Category Archives: 2017 Road Trip: American Music Cities

“New York, New York, so good we called here twice” (sorry Frank Sinatra)

“New York, New York, so good we called here twice” (sorry Frank Sinatra).

We made the most of our last morning in New Orleans to stroll the streets once more and for me to finally sample the famous beignets. We had been told they were a must and for sure these hot, sweet pastries (a cross between a donut and a light, fluffy Yorkshire pudding) arrived at the table covered in icing sugar. That was the beignets that were covered in sugar rather than the table, although eating one of those without exhaling the sugar coating is something of a challenge. How to eat 3 of them (the one portion size) was a marathon task – and that would be the daunting kind, not the now called Snickers bar. Even the Beignet Cafe gave us a morning jazz concert of a very high standard.

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We packed up rather reluctantly, sad that even though we had crammed a huge amount into our two day stopover, there was much we had missed. We hadn’t explored the ghost walks, the cemeteries or the voodoo ‘experience’. Chuckle. Actually, we caught sight of one of the cemeteries on our way to the airport. It was full of magnificent tombstones, presumably monuments to the great and the good, or maybe to the wealthy and bad. Ah well, New Orleans is yet another place on my “must return” list.

The car valet service at the hotel was excellent, even though the car park was 15 blocks away. The car was brought to the door at the appointed time, our cases loaded up, although the cheerful offer of directions was politely rejected in favour of ‘Sally the Sat Nav’. This time she didn’t play games or tease with alternative routes. We filled up the tank and rolled into the Budget car return in minutes. Even that was slick. No paperwork needed as everything was on a hand held computer with bar code readings. The car had done its job without incident this year and a mere 2065 miles added to the clock.

The timings of hotel checkouts plus the need to return the car on time, meant we had a long visit with Louis Armstrong, well, his airport at least. An internal flight with Delta to New York, a late evening arrival at our airport hotel and, apart from the small matter of an overnight flight from JFK on Sunday, that’s it! Our musical road trip is finished. We have experienced a wide range of musical genres, had a very large number of amazing times, seen, done, tasted a huge variety of memorable moments and appreciated all of it. Thanks for the fun times, Carolyn, and thanks to our families for their encouragement/indulgence of a couple of ‘girls’ of a certain age who like nothing more than an open road with places to see and people to meet at the end.

Goodbye New Orleans…..hello JFK

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

How to finish a journey which, through memories, will never end?

The final post is being written on a relative small plane doing the internal flight from New Orleans to New York. We are in Row 18 (four seats to a row) which, it transpires, is only two from the rear of the aircraft. Quite different to our transatlantic flight tomorrow back to the U.K. And, it has onboard Wifi!! (We haven’t paid for it!)

So, what of our journey? We set out to experience the music and the cities of the U.S. and we can count it as ‘mission accomplished’. It didn’t all go to the original plan when forces of nature intervened. We missed out Charleston and half of the Blue Mountain Parkway but those omissions can be rectified in the future, if we wish. We, unlike so many in that part of North America, were safe and in relative comfort. Our thoughts were with those who suffered.

The blog seems to be all-encompassing but a few quirks were missed out for brevity (and temporary amnesia – not caused by alcohol!). We added to them a few minutes ago when our pilot told us he was hoping to make “a smooth and speedy flight landing a few minutes early” and continued, “I’m hoping to make a few shortcuts!” Wot?!

Having recently accidentally emulated my mother’s admonishment, were I ever to have used bad language, “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap and water!”, what else can I add?

From the wet, rain-soaked vision of the pair of us in New York, we went to a wet, sweat-soaked vision of us in New Orleans but, in between times, the sun shone, or didn’t, and we smiled, looked, listened, and sang… whatever!

Driving:
It’s different. The “concrete arteries clogged with the cholesterol of cars” was how I described American roads last year in Los Angeles. Our roads this trip were virtually all free flowing and, for much of the time, straight and well maintained despite the overuse of concrete for roads and, especially, bridges. Traffic lights go from Red to Green without the intervening Red/Amber and you can turn Right on Red unless told otherwise. It surprised me that after a No Entry sign on the inappropriate carriageway of a Freeway (our Motorway) there was usually a second sign about 50 metres down the road saying “Wrong way!”. Which idiot would go down the wrong way, I asked myself. Well, I did. Albeit briefly. Turning left on to a multi-lane dual carriageway at night in the dark (see how I’m building the possible excuses) where the Sat. Nav. showed a sharp left turn and then sharp right, I found myself, suddenly, facing potentially oncoming traffic. Fortunately, I saw the cars a distance away and had an exit. Phew.

I was impressed, as always, by the 53 feet length and over 11 feet tall trucks who, occasionally, on this trip suddenly had a ‘skirt’ underneath. Apparently, called ‘wings’ and, I assume, useful for aerodynamics. As a former Maths’ teacher, I do like the U.S. use of Median for the central reservation.

