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)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

'Tin Pan South' Hits Stride on Fourth Day


Day Four: March 28 (Friday)

         "Tin Pan South" hit its stride on Friday night, spotlighting some of the best-known (and close-to-be) hit makers on the planet. Covering shows for MCAU on Day Four were reporters Chuck Whiting and Wil Comstock. They decided to take in the 6:30 p.m. show at the Hard Rock Cafe' (featuring Chris Gelbuda, Stephony Smith, Hailey Steele, Levi Hummon, and Marcus Hummon); and the 9:30 p.m. show at Douglas Corner (featuring Dave Coleman, Ashley Cleveland, Bill Lloyd, and Suzi Ragsdale).

March 28 (FRIDAY):

HARD ROCK CAFE' (Early Show):

         The show at the Hard Rock featured a delightful mix of very talented "songs-on-hold" songwriters, along with masters of the trade. Not that they all didn't fall into the "masters" category (the level of writing, singing, playing and interaction was exceptional). You could imagine listening to most of the tunes on the radio or at least the album of a high-profile act.

L-R: Chris Gelbuda, Stephony Smith,
Hailey Steele, Levi Hummon, and Marcus Hummon
         I love the Hard Rock Cafe'. It's spacious and varied enough to provide an up-close concert experience or an outdoor (but easy-to-hear) experience while chatting on the patio. The staging and sound are always stellar. The food and service are very good. I was fortunate to find a seat on the front row of the lower level.

         The thoughtful and humble Chris Gelbuda (who expressed concern about performing after Marcus Hummon) kicked things off with "Prove Me Wrong", a touching song about a lover's inability to change. Chris's smooth, baritone voice immediately hushed the crowd. Every performance impressed and then some. Stephony Smith made a point to tell him (and the crowd) that he had "a voice like butter". He went on to perform "Parachute", a new song he recently penned with Stephony about having to cut the tangled lines of a former lover's parachute. Chris lamented about the "near cuts" he's had, calling the show the "Greatest Hold Concert". As the audience laughed, he launched into "Groovin'", an upbeat, feel-good number that showed the breadth of his talents. Marcus made a point to congratulate Chris during the show, telling him he had "nothing to worry about".

Stephony Smith
         Stephony, who has written smash hits for Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney and others, used her appearance to perform some of the newer or more introspective songs in her catalog. Of course, for Stephony, that means expertly crafted tunes with a strong message. The crowd (especially the women) cheered when she sang "Drink Up," a song that encourages a distant lover to drink more wine. "We're only strangers when you're sober," she sang. "You only love me when you're drinking." It's rare when a songwriter uses the "F" word at the beginning of a tune, but that's just what Stephony did with her song, "In Paris". Despite her historic surroundings, a woman in Paris is miffed about her former boyfriend's shenanigans back home in Nashville. The woman's heartache continues when she eventually moves back to Tennessee. One of the highlights of the show was her performance of "Where Did All That Go?", a song lamenting the passage of time. She reminded us what this fast-paced world has taken away: women on radio, rock 'n' roll, classic cars, stereos, conversations, saving grace, and breaking up face to face. She begged George Strait (from afar) to record the cleverly penned "These Old Boots", a song inspired during a recent songwriting retreat at the beach.

         Hailey Steele exhibited confidence, grace and beauty during the show, announcing that she's on the verge of releasing her first EP (thanks to a recent Kickstarter campaign). "I don't have any number ones yet," she said with a laugh. But some of the songs she wrote and sang sounded like they were destined to be. "You Ain't Worth the Drive" expresses a lover's realization that, after 700 miles of driving, a relationship is over. "Every exit sign says I should turn around," she sang. Hailey's and Chris's voices blended splendidly on "Diamond", their song about the patience, pressure and time required to fly (or make dreams come true). Her alto/soprano voice soared on "Another Like You" (with Marcus providing delicate guitar fingerwork and background vocals). Heads tossed back and forth (and feet tapped) to the upbeat tune "Down the Line" about a woman who patiently waits for her future prince. Could Hailey Steele (who has a great name, too) be a budding 

