will be in attendance and the first three people to ask will receive a free copy of the book. My band will be playing featuring former “G-man,” Mike Chapman on bass; Nick “Shaggy Bag” Forchione on drums; and me on vocals and guitar. There might even be a few special guests.
After 2+ long years of research and writing, I’m excited to get this book out into the world. This project has been all about paying it forward, and I believe this book will prove to be a useful tool for many musicians trying to find their way in this crazy business. This will be a very special night, and one to remember for a long time to come. So come on out for the festivities!
The Fillin’ Station
385 North Main St.
Kingston Springs, TN 37082
Directions from downtown Nashville:
Take I-40 West to exit 188 (Kingston Springs)
Go right at end of exit onto SR-249 (Luyben Hills Rd.)
Go 300 yards turn left onto Kingston Springs Road
After 1.3 miles you’ll come to a stop sign – turn right onto North Main St.
The Fillin’ Station is about 400 feet on the left (the last business in a small strip mall)
That’s right everybody, the book really is finally done and now available to all who have been patiently awaiting its arrival. Orders for the print version will be processed and shipped this week, the e-book and Kindle version will be ready and available by the middle of next week, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally be at this point in time! Others involved in the project are getting excited too. Check out these back cover blurbs that a couple of folks offered after checking out advance copies:
“Awesome! Required reading for any musician moving to Nashville, especially as a hired gun.
Hundreds of hours of priceless advice condensed into one thorough and brilliant book
– an incredibly helpful masterpiece. Makes me want to move there now!”
— DEREK SIVERS, Founder of CD Baby
“If you are making or want to make money in the music industry of Nashville, “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” should be your next purchase. Eric Normand’s beautiful and comprehensive book contains invaluable insider information and practical advice from pros actually making a living in the industry now. A terrific read for anyone interested in peeking into the unique world of music Nashville. Even the pictures rock!”
— JUDY RODMAN, Vocal Coach, Producer, Hit Songwriter
As you could imagine, there was a big celebration at the Normand house when these e-mails arrived!
When I embarked on this journey two years ago last January, I had no idea I would be entering the world of book self publishing. In fact, when I initially began writing the content that became the foundation of this book, I had no intention of writing a book at all, or even the knowledge about how to go about doing this. At that point in time, I was simply trying to help a few folks on Craigslist and other message boards who wanted some info about the Nashville music biz’. The next thing I knew I was writing a book, almost by accident. The more I wrote, the more I began to understand the massive scope of this project, and the work it would entail to finish it – Internet research, extensive recorded interviews, photo taking excursions, etc. At some point along the way the book began writing itself. It was as if I was a mere conduit, the end result first being the story of the modern-day Nashville music industry magically appearing on my computer screen, and now in this wonderment of a book.
I couldn’t have done it alone either. Dozens and dozens of people have contributed their time and resources to this project and for this I am eternally thankful, their contributions have made this a far greater book than I could have produced alone. While the entirety of this project has been a massive undertaking (there were many times that I felt as if I would be writing this book for the rest of my life), this has truly been a labor of love – my way of paying forward all that I have learned in this strange place we call Music City, and I am absolutely thrilled with the end result.
So if you’ve been waiting for this book, it really is finally here. Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy reading “The Nashville Musicians Survival Guide!”
P.S. If you live in middle Tennessee, I would like to invite you to our official book release party at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs on Saturday, April 30 from 7 to 11. Many of the contributors to the project will be in attendance on this night, there will be music performed by my band (Mike Chapman will be on bass and Fran Breen on drums), and the first three people to ask will receive a free copy of the book.
April 18, 2011 – A Date That Will Live in Infamy! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Monday, April 18 is our new, official release date for this long overdue book about the Nashville music biz’. When I first embarked on this project, some two years ago, my thoughts were simply “there seems to be a void of information out there about the Nashville music industry, so I’m gonna write a book about it. I mean, how hard can it be?” This was probably the biggest understatement of the century. I had no idea how to write a book at that point in time, I just knew that this book needed to be written. So I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. A year later, I thought I was done writing. At that moment, it seemed finished. I turned my manuscript into a PDF and had a couple of rough drafts printed. As I read through this document I made many corrections and notes, and by the time I was finished, I realized I hadn’t covered all the bases.
