Forty five years ago

Published 2:56 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Forty-five years ago was 1974. In September of that year, I was not quite 25 years old, but had worked for two years in Athens, Ga. My Bachelor of Arts degree was in Journalism and I had been working at the Georgia Public Television station in Athens.

More importantly, I had been learning to play a guitar, with my heart set upon moving to Music City, USA, aka Nashville, Tennessee. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings would not collaborate on Luckenbach Texas for another three years, but they were country music “outlaws” and I thought, “If they can do it, so can I.”

My mode of transportation was a Volkswagen Bug. It might have been the most unpredictable way of getting from one place to another that I have ever had. Its starter wouldn’t work and, with its standard transmission, I had become very adept at pushing it off. The key to that? Always park on a hill with the front of the bug heading downhill!

To quote an Otis Redding line from Dock of the Bay, “I left my home in Georgia.” Otis was headed for the ‘Frisco Bay, but, me, I was headed for Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville.

I wasn’t in a hurry, so I spent the first night on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, except I called it “Watch-out” Mountain. “Watch-out, Nashville, here I come.” I-24 was the Interstate from Chattanooga to Nashville and the only problem for my VW was getting over Monteagle Mountain, but she coughed and sputtered and we endured.

It’s unusual to call a city that I had never visited “home,” but, in a way, when I saw the city limits sign of Nashville, I thought, “I’m home.” Sounds, funny, but that’s what I thought. Maybe I had been thinking about Nashville for so long, that I had talked myself into thinking that was where I was supposed to be.

In the song Rhinestone Cowboy, there is the line, “I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway.” Broadway is the main street of Nashville and when I saw the exit to Broadway, I took it. I crossed a bridge and the first person I saw was a young man, like me, with a guitar case slung over his shoulder. Yep, I’m right at home!

In the distance, just off Broadway, I saw the mother church of country music, the Ryman Auditorium. Like a stately tabernacle it stood. Out the backdoor of the Ryman was a walkway that led to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. I parked my VW (on a hill, of course) and walked into Tootsie’s.

On the country music albums I had been listening to, the references to Tootsie’s were many and I walked in and went to the bar. I don’t know if it was Tootsie or her sister, but a lady with big hair was behind the bar. I ordered a tall Budweiser. I wanted to be able to tell everyone, “The first place I went in Nashville was Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.”

The walls were decorated with old album covers of country stars and most of them had written their names on the walls. I looked for a few names I would recognize, but most were Jimmies and Joes. There was a greasy, Wurlitzer juke box playing and I added a quarter to it. I think I played a David Allen Coe song.

Across Broadway from Tootsie’s was the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and someone was playing their music in front. I listened a little before getting back in my car and heading towards Music Row to find a boarding house.

It was September, the breeze was cool, and the leaves were beginning to turn. That was forty-five years ago. Has it really been that long?