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VOL. 44 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 3, 2020

Turn out the lights, the party’s over

Musicians see a lean year ahead as virus precautions cancel shows

By Tim Ghianni

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He’s seen fire and he’s seen rain, but his violinist and accompanying vocalist, Andrea Zonn, says James Taylor never thought that he’d see a time when a virus from China would wipe out his spring and, likely, summer schedules.

If there is a musician more associated with acoustic good vibes, warm lyrics and harmony during the warmer months, it is old Mud Slide Slim, who Andrea – a Nashville treasure – has accompanied for 18 years.

The coronavirus has steamrollered all over Taylor’s concert plans, says Andrea, who is spending her time with her son, Leonard, rather than up in Big Sky, Montana, rehearsing with Sweet Baby and the gang for a tour that was scheduled to begin April 14 in British Columbia and end July 10 in Camden, New Jersey.

This tour tentatively includes a June 30 stop at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with Jackson “Runnin’ On Empty” Browne as Taylor’s opening act.

Zonn and Taylor

After the 11-piece band’s rehearsals, “we were going to be canvassing Canada for the month of April, West to East Coast,” Andrea says, adding the summer tour of the States was to begin in May.

“They canceled at least through the end of April,” she continues. “The way the news is unfolding, there is good reason to believe that perhaps the summer concerts will be canceled.”

She normally spends four to five months of the year barnstorming the globe with J.T.

“My yearly income is heavily reliant on that salary,” she acknowledges. “This year was going to be busy, because he just put out a new record (“American Standard”).”

Another thing that worries her is she and her comrades have been able to get their health insurance because of their arrangement with Taylor. How that will play out due to the cancellations is a serious consideration.

Another worry: Though she’s a mere 50 years old, most of the band is north of 60, the folks of greatest risk from COVID-19.

Taylor is 72. Sure, he’s got a friend (lots of ’em), but he’s in the risk group, too.

And then there’s the audience: A large segment of his crowds grew up with “Sweet Baby James” on our college turntables back in 1970. Jamming thousands of aging boomers, seat-to-seat, in one place is a questionable proposition, Andrea says.

This gentle fiddle genius worries about the future and whether the concert business will forever be affected.

And then there’s the recording business, since it involves bringing small groups of people together in tight spaces, breathing closely the same air.

“Does this mean we’re going to find a way to do things remotely, like streaming concerts?” she says, noting that is what many of her friends are doing, basically playing for tips online.

“As a fan, until we have a better understanding of how to keep all of us safe, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy being at a concert.”

Country boy left alone

Livestreaming is out for the Charlie Daniels Band due to social distancing.

Charlie Daniels says his band is ready to thrill the devil out of concert fans, but not if it offers any danger to himself or his audience.

“We’re kind of rolling with the punches,” he says from his Wilson County home, where he is holed up with his wife and son, rigidly following the social-distancing idea.

“I don’t like being off work,” the Charlie Daniels Band kingpin says. “I want to get to work. I want to play some music for people, man. It’s not feasible. Even if it was permissible, I wouldn’t do it.

“That has to do with patriotism and responsibility.”

The band has rescheduled all April dates. “We put a lot of them down into the last part of November and in October and down in there,” says the long-ago-trimmed long-haired country boy. “We’re just kind of hoping we can go back sometime in May.”

He has thought of livestreaming, but for now opts out of that idea because he’s not “crazy as a loon” (an old lyric) and doesn’t want to get his six-piece band, crew, technical folks together in one confined space.

“I’ve been on this earth for 83 years,” he points out. “I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. I’ve been through polio when they didn’t want a bunch of kids playing, but I’ve never seen anything that’s anything like this, anything so contagious as fast as this. … It’s a terrifying thing for everybody.”

Jimmy Church Band grows quiet

The virus has hit hard at The Jimmy Church Band, which for decades has delivered classic show-band good times at their Nashville home base and across the country.

Jimmy, one of the nicest and most-generous souls I know, sprang from the long-ago Jefferson Street R&B scene. His outfit of “eight guys and two girls” is huge on the corporate meeting, society wedding and fundraising circuits.

If you’ve never seen his band, it’s sort of like The Blues Brothers of movie fame, except it’s real and the talent level of the frontman would put Joliet Jake and Elwood to shame.

“I’ve got one wedding in May. Everything else has been canceled,” he says. “The last thing I did was in February. The April stuff was canceled altogether.”

That wedding still on the books is May 16 at The Greenbrier, the legendary resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. He’s holding his breath on that one.

Also falling victim is his beloved Grown Folks Night Out, the weekly Tuesday night R&B jam he organizes and emcees at Carol Ann’s Home Cooking Café on Murfreesboro Road.