Nomenclature:
Soubriquets included: Babe, Sweetie, Honey and, of course, the ubiquitous Guys. Being described as the most beautiful woman in the bar was tempered by his inebriation! Ah, well! I was reminded there of a song which we frequently heard on the Country Music channels on our car radio:
🎼🎶🎤 “They say I’ve got a drinking problem but it’s no problem drinking at all.
They call it a problem but I call it a solution.”

The road from Nashville to New Orleans is known as the ‘Music Highway’ and you can understand why. Musical oddities? One of the bands (hillbilly) at the Grand Ole Opry was called, ‘The Possum Touchers’ and a member of another band (cowboy), ‘Riders in the Sky’, had a green pronged item as neckwear which he called his Cac-tie! And I’m told my jokes are bad. The worst joke of that evening had to be… “We give him laxatives at night with a sleeping pill. It makes him sleep like a baby.”

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In Washington D.C., we got half of our hotel bill returned together with a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries after a complaint and ‘blagged’ our way into a museum without online booking. We Seniors don’t take any messing with! And we showed the youngsters how to ride the Segways! Right on, eh?! We Rock!

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Another wonderful Road Trip nearly over. Our ‘Thelma and Louise’ will never emulate Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in the ‘Roads to Wherever’ but we’ll try.

Bye for now.

 

 

“Down at the levee waiting for the Robert E Lee”

“Down at the levee waiting for the Robert E Lee”.

It may be slightly silly but I was positively excited to see the sea again as we drove towards New Orleans. It was our first glimpse since New York. It was also fascinating to experience the freeway crossing the Louisiana swamps, the bayou, and the unusual looking trees which rise up through the water. Because we are staying in the heart of the French Quarter, the final part of our journey was through cramped streets, teeming with colour with the sounds of jazz everywhere, and manoeuvring our way amongst the horse drawn tour carriages which moved at their own slow pace. We were happy to hand the car over to the parking valet and step into the beautiful hotel, which definitely reflects a ‘grand age’ with every possible modern amenity.

 

We ‘hot footed’ it out and enjoyed a ramble. We seemed to be close to all the places I wanted to see and quickly happened upon the Mississippi River Boat cruise. Oh yes! A two hour cruise down the Mississippi in high temperatures and humidity offered at least some relief with the odd breeze crossing the decks. This is apparently the only steamboat on the river – we know that it is steam driven as we saw the boilers “Thelma and Louise” and even braved the engine room. Some way downstream the guide pointed out a monument to the Battle of New Orleans. Ear worm once more of Lonnie Donegan’s song

Well in 1814, we took a little trip,
Along with Colonel Packenham down the mighty Mississipp’.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans,
And we fought the bloomin British in the town of New Orleans

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In this case, the clouds began a-coming, lightning flashed in the distance but nothing reached us. The boat’s hooter sounded impressively as we hailed a cruise ship setting out for sea, following the path we had taken alongside the levee. Instructions for our docking were done the old fashioned way – by megaphone. Fascinating.

 

We had explored some of the lively streets along the way, so made it a quick dash back to the blissfully air conditioned hotel. I think the last time I perspired at such a rate was in Mumbai.

We went to claim a complementary drink from the bar and found there was a different jazz group playing each evening. What a fabulous band it turned out to be. This was real New Orleans jazz with trumpet lead, amazing saxophonist, drummer, bass and keyboard. Quite outstanding and we enjoyed cocktails (thankfully normal strength) whilst simply loving the entertainment.

 

A short stroll around the local streets finished off the evening. This is the vibrant ‘happening’ place I had expected in Memphis and we just love it.

Day 2 – and as a start to the day we enjoy a real Louisiana breakfast of poached eggs on top of crabmeat with a crayfish sauce over the top and three colours of fried potato. I may never eat again. As we leave, the day is hot and sunny. Here I am totally understating the case. The heat rises up to say hello, but instead of moving on, it sticks to you until satisfied every pore is working. This really is something else. However, we have walked! Around the French Quarter, around the French Market, into St Louis Cathedral (blissfully cool, light and airy), and on to a drinks stop. We (sorry, I), wanted to take a photograph of the Mississippi Steamboat setting off. Of course, the darned thing was late setting off by a good 10 minutes. But we stood under the relentless sun, waited and dripped a bit more. Finally….!

 

Back for a circuit around the already heaving streets with the pulsing sounds of the street bands. I presume these are the guys who can’t get a gig in the bars but make a living from this type of busking. I stood besides the Rib Room whilst Carolyn took a video of a street band. Inside were groups of the gentry – southern gentlemen in their cream suits, sitting at pristine tables with silver cutlery and linen napkins, eating huge plates of hot food. Groan!

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It is late afternoon and definitely time for some air conditioning or even a swim before contemplating a tour of the bars for a selection of music when the sun goes down over the grand old Mississippi. Later tomorrow we begin our homeward journey with a flight back to New York. What an amazing trip – again, another slight understatement!

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Well , what can I add?