So then the project entered phase 2. I had a handful of new chapters that I needed to write, but I also decided to pursue some more interviews, my thought being that this would help broaden the books perspective and appeal. Around that same time I bought the book “Dan Poyntner’s Self Publishing Manual.” After skimming through this fascinating must-read for first-time authors, I began to compile a massive “to do” list. It seems there were dozens, if not hundreds, of little details (many that turned into huge details) I hadn’t thought of – things like: writing back cover copy, purchasing an ISPN number, setting up a P.O. Box, setting it up as an e-book, photo permissions, photo captions, and of course, what is often the most neglected task of authors, marketing.
I also learned in my research that, in general, traditional book deals do very little advertising for their authors. If an author wants their book to sell, unless their name is James Patterson or Stephen King, they must promote their own book. As I am self-publishing, this means that promotion is entirely up to me. Enter Eric, the blogger. Not only has blogging turned out to be a great way to build a readership, it’s been a fun and exciting learning experience as well. Writing a new blog every few days about everything from my shows on the road with Rhett Akins, to the Nashville flood, to self-help tips for musicians, to progress on my book, has been very rewarding. For instance, after writing a blog a few weeks ago about tinnitus, I got a few e-mails from different musicians informing me that they are buying earplugs.
At the same time I began blogging, I began soliciting “chapter reviews” by my peers and experts in the industry, as was suggested in the self-publishing guide. By involving other individuals as contributors, this not only served to further help market the book, but it also greatly improved its content.
The next hurdle turned out to be the interior design. Upon looking into hiring someone for this task, it quickly became obvious it would be extremely expensive. This discovery prompted me to get creative and learn how to do it myself. My wife, Kelly, acquired some tutoring help to learn Adobe’s InDesign software, taught me the basics of what she learned, and then I managed to completely submerge myself in the interior of this book for the past several months.
Well doggone it, I think I finally got it. The design is essentially finished, (just waiting on a few final copy edit changes from one of my copy editors) and will soon be sent to Create Space for final approval and printing – WooHoo! I have been waiting for this moment for almost 2 years. I mean, this project has all but completely taken me over, and as much as I have learned and grown in the process, it will be nice to have my life back.
So in the meantime, check out the beautiful PDF preview (if I don’t say so myself). This will give you some idea about the final version which will be released on Monday, April 18 – A Date That Will Live In… (whoops, sorry, it almost happened again!)
P.S. You can make an advance purchase of your copy of the book to our new online store we just set up. This will not only guarantee immediate delivery the day our first shipment of books arrives, it will also help me pay for some upfront printing costs.
P.S.S You may notice I have put a CD and audio downloads for sale in the store as well. This CD “Songs Without Words” is an instrumental project I recorded in 2003 while I was on a break from the Toby Keith tour. With flavorings of rock, blues, jazz, and Americana, it is an audio snapshot of where I was musically at that moment in time.
As I’m now nearing the end of this book writing project, I’m realizing that I have neglected the Survival Guide site a bit. While I have managed to put up a new blog at least once a week for the past year, it’s been quite some time since I’ve added any new content anywhere else on the site. I’ve wanted to make some changes for a while, and this week, along with the help of the world’s greatest webmaster, Kelly Normand of Just Ducky Designs, we added several new useful features, or “Extras” to the site.
