Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Friday Afternoon in Nashville, 2007/12/21


The Friday before Christmas, I treated myself to an afternoon in Nashville, TN. Not JUST Nashville, but Broadway St. Nashville! Home of the Honky Tonks. Tootsie's, Legends Corner, Bluegrass Inn, Station Inn, Ernest Tubbs Record Store and Robert's Western World. Robert's sounds like a Tack Shop as much as a Honky Tonk, but its the real deal. However, you can also buy a pair of cowboy boots there.

Thursday Night in West Memphis, I did some research on the web. Roberts has no cover and the burgers are cheap; works for me. I parked at the TA Truckstop right next to LP Field across the river from downtown. I filled up so I could get a free shower and clean up. Yellow Cab sent a hack in around front by the resturant.

The Cab Driver was of western Middle Eastern extract. Armenian or Lebanese; maybe. We talked shop; I asked him how business was and told him that I drove for Yellow Cab in Florida fifteen or so years ago. He asks me whether I like driving a truck better than driving a cab. I explain that I've worked several different jobs since then. It is nice to be in the same city all the time and be home at night, I tell him. He agrees.

We wind through Nashville after crossing the bridge. There is a Double Tree Hotel and the funky looking AT&T building with double spires. We go by Khan's Mongolian Grill and a Greek place. Greek sounds good. Anything sounds good, I've been starving myself in anticipation of a Honky Tonk Cheeseburger. Nashville is on a knoll. We go up toward the rise and then turn left and head downhill. There's the Ryman! And we've arrived at Lower Broadway. It is about 4:30 in the afternoon so all the neon is lost on me.

Stepping out of the cab, I am assaulted by music from three directions. Not super loud, like South Beach or Daytona, but definitely right at me. I walk into Robert's Western World. On Lower Broadway, the band or singer/songwriter, is always out front with their back to the windows. Robert's is basically just a storefront bar. The band is on the left just inside the door. On the right, the wall is full of framed photos of Nashville's finest musical craftsmen. On the left, shelves full of boots. There are benches on the side and a few round tables up near the band. The benches aren't really boothes but look almost like couches, but more like school bus seats. The bar is on the right with utilitarian but comfortable stools. There are more benches back toward the back. At the back, the restrooms are on the left and stairs to the right go to an upper bar that isn't open on a Holiday Friday Night. I sit down and order a PBR and a menu.

The waitress is a heavy set goth; I think named Rayna, but I didn't really catch her name over the band. She is very sweet. She has a Topless Mermaid tattooed on her left shoulder and a Sailor-Jerry-esque Cowboy Girl on the right. There is an Irish Claddagh on her chest and something on her lower back but I don't want to stare. I ask her for a cheeseburger with onion rings and another PBR. "My two beers for the month," I tell her. It's hard to be a drinker AND a truck driver, I explain.

The cook is named Spider. He has 70's short hair; like the blond Duke boy. Is that Bo or Luke? I couldn't keep track of them and I loved that show. I would just have them straight and Daisy would come on screen and I would forget what I needed to know about the boys. Spider has a grey goatee and a tattoo on his neck. It might be a spider. His neck tattoo is old. I didn't think they were that popular until recently. Spider makes a mean cheeseburger!

I ask Rayna and Spider if Gruhn Guitars is a guitar shop. They tell me it is and think the store is open until about 6:00. Spider tells me there are better places to go that are cheaper. Gruhn's is on the strip and a bit touristy. When I tell him I just need a new capo and I came to town in a Semi; to Lower Broadway in a cab, he thinks Gruhn's will work just fine.