Hailey Steele and Levi Hummon
         I admit being a little doubtful about the level of Levi Hummon's talent (before I heard him). He's the son of a legendary songwriter, which can open a lot of doors for budding tunesmiths. That doesn't necessarily mean great talent. But man was I in for a surprise! This guy can write and sing, and he has a unique (and entertaining) sound to match. I guess the "like father, like son" saying is true (at least in this case). Levi's melodic turns on the romantic "Light Me a Fire" were impressive. He used a cleverly arranged vocal motif (a 1/5 interval?) to express a man's "burnin' down with desire" over a lover's kiss. His dad played along on guitar, smiling proudly the whole time. Other songs expressed determination ("Push and Shove") and seductive longing ("I'm Such a Fool for Beautiful"). Levi ended with "Make It Love", a "soon-to-be" classic co-written with his dad (that has "opened a lot of doors"). The song's central message is that only love can mend a broken heart. I love the line, "Let's just take each other's hand while we still can."

         If there's one word that describes Marcus Hummon, it's "amazing". Okay... I know I'm being a little redundant, but how else can you describe him? His ability to masterfully write, arrange and play is beyond words. But I'll try anyway. One can understand why Chris was a little shy about performing immediately after him (even though Chris has tremendous talent, too). The audience was spellbound on Marcus's first song, "You Were Born to Fly" (co-written with Darrell Scott and Sara Evans). With bluesy heart and soul, he made us believe we could do anything. "How do you keep your feet on the ground when you know you were born to fly," he sang. His expressive performance seemed to leap to another level. He used the show to premiere "I've Never Been to Memphis," a song that is likely (he hopes) to appear on the next Rascal Flatts album. A Californian has a lot of good things going for him (sun, beaches, beautiful women, and breathtaking landscapes), but he'd be willing to give it all up and move to Memphis for love. An audience favorite was "Cowboy Take Me Away", a hit co-written with Dixie Chick Martie Maguire. The arrangements were simply brilliant. Before closing, Marcus jokingly lamented about being in Nashville for 25 years. "I'm getting older, and everyone is getting younger."

Levi Hummon and Marcus Hummon
         One of the things I liked best about the show was the camaraderie (and encouraging nature) of the songwriters. Hailey did a great job putting the show together. I couldn't help thinking how special it was to see Marcus encouraging his emerging peers, especially Chris. The show wasn't just about him and his son. It was about every songwriter (at every level) on that stage. That mentoring nature says a lot about Marcus. 
-- Chuck Whiting, MCAU Editor


         Whenever I walk into Douglas Corner, I begin to relax. Is it the dim lighting, the type of crowd the venue draws, or simply knowing it's going to be a good show no matter who performs? I was not disappointed last night.

L-R: Dave Coleman, Ashley Cleveland,
Suzi Ragsdale, and Bill Lloyd
         Dave Coleman from the Coal Men, whom I'd never heard of, started each song with a great groove. Bill Lloyd explained that he had a loop peddle at his feet. Dave would play a rhythmic groove, hit the pedal, and play on top of the continuous loop. Coleman smiled and said, "I'm good at playing with myself." His baritone vocals conjured up the earthly sound of Tennessee and Mississippi Delta blues. I enjoyed his songs, "Tennessee" and the working man's blues number, "Sanity".

Dave Coleman
         Bill Lloyd and his sometime partner, Radney Foster, had a series of hits in the late '80s and early '90s as Foster and Lloyd. Stories seemed to ooze out of him like the song about his childhood, "Boy King of Tokyo". Bill's father, who was in the service, was director of the Officer's Club in Tokyo. Bill was the boy the other kids revered because he looked so different. All that changed when he moved back with his parents to the States. We were also treated to "Picasso's Mandolin", recorded and written with Guy Clark, and "I Like to Watch her Listen to the Radio", a song about an ex-girlfriend who used to flip through the stations sitting in the passenger seat as Bill drove. One minute she was a sultry blues siren, the next an American idol, tossing her hair and smiling at the camera.

Bill Lloyd
         I viewed Suzi Ragsdale on You Tube and was knocked out by her song, "Virginia", about her 70-year-old neighbor who was always happy as she worked in her yard. Suzi, having just ended a relationship, wondered how someone could always be so upbeat. I was not prepared for her intricate chord changes on the keyboard and her beautiful soulful vocals. Suzi, who by the way is Ray Stevens' daughter, seemed to be the kind of person I would want as a friend. Sincere, great sense of humor, and caring, all evidenced by her attention to all of the other writers. Other favorites were "Alone and Waiting to be Found" and "Bonfire", which featured great jazz chords.