In a recent conversation with a talented singer songwriter from Maine considering moving to Nashville, he inquired about what clubs would be worth checking out. I told him that The Bluebird, The Commodore Grill, and Douglas Corner all hosted popular weekly writers’ nights, and it would serve him well to check these out when he comes down. (BTW -the singer/songwriter’s name is Chris Ross and he’s a great talent, definitely worth checking out! Here’s a link to one of his inspired Youtube performances). But the conversation gave me another idea. My site, that refers to itself as “a central point of information geared towards helping musicians, singers, songwriters, engineers, and others find their way in the Nashville music industry.” was missing something. After a fair amount of digging and e-mailing, I have put together a thorough listing of some of the the most popular writers night’s, blues jams, and open mics in middle Tennessee. More will be added later, but this is certainly enough to get you started. If you host one of these types of events and would like it posted here, just send me an e-mail.
I also created another new section of the site I’ve wanted to develop for quite a while now, “Road Manager Resources”. This will be all practical stuff for tour managing on any level. Right now, if you go to that page, I’m offering a free download of my itinerary template. This is an ideal starting point for you to build your own custom day sheets for your tour or band. Have you ever been on a tour that seemed void of all pertinent information? I have. I’ve been on tours where the tour manager didn’t provide itineraries and didn’t have many answers to the most basic questions. Every day would come and go with most of the tour members asking him questions all day long. Questions like “what time is sound check?”, “what time is dinner?”, “when are we going to the hotel?”, and “what time will we be getting back?” A good itinerary, placed strategically in the front lounge of your bus or van, will not only provide all this info, it gives the tour manager the ultimate response to most questions he or she will be peppered with throughout their day – “Check the day sheet”!
When I get around to it, I plan on adding some more “tour manager goodies”, among them, an easy to use merch spreadsheet, links to some of my favorite “Road manager friendly” websites for booking hotels, flights, rental cars and more, and periodic updates to my “Tour Manager Tip of the Week” (check the site to learn this week’s tip).
I also added a brief excerpt from the book about the Nashville Recording Industry to the site. It’s kind of a precursor to some more extensive writings about this topic that will be explored in the book.
And lastly, I would love your feedback! If there’s something you’d like me to blog or write about, or another feature you would like to see added to the website, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
So that’s it for now, there’s a lot in the works, and the book is just about to go to print. Check back next week for a major announcement about its release.
P.S. If you live in Middle Tennessee and are looking for something to do this Saturday night (March 5), I’ll be playing at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, TN with Mike Chapman and Fran Breen – 7 to 11, no cover, tons of fun, come on down!
Last Saturday saw another outing of my new trio when we played to another standing room only, sold-out show at the Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, TN and boy was it fun! Okay, maybe it wasn’t standing room only, but I always wanted to say that, and besides, we played like it was a full house. It was another cold, wintry Saturday night in middle Tennessee and we had just received our seventh snow storm of the season a few days prior (it’s already snowed more times this winter than it had in the previous seven since I’ve been here). So we were feeling a little housebound and it was good to get out and play.
“It’s like eating ice cream.” That’s how Mike Chapman, my good friend and bassist in this project, described our band and the gig after the show – it’s as fun as fun can ever be, and it comes without any real purpose or pretense other than to simply be fun. At this point of my career, and life for that matter, outings with this trio are perhaps the most enjoyable experiences I ever have when it comes to playing music. Not that my other musical activities and work aren’t fun, I have found a way to enjoy just about every musical situation at this point, but many of them are on somebody else’s dime, and that almost always creates a whole other mindset and set of expectations.
Take my job with Rhett Akins for example. It’s a great job, we go on the road couple of times a month, I get to hang out with my friends, play some great shows, and get driven around the country on fancy tour buses. Of course I also have to advance shows, deal with event coordinators, production companies, etc. – there’s a lot of responsibility with my job and that can often be accompanied by stress.
The same applies to working on songwriter demos, another one of the hats I wear. Building songs in my home studio, recording drums, guitar tracks, vocals – while these are still dynamic and challenging musical activities, they are on someone else’s dime, therefore, I must work quickly and efficiently and put aside my creative differences in the name of pleasing my clients – the customer is always right. But it’s still all music related work, and that’s great, it’s what I set out to do a long time ago. Not to mention, I’m making my living doing something I love.