It’s been a wonderful trip – not yet over – and the past two days have added so much colour and texture to it!

Kath had had New Orleans on her to-do list since we started planning this musical journey. We both have eclectic tastes in music but Kath will tell you that I have a fascination for difference and quality. If it’s good, it’s good – and I may enjoy it!

The stop-off point from Memphis to the Big Easy wasn’t a planned music stop but we researched and found some. New Orleans’ music scene doesn’t require any research. Walk out of the door or, even, down the lobby and you hear it and then see it. Blues? Yes. Jazz? Yes, of almost all types. When we walked past bars in Las Vegas last year, we commented how each bar had different music. But those bars were, sometimes, a block long and the music was piped. Here, every bar is the width of a house and the music is live. Not just the bars. They play in the streets and we saw the archetypal New Orleans Jazz Band walking by – surprisingly followed by a State Trooper motorbike and SUV as well as the traditional crowds of ‘followers’.

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My anticipation of New Orleans was fed by James Bond’s ‘Live and Let Die’ with McCartney’s theme tune. Our hotel was only a block away from the site of the film’s funeral procession. Did it match the film? Yes – as picturesque and more vibrantly beautiful. But, we were warned to be careful, especially at night. We were and, frankly, felt safe but we didn’t stay out very late.

 

Our musical experiences were so many. The map shows only some of the bars – we listened at all of them! However, we had more formal traditional jazz last night from The Luneta Jazz Band and New Orleans Jazz tonight from The Doyle Cooper Jazz Band. It was Thomas Beecham who said, “There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.” With jazz, that rule still mainly applies but it does matter what goes on in between, of course. We’ve seen three quite different types of jazz on our Musical Road Trip but all played with expertise and passion. From a core melody, the players extemporise each as individuals although, somehow, in time, tune and passion with each other. Tonight, J.W.Pepper’s creation, the sousaphone, replaced last night’s double bass, a guitar replaced a keyboard, a trombone replaced the tenor and soprano sax whilst the trumpet (‘horn’) and drums were common. All playing separately and yet totally together. I have to make special comment about the trombonist tonight. He seemed autistic as he sat uncommunicatively until he began playing and then… the trombone sang as did he! What a player!

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We caught several street bands and a band on the Steamboat Natchez as well. Joy!

 

Talking of the steamboat… there are only two on the Mississippi. The others are riverboats but not steam. The Natchez is the ninth boat wth that name and an earlier one lost the famous race with the Robert E. Lee in 1870. Despite the Mississippi being 200 feet deep in the centre, Natchez only has a draft of five feet. The river is mind boggling in its size. It’s the third largest river in the world by the area it drains. Where we are, sees 1 million cubic feet of water per second pass by. Because of this flow, there are no tides here and no salt water. The Natchez was only built 42 years ago but its steam engines are 92 years old and its style is even older. Great addition to our musical journey with a New Orleans Jazz Band playing on board. (Being able to spell Mississippi has been a buzz for me since Primary School: M – I – double S – I – double S – I – double P – I )

Musical nudges? Kath has mention ‘Down at the levee’ but, what about ‘Proud Mary’:
“Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis
Pumped a lot of tane down in New Orleans
But I never saw the good side of the city
Until I hitched a ride on a riverboat queen
You know that big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling, rolling yeah (rolling)
Rolling on the river.”

(“tane”, by the way, is an abbreviation of “octane” and is slang for gasoline – I looked it up!)

I also remember ‘Way down yonder in New Orleans”, of course.

A final note about the size of this country. As we left Jackson for New Orleans, the next largest big town, our Sat. Nav. blithely announced, ‘Continue on the I55 for 185 miles”. Cruise control set, we drove here and it was worth it, indeed.

And, then, we spotted two tee shirts – sums it up!

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When I was walking in Memphis…

“When I was walking in Memphis…

Were we to plan this trip, knowing what we know now, I would definitely choose to come to Memphis before Nashville to avoid a disappointing comparison. Last night we came down to the famous Beale Street and at first sight, in the late afternoon heat and sun, I was certainly underwhelmed. Whatever I was expecting, this was not it. So, OK, there were bars blasting out music but the whole place was run down and, to be fair, a bit seedy. Memphis generally, or at least the parts we have seen, appears rather run down and the contrast with the fun, happening, smart and sophisticated Nashville was marked.

 

It would not be us to be downhearted for too long and we started off by watching an outside performance from a local group. The truly fabulous bass guitarist, we soon discovered, couldn’t sing, the equipment was giving them trouble but they got people to dance. “Do you want to dance?” asked Carolyn. “No”, was my quick and curt response!

 

We had explored Beale Street (15 mins max) and so opted to eat at a bar with professional musicians who, minus a drummer, belted out a variety of blues numbers. A bit stylised but an excellent keyboard player and I was intrigued by the lead guitarist who played better when he had a fag in his mouth. The ribs were good and I was delighted to sample fried green tomatoes for the first time. I had loved the film ‘Fried green tomatoes at The Whistle-stop Cafe’. Unusual but tasty and definitely recommended.

