MAKING NASHVILLE HOME

Now that I’d arrived in Nashville, I needed to find a place to live. Jackie was staying until Thursday before she caught a flight back to Hazleton and I wanted to be in a place by the time she left. 

We broke out the local newspaper, the Tennessean, and started looking for apartments. It quickly became clear that my $700 was not going to get me very far. It certainly was not going to be enough to find a place near work – in Belmont, Green Hills, Hillsboro Village.

A​fter looking around for a while, I found a place off of Whitebridge Road, creatively named Whitebridge Apartments, across the street from its sister complex, Whitebridge Terrace. Like I said, creative.

My complex was made up of several 2 story buildings. Each one holding 40, or so, one-bedroom apartments. Nothing fancy, but then again I wasn’t looking for fancy. 

Rent was $375 a month. The first month’s rent, plus a $100 security deposit, about depleted my already limited funds and I still needed to hook up the water, electric, and cable. My memory is a little hazy, it has been 30 years since, but Jackie might have helped me out a little with those. She might have also stocked the place with groceries before she left. Oh… and maybe helped me secure a bed.

Yea… I know… I wasn’t a drummer… but I was sure acting like one. I imagine she figured she was making an investment. If so, it wasn’t one that paid off well. 

I haven’t seen her in over 25 years, but if I ever do, I probably owe her a big apology and, a thank you, as well. Odds are, that if it wasn’t for her money sense, I’d have had to go home and none of what you’re reading would have ever transpired.

I​ was thrilled with my new place. It was far enough out that I could afford it, but not so far that I felt like I was in the suburbs. Funny, at that time I could get from my house to the office on Music Row in 15 minutes. Traffic was not a problem in Nashville. Wish I could say that today. 

W​hat I didn’t know when I moved into my apartment was that the county of Dickson – located about 30 minutes south of Nashville – had a practice of setting up juvenile offenders in a apartment in Nashville when they aged out of the program at age 19. One of those apartments just happened to be the one adjacent to my new residence. 

I​n all fairness, my new neighbors may have been budding young criminals, but they also kept life from ever becoming too dull, and at their core, they were decent kids. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t a few times that I had to warn them to keep their eyes off of my car stereo – no stealing from neighbors was the established rule – but those warnings were far and between and delivered more out of humor than concern. Being a couple years older, but not by so much that I fell into the adult category, I kind of assumed more of big brother role for an ever-evolving cast of misfits. 

Over the year I lived there we discovered Makers Mark together while hanging outside listening to music. I helped fill out job applications, dispensed relationship counseling, aided in the locating of bonding companies when needed, delivered medical advice when one of the girls’ infant got sick – get that child to the doctor. Through my entire time there I am not sure that I ever knew how many people officially lived in that apartment.

F​or their part, they helped me acclimate to Nashville. They mitigated my home sickness by including me in their lives. Their stories and antics were better than anything ever supplied by the TV. They also gave me insight into a cultural phenomenom that I never knew existed.

I​n the 80’s, in Nashville, apparently a young man could get a girlfriend without obtaining a job. That blew my mind, but among my neighbors and their friends, it was a common practice.

What I was accustomed to was the polar opposite. If you didn’t have a job and you asked a girl out, her likely response would be, “You want me to go where with you? When? And you have no job? Absolutely not.”

T​his was not the case with my new neighbors. Among the guys in their circle, the girlfriends definitely outnumbered the jobs. 

What blew my mind, even more, was that these girlfriends were both pretty and appeared intelligent. I know that these days you are not supposed to make those kinds of assessments, but this was 1989 and in my eyes, these were women that could have their pick of men and had inexplicably chosen to settle for ones that were unemployed. 

N​ow when I say unemployed, I’m not talking between jobs and out hunting for work. I’m saying comfortably unemployed with no urge to punch a clock anytime soon. I’m talking kiss an angel good morning and then head back to bed without an ounce of remorse while she leaves for her job and brings home groceries later. 

In hindsight, I guess that I wasn’t that far removed from them, what with Jackie paying to get me settled and all. But at the time, I looked at my female financial assistance as being a loan, whereas theirs was a lifestyle. One that was foreign to me. 

To give credit, over the years, I’ve run into a couple of them and mostly, they’ve become productive members of society – holding jobs, raising families, obeying the law. Maybe Dickson’s idea wasn’t such a bad one after all.