Suzi Ragsdale
         Twenty-four years ago, a friend of mine moved to Nashville from New Jersey. That was two years before I moved here. One night, he called excited about a singer he had just seen who blew him away. Her name was Ashley Cleveland. My friend sent me a copy of her first Atlantic album, "Big Town", and I caught the "Ashley fever" myself. Ashley explained a few years back she was excited about taking a road trip... no kids and the CD player all to herself. She brought a stack of CDs from the '70s with her and never got past the first CD, "Aretha Franklin's Greatest Hits". It inspired her to write "Queen of Soul", a gritty plea to all sisters to rise up, pray for one another, and be proud.

Ashley Cleveland
         Ashley spoke of the Africans' bringing with them their culture of singing and how it served them well during slavery. They had no idea this would become an American art form. They were just trying to survive. She was recently asked to record the African-American spiritual "Rock In A Weary Land" for the Oxford American Anthology. Everyone in the room joined in on the chorus. She introduced her last song by telling us she and her teenaged kids often watch "American Idol". One of the contestants started to sing a song she and husband Kenny Greenburg wrote. Her kids looked at her, then at the TV, then back at her. She saw in their eyes that they suddenly realized, "Oh, that's what you do for a living!". She then launched into "That's the Power", and in doing so, empowered all of us.

-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Contributing Writer

Do you have a "Tin Pan South" story/experience to tell.  We can only be so many places at one time. Please send it to us at

     Check out the "Tin Pan South" schedule at

Friday, March 28, 2014

'Tin Pan South' Displays Brilliance and Partying on Third Night


Day Three: March 27 (Thursday)

         "Tin Pan South" continues to fill Nashville's music venues with song, drawing thousands of music lovers from across the nation. Covering shows for MCAU on Thursday night (Day Three) were reporters Scott Johnson and Wil Comstock. They decided to take in the 6 p.m. show at Douglas Corner(featuring Rob Crosby, James Dean Hicks, Angela Kaset, and Allen Shamblin); and the 6 p.m. show at the Rutledge (featuring Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, and Luke Laird).

March 27 (Thursday):


         There is something remarkable about Douglas Corner Café. At first glance, it seems like just another tiny music venue, but when you walk inside, you notice it has the “It factor.” It’s dimly lit interior with lamps hanging low establish a certain ambience that is rarely duplicated. This would be a great place to take a date but only if they were ready to listen and enjoy. The songwriters were gathered in the middle of the room at eye level. No stage was needed, as this was an intimate performance. It felt like you were having a group of talented songwriters over to hang in your living room for a jam session.

         The room was packed with creative energy. In fact, over half of the room admitted to being songwriters themselves. Special guests in the audience included legendary album producer Jerry Crutchfield (Tanya Tucker, Lee Greenwood) and Hugh Prestwood (songwriter).

Shamblin, Hicks, Kaset and Crosby
         The songwriters took turns in the round playing some of their most popular hits and telling the stories behind the music. A true highlight was hearing Hall of Fame songwriter Allen Shamblin talk about the iconic Bonnie Raitt hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The lyrics ache with such vulnerability, and I’d easily put it in my Top 5 best written songs of all time. Shamblin happily shared the spotlight with 16-year-old songwriter Athena Koumanelis of Nashville. Shamblin said he met the teen before the show, and she mentioned that the song was one of her favorites to sing live. Koumanelis did a brilliant job singing and playing keyboards. The performance reflected the spirit of "Tin Pan South" – songwriters supporting songwriters. 

         Shamblin’s set included Miranda Lambert’s CMA Song of the Year “The House That Built Me.” The room was nearly silent as he performed the gorgeous song. He also achieved the same effect while performing the Randy Travis hit “He Walked on Water.” During the performance, he gave advice to aspiring songwriters.

Allen Shamblin congratulates
Athena Koumanelis
“My advice is to pray. Ask God for a good idea. I believe God’s got all the good ideas,” he said.