So on to day 2 in bright sunshine and punishing heat. (Apparently it is unseasonably hot – temp is 33 C whilst writing this section). What should we pick? Somehow it felt rude to be here in Memphis and not visit Graceland. We both came to appreciate Elvis more in our later years and, to be honest, it was not a “must do”. However, despite the cost, Graceland won the day, well, the morning. The tour, accompanied by iPad, was slick, Disneyesque in its operation, and quite superb. We restricted ourselves to the mansion and avoided the clothes, the discs and many exhibition halls, sound stages and aeroplanes (?!). Sorry, Elvis.

 

From there it was a musical voyage of discovery via the Stax Museum and the Museum of Rock and Soul. Stax was the recording company which brought on writers and performers of blues, soul and into the more modern musical genres. It was a multi racial company and performers worked alongside one another very happily regardless of race. It was the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King which drove the wedge between the races in Memphis and brought about the downfall of Stax. Fortunately, the music lives on, wounds heal (at least in the world of music) and Memphis continues to pride itself in bringing its own sound to the world. Both museums were excellent with audio sets providing even more enjoyment, even to the point where you could listen to juke box hits from the period being illustrated. Memphis welcomes performers from all over the globe to perform there – the FedEx Stadium is about to host, amongst others, The Foo Fighters in October. No big names whilst we are here but we came for the local Memphis sound.

 

What did we need after a hot and heavy day? A swim in the guitar shaped pool. 6.30 in the evening was a perfect time, although the water was cooler than I expected. A warm shower and ready to go again – but a local restaurant this time. We had gone in search of a late lunch between the Museum trips and, naturally, some would say, decided to check out the quirky sounding bar for a quick bite to eat. It was only after ordering a drink to go with the food that we discovered the kitchen had closed, so had to down cocktail slush puppies on an empty stomach. One trip to Wet Willies for frozen cocktails is fine for one day, and I still say it was the strongest strawberry daiquiri I have ever experienced, so a local eaterie will be just fine.

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Well, Memphis was, as Kath said, ‘rougher’ than Nashville but, without many expectations on my part, I could have anticipated it. Nashville is being regenerated and, frankly, it’s more White! Why does that matter? Ask an African-American. I went to Graceland because it is next door to our hotel and, whatever I thought of Elvis in my teens, there is no doubt that he changed the face of music and teenagers generally. But, I wanted to go to Stax Records and see Beale Street. And, tomorrow, remembering that Martin Luther King Jnr. was shot here, we will go to the Civil Rights Museum.

Graceland? Well worth a visit if only to ‘tick it off’. The mansion was smaller than I’d imagined and we weren’t allowed upstairs into the ‘private quarters’. “Elvis always met people downstairs”, we were told. It was interesting but I sensed, for the first time, some real sadness in his life. The house seemed somewhat claustrophobic, somehow. I could imagine the ‘entourage’ (hangers-on?) boosting his ego and filling his life and his home barely giving this amazingly talented, rich and worshipped man opportunity to explore his human needs. I’m sure he exuded happiness many times but that home caused me to wonder about the man not the icon. Mirrors were in evidence…

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Without doubt, the whole slick operation of the Graceland business was very impressive – well done and thanks but would the man behind the image have approved? I hope so.

Yesterday, after our drive here, we ‘hit’ Beale Street. Kath has said she was ‘underwhelmed’. It was more than that. Her optimism and usual cheerfulness took a blow. We picked up some live music as we had planned but there was an air of disappointment. I described it elsewhere as Blackpool on a weekend condensed into two blocks with lots of live music. At least two police cars at each end of the street and a police station on the street paints a picture. None of the police got out of their cars to smile and chat adds some shading. However, the music was what we came for and we got some. A great funk bass player at the outdoor set which included a great segue version of Ride Sally Ride and Walking the Dog followed by a blues band playing various classics many covered by Eric Clapton was our musical repast.

After Graceland, we had two more visits planned – both less expensive and, as it turned out, both giving great value for money. The Stax Museum and the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum are very much worth a visit – musically and socially.

Despite extremely eclectic tastes, if I had to pick a favourite genre, I’d pick Stax Soul. If I had to pick a band, I’d pick Booker T and the MGs! The MGs were not, as explained by the label’s publicity arm at the time, named after Memphis Group. They were named after the British sports car! They were the house band for Stax and played on so many hits – Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Albert King, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Delaney & Bonnie and many others in the 1960s. My link with Stax goes back to my college days when I was asked to join a band as a replacement for their injured drummer. My previous experience had been with a band/group playing mainly Shadows, Ventures instrumentals. The college band played Stax Soul tracks and my experience was broadened. I remember playing at a USAF base near Oxford and an African American asked if he could sing with us. He was great but asked me if I could cut out some of my fills. (I was a little slap-happy and loved running around the kit! I was pre-punk punk drummer, I reckon). Anyway, I got a groove, as they say, and the band had never sounded better.

