Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Tin Pan South' Closes with Humor, Retro and Nostalgia


Day Five: March 29 (Saturday)

         The last night of "Tin Pan South" was filled with rock 'n' roll, blues, country, pop, and gospel, along with a good bit of humor, retro and nostalgia. Covering shows for MCAU on Saturday night (Day Five) were reporters Chuck Whiting and Wil Comstock. They decided to take in the 6:30 p.m. show at Belcourt Taps (featuring Andrew Fromm, Gary Talley, Frank Stallone, and Mac Gayden); and the 9:30 p.m. show at the Hard Rock Cafe' (featuring Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick, Amy Stroup, and Phil Madeira).

March 29 (SATURDAY):


         It was fun talking with fellow songwriters and fans as we waited outside Taps in the fresh, chilly air. Songwriters visiting from Ohio and Oklahoma raved about their TPS experiences, saying they would love to return next year. Others, including songwriting friend Gary Gullbergh, compared notes on their Northern and Midwestern accents and shared stories about how they moved to Nashville and what's happened since. During our conversation, NSAI head Bart Herbison greeted us as he was leaving the venue. "I hope you're having a good time," he said with a smile. "This is going to be a great show." He was right.

         I was happy to finally attend a TPS show featuring master guitarist Gary Talley, whom I've known for years. He shared the limelight with the surprisingly talented Frank Stallone, pop balladeer writer/keyboardist Andrew Fromm, and legendary Slide Wah guitarist/songwriter Mac Gayden.

Andrew Fromm
         Andrew Fromm, who now lives in Nashville, is known for his many pop hits and album cuts by the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, Marc Anthony, and others. He began with "Beautiful", a romantic ballad about a man overcome by his love for a breathtakingly beautiful woman. The pianist tugged hearts with soft, intricate arrangements, and soothing vocals. You could feel the emotion in every well-crafted word. For keyboard composers like me, it was fascinating to see how he wove the music and lyric together. Later, he sang "Spanish Eyes", a smash hit on the Backstreet Boys' "Millennium" album (which sold a whopping 30 million copies). "I haven't performed in five years, so I'm probably a little rusty," Fromm told an appreciative audience. Saying he was Jewish, Andrew recalled how he began to gain career momentum years ago by appearing on "Star Search" with the late Ed McMahon. He then launched into the Christmas classic, "I Don't Want to Spend One More Christmas Without You". Frank Stallone congratulated him afterwards, asking, "Were you still single when you wrote that? That's a great songs for chicks." Andrew said he got his start by performing at open mics with black singers (for mostly black audiences) while waiting tables at TGI Fridays and Chili's. He was "discovered" in 1996 when he performed "I Need You Tonight" for record executives at a birthday party. His performance of the harmony-rich ballad (recorded by the Backstreet Boys) was a highlight of the evening.

Gary Talley
         When it comes to playing guitar (and having a keen sense of humor), Gary Talley has it. He's very likeable, and his fingerwork on six-string always impresses. He is also humble, evidenced by some of his song introductions. Don't let that fool you. He's a member of the group that recorded classic hits such as "Cry Like a Baby". He immediately stirred up the crowd with "The Letter" (a song he didn't write) that his band The Box Tops made famous back in 1967. "Is there anyone here from France?" he asked. "If so, you might have heard this one in the '90s." He then treated the crowd to a spunky, bluesy rendition of "Last Laugh", a song about lost love and eventual revenge. One of Gary's most memorable experiences involved one of the most popular bands of all time. He recalled how in 1968 the Box Tops toured with The Beach Boys. One night (thanks to Bill Cunningham), Beach Boys Brian, Dennis, Carl, Mike and Al showed up at the door of his suite with a birthday cake for his 21st birthday. "The Beach Boys then sang me the 'Happy Birthday' song", he added with excitement in his voice. He had the Taps audience singing along during the chorus of "I'm Gonna Have Your Baby", another groove-along number that hit the charts in Norway.

Frank Stallone
         It was very interesting to see and hear the brother of a Hollywood legend. For Frank Stallone, landing opportunities in music didn't come as quickly (or as easily) as Sylvester's rapid climb to fame in movies. But he stuck with it, and his hard work and determination finally paid off. Frank, who has never married, was a bit self-deprecating about his difficulty in getting dates. He revealed those frustrations with "Real Romance", a song about a man who's not ready to take a chance on love (while realizing that the love of a woman would make him strong). He has a surprisingly good voice with an ability to sound like other well-known singers, including the Gibb brothers and Stevie Ray Vaughan. "To make it in music, you have to put everything you can into it," said Frank, who has sometimes struggled to make ends meet like the rest of us. He served as his brother's stand-in and played small venues with his band before hitting it big, writing a number of songs for the "Staying Alive" soundtrack. He credits the Bee Gees (who "quit and walked off the set") for that miracle. In fact, he sounded a bit like a Gibb when he sang "Never Give You Up", a pop classic that helped him garner a Golden Globe and Grammy Award nomination. The crowd loved it, singing along on the choruses and applauding loudly after he finished performing. He showed a cool blues side (and vocal gravel) with "Wake Up Call".

