Last week, Brian and I went to Nashville for the Guy Clark memorial and celebration at the Ryman. It was an important trip for us. Brian and I met while working This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark – Brian wrote the liner notes and I worked the record to radio – which went #1 on the Americana chart, won AMA’s Album of the Year and was nominated for a Grammy and did amazing things for each of our own careers. So, we went to celebrate Guy’s life.
Now, in Nashville, at the end of Music Row, there’s a motel that for the longest time was infamously known as the “Hall of Shame.” At the time, the Country Music Hall of Fame was located on Demonbruen on the other side of the highway and the motel w as officially named, The Hall of Fame Motor Inn, but it was in constant disrepair. The elevators broke down, the radiator never worked, and there was that unusual smell. It’s where all the songwriters would stay (if they couldn’t afford to stay at the Shoney’s Motel across the street).
One time, Dad was getting into the elevator at the same time as John Hartford (who wrote “Gentle on my Mind”) and a blue-haired old lady. Dad and Hartford nodded their hellos. Naturally, the elevator broke down on its struggle to climb the three stories. Hartford reached for the box where the emergency phone was supposed to be, but found only two wires poking out. He put one to his ear and the other to his mouth and jokingly said, “Hello? Hello?” The entire time, the bluehair was staring at him hard. He was trying not to let it bother him. Finally, she asked, “Are you John Hartford?” “Yes, Ma’am, I am,” he responded shyly. There was a pause. “Well, you sure do look like him!!” she snapped.
The Guy Clark celebration was incredible. Vince Gill hosted, Rodney and Emmylou and Steve Earle and Jack Ingram and many more performed Guy Clark songs – not a bad one in the bunch. Verlon Thompson had everyone in tears – especially with his beautiful version of Guy’s “The Cape.” I went to bed that night thinking it couldn’t get better than that.
I was wrong.
The next morning I awake with Dad’s B-25 guitar on the edge of my bed and know it’s going to be a pretty emotional day. I’m going to the Hall of Fame to donate a few boot boxes full of Dad’s memories and memorabilia for an exhibit that will go up in the spring of 2018. The Country Music Hall of Fame! The second most visited Hall of Fame in the world. I have the red bib-front shirt – his favorite – that he wore in The Kent and Jenni Finlay show, handwritten lyrics to “The Songwriter,” those custom made Jones boots (tan bottoms and green tops he got to match the colors of his custom made Mercury Cougar in 1977), the original painting Sean Tracey did for our book, one of the original Texas Hatters hats Manny Gammage made especially for Dad and the Martin B-25. (Dad would go religiously to Heart of Texas Music on South Lamar in Austin and covet this beautiful old Martin, playing it for hours. One day, it was gone. “What happened to my guitar?” he asked Ray Hennig. “Oh, someone came in and bought it out from under you,” he said. Dad was so sad. Then Christmas morning comes around and Mom and us kids present it to him. My mother had scrapped together all of the money she could to buy it and he was so thrilled. He wrote so many songs on that guitar. And now it was going to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Like I said, a pretty emotional day.
First things first, though. We meet with Guy’s sisters for breakfast. Caro and Jan Clark are halfway through their first mimosa when we arrive. They are funny and snarky and talkative and we went over every detail of the show the night before – Jack Ingram and Steve Earle doing “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train,” Jerry Jeff Walker playing “L.A. Freeway,” all the musicians who gathered to close the show with “Old Friends.” Caro kissed Bobby Bare flat on the mouth backstage! It was a blast, and I wished we could’ve stayed all day, but we had business to take care of.
We get to the Hall of Fame, parking in the underground parking lot, and take a secret elevator up to a long, blank hallway, so quiet and mysterious. The wall opens up into a huge cavity filled with other piles of history: Jim Lauderdale’s suit. A 1950’s exhibit ready to go or going back into retirement. Guitars and hats and starch-stiff dresses. I want to poke through all of it. Mary Gauthier takes a break from writing her new songwriting book to come join us. Everyone plays the guitar one last time. She and Peter Cooper, Brian and I take a mini-tour of the Hall of Fame and it’s incredible. All I could think was I wish Dad could be here.
Peter shows us where the room where the exhibit will be and I get a little weepy. At the end of the tour, there is a large mosaic of vinyl record covers, some old, some new. I joke and point out the ones I’ve worked: Drive-By Trucker’s The Big To-Do; Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit, etc. On the edge is Bobby Bare’s Lullabys, Legends and Lies. This is the record Dad would play over and over and over again when I was a child. We didn’t just get to enjoy it, we had to STUDY it. Dad considered Bare to be the greatest ear in the world. He knew how to pick a song, covering everything from Shel Silverstein to Billy Joe Shaver to Harlan Howard. And everything was spot on. I tell Mary this as we leave.
We have lunch down the street at a wonderful Italian place and run into Jack Ingram on the street. Only in Nashville, I think. We check into a dive motel (I didn’t realize we were going to be in Nashville the extra day when I originally booked the rooms) and I tell Brian I’m going to crash for 20 minutes. We had an appointment at City Winery at 3:30 to do the walk-thru for our official pre-award show happy hour during AMA. When I awake 20 minutes later, I have 6 text messages and 4 voicemails from Mary Gauthier. Oh Crap, I thought, thinking she was stuck in a wall somewhere in the Hall of Fame. I check the message: “Headed over to Bobby’s. Wanna come? I can pick u up.” (Bobby Bare had just recorded a demo of her incredible, “I Drink” and wanted her to hear it.)
I jump up and run to bang on Brian’s door. “You wanna go to Bobby Bare’s house?” I ask but I mean it as a statement. We rush to City Winery, look around quickly and tell them, “Yes, yes, this will do just fine,” and promise to return later for Steve Poltz’ show.