A hospice fundraiser in Owensboro, Kentucky, has been moved from April to September. And what hurts Jimmy most is that a fundraiser he had planned – 14 bands signed up – to raise money for North Nashville tornado victims also had to be postponed.

“Those people need money,” he says, then offers self-consolation by adding: “They’ll need money later, too.”

Virus tugs on Super T’s cape

Tyrone Smith has played thousands of weddings, including Jenna Bush’s at the White House.

The Superman cape and costume worn by Tyrone Smith for his band’s funky shows is getting an unfortunate rest.

The Tyrone (Super T) Smith Revue, another of Nashville’s great, hard-touring show bands, has lost 10 engagements so far because of the virus, says the bandleader who dons that cape and costume for part of each show.

“I’ve lost corporate engagements, club dates and wedding receptions,” he says, adding that some of that wedding work has been “moved back as far as July and August. Another moved to September.”

“All my April is wiped out completely,” he says. And while he does have his regular monthly gig at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar on April 18, “I’m looking any day to get a call on that date.”

If you’ve not seen this 12-piece show band, make sure to check them out once the cape is unfurled.

Nelson album delayed

Old-fashioned demographics have delayed the release of Willie Nelson’s 70th solo studio album – “First Rose of Spring” – from April 24 to July 3.

“A good number of people who purchase Willie’s records do so physically,” says Elaine Schock, the iconic singer-songwriter’s Los Angeles-based publicist. “So, they have to go to the store.”

Of course, people aren’t supposed to be spending a lot of time in stores, “so it was decided to push the record back.”

Irish eyes weren’t smiling

Thomm Jutz and Eric Brace, acoustic guitar duo specializing in well-crafted story songs, went to Ireland the Friday after the tornado.

They weren’t running away, they just were going for a long-scheduled weeklong series of gigs all over the Emerald Isle.

“We were supposed to get there on Friday (March 6) and play every night through (March 15),” says Thomm, speaking on March 12 from his home in rural eastern Davidson County.

The men had flown right into the coronavirus as it struck hard in Ireland, and it ended up costing them (they both took their wives) four round-trip tickets with no gig pay to show for it.

“When I got there on Friday, Eric told me Saturday night was canceled,” says Thomm, also a lecturer in the songwriting department at Belmont University and a well-regarded producer.

“Then when we were driving to Friday night’s gig, we heard that the first three (coronavirus) cases in Ireland had broken right there in that town (Arklow).”

They contacted the promoter, and “it was agreed it was not a good thing to do.”

“The next two nights we had really, nice, sold-out house concerts. The (host) was nervous, and his wife had been to a conference, and she was going to come back home not feeling well,” he continues.

The two singers allowed wisdom to prevail and decided it was not a good idea for them personally to be around a crowd of 60 paying customers, and it was irresponsible of them to encourage these people to come together in a tight space. The fact the host’s wife was not feeling well added weight.

The singers decided that was enough, so they took their wives to the southeast of Ireland while working out transportation home.

Once home, Thomm had to postpone gigs, including the March 26 CD release party at Station Inn for his inspired “To Live in Two Worlds - Vol. 1.”

He faces the same worry as fellow musicians here, there and everywhere.

“We have to keep in mind that as much as this is a part of our livelihood, what we want to do, what we are supposed to do: It’s a gig.” In other words, it’s fun, but not worth anyone dying for.

All the duo’s shows, plus some with sometimes trio-mate Peter Cooper, in April have been called off.

Since the musicians and their wives had been in a virus-heavy country, they self-quarantined for 14 days once home.

You can’t always get what you want

You thought nothing could stop the Rolling Stones? The virus has cancelled Nisssan Stadium show.

Of course, concerts of all types have been canceled or postponed. I knew, for example, that if I could scrape together funds or find a reviewing gig I’d be at Nissan Stadium May 20, to see my favorite living band, The Rolling Stones.

“We’re hugely disappointed to have to postpone the tour. We are sorry to all the fans who were looking forward to it as much as we were, but the health and safety of everyone has to take priority. We will all get through this together – and we’ll see you very soon – Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie.”

Of course, The Stones aren’t alone. Local concerts by Billie Eilish, Pearl Jam, The Zac Brown Band, Sturgill Simpson and more have either been postponed or canceled.

And Nashville Symphony has postponed a variety of concerts up into May. There’s still a lot of music of all varieties scheduled for venues large and small, but odds are most will be postponed for the near future.