What is special for me is, also, that Stax was multi-racial. Booker T. and the MGs had, for their most successful period, two African Americans (Black!) and two Caucasians (White!). Until the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr, race “never entered the door”. Steve Cropper (great guitarist) has said that Stax would still be going in racial harmony if that event hadn’t happened. Stax folded in 1974 but its music, heritage and, now, museum and academy, live on. Racial segregation is not long gone and it’s roots still cast a very long shadow.

The Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum repeated some of Stax’s history but added Sun Records and Hi Records. It traced the history of pop(ular) music back through the blues of the cotton sharecroppers (black and white) to the church choirs to jazz and to rock ‘n’ soul. As a museum, it was impressive in that the audio tour allowed dozens of songs to be chosen to listen to on the equivalent of a juke box. (A Juke, by the way, was a ‘rowdy whore house’!) We both listened intently with occasional involuntary hip wiggles.

A final note… my favourite Booker T. track is not their biggest hit, ‘Green Onions’, nor the Test Match Special theme music, ‘Soul Limbo’. My favourite for a variety of reasons is, ‘Time is tight’. The title is, I’m sure, related to the tight and crisp rhythm of the band. However, as I listened to it as we came out of the museum – and at least four other times today – I was reminded that time for us all is finite and limited. It’s a resource to be used not wasted nor stored away. Carpe diem – seize the day and… do what you can for yourself and for others… whilst you can! Time is tight, indeed.

 

 

“Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville….”

Well, there’s thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville…..”.

And, by the end of today we had heard quite a few of them. What a fabulous city Nashville is and how we wish we were staying longer. Nashville’s self proclaimed status of “The Music City” feels right, and although the main focus here is country and western, we have heard quite a mixture. Nearly every bar downtown offers live music, played at considerable volume to draw in the very willing visitors.

 

We began our visit with what we thought was a quick trip to The Grand Ole Opry to collect our tickets for the evening performance. The sat nav takes you to the Convention Hotel, some distance away, and the venue hides itself away in a corner of vast car parking facilities. There are no row numberings or markings in said car park, so you just have to remember where you abandoned your car. Finally, tickets secured and time for lunch. The closest place was Dave and Buster’s, which turned out to be a sort of casino, 10 pin bowling arcade and games and slot machine heaven for kids and adults alike. The food was OK, with waitresses who check your progress every few minutes and the noise was deafening.

Come on, let’s go downtown, which is actually a 20 minute drive from The Ole Opry. This was just amazing…bright, brash and fun with everyone clearly having a good time. Plans made. We were spending the day there tomorrow. We were not staying in the centre of Nashville as the cost of the hotels, to say nothing of the cost of parking, is like any major city in the USA – expensive. We had a 15 minute drive from the centre, checked into the Holiday Inn Express and turned ourselves around for a night at the Grand Ole Opry.

 

The performance began at 7 pm and as you quickly find out, you are taking part in the Saturday night broadcast…Live from the Grand Ole Opry. We laughed at the regular breaks for “Messages from our Sponsors”. These were commercials read by a guy on stage and advertising various products. Chicken featured and one ‘lucky’ member of the audience was selected by seat number to receive a quantity of the stuff delivered to his door (“But not just yet”). Fortunately it wasn’t us.

The performances were interesting/good/and excellent. Crystal Gayle was a featured artist but, personally, I thought she was outshone by Wynonna, Patty Loveless and Brandy Clark. The night belonged to Jeannie Seely, who is a bit of a legend in terms of the Opry, and was celebrating her 50th anniversary since first singing there. She still has an amazing voice and a wicked sense of humour. The whole show was a mixture of music, comedy and even some square dancing.

When leaving, we actually found our car easily after walking some distance and, although I thought the escaping 4,400 members of the audience might present a degree of difficulty because of the sheer volume of cars exiting at the same time, we were back at the hotel in about half an hour. Result.

 

Did I mention the heat and humidity? In such fabulous sunshine it seems churlish to complain but when the temperature climbs high into the 30s….ouch, blisters. For the second time this trip we took a ride downtown with Uber. We had no idea where to park, no idea how long we wanted to stay and the cost of the door to door service was only marginally more expensive than parking charges. Which is how we found ourselves right outside the Johnny Cash Museum. Carolyn was humouring me as I used to quite like Johnny Cash but, although interesting, the Museum was not a standout feature of the day.

 

That belonged, without a doubt, to Nudies Bar. Not the bar itself because, as Carolyn has said on Facebook, we went for the fun of the name and stayed for the fabulous music. By this time we had taken a tour around Nashville on a hop-on, hop-off bus. In the intense heat we were in need of a drink so we’re attracted to the bar with the quirkiest name and the loudest music. Carolyn will talk about this further on but I must just say it is a long time since I sat watching music with the beat vibrating up my bottom!! It took a couple of hours for my ears to readjust…pardon?