Angela Kaset also had an incredible set of songs. She thanked producer Jerry Crutchfield for taking a chance on her, admitting that her style is a bit different for Nashville. Her voice was reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and Carole King; therefore, I was immediately won over! Some of the biggest applause of the night came during her performance of the Lorrie Morgan hit “Something in Red.” Kaset’s feminism came into play several times during the night. “Against My Own Will” had a wonderful line about it being time to “woman up!” and “Peace in This House” (Wynonna) talked of balancing the demands of being a mother and wife.

A night in Music City isn’t complete without a special guest or two. The songwriters called Hugh Prestwood to the stage, and he indulged the crowd by telling stories about how record producer Clive Davis turned down the hit “Ghost in My House” (Shenandoah, Alison Krauss). 

Songwriters James Dean Hicks and Rob Crosby provided humor and infectious enthusiasm during the night by joking about guitar solos gone wrong. Hicks performed the moving “Jesus and Mama” (Confederate Railroad), the #1 hit “Goodbye Time” (Conway Twitty and Blake Shelton), and “Grandpa Told Me So (Kenny Chesney). Hicks admitted that a lot of his inspiration comes from driving and told a great story about being persistent to achieve your dreams. Hicks said he always wanted Merle Haggard to sing one of the lines to his songs, and he achieved that during a Blaine Larsen recording session. Crosby also had plenty of hits to play, including a gorgeous rendition of “Concrete Angel” (Martina McBride) that included out-of-this-world harmonies from the entire group. He had the biggest groove of the night with “Mile Out of Memphis.” He explained that he co-wrote the tune with the legendary Carl Perkins, and that Carl lifted him up during a dark time of his life. The song was recorded with Paul Simon on his last duets CD.
Angela Kaset and James Dean Hicks

This was a "Tin Pan South" show I’ll never forget, and now I have a new favorite musical venue. Thanks to Douglas Café Corner for a great night and fantastic atmosphere. Go see these amazing songwriters if you get a chance. You won’t regret it.

-- Scott Johnson, MCAU Assistant Editor

THE RUTLEDGE (Early Show):

         I had decided to cover the TPS show featuring Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and band.
         This turned out to be the "Happy Hour Show"... drinking and party songs with a thundering backup band. Working both full-time and part-time jobs, plus covering "Tin Pan South", I was looking forward to the kind of show Luke Laird put together last year with Natalie Hemby and Brett Eldridge: Three writers, three guitars and three wonderful voices whose every word I could hear. I was in for a surprise.
Barry Dean
         Natalie kicked off the party with the Toby Keith hit “Drinks After Work”, a song she penned with Laird and Dean. Barry Dean sang the uncut “Day Drinking”, a fun number with a catchy riff that he taught the audience to whistle on the chorus. We all sang along with Laird on the chorus of “Drink in my Hand”, the Eric Church single he wrote with Eric and Michael P. Heeney.  We were also treated to Dean’s “Mix it with Rum” and the Thomas Rhett cut “Sorry for Partying”, a song inspired by one of Rhett’s crew who arrived late to the bus one night feeling way too good and looking for a fight.
         Natalie introduced us to her lovely co-writer, Maren Morris, who joined her on the beautifully haunting ballad, “Who Told You There Was No Way Out” and the upbeat “Automatic”. Another highlight was Luke’s “Beat This Summer”, last year’s huge hit for Brad Paisley that he wrote with Paisley and Chris Dubois.
Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird
         Remember when you first came to town and got shushed at the Bluebird for talking during a song? No problem at this show. The back-up guitar god was playing riffs while the writers were introducing their songs. And if you spoke to your neighbor during one of the performances, so what? No one seemed to mind... ‘cause this was a party! 
-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Contributing Writer

Do you have a "Tin Pan South" story/experience to tell.  We can only be so many places at one time. Please send it to us at

     Check out the "Tin Pan South" schedule at

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day Two of 'Tin Pan South' Filled with Heart and Laughs


Day Two: March 26 (Wednesday)

         "Tin Pan South" continued in Music City with songwriters and music fans converging on a dozen area venues. Covering shows for MCAU this time were reporters Chuck Whiting and Wil Comstock. They decided to take in the 6 p.m. show at the Station Inn (featuring Billy Yates, Eddie Heinzelman, Buddy Jewell, and Jeff Bates); and the 9 p.m. show (also) at the Station Inn (featuring Leslie Satcher, Vince Gill, Bobby Tomberlin, and Larry Gatlin). While waiting in line outside the venue, Chuck had the opportunity to re-connect with Red Pepper Marketing Representative Catherine Garnett (whom he'd met eight years ago) and visiting Maryland singer-songwriter Joy Bodycomb. Everyone was amazed how the Gulch has changed, keeping our fingers crossed that the Station Inn would remain forever.

