The Nashville Experience

In 1995, I went to Nashville for the first time. Me a 60 year old man and not knowing a single soul there. Just thought I’d look around and maybe pitch my songs. Who knows? To my surprise I was immediately sitting in and jamming with the many friendly musicians on Broadway Avenue. A few days later I walked into the Legarde Twins Lounge and Theatre. A bar table of guys were having a lively discussion which reminded me of a bunch of farmers back home that have been in the bar for three or more hours. Only these good time fellowship guys were not talking about machinery or cattle, but rather the recording business, mentioning famous big name stars from time to time. One very vocal guy moved around a lot and after knocking over a few drinks and being a little obnoxious he found himself sitting next to me. Then the usual “Where are you from and what are you doing down here?” When I mentioned Canada, we were away. He was fascinated with moose hunting. When I asked him what he did, he said he was executive Vice President of a well-known major record label (which I won’t mention). Not believing him, I asked one of the Legardes. “Oh sure he is, he has this drinking problem. Hell of a nice guy though”. I then said to him “You wouldn’t listen to this tape of mine?” “Oh sure” I then went out and got my tape. A little while later he was sitting back at his old table. Got to say it was quite a thrill for an old hayseed from Northern Saskatchewan to watch him from a distance while he playfully turned my tape around in his hand, As he got back into the conversation again, “I don’t care what anybody says, Tanya Tucker is going to be around for a long time yet. And how do you think Dolly Parton got to where she is today, I knew her when she first came to this town”. That same time one of the very friendly Legarde Twins (Apologies for not remembering their first names) struck up a conversation with me. He then tore of a scrap of paper and almost threw it at me. “Here, write your name, and phone number down and maybe we will need a fiddle player sometime”. “Oh sure,” I thought. Then a conversation with a single act singer playing in the lounge who invited me to join him on stage tomorrow night at 6 o’clock. The next evening I came in all spiffed up and carrying my fiddle. I waited for an hour and a half but he never showed up.(a common occurrence in Nashville). So thought I would just take my fiddle and quietly slip back out. Just then one of the Legardes came running in, all dressed in his rhinestone suit, shouting, with a piece of paper in his hand.“Is this guy, this fiddle player from Canada here? This Ray Meyers?” “Over here”.”You Wouldnt have your fid…? Do you think you would be good enough to play on our show? “Can you play Orange Blossom Special?” Our lady fiddle player didn’t show up and show time is just a half hour away. He almost shoved me into his dressing room, and threw a few shirts at me. “Here you should really have on a more modern shirt,” He gave me some quick instructions. “When I say so & so then you say so & so, and then we will play this and that. And when I slip behind the curtain, that is your cue to start playing Orange Blossom Special. Do you think you got that?” “Oh sure,”A short time later, There was a drum roll and the curtain opened. After the first song, the steel player and myself communicated perfectly, using familiar sign gestures. I could not do anything wrong as the twins went through their show routine. Jumping off and on the stage and in the crowd and cracking bull whips (pretty close to my head too). One of them went behind a curtain and would periodically give me the thumbs up sign and then the “O” hand sign when I took a fiddle part. After the show, one of the guys came to me and before saying anything else, said, “Why don’t you move to Nashville, we’ll hire you”. Not every day was like this in Nashville though… not by a long shot. That first visit in 1995 lasted three weeks, then another three weeks in 1997, and then my last time, a five-week stay in 1999. Each time at leaving Nashville, I swore it would be my last visit, and many times it would only dawn on me after I’d be home for a while that Nashville was like going to school. The value of the many things you see and hear might only be appreciated at a much later time. It might be the real hot five piece band that is on stage at a small bar on Broadway Avenue and only one or two people sitting in the place and tourists streaming down the sidewalks, past the open doors and nobody going in and some not as much as turning their heads to see who is playing… Then another time a terrible singer and songwriter on stage, and the bar full of people, and girls on the verge of screaming. Then there was the Japanese bluegrass band who understood very little English, who sang about the “Hills of Kentucky” and “Mule Skinner Blues” but didn’t have a clue what the words meant in the songs. Then listening to the industry peoples comments. It was becoming more apparent to me, that there might really not be such a thing as good or poor music,in a sense. Just a lot of varied opinions. As one old musician told me, “In this business there are no experts.” My last visit was in 1999 and lasted five weeks. It was sweltering heat with no rain. Something started dawning on me, as my arthritic shoulder started acting up… maybe this 64 year old geezer is getting too old to pack equipment down several blocks in 100 degree heat and then play all afternoon and half the night. The Nashville experience had been terrific though, I came away with a new sense of appreciation of how we done things back home. My self-esteem climbed a way up and sometimes I almost felt as though I owned a small piece of the worlds biggest music get together grounds. As I picked up dirty cups after a jam or gave a new comer some advice on where to go and where not to go.The little disciplinary lessons I’ve learned never hurt either. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how good you think you are, you will soon get you’re a.. whipped in Nashville. I’ve met a few musicians and singers over the years that could greatly benefit from this friendly disciplinary whipping. My last day in the much changing Nashville. Going to take one last look around on Broadway Avenue. Then a good rain (finally.) I then took my video camera and decided to take one last walk through the streets of another part of town. the old “music row” avenue. A beautiful, almost park like place, with abandoned closed up nice old buildings where just a few years ago there were benches and meeting places and young hopefuls singing all over. Now on this late Saturday evening the only singing is the birds chirping in the trees after the nice rain. I silently thanked the big guy in the sky for allowing me to be just a little part of this great sacred music machine gathering ground, even if for just a little while. Getting dark now and I’m just filling up my film in front of the Shoney’s Inn. All my times in Nashville and not once did I have a drink of booze or a chew of tobacco. Being my last few minutes before going to bed and planning on being on the road before daybreak and feeling a little sentimental, I took a big chew of Redman’s Chewing Tobacco to sort of mark the occasion. Just then a display of fireworks started up in the distance, a perfect finale for a great event in my life.