We jump in Mary’s car and head to Hendersonville. It takes us about 20 minutes, but we’re both talking a mile a minute so the trip goes by in a flash. We revisit our trip to the HOF that morning. I tell Mary that I can just hear Dad say, “Well, I always knew I could get into the Hall of Shame, but this is something else! Mighty fine!” I wish I could call him. He would be so excited – would want to know every detail. Would want me to pitch Bobby “Be Nice to ‘Em Son,” LOL. I text James McMurtry. James has in his possession the coveted radio promo of Lullabys, Legends and Lies. In his response, he reminds me of that. Yeah, yeah, I think, jealously.
We arrive at Bobby Bare’s house and it’s not at all what I expected: Very suburban. Very nice. Very Country-Club. They have the Bed Bath and Beyond “B” welcome mat at the front door. His wife, Jeannie, opens the door. She is a ball of fire, 75 years old and fussing around proud and pointing out pictures and plaques that line the walls. She points to the plaque he received when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, “We had to send it back when we first got it – his head came clear off!” She leads us into the kitchen to meet Bobby. I’m standing in Bobby Bare’s kitchen. I clamp my hands to my sides. “Do not bang on the pots and pans. Do not bang on the pots and pans” I repeat to myself, his “Singin’ In The Kitchen” ringing in my head. “HERE WE GO!”
“When did I meet your Dad?” he asks slowly. Wow, I have no idea. Dad would have been so amazed and proud that Bobby would even remember, I’m stunned. I tell him that Dad used to come up to Nashville regularly in the 70’s and 80’s with Darrell Staedtler, that he and Todd Snider were good friends…and his face lights up. He’s figured it out. “I met him 10 years ago at Todd’s birthday party.” We grin at each other.
A flock of grandchildren shyly slide in. He pulls one onto his lap, “This one is the prettiest,” he announces, as she bashfully looks down at her feet “….with the Bare features,” he explains, as the others look on. He pats her head and she slips off and away.
“Let’s go to my office and listen to some music,” he says. The “office” is the two-car garage. He has a beat up old metal army desk covered in CDs in front of about 22 fishing rods, a mounted wide-mouth bass he probably caught, and large ashtrays filled with cigar butts. There’s a set of heavy lawn furniture that we haul over to the desk to have a better listen. He pops open the little Sony boombox CD player and puts in the first one:
“He’d get home at 5:30
Fix his drink, sit down in his chair
Pick a fight with Mama
Complain about us kids getting in his hair”
It’s perfect. “I Drink” in that stunning Bobby Bare style. Mary goes back and forth from jumping up with an enthusiastic “YES!!” to sitting back holding back the tears. I’m watching Bobby. There is something so familiar about his mannerisms and I realize they resemble how Dad used to be. Bobby Bare is 81 years old. He talks very slow, gesturing lazily with his hand, elbow fixed to the table. Every once in a while, he gets stuck on a thought, and we wait until he gets it out. It’s something I hadn’t experienced in a while and I got pretty weepy watching. I’m emotional now as I write this.
He searches the desk for the next disc. “This one is kinda scratched up” he says as he wipes it vigorously on his shoulder. The music begins and we hear the first lines of “Mercy Now.” “Oh my God!” Mary says, realizing Bare has cut two of her songs for his next record. Before we had to go, he wants us to hear a couple more. “I just found this guy, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him, but I think he’s a genius. Leonard Cohen.” We smile as he puts on his version of “Tower of Song.”
“Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play…”
“You know, “ Bare says slowly, “I bet he got a lot of pussy when he was young.”
“Still does,” Mary says, laughing.
The last song we hear is one of Bobby’s originals. It’s called something like “You Think You Want to be a Songwriter Like Me, But You Don’t” – a warning to the new hopefuls moving to Nashville.
“They should play that at the airport,” I say. Bobby Bare’s face lights up and he laughs that Bobby Bare laugh. Holy crap, I made Bobby Bare laugh! It sounds just like on the records!
As we’re leaving, I give him a hug.
We scramble back to real life. We have to meet Mando Saenz at the 5 Spot to get him to sign a guitar we are giving to Adam Carroll (containing autographs by all the performers on the tribute record we just completed, Highway Prayer). Our friend from Texas, Jamie Lin Wilson, is playing when we walk in. Dad always said she has the most incredible voice. She gets off the stage and comes over and I can’t help myself,
“I MET BOBBY BARE!!!”
“OH MY GOD!!” she shrieks. We both jump up and down like school kids.
We go back to City Winery and Steve Poltz is deep into his show, but we have no time to bask in the day. Brian gets a text asking for a press release about the Hall of Fame exhibit. Also, we need a quote from James McMurtry for the Rolling Stone premiere of his song for our Adam tribute. There is still much work to be done… But it can wait another 10 minutes. The final song Steve plays is Hartford’s “Gentle on my Mind.”
“you’re movin’ on the back roads
by the rivers of my memory
and for hours you’re just gentle on my mind”
Perfect, I think. Just perfect.
Old Friends – Guy Clark
Gentle on My Mind – Glen Campbell
Be Nice to Em Son – Kent Finlay
Nothin’ To Fix – Jack Ingram
Lullabys, Legends, and Lies – Bobby Bare
Singing in the Kitchen – Bobby Bare
I Drink – Mary Gauthier
Mercy Now – Mary Gauthier
Tower of Song – Leonard Cohen
Just Like Heartache – Jamie Lin Wilson
When I Come Around – Mando Saenz
Highway Prayer – Adam Carroll
I Want All My Friends to Be Happy – Steve Poltz