Leslie Satcher, Vince Gill,
Bobby Tomberlin and Larry Gatlin

March 26 (Wednesday):


         Some years ago, I had the good fortune to work with Buddy Jewell on a song demo. It was just before he made it big on "Nashville Star". I remember talking with him in the parking lot about what a wonderful job I thought he'd done, and my gut feeling that he was going to be a big star. I'm glad his dreams came true. He's a great guy with outstanding talent. In some ways, the Station Inn TPS show was an opportunity to celebrate his success. The other writers, Billy Yates, Eddie Heinzelman, and Jeff Bates were perfect complements for a show that featured country classics, moving stories, and belly-aching laughs.

         Billy Yates smiled and laughed throughout, adding a sense of fun and good nature to a show that reunited old friends. He and Buddy reminisced about their road trips together. Jeff, always throwing a timely comedic "rib", lamented that he hadn't joined the two on their Branson adventures. Billy reassured him (with a wink) that he would be invited to join them in the future.

         Calling himself the "guy who writes sad songs", Billy performed his Grammy-winning "Choices" as a tribute to the late George Jones (who recorded a number of his songs). He admitted that he moved to town to sing and fell into songwriting late. His voice certainly sounded "artist-worthy" as he sang stirring renditions of "Flowers" (Chris Young), "I Don't Need No Rocking Chair" (George Jones), and the most moving song of the night, "My Infinite Love" (George Strait). "My Infinite Love" was written for a 50-year-old neighbor who was suffering from cancer. "She asked me to write the song for her funeral," Billy said with a hint of emotion in his voice. "That wasn't easy to do." He said he was surprised when the song, which featured uncommon two-line verses, was later recorded by George Strait.

         Eddie Heinzelman showed his versatility, performing everything from the incredible love ballad "She's Water" (James Lann) to the Rebel-rousing "Crawl" (from the movie "Dead in 5 Heartbeats"). One of the greatest things about "Tin Pan South" is being able to support and learn from the legendary writers who have helped change the world. It was very special to see Eddie return that to songwriters in the audience with a moving performance of "Here's to the Ones Who Write the Songs". Tunes like that rev up our creative engines. Songwriters are indeed "unsung heros" who can never stop writing.

Eddie Heinzelman and Buddy Jewell
         Buddy Jewell delighted the sold-out crowd with hits such as "Abilene on Her Mind", "Help Pour Out the Rain", and "Sweet Southern Comfort". He serenaded his wife and son (who were in the audience) and paid tribute to his dad with the tender "When I'm Good and Gone". Buddy says he wrote the song after losing several extremely important loved ones over a six-year period. In the lyric, a dying man's old, tattered Bible is left open at the Book of John. The hit singer-songwriter moved the audience even more with "One in a Row", a country ballad about a broken-hearted guy who's suffering over a recent breakup. Based on what we heard and the crowd's enthusiastic applause, it's an easy guess that Buddy will be a country music mainstay for many years to come.

         How can you described Jeff Bates? His quip-and-take with Billy, Eddie and Buddy was hilarious. One thing is for sure: Jeff is an outstanding songwriter with an unmistakably deep baritone voice. He treated music fans to the sultry "Long Slow Kisses", telling them that he's known for writing songs for women. "I'm a specialist," he said matter-of-factly. "I've been married five times. If I say I've been married nine times, that don't sound so bad." He lamented with the men (on misunderstanding women), singing the cleverly penned "Chicktionary". He honored the late legend Conway Twitty with the song, "Me and Conway". "People always told me I sounded a lot like him," said Jeff, who recorded a Conway tribute album in 2012. Probably his most memorable (and most moving) song of the evening was "If Heaven Had a Phone". He used his wit in a surprising, heart-tugging way, recalling how his late mother encouraged him to chase his dreams. If he had a phone, he'd call his mom and dad (who are in Heaven) every single day. He thanked God for giving him the opportunity to write and perform. "When you love what you do, you never work a day in your life," he noted.