There is one thing that I have noticed after what is now more than two decades of working in the music business full-time, it’s called desensitization. After a lifetime of musical activity I have logged many thousands of hours on my instrument, played over 3000 live shows, and worked on countless studio recordings. I’ve also listened to thousands of recordings, as so many of us have. This oversaturation (for lack of a better word) of musical activity can take away some of that special spark that we had in our younger years. I can never again hear the music of Jimi Hendrix or the Allman Brothers for the first time again. Not to mention the power of youth, as a friend of mine once said “There’s nothing like a teenager playing music, they always play with reckless abandon.”
So now I’m all grown up and playing for a living and, while I am thrilled about how it all worked out, I still long for that kind of fix that I used to get daily from music in my younger years. That’s where my trio comes into play. My good friend Mike Chapman is a legend in Nashville, one of the finest bass players you’ll ever meet, and my experiences in the music business to date are only a small fraction of what he has experienced. The same is true of my other compadre in this project, friend and drummer extraordinaire Fran Breen. At one point Fran was so busy in the music world that he turned down an opportunity to tour with Van Morrison.
After nine years of playing and working in Nashville I have come to know these fine players as friends, in addition to working with them on different gigs over the years, and this is perhaps one of the biggest perks of living in Nashville. I wasn’t going to meet Mike and Fran in my native New England. And it turns out we share some common ground. Sometimes they need a musical “fix” too, and perhaps that is why they are enjoying this trio project as much as I am. Literally every time we finish playing one of these gigs I find myself excitedly awaiting the arrival of the next one.
Touring the country, playing on big stages, working on recording projects, that’s all good and well. I’ve worked hard to accomplish everything I have and am thankful that it has all worked out. But for me and the guys, sometimes we just want a little ice cream.
The ever churning music scene of Nashville can be kind of quirky. Even though it has downsized a bit since its heyday of the booming 90s, it’s still a constant flurry of activity, with thousands of musicians of all levels and backgrounds continually searching and on the move. Searching for gigs, connections, opportunities, and quite often, searching for a pathway to a success that has yet to be defined. We’re all on the hunt for something more.
That’s how I felt when I first moved to Nashville, nearly 10 years ago. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do here; I just knew I wanted to accomplish more than I had in my previous life as a nightclub performer and music teacher in New England. I can remember the sense of impatience and anxiety I felt during that first year, the endless thirst for musical activity – no gig was too big or small.
As a fresh arrival in 2002, I knew very little about how this place worked and relied on my friend and mentor “D” to fill in the blanks. “If you are looking for paying gigs, the country scene is where it’s at. It’s pretty much a freelance scene, but that’s where you’ll make the connections you’ll need to survive. Just get out there and start hitting the clubs and get to know people, sit-in whenever you can. But whatever you do, don’t join a band, bands starve.” All sound advice coming from a successful player who had already been here for 10 years.
“I’m really into blues and rock. Is there a scene here for that? I asked innocently. “There is, but you’re going to go broke if you only play that stuff here” was his reply “Plus you’ll get pigeonholed”. “Well if all this activity is basically hired guns, how do you just have a band for fun?” I asked, not wanting to accept this new fate. His solution was so simple – “After you get to know and become friends with some good players, just pick a night, book a gig, and go make some music with your buddies.”
While his advice made a lot of sense, it would take years for me to fully realize this new potential. I began digging in to the scene, networking, sitting in, and this approach worked. I played hundreds of gigs around the city during those first couple of years – Broadway gigs, Printers Alley gigs, gigs on the outskirts, showcases – you name it I played it. These gigs eventually lead to touring work and a couple of years later I began playing on songwriter demos too.
Now it’s 2011 and I’ve been here for nearly 10 years. I can’t believe how fast time flies, the last decade was a blur of endless activity. I didn’t move to Nashville to become a superstar or a songwriter, I came here to work as a player, and I’ve succeeded in that endeavor. I make my living (or the bulk of it) as a freelance musician, something I was not able to do prior to my Nashville days.