 

The rest of the day was spent doing more hopping on and off the bus, seeing music venues, music museums, recording studios, etc, and loving every moment. We should have spent a week here, but perhaps better to leave wanting more. Memphis is waiting, so on we go.

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Wow! Wow! Wow! Not merely a wow-wow pedal but the whole Downtown of Nashville producing sounds and sights which provoked even more than possibly imagined. I’m starting my section at the end of the two days here because I’m still buzzing more than a little.

 

Jarett McAlister and his band were well into their set when we arrived but we, immediately, became entranced. Jarett with his guitar led each song with laid-back vocals, a fiddle, bass and lead guitar joined on vocals as well as contributing to the musical tapestry. But, then,… the drummer! Oh, my word. Imagine a combination of The Who’s Keith Moon and Nirvana’s/Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl at their best. The rhythm was precise and forceful, punctuated and decorated in sound with a combination and variety of fills utilising every element of the kit – including the cowbell – with flair, expertise, elegance and showmanship. Visually, stick twirling and tossing added to the seemingly effortless drive. Not only did he continue playing whilst drinking at least four bottles of Bud and accurately disposing of them in an adjacent bin, he didn’t  miss a beat! Wow! Wow! Wow! I chatted to him at the end, thanked and praised him and pointed out that I’d drummed in a band before he was born but not, in any way, at his level! His response was to thank me, call me awesome and then, in the manner of a Southern gentleman, I imagine, took my hand and kissed the back of it. Oh, my word, indeed!

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Before we left, a second bar visit was needed as I felt I had to try my first Jack Daniel’s as we were where it came from. The No.7, by the way, is the number of the liquor licence awarded to them and, we were told, licences are handed down within families.

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Yesterday, was much more sedate with the music just as professionally competent but, somehow, lacking in rawness and edge. The very practised and loved artists who were heroes to the audience put on an excellent show. The star was Jeannie Seely and the other artists took every opportunity to praise her ability, sassy humour and work to allow other women to raise their profile in Country Music. She was the first to perform in a miniskirt at the Grand Ole Opry, we were told, but her real innovation was in her writing and performing. At 77, still a formidable lady!

Of course, we were thrilled to have seen the Opry but, would I go again? Probably not. Although very, very competent, it was a little formulaic for me. And the quirks of adverts being read out like a latter day Rowan and Martin from Downtown Burbank distracted as did, I’m sorry, every artist, male and female, except for those wearing cowboys hats, seemingly wearing wigs. In fairness, Crystal Gayle still appeared to have her own sitting on length tresses as she sang, “Don’t it make my brown eyes blue” her 1977 hit.

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But, look what we two Prestonians found?!

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Curios on the way included a new-to-me road sign and then Kath trying on a hat! (Didn’t buy it!)

 

The bus tours of Nashville were interesting with the hop-on, hop-off giving us four different driver/tour guides. Always good to listen to different descriptions and interests. The most fascinating for me was twofold:

The incredible concrete replica of the Parthenon (left over from an Exhibition in the early 20th Century) much more complete than the real one we saw earlier in the year), and…

 

The recording studios side by side for hundreds of metres along adjacent roads. The studios were hidden behind facades which made them look like the protected architecture they were. What was inside was left to imagination except for the almost universal garish signage outside proclaiming for each studio their latest artist and No. 1 hit! The signs deprived much visual value from the protected frontages. My favourite memories were provoked was RCA Studio B (appropriate heritage sign) which was formerly referred to as just RCA Studios. It’s one of the oldest and most prestigious studios in Nashville. Gaining wide popularity in the 1960s, RCA Studios recorded artists like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and many others.

A final note is the roundabout based group of nude statues which is nicknamed the ‘round-a-butt’ for obvious reasons.

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I wouldn’t go to the Opry again, perhaps, but would I come back to Nashville? Yessiree, Bob!

 

Carolina on my mind

 

Carolina on my mind

Who would have thought that the wrath of Hurricane Irma would just keep on bringing a deluge to many more States? We found this morning in Virginia we were in receipt of many inches of rain, to the point where our intended route along the Blue Ridge mountains was closed due to storm damage. Our exit point in North Carolina was also affected, so we were forced to follow the interstate for over 200 miles in driving rain, low cloud, poor visibility and generally miserable conditions. We also found that the music centre on the Parkway was closed, so we tuned in to a great radio station playing classic rock and sang our way here.

‘Here’ was not quite what I had anticipated. I thought I had found a rather glamorous hotel, up a mountain, with beautiful scenery and somewhat indulgent in luxury terms. It took a few attempts to find it and several miles to boot as TomTom refused to recognise the address. I think I became concerned with the whole area when I saw large and very elaborate churches, many with their own fleet of buses outside, one after the other. The houses were ordinary but the churches were anything but. Of course we were not so far from Charlottesville and other places where the infamous Bible Belt breeds its own kind of supremacy. It was not the most comfortable feeling and I seriously wondered about giving up the search for the hotel and getting as far away as possible.

