Recollections of a Journey Through the Deep South

copyright 1995 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 23 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - Nov '95

When I first started plans for a musical safari through darkest America I consulted several sources for information regarding my various and sundry destinations. I had begun my journey at the SxSW convention in Austin, continuing on to New Orleans en route to Memphis. The last stop on the itinerary was to be Nashville. I had been reading Rick Dennis' "Island Waves" column, in "Country Waves" magazine. His article mentioned a Gabriola C&W artist, Eric Johnson who had recently returned from Nashville. I acquired Eric's number and called him up to get the low-down. He suggested a plan of attack which I followed and it worked out quite nicely. At his suggestion I pre-booked a room at the "Days Inn Vanderbilt" just off of music row. I then sent for a copy of the "Nashville Scene" a weekly arts and events publication. From talking to Eric and reading the "Scene" I basically knew what I was in for. Subscriptions are available for $26 U.S. from "The Nashville Scene", 301 Broadway, Nashville, TN. 37201-2005 (phone: 615-244-7989 fax: 244-8578). "Riff" magazine is a smaller format publication from the same address for $12 U.S. and it includes articles on the underground music scene as well as club info and music classifieds. I'd go for this one myself.

From my central location at the Days Inn Vanderbilt I managed to get a great deal of music business and sightseeing done. My first duty was to get cassette copies of the demo I had recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis made up. I already had my promo and the "Nothing More Better" cassette album in hand.

I did the stroll on music row, following up a contact at "Bug Music", a major publishing house who handle John Hiatt and K.D. Lang and 100s more. I also made an appointment to talk with a rep at BMI and got some more helpful information. I visited RCA Studio and had a tour of the facility used by all the greats over the years including Elvis, Chet, Waylon and Dolly, etc... Next was the Country Music Hall of Fame. This museum gives an idea how the music industry has evolved over the years from humble hillbilly beginnings to the muli-platinum 90s. Just across the street from the hall is a row of gift shops and record stores bearing the names of some of the stars including Barbara Mandrell, George Strait, Hank Williams Jr. and the late Ernest Tubb among others.

I grabbed some lunch in a cafeteria just off the row and was fascinated to see the writers come in in their suits to eat and mingle. The big thing is co-writing so everybody is exchanging business cards. Writers are an anonymous group for the most part so unless you're hip you don't know who is who but it is a very monied crowd at the top. There is a corporate attitude to the business that some singer/songwriters may not care for but its the industry standard so be aware.

Later in the day I prepared myself for the performance aspect of the Nashville experience which is the open mike show. There are 100 listings for clubs in the "Scene". Many of them feature writer's shows. You can get a copy of the listings and a map and see how many you can take in over one night or you can find one or two that are nearby and settle in for the evening. The Days Inn Vanderbilt has two clubs, the Listening Room and the Back Bar. I opted to stay put in the building and was glad I did. For one thing, the clubs here are spread out all over the place. It's a sprawling city around the size of Vancouver so one club might be down town and the next could be 20 miles away on the outskirts. Even with a car you'd still lose time.

I was lucky. I signed up early for the evening session. It was not very busy at first and soon it was my turn to do my three songs. Eventually the host announced the last player and finished the show with a few of his own tunes. He suggested that we keep our seats and things started picking up. A buffet was set up and soon there were about 90 new faces. The Nashville publishers network writers came in and set up "In the Round" and a whole new session was underway. Four guitarists and a keyboardist (Barry Mann) were on stage performing with a few special guests. This surprise birthday party was for a writer who arrived in time to be presented with a platinum record by the mayor of the city. Some truly fine music was performed there that night by the cream of the city's writers. As the party wound down I slipped across the lobby and signed in for the alternative songwriters open mike session and managed to get in a set there as well. In Nashville alternative is anything that isn't country cross-over. Jazz, blues, rock or whatever. It was a great way to end the night and I didn't even have to be in the rain.

The next day I went back downtown to do the tour at the Ryman. The guide got us on the stage describing the history of the place and got us all to sing happy birthday to one of the tour. He said,"Now you can say you've performed on stage at the Ryman". Around the corner I had a coffee in Tootsie's and listened to an oldtimer doing some fine Travis picking before heading down the block to check out the pawn shops and Grumann's guitars. Stacks of awe$ome axe$.

I crossed the street on my way back and passed by a couple hard luck bars with some real down and outers to contrast the previous night. I did another round on music row in the rain before catching a cab to the airport and home to Vancouver Island. I didn't see any big stars in Nashville. They are mostly touring or have moved their operations to Branson, Missouri. You would see them at Opryland which I didn't bother with after seeing the Ryman Auditorium. Nashville continues to be the tin pan alley of the country music industry and is worth a look at if you are serious about writing or are just a fan of the genre. It even has an underground scene with raves, poetry clubs and alternative lifestyles in spite of being the buckle of the Bible belt. Shucks, howdy!

Next Month: Attention progressive rock fans! The 3rd annual "Progrest" will be held November 11/12/13 at the Los Angeles Variety Arts Theater. This year's festival will feature seven bands performing on Saturday and Sunday with a convention trade show for collectors and dealers of prog on Monday. Groups performing this year include a Female Japanese Trio, "Ars Nova"; a Symphonic, Folky Norwegian 6 Piece, "White Willow"; an intense Italian Septet featuring a Cellist, "Deux Ex Machina"; a Hungarian super group, "Solaris"; a new American group, "Spock's Beard", with their debut release on Synphonic Records: Sweden's groundbreaking prog band "Landberk"; and closing the show, the prolific U.K.ensemble, "Pendragon" who have released 8 or 9 prog albums over the past 15 years. Boot up the New Mellotron CD-Rom, dust off the dungeons and dragons board, throw your runestones, polish your stalactites and call up your favorite troll, its time to get progressive! The next article will review last years event and releases from this years.

Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 8 albums to date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
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