But something has still been missing and I just recently figured out what it was. I haven’t been playing music enough for the sheer joy of it. Nearly all of my music career dreams have come true. I’ve played in every state in the lower 48, Canada, parts of Europe; I’ve learned how to play guitar on recording sessions; I’m good friends with some of the finest musicians on the planet; I’m earning a living from my craft. But where’s the self-expression within all of this? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of good music involved in what I do. But a lot of the music I do for pay is the result of somebody else’s expression, and at times, lacking a personal connection to me.
So last fall I finally decided it was time to follow ol’ Ds advice – “Pick a night, book a gig, and go make some music with your buddies.” I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m getting a little older and my priorities are changing, or because working as a freelance musician allows you to be a part of everything, without actually belonging to anything, but making some music for the soul on a regular basis with my friends is now a big priority for me.
While I’m making my living as a hired gun within the country side of this town, I have a new found love for my side project “Endless Boogie”, a band project that has no goal other than to simply provide me and my buddies with a night or two a month of self-expression through fun music. My good friends Fran Breen, drummer extraordinaire originally from Ireland (with the accent to prove it), and Mike Chapman, bad-ass bassist and member of Garth Brooks’ famed session band, the G-Men, were the first players I called for the gig. Even though they’ve both been here far longer than I, perhaps their love of just getting out there and playing is even more telling about working as a career freelance musician long-term.
A few months ago, when we did one of our first gigs at the Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, another player that new Mike walked in mid-set. He seemed surprised to see Mike on this “outside the microscope” gig and asked “What are YOU doing here?” Mike’s reply was honest and telling – “I’m playing.”
To me, this simple exchange says it all. What should have been obvious to the other fellow wasn’t. Not every gig has to be about money, prestige, or opportunity. While my buddies and I know the importance of a little music for the soul, it is easy to understand how a lifetime of working in the music industry can change that.
So what are you waiting for?
“Pick a night, book a gig, and go make some music with your buddies.”
Endless Boogie will be playing tonight, Tuesday, January 18 at the 12 South Tap Room, located next to Mafioso’s on 12th Avenue South, Nashville, TN. The show starts at 9 PM and we will be playing some of our favorites from Hendrix, Allmans, Santana, Muddy, and Miles, plus a few of our own. The tap room is one of the coolest “non-Nashville” bars in Nashville and has a great menu, friendly staff, a whole bunch of fancy beers on tap, and never a cover.
12 South Tap Room
2318 12th Ave South
Nashville, TN 37204
Ask any musician or songwriter that’s been in Nashville for a while if they’ve ever heard of, or been to the Fiddle and Steel and most will say yes, for sure. The Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, aptly dubbed “The Steel”, is located in historic Printer’s Alley off of Church Street and has been a staple of the Nashville nightclub scene since 1996. This homey, rustic club, often referred to as “the cheers” bar of Music City, is a place where musicians, artists, tourists, and locals gather to enjoy great music, see old friends, and make new ones. The Steel has also been a launching pad for some of the biggest artists in country music today, including Rascal Flatts, Eric Church, and many others.
To many musicians working within the Nashville music industry, the Steel is a special place, kind of a home away from home. The club’s owner, Alison Bradsher, takes great pride in creating a vibe that is comfortable and relevant to music industry types, while still appealing to locals and tourists. The club has a decent PA system and one of the best sounding stages in the city, making it a desirable room in which to perform. In line with the clubs friendly nature, guest musicians and singers sit in regularly with the house bands, a tradition that dates back to the clubs earliest years.
Over the years, many Nashville players and artists have established friendships and relationships at the Steel that have helped their careers, often leading to other gigs, touring and recording work, kind of a “gateway club” for some. So it’s no wonder that a couple of visits to the Steel by my wife and I during our “Nashville field trip” in 2002 helped prompt us to move here in the first place.