Carolyn refused to be deterred and eventually we found the hotel which appeared to have stepped out of a bygone age. It resembles a southern colonial mansion with a row of rocking chairs on the front porch. The main rooms are large and a little homely. No wifi in the bedrooms and no TVs anywhere. There is a library and the bedrooms are reached via long, wide hallways. As for the bedrooms and bathrooms themselves, they are nothing like modern hotel bedrooms. Carolyn almost did herself an injury trying to access the loo in her tiny bathroom. Paint peels off the ceilings and the beds are made up with floral sheets. Dinner was the standard I had expected on booking and the longer I sit in the hotel lounge, the more charmed I become. Perhaps ‘modern’ is not what we always need and the southern charm of the hotel owner and staff is much appreciated.

So, Irma has not only provided an interesting journey today but has had a considerable impact on our route. We are recommended to avoid Charleston and Atlanta, to have been the focus of our next 3 days. Instead we are heading for Chattanooga tomorrow and will decide then about how to spend our days before Nashville. No problem at all and it is all great fun.

 

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

We’re at the Balsam Mountain Inn and, despite the undoubted charm and quirkiness of this first decade of the 20th century building, I’m battling to get rid of images and sounds of Twin Peaks.

 

 

 

 

The toilet, which Kath referenced earlier, barely fits my shoulders or hips. ‘Convenience’ it is not! However, there are no mains services connected to the hotel so we should be grateful for small mercies… or small loos!

 

 

Seriously, on a summer’s day or even a crisp, autumnal day in the Fall, the hotel’s history and former grandeur would allow it to present itself really well. On a dank, dark, mist and cloud enshrouded day, we were apprehensive about even entering. The staff are characters from an Appalachian period piece but the food was lovely and was eased down with a reasonably priced, very palatable Malbec. The building is made of wood and we are advised that, as sound travels, would we please be quiet after 10pm. Lights are dimmed on the corridors at that time. Rooms are not equipped with any electronics – no TV, coffee machine etc. but coffee, tea, chocolate and… Apple cider mix are available in sachets in the Library. Breakfast starts at a very leisurely 8 am. The furniture is made of wood but sometimes repaired with gaffer tape. Pictured one of the bedheads

 

 

 

As for the bears…?!

 

 

 

Reading the history provided, it is proud that the bedroom doors didn’t have locks until relatively recently relying on an “honors (sic) system”. The curtain is thin but good quality and, they say, at 3500ft elevation, neither thermostats to the heating nor air conditioning is needed – or provided. There are wide opening sash windows for summer and layers of bedclothes for the winter. We were pleased there was hot water, though. Having said all of that – what an experience and we wouldn’t have wanted to have missed it.

The journey here qualified for a high ‘Interesting’ on my descriptive scale as 53ft long trailers proclaimed their presence on the road with engine noise and copious amounts of spray. We went up the mountains – steeply and lengthily – and then down avoiding the run off ramps for the trucks which appeared like inverted ski jumps. All the time, conscious of the reality of being in rain bearing clouds.

Yesterday, the description that I was “hot” referred to my speed and today’s “Sweetie” from a young woman five decades my junior was a mere colloquialism, y’all!

So, onto the musical miscellany…

I have to start with Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’ which was popularised for some by Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1977 rendition of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. A classic, for me, of Prog Rock. Ok, it isn’t Spring but Appalachian we are.

As Kath indicated, our journey was helped by the Classic Rock Station on the car radio: Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, Beatles, Elton John, Whitesnake, even Rod Stewart, punctuated our journey and prompted our own attempts at harmony.

After miles of struggling against the elements, our eventual arrival gave rise to a mental, “In the middle of nowhere” of Dusty’s 1965 hit and the memory of her being deported from South Africa for refusing to play for segregated audiences. Perhaps, I also felt for her as she was struggling the whole time with her own sexuality fearing exposure.

Needless to say, on several occasions of the journey here via some winding, unmade roads, “Get back” by The Beatles came to mind

‘Carolina on my mind’ is a good title and it is an impressive and beautiful pair of States but the trucker with a tee shirt proclaiming ‘Redneck’ and then passing houses flying Confederate flags together with churches more regal than the houses, reminded us that there are underlying issues which cause some concerns.

It is relatively trivial that we have had to change our itinerary and route. We have missed some music and could have done more of the Parkway. But, we are safe and intact – tomorrow we head for Chattanooga instead of Charleston and Atlanta with Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” buzzing round our brains. (Did you know the recording of it was awarded the first ever official Gold Disc? Hmm!)

 

 

On the trail of the lonesome pine

On the trail of the lonesome pine.