T​he night before moving into my new apartment and on the eve of her departure, Jackie broke down in tears. Try as she might, she just couldn’t feel the love for Nashville that I did. She was a northeastern girl and the Nashville of 1989 was just not a place she could envision living. 

She loved the skyline of NYC and Philadelphia. Nashville’s skyline was minimal and one of the few real high rises displayed hokey messages every night. Messages created by turning on certain office lights throughout the building. 

S​he like international restaurants and delis. Nashville had meat and threes and BBQ joints.

S​he liked the high fashion of the garment district in New York and I took her to the tourist traps of Nashville.

S​he wasn’t impressed by my friendship with budding country music stars like Garth Brooks. She preferred Prince.

T​he quaint houses and modest office buildings of Music Row couldn’t hold a candle to the skyscrapers of Wall Street.

D​owntown Nashville was certainly no Manhattan. Made up mostly of run down beer joints that made their money by putting songwriters on stage and selling 50 cent canned beer, it was a long way from being the international tourist destination that it is today. It’worth noting though, that even then locals avoided downtown, but not because of tourists and bachelorette parties, but rather because it was considered a dangerous place to be after dark.

T​o be fair, I hadn’t done the best job of selling the place. I was caught up in my own budding adventure, and as a result, never looked at the future through her eyes. Perhaps if I’d taken her to Hillsboro Village, or the Parthenon, the Vanderbilt campus, or even out to Percy Priest Lake, her impression would have been different. But I was too young and too ambitious to make that realization and so Jackie never fell in love with Nashville like I did. That’s another one on me. 

I​n the morning I took her to the airport and saw her off. I was a little sad to see her go, but more excited to begin my campaign to conquer the world. We’d made tentative plans for her to visit around November and my plan was to blow her away with my accomplishments thus convincing her of the greatness of both my vision and the city itself. 

A​fter dropping her off at the airport, I dutifully reported to work at Haas Enterprises. The offices were housed in the Curb building located in the heart of Music Row, just off of 16th Avenue, The first floor housed Haas Enterprises and Curb Records. Upstairs was Malaco Music, which specialized in blues and gospel music. I think there might have been an accounting office upstairs as well, but I could be wrong.

A​t that time Curb Records was home to artists like Ronnie McDowell, Marie Osmond, Sawyer Brown, the Judds, and Hank Jr. The office was overseen by Mike Borchetta who had been a record promotion guy out in LA since the Sixties and had recently relocated to Nashville. He’d worked singles for artists such as Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley and others. The man was connected. 

B​orchetta was a gruff figure who’s gruffness was added to by his frustration with JD and you’ll soon understand why. He was kind to me though, and we bonded over a love of baseball. When he found out that I had a collection of baseball cards from the 50’s and early 60’s, his affection for me grew. When he found out most were not worth much and I wouldn’t sell him my 1956 Mantle card, that affection waned. 

W​orking downstairs with Borchetta was his son and daughter. His daughter, Angela, immediately caught my interest. She was, and remains, a beautiful woman but to say she is 100 percent Italian is an understatement. She scared me as much as she attracted me, but I must say, despite being several degrees out of my league she was always friendly and was kind enough to introduce me to a few of the city’s live music venues, for which I am grateful.

Her brother is Scott Borchetta. At that time he was working promotions for his father after cutting his teeth at MTM records which had recently folded. Scott may have been working promotions but at his heart, he was a musician, and he both looked and acted the role. His band was called Asphalt Jungle. They wore the trappings of your typical glam rock band, complete with hair spray and spandex. They weren’t very good but they were entertaining. Songwriter and music biz executive Bard Almond played guitar for the band as well.

A​t the front of the Curb building, on Borchetta’s side, was an office with a window to the outside. That office was were Scott conducted business. My lasting memory of him will always be him playing guitar while on the phone with radio stations across the country – running riffs while promoting hits. I ‘d show up in the morning and he’d be on the phone to the East Coast. When I left for lunch, he’d be talking to middle America. End of the day, I’d see him talking to West Coast stations. 

A​ll day, every day, it seemed like all he did was play guitar and promote records. 

S​cott never talked to me a whole lot. It wasn’t that he was unfriendly, in fact, just the opposite when he chose to interact. He just had a focus and wasn’t often willing to break it for idle chit chat. Looking back, it’s easy to see why he’s become as succesful as he has.

