It’s worth noting that I arrived in Nashville nearly simultaneously with the Replacements playing Starwood with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The two may seem like unconnected occurrences, but in looking back, the Replacements served as the perfect preview for my life in Nashville.
Starwood was a large outdoor concert venue on the south-east side of town. It was capable of holding over 17k people. Some seated under the pavilion, but the vast majority spread out on the hill that looked down upon the stage. Having a seat under the pavilion was nice, but the real action transpired on the lawn.
There were no assigned seats on that lawn, and as you might imagine, the hill could get a little crazy after dark. There was a Hank Jr concert a couple months after my arrival in Nashville that had spontaneous mini-bonfires scattered across the hill throughout the show. It wasn’t uncommon for nights to take on a little element of danger, depending on who was playing.
Starwood was an example of what was called outdoor sheds by those in the music industry, and like spaces populated markets across the country throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Eventually, maintenance costs, insurance costs, and production costs caught up to most of these venues and they have since shuttered their doors.
Today the once glorious Nashville venue is 65-acres of nothing. Since closing in 2007, developers have pitched a few plans but nothing seems to come to fruition. Its prime real estate left undeveloped in a city that is quickly running out of prime undeveloped real estate.
The Petty/Replacements tour was an interesting pairing. Petty, well into his reign as rock royalty, was clearly born to play the role of rock star. While the Replacements, out promoting Don’t Tell A Soul, were better suited to play the misfit role.
Prior to his recent passing, I’d seen Petty and the Heartbreakers over half a dozen times. They are perhaps the tightest rock and roll band I’ve ever seen. Consummate professionals who never fail to deliver the goods.
The Replacements, on the other hand, are fronted by a brilliant songwriter but are just as likely to play the fools as they are to impress with their talent. Shows often devolved into drunken chaos. Few bands in the history of rock and roll have proven to be more adept at shooting themselves in the foot. Despite their faults, or perhaps due to them, they are probably my favorite band. One whose catalog of songs has long resonated with me.
From a marketing standpoint the tour’s line up should have been a sure-thing. The reigning kings introducing the young princes. The Mat’s had just delivered a potential hit I’ll Be Me and hopes were high that they would make the jump to REM stature. I’m sure that somewhere accountants and management were perusing the listings for yachts and mansions, in anticipation of the cash the summer pairing would bring in. Alas, it was not to be.
The main problem was, the Replacements hated the trappings of stardom and recoiled at any efforts to make them marketable. Suffering from both insecurities and addictions, they quickly became miserable tour mates. Try as they might, and the Heartbreakers were always gentlemen, Petty and his crew couldn’t make their touring partners feel at home or as if they belonged. The Mat’s quickly commenced on an all out campaign to get themselves removed from the tour.
The tour arrived in Nashville a couple days after I arrived. Obviously, due to financial constraints, my attending was out of the question, but just the fact that I now lived in a city that attracted a show of this caliber was a thrill to me. I took the coinciding arrival as an omen, one that predicted pending success for myself. You see at that time, I hadn’t realized all the parallels that existed between myself and my musical heroes.
The legend associated with the Nashville tour stop is probably more intriguing then what actually transpired, but that’s Rock and Roll. I’ll tell the legend as I experienced it from afar on a hot August night in Nashville, Tennessee, and if you so desire, you can correct it with the facts.
Desperate to punch their exit ticket from a tour that was making them miserable, our drunken misfits broke into the dressing room of the stalwart headliners. There they found a wardrobe that belonged to the wives and lady friends of the main band. Quickly donning these dresses, the Replacements took the stage and delivered their set clad in the finery of the Heartbreaker wives. Petty and company were not amused, but a young newly transplanted punk found it incredibly entertaining and the perfect closing story to his first week in his new city.
The next couple of weeks were not nearly as exciting for me. I worked hard and made little money. As I mentioned before, JD never had enough cash in which to pay me my full weekly earnings at once. Instead, I routinely left the office after a day’s work with enough to get a burger and some beers. I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep up with the rent, utilities, and car payments during those early months, but I suspect that there were several kind ladies whom I owe a debt of gratitude to.