Jeff Bates
         What a great show... one to smile about for a long time!

-- Chuck Whiting, MCAU Editor


         I covered the show featuring Bobby Tomberlin, Larry Gatlin, Leslie Satcher, and Vince Gill -- an all star cast!
         This is my second time seeing this group of songwriters and entertainers together, so I knew what to expect. It was a wonderful show with killer harmonies, great musicianship, and lots of laughs. And boy did they ever deliver. 
         Bobby Tomberlin kicked off the show with a Hank Williams song, “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)". This group has so many hits between them they can play anything they want. We know who they are, and they know who they are... comfortable in their own skin and with each other. Later in the evening, Leslie performed one she didn’t write, the Tammy Wynette classic, “I’ll just keep falling in love Till I Get it Right”.
Bobby Tomberlin
         Larry serenaded us with “All the  Gold in California” and “My Heart Comes With Strings Attached". He told us that he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Leslie Satcher, who called him years ago and said, “I want to write a song with you”. Larry, who is used to writing alone replied, “You have three songs on the latest George Straight album. Why do you need to write with me?” Leslie was persistent, and Larry obliged. When they met, Leslie said Larry was like a gnat flying everywhere around the room, bringing lots of laugher on the stage and off. She had to tell him to sit down so they could write. Larry said, “I take that as a compliment.” Then Vince chimed in, “How could you not?”  These old friends ribbed each other mercilessly all night.
Larry Gatlin
         Vince, tearing up, announced that his daughter Jenny and her husband Josh are expecting a baby. He explained that he has been on the road for the last 40 years and set 2014 aside to rest and be with family, having no idea Jenny would be expecting. He segued into “I Will Ride The Rails No More”. With his voice breaking up, he told us he just wanted to stay at home and play with his grandbaby.
         Bobby had us on the edge of our seats with a new song called the “Grand Ole Opry”. The Opry is personified when he sings, “They say that I’m the one that made Country Music what it is today… But it’s the stars who crossed my stage that are the ones…”. Afterwards, we were delighted when Jan Howard was called up from the audience to sing “Heartaches By The Number”.  Everyone, young and old, joined in on the chorus!

-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Contributing Writer

Leslie Satcher and Vince Gill

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day One: 'Tin Pan South' Brings Excitement and Shivers to MCAU Writers


Day One: March 25 (Tuesday)

         "Tin Pan South" kicked off on Tuesday with several hundred songwriters performing at various venues around the city. Choosing which shows to attend on the first night was a challenge for MCAU's roaming reporters, Wil Comstock and Scott Johnson. They finally opted to take in the 6 p.m. show at the Rutledge (featuring T. Graham Brown, Frank Myers, Jimmy Nichols, Eddy Raven, and Danny Wells); the 6 p.m. show at The Listening Room Cafe (featuring Brandy Clark, Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osbourne); and the 9 p.m. show at the Rutledge (featuring Brett James, Lee Thomas Miller, Rivers Rutherford, and Caitlyn Smith).

T. Graham Brown and Jimmy Nichols
March 25 (Tuesday):

THE RUTLEDGE (Early Show):

         Danny Wells, T. Graham Brown, Eddy Raven and Frank Myers.   With incredible keyboards and backup vocals by Jimmy Nichols.
         It will be hard to top this show. Then again maybe I’m just getting sentimental in my old age. Take four seasoned pros who have known each other for years (Raven and Myers have worked together since 1981), four guys who have a great sense of humor (skillful musicians who are in great form), and you might just get a sense of what I experienced last night. I was blown away.
Danny Wells

