Nashville when we got to it was a mixture of the musical sublime; Alison Kraus at the Ryman Theatre and Carter's Vintage Guitar Store; and the profane; tawdry and exploitive with endless bars playing over-amplified soft country rock, We searched along Broadway late at night seeking salvation and redemption but found only disillusion ! But we were to be saved! (from Steve's new book 'A Beautiful Broken Dream.
I felt that Nashville was starting to let us down. We walked back to Broadway, every bar continued to thunder out a blur of noise of contrived country rock songs played very, very loudly. Disillusioned, we decided to head back to the hotel. Dinny suggested we just looked at a few bars on the other side before jumping into a taxi at the line which was parked opposite. The first places we looked in were much the same as the others. Feeling like drowning, I summoned up the will to go in to one for a beer anyway, just to lament the lost dream. Dinny, who after last night’s excitement, looked so stoically mournful when she agreed, that I did not have the heart to inflict such punishment upon her. As we walked towards the taxi stand, we paused outside a joint called Layla’s. The trio inside were playing a good full on honky-tonk bluesy thing.
Something better was going on here, we both sensed it.
“Okay,” I said, “let’s have a quick drink, we can stand at the back away from the noise.”
Going in I got myself a Blue Moon beer and Dinny a Coke. And that is how we came across the Eskimo Brothers.
They were everything that had been missing all day. The lead guitarist was wearing a black sleeveless shirt, looking like a cross between Springsteen and the Fonz. He was playing an old, friendly Telecaster with verve, humour and no little skill. He could pick, he could strum, he could riff from the bottom to the top, roll round his thumb and make the bass strings sing. Another guy was playing a stand-up double bass. He had a more than passing resemblance to Jim Carey during his pet Detective/ Mask period, facial expressions and all. Sometimes he would lean his base at an angle of 45°, stand on the hip, sticking out one leg behind and slapping the thing as if he was trying to bring it back to life. The drummer was a bespectacled guy with long, straight hair, a round face and a beard struggling here and there. He looked like he might have a lot of video games back at home but played spot on the beat and kept the show from flying away.
The second number in we heard them play an outrageous rockabilly, bluegrass version of Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’. Dinny grinned, reached for my beer and taking a swig, moved forward to the front. Keeping up the pace, they played a number of their own songs plus stuff by Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues at 100 miles an hour), Hank Williams and roughneck versions of songs about cars, horses and getting into a fight. They ripped up a version of ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’, the speed of a runaway train, the bass player singing with perfect diction, stopping suddenly to grumble we were not clapping fast enough and then singing it even faster in high octane delight. They did ‘Suspicious Minds’ complete with passable and very funny Elvis impersonations. We stayed for a second beer, passing it back and forth between us and hollering and clapping along.
It was fun watching people coming in off the street – sometimes they looked, well a bit beat up, as if they were trying to grimly fulfil an imperative to ‘have a good time’. Usually a few steps in, as the band played on, there was a sudden smile. One couple came in and as they passed the stage spontaneously started dancing together. Another old fella, who must have been about 70 or even more, wearing broad braces did a little soft shoe shuffle as he walked towards the bar and reappeared a minute later with a middle-aged lady as they both hurtled about in some sort of country style jive.
The guitarist, who afterwards I found out was called David Graham, really worked the crowd committing himself to drawing everyone in. After a while, he slowed the music down and, as ‘Jim’ kept playing the bass and the drums kept on, he rested the guitar neck on one arm and said,
“In this town we don’t get paid except by you! It’s the tradition here. If you like us that’s great, if you don’t we’re broke. And, whilst you put your hand in your pocket, give a little out for the girls behind the bar, they ain’t paid neither!”
Bass player Jim stopped playing, laid down his bass and jumped off the stage walking around with one of those ice buckets, empty of course, except it wasn’t when he came back, it was overflowing with dollar bills not just singles but five, tens and even, for the price of a request, a twenty.
They kicked off again with a great old honky-tonk song called ‘Driving Nails In My Coffin’, made famous by the great Ernest Tubb. He of the eponymous record store and a million nights of the Grand Ol’ Opry, his ‘Walking The Floor Over You,’ may have been the first honky-tonk song. Called the Texas Troubadour, he famously couldn’t sing much but that didn’t matter. He must have a side to him I thought, he once fell out with a record producer and tried to shoot him with a .357 Magnum. Drunk, he aimed at the wrong person but missed and was promptly arrested. Apparently, he was so mad with the fellow he forgot to put cowboy boots on.
Heading reluctantly back I knew Nashville was saved. Moonshine Music played on.
If you would like a special edition copy of A Beautiful Dream go to the bookstore, Here if you enter the code NASHVILLE you can enjoy a 15% discount. If you would like a signed copy also drop Steve an email at firstname.lastname@example.org letting him know who it is for.