Also keep in mind that getting you utilities cut off was not the devastating occurrence that it is today. In those days, they’d cut your power on Tuesday, you’d pay them on a Thursday and have the lights back on the same day. There were no deep credit dives, or increased deposits of which to contend with. It was all very straightforward – don’t pay the bill, get cut off, pay what you owe get turned back on.
At Haas Enterprises we had a winner trip to CMA Awards coming up in October and there was a lot of work that needed doing. Part of my work was calling radio stations across the country and pitching our promotion to them. This required a great deal of cold calling to small and mid-market radio stations. It also required the utilization of direct mail to get proposals in the hands of potential clients.
If you’ve never participated in a direct mail campaign, you have no idea of the joy you are missing. It’s a tedious task that requires meticulous sorting of mail pieces. Get one element wrong and the post office will reject the whole mailing project, potentially delaying your project several days.
There was more than one Friday night where I found myself at the post office out by the airport at 10 pm desperately trying to fix an issue so as not to delay 10000 pieces of mail that had to get out to the hands of prospective clients. Most times I was successful, but each time took a toll.
It was fortunate that JD had an acquaintance, it might be an overreach to call him friend, who owned a direct mail company. His name was Steve, and inexplicably his last name escapes me. Steve saved our ass on more than one occasion. To him, I worked for “fucking JD”, as he would refer to my employer while begrudgingly lending his aid to our work; this was always going to be the last time, until the next time it was the last time.
In spite of his constant grumbling at JD, I can’t even imagine how things would have transpired without Steve’s help. He taught me a lot during our brief time working together. Primarily that I didn’t want to work in the direct mail business.
As part of the package, we also produced a calendar for “Country Music Month”. One that featured a different artist every day. Liners and TV spots with artists that highlighted their day and the radio station also needed scripting, recording, and delivering. An album that featured songs from artists included on the calendar also needed to be assembled. It was a lot of work for two people, one of whom was incredibly green and the other extremely unconventional.
I would arrive at the office every day promptly between 7:30 and 8Am. JD, not to be confused with an early riser, would arrive late morning or early afternoon. Often staying until midnight, or later, fueled by his ever-present pot busters. Due to his pervasive partaking of the ganja, it was often difficult to discern what exactly it was he had accomplished after my departure.
I can remember arriving at work to a sheet a paper on the desk with just a few things written upon it. A post-it note attached with the exclamation, “Look at what I got done last night!!!”
I’d read the sheet, thinking there had to me more to his accomplishment than this. So I’d look under and behind the desk, thinking surely some paperwork had fallen off and needed to be located, but alas there would be nothing else. The one sheet of paper would be the soul accomplishment of the previous night.
In all truthfulness, I enjoyed the frequent mornings of just myself and the empty office. Behind my desk was a large window that gave me a grand view of the parking lot adjacent to the building. Since we shared space with Curb Records, there were always interesting people coming and going. Some stars, some former stars, some wanna be stars, and some never gonna be stars.
One morning I looked out the window and spied a disoriented and disheveled looking elderly woman making her way across the lot. She looked to be disoriented, and so I went outside and talked with her. After briefly interacting with her, I asked her if she’d like to come in for some coffee. She accepted my offer.
Inside over coffee, it was revealed that she was a songwriter that had just relocated from New York City. I was skepicle, but after spending some time talking about the city, I got around to asking her name.
“Beverly Ross”, she replied.
Being 24 years old and an avowed punk rocker, the name didn’t ring any bells.
“Yea, what songs have you written?”, I boldly asked, “Any I might know?”
“Depends”, she responded, “Do you know Lollipop, Lolliop?”
“You mean lollipop, lollipop, oh lolli, lolli, lollipop? Of course. Everybody knows that song. Wait, you wrote that song?”