U​pstairs, Malaco Music’s publishing was home to artists like Z.Z. Hill, Mahalia Jackson, Johnnie Taylor, and BeBe and CeCe Winans. The office itself was manned by manger Bill Isaacs, and song plugger John Fish. 

I​saacs would continually crack me up – he could come off like an extra from the producers -while at the same time he impressed me. He was an old school hustler that could work a phone without peer. He was friendly but always in a hurry, either to take another call or to make another meeting. It seemed like he knew everybody in the music business, on both coasts and Nashville, and was bent on talking to each of them every day.

J​ohn Fish was someone I instantly gravitated towards. He was only a few years older than me. A former road manager, and had the stories to show for it.

My favorite being from when he managed a famous gospel duo. They were playing Syracuse and had checked into the motel that morning. At the time artists were beginning to use an alias when they checked in and after checking in, the duo decided that was a practice they needed to adopt. So they checked out and checked back in. As a result they were assigned different rooms under the alias. The problem was they never told anyone, including Fish, what the alias was, therefore they couldn’t be located when it was time to leave for the show.

Fish had dozens of tales just like that one and I ate them all up. He’d recently retired from the road and now held a job that I coveted – he was a song plugger. 

In those days few country artists wrote their own songs. They were dependent on publishing companies bringing them hits to record. The publishing companies would sign writers who would turn in songs to be pitched to artists. It was up to song pluggers to listen to the writers work and try to figure out what artist would best fit with what song. It was a real art form and pluggers earned their money and their reputation by their ears. 

T​o Fish’s credit, he not only explained the process to me, but would meet with me after hours to listen to songs and practice thinking about potential pitches. I had pretty good ears, but unfortunately, I was never able to convince a publisher to give me a shot as a plugger. One of my great disappointments. Man, I would have loved that gig. 

Then there was the man I worked for, JD Haas. When I say there is no one like JD, I mean there is NO ONE like JD. Perpetually short on cash but never on energy and ambition. Haas pursued his business with a relentlessness that consumed everything in its wake. Not unlike a force of nature, nothing detered him. Well, perhaps I should say, nothing but JD deterred him.

H​is uniform de jour was either a blue t-shirt with it’s sleeves cut off or a red one. I once got a look at his closet which housed 20 blue shirts on hangers and 20 red ones, all virtually identical. With the sleeveless shirts, he wore shorts and a pair of sneakers. That’s what he wore every day, except on the rare occasion when he had a business meeting and he would dig out a wrinkled pair of slacks and a polo shirt.

Seldom an early riser, it wasn’t uncommon for JD to not arrive at the office until noon or later. Once in the office, he would often work as late as midnight or later. 

J​D liked his pot and his preferred method of consumption was through something he called a “buster”. He would take a cigarette and remove all the tobacco, leaving the filter intact. He would then refill it with marijuana and smoke it. I’m not sure why he smoked it like this, nor how he came to settle on it, but he was committed to it. Rarely did I join him, as my preferences lay in fast drugs and booze. 

H​aas had a dog that he loved like a child, Natasha. A well-mannered German Shepherd who was his constant companion, which meant that his car and office was forever covered in dog hair. 

When it came to that dog or his business, JD had no shame in securing funding. I can remember evenings where I’d hear him on the phone with his mother who lived in upstate New York, “But mom, you have to send money. Tascha hasn’t eaten for days. I don’t care about me, but the dog.”

O​r with the electric company, “You can’t turn off the power, I’m diabetic and my insulin is in the refrigerator and if you cut the power it will go bad.” He was wasn’t diabetic and there was no insulin in the frig.

W​ith the vendors, “You have to send the tapes. I’ll pay you next week. I promise.” He wouldn’t. 

A​t times his persusaive skills focused on me. One time I’d been at work since 7 and it was now 8 and I was ready to go home. “What do you mean go home? We still have get this mailing together. Do you think when Sam Walton was starting out he went home because he was tired? Or do you think he kept working till the job was done? Do you want to be like Sam Walton and build something or do you just want to go home?” I stayed but never turned into Sam Walton.

T​oo his credit, while he was never able to give me a full pay check during those first few months, I always left the office with at least enough money for gas in the car, a six-pack, and a little food. 

T​his was now my world and while I recognized the red flags, in my eyes I only had two choices – go home and tell my parents I was wrong or stay and try to make something out of this. I’ve never been very good at admitting mistakes and so, my choice was obvious. 

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