About this time of year

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2017

About this time of the year, I remember my first trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Why about this time of the year? It was September, 1974.

 I was 25 years old had made my decision to go to Nashville and stake my claim as the next Merle Haggard. Is that a ridiculous claim or not? What has reality got to do with the dreams of a 25 year old guitar player?

  I had made my plans known to my parents and I don’t know why, but they were supportive. I’m thankful they never told me “You’re crazy!” They may have thought it, but they didn’t say it.

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  I drove a Volkswagen back then and had about as much confidence in it getting me from here to there as I would have in congress passing a bill that would be good for the American people. The starter didn’t work so anywhere I stopped had to be on a hill so I could easily push it off.

  It wasn’t hard to put everything I owned in that Volkswagen. My most valuable assets were my Guild D-45 guitar and the stars in my eyes. I probably didn’t have much over a couple hundred dollars in my pocket.

  The interstate was available somewhere around Cordele and, once on it, I headed through Atlanta and on to Chattanooga where I would spend the night. I stayed in a motel on Lookout Mountain, but got a kick out of calling it “Watchout” Mountain.

 A different interstate was the one to Nashville. I had to go over Monteagle Mountain and my Volkswagen was “Pop, Pop, Popping” like an old John Deere tractor as it struggled to get over the mountain. But we did, me and that Volkswagen.

   As I drove into Nashville, I exited onto the street called Broadway. The song Rhinestone Cowboy references “every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway.” That song, made popular by the late, great Glen Campbell, was not recorded until 1975, but the sidewalks were dirty when I saw them in 1974. I didn’t care.

  I had already planned my first stop. I had listened over and over to a Tom T. Hall song that sung about Willie, Waylon, Kristofferson, and many more country music outlaws. One of the lines had caught my fancy. “They’re down at Tootsies eatin’ chili.” I had promised myself the first place I would stop would be at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. I did.

 Anyone who’s been to Nashville lately wouldn’t recognize the downtown area I encountered in 1974. Billions of dollars have rebuilt that part of town, but back then it was pretty dirty and worn out.

  But not to me. I saw Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop across the street and two or three other dives where some guitar player was holding court and singing his latest “never-heard” song. I smiled as I entered Tootsies.

  It was juke joint with hardly anyone in it. I don’t know who the lady was behind the bar. It could’ve been Tootsie for all I knew, but I sat on the bar stool and placed my order. I didn’t ask for chili.

 A juke box was in the front and I walked over to put a quarter in and played three songs. The walls were decorated with old LP album covers and people had written their names all over the albums. I saw Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, but mostly regular names from all around the country. A funny thought ran through my head. “People’s names like monkey’s faces always seen in public places.”

About this time of the year I think of 1974. It was a good year.