         Danny Wells kicked off the show with “Little Bit of Life”, the title cut and hit for Craig Morgan that he wrote with Tony Carl Mullins. He also treated us to “Hello L-O-V-E”, written with Jeffery Steele and Recorded by John Michael Montgomery. Another crowd pleaser was “Check Yes or No”, which George Strait decided to cut because he played the demo one morning for his son Bubba. Now Bubba is usually in a bad mood in the morning. When the song was over, Bubba said, “Dad, you know I really didn’t want to like this song, but I really like it”. Myers ended with “These Days”, his big hit for Rascal Flatts that he wrote with Steve Robson and Jeffrey Steele.
         T. Graham Brown performed  “I Tell it Like it Use to Be”, a song he sang the demo on for songwriters Bucky Jones, Ron Hellard, and Michael Garvin. He ended up cutting the song on his first album, and it went to number seven. T. Graham joked about how he and his buddies would lie to their girlfriends' parents and tell them they were going to such and such movie and end up parking down on “Moonshadow Road”.  He said most people who introduce him always get his name wrong.  He’s been called T. Graham Nash, T. G. Sheppard, and once George Jones called him his good friend Tom T. Hall when he thanked him for joining him on a duet. Eddy Raven said he calls him “His T-ness”, bringing laughter to the crowd. T. Graham sang  “Darlene” standing by keyboardist Jimmy Nichols, who added great background vocals. Brown continuously thanked  the guys on stage for backing him up since he didn’t play an instrument. He saved the best song for last, “Wine Into Water”, a song he wrote with Bruce Burch pleading to Jesus for help as he struggled with alcohol addiction.
T. Graham Brown
         Eddy Raven started with his 1981 number one hit “Who Do You Know in California”. Frank Myers told him it wasn’t on the set list and Eddy replied, “Well I guess I’m listless”. He also performed “We Robbed Trains”, which was cut by Gene Watson; “I Got Mexico” , which was recorded by Barefoot Man; “You Should Have Been Gone by Now”, a number three song for Eddy written with Frank Myers and Don Pfrimmer; and “Thank God for Kids”, which ended up on albums by Alabama, John Rich, and Kenny Chesney. Raven commented that he has 10 brothers and sisters and a couple sons of his own, so he knows a little bit about kids.
Eddy Raven
         A light bulb went off as I was listening to Frank Myers. I commented to my friend Kara, “Oh, he was part of the duo Baker and Myers”.  She gave me a look that said, “You just figured that out?”  Feeling humbled, I listened as Frank called Lisa Hollis up to join him on “You and I”, a hit he wrote for Eddie Rabbit and Crystal Gayle. Myers also sang “I’m Already There”, which he wrote with Richie McDonald and Gary Baker (you guessed it from Baker and Myers). This Lonestar song spent six weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot Country chart. He performed “My Front Porch Looking In”, another number one for Lonestar that he wrote with Gary Baker and Don Pfrimmer. A favorite of mine, “Tomorrow”, written with and cut by Chris Young, really showcased Myers' fine guitar wizardry. This guy can play. I also really enjoyed all the harmony vocals from both Frank and Danny Wells.
Frank Myers
         Somewhere in the show, I started watching T. Graham’s reaction to the other’s performances. He listened intently, smiled, shook his head yes, and radiated love and admiration for his longtime friends.  He was happy for their success. What a beautiful guy. What a great bunch of guys.  
-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Contributing Writer


Tin Pan South Beginner’s Survival Guide

Rule #1 – If you’re going to go to a show at a small club featuring the 2014 ACM Songwriter of the Year, GO EARLY or go home!

         My first "Tin Pan South" show ever goes down in the history books as an unforgettable experience. I chose to attend a highly anticipated show featuring Josh Osborne, current Music Row “buzz” artist Brandy Clark, and 2014 ACM Songwriter of the Year Shane McAnally.

The Listening Room
         I arrived at the The Listening Room Café about 20 minutes early and paid $25 for parking. (Beginner’s mistake, yes I know…) I was greeted to the announcement that the venue was at full capacity.

Rule #2 – Your green press pass gets you nowhere at The Listening Room!

         After hearing this, I stepped forward to show my shiny green press pass, hoping it would get me in the door. No dice! Reporters were treated just like the people waiting in the cash line to get into the highly anticipated show.

Rule #3 – Wear a hat and gloves, even though it’s spring! You just might be standing in the cold!

         Your roving Music City Arts Update reporter stood out in frigid 30-degree temperatures waiting for someone to leave so that I could get in! The good news is that the Listening Room Café has speakers set up outside so that people can hear the show.

The Highlights:

         The songwriters sounded amazing! They each played a song before passing the microphone on to the next person. The trio had more than enough hit songs to go around for hours. McAnally, in particular, has been on a roll with hit songs including Kenny Chesney’s “Somewhere With You,” “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” by Luke Bryan, and “Follow Your Arrow” by Kasey Musgraves. Although it was frigid, the crowd standing in line expressed delight as he performed each of the songs.