During my first year in Nashville we were pretty steady regulars at the Steel, hardly missing any of the Tuesday night jams hosted by Ronnie Pittman, and frequenting the club as often as we could. By September of that year I was gigging regularly with Ronnie on Mondays at the Second Fiddle on Broadway while playing in Kentucky on the weekends, and it was during this time that I first met Frank Taylor, a talented singer and songwriter who frequented the Steel quite a bit back then. A deep-rooted part of the club’s fabric, Frank was one of the very first singers to ever perform at the Steel, and whenever he was around; his presence only seemed to further enhance the charm of the place.
So when he asked me if I would be interested in playing guitar for him at his regular Saturday night gig there, of course I said yes. He’s a great singer and audiences related to him, the club was a great hang, and I was ready to take the next step in my Nashville evolution – pretty much a no-brainer. So I gave notice to my house gig in Kentucky and started playing every Saturday night at the Steel.
I’m not sure how this lineup came to be, but our band consisted of Frank on lead vocals and acoustic, Jack Gavin on drums, Brenda Clarke on bass and vocals, Steve Poole on keys, and me on electric guitar and vocals. It was a great lineup, we gelled well. Every Saturday night I would park in a nearby parking garage and wheel my gear down the old cobblestone street of Printers Alley, past the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar, and into the Steel. Every gig was an adventure, you never knew who might show up or what we might attempt, so I was genuinely excited to play.
Frank isn’t the typical country singer; he has a unique angelic quality to his voice – soothing, soulful, yet compelling and almost hypnotic. He sang songs by artists like Vince Gill, Delbert McClinton, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, CCR, all of course with his own spin. He could make you laugh too. At least once a night he would say something like “Kelly’s coming around with the tip jar, and this is how we make our living in Nashville. If you could just spare a few dollars, I’ll be able to pick up some Krystal burgers for my daughter on the way home. Please throw in some money so I can feed her, she hasn’t eaten all day.” This was especially funny to anyone who knew Frank, as he didn’t even have a daughter.
Frank genuinely enjoyed singing and entertaining and this feeling was infectious, usually spilling over into the other players, the crowd, and the staff. After playing a good long hour or so for our first set we would take a break, and then, during the second set, we would get up any players and singers that wanted to sit in. The guests could range from some young aspiring singer on vacation from out of town, to touring musicians on hiatus, to artists like Joe Nichols or Toby Keith. Even the occasional tourist who wanted to sing Margaritaville was welcome on our stage (although most of the tourists had no business performing anywhere other than in a karaoke setting).
So that’s how I spent my Saturday nights for quite a while. We never had a rehearsal and didn’t really hang out together outside of these gigs, but we were a unit. By the time a couple of months had passed, this band was tight! Sometimes one of us would have to sub out our gig for something more lucrative, and eventually a couple of the other players moved on, but for a while, this lineup held together. And while I wasn’t making a lot of money, I was having tons of fun, gaining experience, and making contacts. By the middle of the summer of 2003 I was offered a road gig that I couldn’t turn down, and had to give Frank my notice. Ironically, the road gig came about through a friendship I had made at the Steel.
Looking back, those seven or eight months I spent at the Steel with Frank and the gang were among some of the best times I’ve had in Nashville. We may have all been on our own separate paths, searching for the next big gig, publishing deal, or connection, but once a week our paths crossed and we came together to play music and forget about our life struggles. Time stood still at the Steel on those nights and it seemed like those moments would last forever. Since those days, everyone that was in that band has moved on to different gigs. Isn’t it funny how life’s circumstances bring people together for a common purpose only to eventually spread us apart again like ash strewn to the wind. Even though I haven’t seen or spoken to some of my comrades at the Steel since those days, I’ll always have great memories of those times. For me, that’s what a great night club experience, or life for that matter, is all about – sharing good music and fun times with good friends, even if only for a brief moment. Thanks Frankie!