At last check, Bob Dylan was still scheduled for July 2 at Bridgestone, but don’t count on it, as these times are a-changing. He sent an email out to fans the other day, accompanied by a new song, “Murder Most Foul,” an amazing look at, well, my generation.

But the way he closed the note clearly addresses the current crisis: “Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you. Bob Dylan”

No Skull Orchards

Rock ‘n’ roll architect Duane Eddy, a Franklin resident, says he’s worried about the musicians who have played for tips on Lower Broadway now that the clubs have been locked down.

“My heart is with them, because I used to do the same damn thing,” he says. “I used to play honky-tonks around Phoenix for four years before I cut a record.

“Waylon used to call them ‘Skull Orchards,’” says this guitar genius, advising unemployed honky-tonkers and other idled pickers to contact the musicians’ union.

Union says help’s coming

Dave Pomeroy, bass master and president of the Nashville Musicians Association, AFM Local 257, says he’s been in the office 16 hours a day, first dealing with the tornado that struck at the heart of East Nashville, where many musicians live, and now the virus.

There are emergency funds available for musicians, the amount depending on how long they’ve been union members.

He adds that recording session work has been affected, but is continuing, with the numbers in the studio closely monitored.

“Ten people has been described as a safe maximum,” Pomeroy notes. “We think that makes common sense.”

Silver-tongued devil plays it safe

Worried about my old friend, Kris Kristofferson, 83, who continues to ramble the land playing one-man shows, I reached out to his wife, Lisa.

“Kris and I both are in the age group that should avoid all nonessential travel,” Lisa explains. “That CDC recommendation was the reason we canceled shows in March and April. We just pray for the families affected by this virus and hope it comes to a swift end. Kris still enjoys playing music whether for the public or at home.”

Their home is Hawaii, and they are two of the nicest people I know.

Birthday on the Opry

Speaking of nice guys: Jesse McReynolds, bluegrass great and oldest member of the Grand Ole Opry, is keeping his head low in his Gallatin home, hoping the coronavirus passes quickly.

“This is an unusual thing,” says Jesse, who will turn 91 in July. “To see the government have to take over about everything, I don’t think many people have ever seen anything like this.”

And Jesse’s seen about everything during his career, much of it spent with brother, Jim, who died in 2002.

With Jim on guitar and Jesse on mandolin (doomed Doors’ leader Jim Morrison picked Jesse to play mandolin on ‘The Soft Parade’ album), the brothers were superstars.

Jesse, who continued his success after Jim’s death, pretty much restricts himself to the Grand Ole Opry because of health and age.

A couple of weeks ago “I did the Opry, it was my 77th anniversary on the Opry,” adds Jesse, noting that the hillbilly variety show has gone to Saturday livestreaming broadcasts instead of performances in front of audiences.

“This thing has affected everybody,” says Jesse, who remains weak after suffering an aneurism in his lower stomach three years ago.

His plans are to take it easy and return to the Opry for his 91st birthday party in July.

San Rafael goes silent

Rafael Vasquez, 66, the godfather of Latino music in Nashville, had his first coronavirus postponement March 31. It was for a celebration for FiftyForward, an agency that helps older Middle Tennesseans in a variety of ways, from social programs to geriatric care.

“That’s understandable,” Vasquez explains. “They deal with the people who are the most vulnerable.”

He also lost a gig at a Mexican restaurant in Murfreesboro.

He says he’s “hoping and praying” that his regular performances at the airport continue as scheduled. He also is a regular at Arrington Vineyards, but so far 30 performances there have been postponed because of the virus.

“You can’t really be complaining now,” says the leader of the San Rafael Band (in various configurations).

When the music’s over

Ron Brice, owner of 3rd & Lindsley, Nashville’s best big-club showroom, has the doors locked and refunds are going to those who bought tickets to the every-Monday sensation, The Time Jumpers.

Normally you have to get to the club a couple of hours early to get a seat for this swinging evening, and it is worth it.

“We’re doing what the city wants us to do,” Ron says. “We’re closed. We want to expedite this thing going away. We’re all for the common good.”

“After the first wave of information, we cut our capacity down to 250” from 700, he continues. When the warnings became more dire “we shut the whole thing down.”

“I feel bad for everybody. For the musicians and my staff,” he says. “I’ve created a fund for my staff, so no one falls through the cracks.

“No one here’s not going to eat. No one here’s not going to not have their medicine,” he says, adding “I hope the government comes through” as his own resources play out.

“The whole thing is kind of surreal. I’m reacting day-to-day. I’ve got a lot of scared employees.”

Cowboy chillin’ and worrying

Nashville’s coolest country & western singer, the poet-singer-songwriter Jon Byrd, says “I’m chillin’ at the OK Corral.”