Ms. Ross and I spent the next 30 minutes engaged in a very pleasant conversation and the incident remains a reminder that you never judge a book by its cover alone.
Beverly went on to successfully resurrect her career in Nashville, writing songs cut by the likes of artists as diverse as Engelbert Humperdinck, Bonnie Raitt, and Shelby Lynne. In April 2013, her memoir I Was the First Woman Phil Spector Killed, described as a “tell all book” in a “Gonzo journalistic style” about life in the Brill Building between 1958 and 1961, was published and was featured at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for a woman I initially thought was a bag lady.
This was the Nashville I was discovering. A place where you could meet a legendary song writer just wandering through the parking lot at work. Where you could hear first hand the history of the music business from people who helped create it.
On previous trips to Nashville, I’d been spoiled by folks who worked on the Row because I was a programmer at a radio station. During those visits, 80% of my meals were paid for by expense accounts. Now that I lived in Nashville, that was not as common an occurrence. A few people though, were kind of enough to take me out to eat in an effort to acclimate me to my new home.
One of those people was Greg Riggle. He was an executive with SEASAC, a licensing company like BMI and ASCAP. Riggle and I had met when I had previously attended Country Radio Seminar. We shared an affinity at the time for drink, song, and a touch of insanity. Within that first week he took me to lunch at the Sutler.
There is still a place in Nashville called the Sutler. It’s still housed at the same location, in a small strip mall across from the Kroger on 8th avenue, as the previous incarnation. A Kroger which I don’t believe was there in 1989. Beyond name and location, there is little else the establishments bear in common.
The Sutler that I discovered in 1989 was akin to a wild west saloon – lots of dark wood with historical portraits dotting the walls. A small stage was in the front of the room, a stage where through the years I saw some of the finest songwriters in the world. It was a fantastic place to get a good burger or a hearty sandwich. I’m sure the new place is fine, but lord I miss that old place.
One day after being in Nashville for about a month, Angela Borchetta commented on my lack of a social life. While flattered that she’d noticed, I demurred, pleading work commitments and lack of knowledge about what the city had to offer. While she was unable to do anything about the former, she could aid with the latter.
Her brother Scott’s band, Lipstick Jungle, was playing at Sal’s Rock Block and maybe I’d like to go.
“What kind of place is Sal’s?”, I asked.
“It’s a rock and roll club”, she answered, “A lot of the heavier bands play there.”
I was in. Angela graciously added my name to the guest list and off to the show I went. It was another night that cemented by affection for Nashville.
Sal’s was indeed a rock and roll bar. If memory serves me right, and that’s not a given, it was located off of Division behind what’s now Two Boots Pizza, but previously housed Great Escape Records and Comics – a mecca in its own right.
The club was dark and dank, holding around 200 people. It was a place where the guys wore bullet belts, the girls fishnet, and everybody wore their hair long and hairspray big. It was Nashville version of Brooklyn’s Lamours or Gazzarri’s in LA. It was love at first sight for me.
It was only open for another couple of months after my initial visit, but I saw Dirty Looks and Tigers of Ty-Pang on return trips. I also saw a pre-stardom show with Faith No More. At that time their only hit was We Care A Lot. Within a year they would recreate their set – along with the encore of the Commodores, Easy – at Starwood on the road to being one of the biggest bands of the ’90’s.
Unfortunately Borchetta’s band wasn’t as impressive as the venue. They were your typical spandex and lace clad Charvel guitar playing hard rock band that was prevalent at the time. Guitar player Bart Almond was a shredder, and if I’m not mistaken the rhythm section was the very solid combination of Matt Green and Tony Frost. Collectively, this is an instance where the parts were greater then the sum. Unbeknownst to me at the time, individually I’d get to know them all in the future and they’d be among my favorite people in Nashville.
After about a month in my new city, I was feeling more and more at home every day. I’d found a great lunch spot, a place to hear some rock and roll. Things seemed to be falling in place, and I was settling into my new life in Music City USA.