         Brandy Clark, fresh off her "Ellen Degeneres Show" debut, proved why she is currently the buzz of Music Row. Do yourself a favor and check out her album “12 Stories.” Clark performed the hit she wrote for Miranda Lambert (“Mama’s Broken Heart”), as well as originals from her current album. The crowd was clearly into the humorous “Hungover” as it received the most applause and howls of approval.    

         Josh Osborne also had plenty to sing about. He passionately sang hits ranging from the emotional “Come Over” by Kenny Chesney, “Chainsaw” by The Band Perry, and Billy Currington’s “We Are Tonight.” His rapport with McAnally was evident as they provided backup vocals for each other’s songs.

         At this point, the trio changed things up by doing a round where they sang each other’s songs. McAnally admitted that this was an intimidating concept, but they went for it anyway. Osborne sang the McAnally/Clark-penned “The Day She Got Divorced” that was made famous by Reba McEntire. Next, Clark sang the Osborne-penned “Neon” that was a hit for Chris Young. McAnally ended the round by singing a Clark tune about sadness. By this time, my whole body was an icicle, so I unfortunately didn’t get the name of the song and gave up my place in line. Here’s hoping for a better experience Thursday!

-- Scott Johnson, MCAU Assistant Editor

THE RUTLEDGE (Second Show):

         Proceeds from this show went to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
         Standing in line for this show I met a great couple, Carol and Bob, from The Outer Banks, N.C. They drive out  for "Tin Pan South" every year.  Ordinary folks who love the music and the story behind the song. People like them is what makes TPS great. Make sure to talk to the people around you. Who knows? They might give you an idea for a song!
         The second show at the Rutledge was all about four writers at the top of their game.  Every one of them had songs climbing the charts.
          Brett James opened with “I Hold On”, written with and recorded by Dierks Bentley. What a great blues-filled gritty voice James has! I love it. On his next turn, he did “Bottoms Up”, a co-write with Brantley Gilbert (who cut the song), Brett James, and Justin Weaver. My new friends Carol and Bob whispered, “You’ve got to see the video for this song”. We also heard “The Truth” recorded by Jason Aldean, "Stay With Me (Brass Bed)" by Josh Gracin, and his huge hit, “Jesus Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood.
         I heard Lee Thomas Miller for the first time last year and was impressed with his humor and great stories. Lee writes with Brad Paisley a lot and performed “To Me You Are the World” and “I’m Still a Guy”.  They finished “Guy” at 2 in the morning, and Brad was so excited he said, "We have to wake up my wife and sing it for her."  His wife was nine months pregnant at the time. She laughed so hard when they were done that her water broke... true story. “Should Have Seen It in Color”, a hit for Jamey Johnson, really touched me.
         I highly recommend seeing Caitlyn Smith. Great songs and great alternative vocals with lots of  dynamics. She seduced me with “Heart of Dixie”, cut by Danielle Bradbery, and co-written with Brett James and Troy Vegas. A new one, “Wasted Champagne”, went over well with the crowd. And who couldn’t fall in love with “You Can’t Make Old Friends”, her current hit with Kenny and Dolly, co-written with Ryan Hanna King and Don Schlitz.
         I admit this was my first time seeing Rivers Rutherford live.  What a phenomenal guitarist. What a delta blues voice! Joe Nichols just released his song “Old School Country Song”, which was inspired by the last time he saw his grandmother, who was 94. She didn’t quite remember things too well. He asked her how old she was, and she didn’t know. So he got a hand-held mirror and gave it to her. She replied, “I guess I’m about 65”. “No,” Rivers said. “Well 60," she said, smiling. “No grandma, you’re 94... fifty years older than me.”  She looked at him and said, “Oh, you’re Rivers. You were born on my fiftieth birthday.“ “That’s right Grannie, I’m 44."  “Oh,” she said without missing a beat. “That must make me 110!” Rivers also treated us to “These are My People” (Rodney Atkins) and “When I get Where I’m Going” performed by Tim McGraw. I heard Rivers has a CD out.   I’ll have to check his website and buy a copy.

-- Wil Comstock, MCAU Writer

Do you have a "Tin Pan South" story/experience to tell.  We can only be so many places at one time. Please send it to us at .

     Check out the "Tin Pan South" schedule at