By that he means he’s not at the bars, playing for his honky-tonk constituency. He’s waiting out the virus at home in Bellevue.

His main hangout, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge “has decided to go dark for a while,” he says, adding he supports the mayor’s efforts to get people out of the clubs and in their homes, lessening the chance of infection. “But it’s a heartbreaking thing.”

Long Players postpone

The Long Players, local super pickers who get together with guests to recreate classic albums or the works of classic artists, have had to alter their popular 3rd & Lindsley series of concerts.

“We had to cancel a tornado benefit we were doing for Hands On Nashville,” says Bill Lloyd, noting he and his cohorts “are being smart about” social distancing.

“We have a show on April 11, where we’re supposed to do Springsteen’s ‘The River,’” he says, adding that every hour of every day there’s new information that makes him doubt that show will take place.

“I doubt there will be anything April 11, but we’ll see,” says Bill who is working on final pressing details for his upcoming “Don’t Kill the Messenger” album, “a few topical songs as well as the acerbic love songs and silly things I do.”

As for the gig cancellations, he knows it hurts musicians, but “the only way to stop a pandemic like this is to have people keep away from it. There’s no way to know if you have it or not.”

Low-key album debut

Kelsea Ballerini was all set to promote her new album, “kelsea,” when the virus hit.

Kelsea Ballerini – among my former students in the Lipscomb journalism program – has just released her new album, “kelsea,” that includes her hit “homecoming queen” and 12 other new cuts.

“Unfortunately, due to the current global situation, we aren’t able to do many of the things I had up my sleeve. I had 21 days of straight travel planned to visit my favorite TV shows and radio stations and see you guys along the way, but what I care most about is getting this album to you and keeping everyone safe in the process. … I promise to find ways to reimagine our surprises and plans as soon as it’s safe.»

Her fellow Lipscomb alum and occasional collaborator Thomas Rhett has postponed his “The Center Point Road Tour.” It now will begin in July.

Nashville Cat: Woodstock quiet

John “Nashville Cats” Sebastian has proven his love for our city and its music going all the way back to 1966 when he praised the “thirteen-hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers” in town. He has continued to visit and express his love for our musical town over the last 54 years.

Checking in with him in Woodstock, New York, where he lives, he reports the guitars are silent up there as well.

Two staples of Woodstock are the Midnight Ramble, held at The Band drummer and vocalist Levon Helm’s barn/studio – Levon made the Ramble an institution before his death of throat cancer in 2012 – and music at Bearsville Theater.

“As you may have guessed, the virus has shut down the concert business completely,” says John, the leader of underappreciated The Lovin’ Spoonful. “Levon’s is not happening. Bearsville Theater awaits an all-clear.

“Luckily, we can all fall back on our extensive royalties. … Oh, that’s right …. Those were taken away 10 years ago. So, no worries.”

Garth looking for ‘happy’

The guy with friends in low places has rescheduled his upcoming concerts. For example, Garth Brooks’ sellout show in Charlotte, North Carolina, set for May 2, was moved to June 13, and a show in Cincinnati that was scheduled for May 16, now will be June 26.

“Like so many people right now, I just want to get back to what I do. Knowing these shows are eventually going to happen makes me happy,” says Garth, who co-headlined a homemade TV show with his glorious singer wife Trisha Yearwood this week.

Doctor in the house

Suzie Brown Sax, a cardiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a singer-songwriter (her latest album is “Under the Surface”) and dedicated mother had planned some touring time in the Midwest and family time at Disney World with Chloe, 4, Josie, 6, and her husband Scot, a talented creative mind himself. All of that has been put on hold for now because of the virus.

Instead, when she’s not working with heart failure and transplant patients at VUMC, she is home schooling the girls.

She says Chloe came up with the house rules for this school time: “be flexible, be kind, be respectful, don’t climb on the desk and have fun.”

Suzie knows to be especially careful when working at the hospital, because “that’s where sick people are” and she doesn’t want to expose the children.

Her songwriting, normally an outlet for her, has also been a difficult task during these times. “I have not felt musical at all,” she says. “I haven’t had the extra brain space. … If you are not feeling anxious now, you’re not paying attention.”

Diffie death shows danger

Joe Diffie, who died Sunday of complications from the COVID-19 Virus.

The very real danger and tragedy of this virus hit Music City hard Sunday when Joe Diffie died of complications from coronavirus. The 1990s country sensation is best-remembered for songs like “John Deere Green” and “Pickup Man.” He was 61.

“His family respects their privacy at this time,’’ according to publicist Scott Adkins when he announced the sad news.

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