Mac Gayden
         Due to arthritis, Mac Gayden invited his son to play along with him. Gayden still played masterfully and energetically, revving up the standing-room-only house with classic rock and country hits. The legendary Slide Wah guitarist wowed with "Morning Glory" (which he dedicated to his publisher), "Crazy Mama" (an early '70s J.J. Cale hit), and "Everlasting Love" (originally recorded by Robert Knight that was meant for the B side of "The Weeper"). You could still hear the licks that he made famous... crying, moaning guitar that made you want to dance. Mac was pleasantly surprised a few years back when U2 recorded and released "Everlasting Love". Just as the song was beginning to get airplay, the band decided to take it off the air because they had never had a cover hit. Members of U2 thanked Mac for his understanding, promising to make it up to him. They did later when the song was included on the band's "The Best of 1980-1990/B Sides" album. The song has been recorded many times by other artists, appearing in the U.S. Top 40 in the 1960s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. It was great to see Mac playing these classics, adding a bit of nostalgia (and heart) to music lovers who remember and/or appreciate the good ole days of rock 'n' roll.

Gary Talley welcomes some of his fans.
         This has been an inspiring week with performances and stories by many of the world's greatest hit-makers. I'm thankful to live in Nashville where I can see and hear artists like this throughout the year. Now that TPS is over, it's time to get back to the piano to write!

-- Chuck Whiting, MCAU Editor

HARD ROCK CAFE' (Late Show):

         The first time I saw Phil Madeira, he was playing keyboards in the Phil Keaggy Band. Later, when I moved to Ithaca, N.Y., we went to the same church. On Saturday night, Phil was the host of the final 2014 "Tin Pan South" show at the Hard Rock Cafe'. He invited long-time friends Wayne Kirkpatrick, Amy Grant, and percussionist Steve Hindalong (The Choir and Lost Dogs), along with new friend Amy Stroup.

Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick,
Amy Stroup, and Phil Madeira (with
Steve Hindalong playing behind them).
         Phil started the round with "Old Song", a tune he co-wrote with Wayne and Jimmy Lee Solas. "There is no friend like an old friend, dog like an old dog, scotch like an old scotch, chair like an old chair." I looked around and saw knowing smiles and heads nodding "yes" throughout the number. Another highlight of Phil's, "The Ghost of Johnny Cash", came to him in a dream that woke him up at 3 in the morning. Madeira drew a huge response to his "If I Were Jesus" with the lines, "I run with the wrong crowd... and at the party, I turn the water into wine".

Amy Stroup and Phil Madeira
         We learned that Amy Stroup had songs placed in the TV shows "Private Practice" and "Parenthood". She performed the riveting "Backed into a Corner", which landed on "Gray's Anatomy". Grant commented, "That's true. You really see it all when you're backed into a corner." Other favorites were "Just You" (which ran in a Zales diamond commercial), and her father's (and my) favorite, "Redeeming Love".

         I have seen Wayne Kirkpatrick's name on liner notes for the last 25 years. He wrote "Boondocks" (Little Big Town) and "Change the World" (Wynonna and Eric Clapton), both of which he performed for us. I enjoyed his Southern gem, "I Can't Sleep Tonight", which was featured in the show "Heart of Dixie" (and possibly on next week's edition of "Nashville"). Wayne joked, "It was supposed to be on 'Nashville' a couple weeks ago, but they only aired a few chords." Wayne tried a new one on us that he'd just written with Tom Douglas and Kylie Rae Harris, which I think was called "Nothing Stays the Same" (but could be called "Like a Vinyl Crack on a Stereo"), a nostalgic look at days gone by.

Wayne Kirkpatrick
         Okay, I admit that Amy Grant is one of my favorite artists. I bought her first album because Myrrh Records placed a promotional LP in with an album I bought (I can't remember which one). The promo featured new songs by established and up-and-coming artists. Could that have been around 1977? Her songs have always been there for me.
         Amy started out by telling us (sentimentally) that this group of people in the room would never be together again, launching into "Our Time Is Now". In 1988, Amy's grandmother died. She and then-husband Gary Chapman had just bought a farm they could barely afford. Their first child, Matt, was 5 months old. Amy and her three sisters each received money in their grandmother's will. She thought about putting the money into the new farm, but wanted to do something in her grandmother's memory instead. So, she ordered 75 fruit trees. They looked like sticks when they planted them in the ground that fall. Ten years later, Amy and Gary divorced and sold the farm. The trees never produced any fruit. Moving ahead another 10 years, Amy received a call from someone she'd never met, the new owner of the farm. The owner invited her to visit the orchard. It turns out the man next door started keeping bees, and the trees were laden with fruit. Amy climbed a tree and was eating one of the "best Georgia peaches" she had ever eaten when she started to cry. She told her friend, Liz, who went with her, "You know I never would have planted these trees if I knew how it would have turned out." She then played "It's Better Not to Know". Later, Amy closed the evening with the encouraging "I'm Not Giving Up On You".

-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Contributing Writer

Amy Grant enjoys a performance by one her peers.

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Songwriters at the Hard Rock Cafe' pose for photos.
The crowd enjoys performances by tunesmiths Grant, Kirkpatrick, Stroup, and Madeira.

(Photos Copyright 2014 by Chuck Whiting)

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