Robert's Western World has music 6 days a week from 11:00 am to 3:00 am; yeah 16 hours a day. I had checked out the band schedule on the web Thursday night. However, with the holidays nearby, I really lucked out. Heath Haynes has the afternoon gig at Roberts. Most of his band, Heath Haynes and the Cryin' Shames, wanted to be home for the holidays, so Heath recruited some friends who have their own bands for today. Heath played the acoustic guitar and sang. He had a great stand up slappin' bass player whose name was so normal I don't recall it. The electric guitar player was Chris Cerrillo(sp?). And halfway through they were joined by a drummer. Heath introduced him as a lifetime friend. While I was trying to figure out if that meant "life partner" or anthing, I missed his name too.

Heath Haynes is great. He can sing anything with the help of an enormous vocal range. He sang as Elvis and Johnny Cash and then sang Buck Owens and some high and lonesome bluegrassy stuff without missing a beat. His guitar chops are very strong as well. While he looks like Michael Moore just out of bed, he was rockin'.

Chris Cerillo is just a fantastic country lead and fill guitar player. He looked for all the world like Paul Simon in a pompadour and a western shirt. His cheeks pulled in and lips pursed when he concentrated exactly like Simon's; especially in the "If You'll Be My Bodyguard" video when Paul was trying not to laugh at Chevy Chase. Cerillo played lightning fast leads and subtle fills. He had a vintage yellow Telecaster with the black sparkle pickguard and faceplate. At one point, I thought he had kicked on a synthesizer. He was playing notes with no attack. They just kind of bled into the melody like a Moog. Looking closer, I realize that the pinky of his pick hand was working the volume knogb on his guitar. He was creating the sound all himself. This is more amazing than you non-guitarists think. He was having to strike a note early for the delay in working the volume knob from zero back up. So as he was playing a melody, with the rest of the band going, he was picking on one beat and the melody was on another. I was freaked out. There were all kinds of Nashville Cat telecaster tricks; little chimy picks with his fingernails; bowing the whole guitar rather than the strings. He had a huge vocabulary.

Close to 6:00, I tipped the band and headed down the block to Gruhn's. Of course, I didn't just get out of there with a new capo. I bought a new tuner as well [thanks, GG and Grandad]. I've been wanting one for a long time. It tells me when my strings are in tune by the frequency of the vibration rather than the sound. It clips to the neck and "feels" the strings. The capo is one of the low profile spring jobs. I've needed one of those for a long time. I've still been using an elastic one that must be 25 years old. It was all stretched out.

On the way to Gruhn's, on the sidewalk on Broadway, there was a homeless looking guy with a nearly new Gibson Acoustic. He was playing some raw blues. His dog wore a leather jacket. Not like a dog wears a dog jacket. This dog, a Weirmaraner or so, was sitting perfectly still with a leather jacket around it shoulders and it's front legs in the sleeves. Further down the block, two guys who looked like they just left an office were each playing and sang together. I walked down past the Cotton Eyed Joe tshirt and souvenir store; crossed the street and went by an abandoned looking irish pub and along past Ernest Tubbs Record Shop. I crossed over to Legends Corner. There is a great big guitar out on the street with Willie, Patsy, Buck, Johnny, George, Waylan and a host of other Golden Era Country Stars painted on it.

I walked around a little and then went right back into Robert's Western World. After a couple more beers, I called Yellow Cab from the hall by the bathrooms where it was a little quiet. They never answered! I went out on the street and walked in the direction of the Truckstop, assuming I would find a cab along the way. I walked up and over the hill through downtown. I saw one Taxi; occupied. I was only wearing a polo shirt and jeans because the afternoon was warmish. Now after dark, with short sleeves and bald head, it was cold! I ended up walking all the way back. It was a mile and a half or two miles. The last bit was over the river and down into the neighborhood where the truckstop is. That last quarter mile was probably not the best place to be alone after dark. I have found, however, if you walk briskly [it was cold too, remember] like you know where you are headed, most people won't bother you. I went down a staircase off the bridge into an empty lot, under an overpass and across a couple parking lots to the truck. It hadn't been running so I had to warm it up. I turned both heaters to BROIL and sat there with my jacket on for a while. What a great afternoon!

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