The morning definitely had an autumnal feel to it and as we climbed up the Blue Ridge Parkway and emerged above the tree line, the sight of the morning mist still clinging to the distinctly blue coloured mountains was one to behold. Quite beautiful. This wonderful road is over 400 miles long and in places climbs to 6,000 feet. It links the Shenandoah Valley to the Smoky Mountains and nowhere were we going to find a lonesome pine here – there are hundreds of thousands of trees, whose branches meet and cover the road for mile after mile. There are “pull offs” or “view overs”, as they are known here, which provide opportunities to see across valleys and mountains, but you do need to be careful when something like a lake is signposted. Foolishly, I thought the sign indicated an opportunity to look out over a lake but after winding downwards for about 6 miles we came to a rather unprepossessing pond posing as a lake and surrounded by camp sites. Carolyn, who was driving, normally has an infallible sense of direction but on this occasion……we were slightly off course. Her description of the water we found was “a lacklustre lake”!

It took a while, but we were once again high up on the ridgeway and becoming slightly concerned that we still had over 150 miles to go to reach our hotel with no opportunity to go much faster than 45 miles per hour. We decided to drop down to the interstate and make up a few fast miles and find a cup of coffee at the same time. A town called Glasgow appeared on the sat nav but reality revealed a bridge with a couple of houses and a gas station. Carolyn slowed from our fast road to take the bridge (limit 35 mph), slowed again because the town (the same 2 houses and a gas station) wanted us to do 25 mph and she then slowly pulled over and came to a halt. “What’s happening?”, I asked. At this point the air went blue – no bad language, just the lights on top of the County Sheriff’s car lighting up the street. A diminutive lady officer of the Sheriff’s Office appeared at the car window.

“Was I doing something wrong?”, asked Carolyn. “Did you notice the speed limit on the bridge, Ma’am, and again at the town limit? May I see your driver’s licence and car registration documents”. I kid you not, it was just like the movies. The sergeant looked at the licence, turned it this way and that, said she assumed it was legal but didn’t intend to bother with all the paperwork it would take to book us, so on this occasion she would let us go, reminding us to take care and hoping we would have a nice day. Wot? We actually engaged her in a nice conversation before going slowly on our way. I had to chuckle to myself because the good officer told Carolyn she came over the bridge ‘a bit hot’. I thought how lucky it was she was not following us up on the Parkway half an hour earlier when I really wanted to go to the loo and Carolyn “put her foot down” to find some elusive facilities. That speed really might have been “hot”. But after all that, please note, there is no coffee in Glasgow, just two houses, a gas station and a radar trap as you go over the bridge.

We found coffee further up the road, complete with a Subway bar selling excellent sandwiches. We sadly missed (???) an opportunity to learn flat foot dancing at the Blue Ridge Parkway Music Center. But we will catch the Center when it opens tomorrow…for music only. Phew.

Whoever said a road trip might be boring??

Carolyn’s Curios & Musical Notes 🎼🎶🖌

Before the events of today, I was going to write about the differences and perils of driving in America. As I, genuinely, drive on cruise control at, or below, the speed limit here, I find myself feeling almost like a plane in a dog fight. Vehicles can overtake on either side and can turn right at a red light. Even keeping my eyes on all three mirrors and looking over both shoulders, one could still miss a ‘bandit’. Even the ones from above need to be carefully noted when 11ft high, 9 ft wide and seriously long mega trucks veer out of their lanes with apparent abandon.

I mention this to put the police incident into perspective. Using American CB slang, it could be described as, “A Kojak with a Kodak, Mama Bear, came after me in her Blue Light Special”. What really happened was nothing like Smokey and the Bandit and ‘our’ Sergeant was nothing like Buford T. Justice, Rosco P. Coltrane or J.W. Pepper. She was a firm but fair officer who realised a genuine mistake. Coming off a 70mph highway and, suddenly, encountering, without notice, a 35mph limit and then a 25mph limit within a few metres ensured I slowed quickly – albeit not quickly enough to be slow enough! This seemed to be a common occurrence hence her position with her radar. I spotted her vehicle some way behind me as it had flashing lights. I was driving at 25mph at that time and, wrongly, assumed that this was an emergency vehicle wanting to drive quickly. Of course, as it was a single lane road, I moved to the side and off the carriageway to let it pass. In almost slow motion, I saw it reduce speed rather than rush past and then stop behind me. Kath, experienced in these matters, told me not to get out of the car. When the officer arrived at the car door, looking frustratedly firm, I asked, meekly, if I had done anything wrong and “May I get out of the car?” to show her my licence. She knew I had slowed quickly before noticing her in my mirrors. However, I had got it wrong and was profuse, in a polite British way, with my apology. After looking at my licence and commenting that she didn’t know if it was legal or not and would assume it was, we were encouraged on our way cheerfully with, “Hope you both have a good day and a good trip but a little more slowly, Ma’am”! We thanked her and left… slowly!

But what of the music from this day…

I’m Sorry: Brenda Lee
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic: The Police
Slowdown: Larry Williams (and The Beatles later!)

Despite starting off with my choice of “Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” and “Take me home Country Roads” (now one of the official anthems of West Virginia)… the day got even more musically interesting and included a police claxon!

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