When it comes time to regenerate, I usually head south. Nashville or the Smokeys are my usual destinations. Last weekend we headed to Nashville. It had been a while since our last visit to Music City, and we were quite excited about it.
Many years ago when I was a struggling, starving entertainer with stars in my eyes, I would make the trip to Nashville quite often, like three times per week. From southern Ohio, that is a major undertaking. I would leave work at 11 p.m., drive for nearly six hours, sleep two hours in a bad motel, then get up and meet with either a publisher at 8 a.m., then perhaps a rep from a record label at 10 a.m. (and sometimes be stood up by both), get back into my car, head north and be back on the job by 4 p.m. Imagine doing that three times per week. Is it any wonder I look as bad as I do at just 31? (OK, it was a joke, but you can stop laughing now. Really. That hurts.)
It would have been much easier to have pulled up roots and headed to Nashville to live. In fact, everyone in the business there told me that I had hopes of ever making it there, I needed to be here. I had a few explain further that a dose of talent wouldn’t hurt either. You really need to be thick-skinned and have a tenacity like none other to just compete in that city also.
I say that to make my point regarding a tremendously talented musician (and band) we heard at B.B. King’s during our visit this weekend. His name is Carl Stewart. His family moved to Nashville when Carl was a child so he grew up in that culture. He has been named Guitarist of the Year by the Nashville Jazz and Blues Society. Stewart also earned a Grammy in 1996 for Best Contemporary Christian Album.
Without question, Mr. Stewart is a very gifted and talented musician, and while we only exchanged niceties briefly, I can say he appears to be quite a graciously humble individual who seems to genuinely enjoy not only his music, but entertaining people.
While all of that is nice, what floored me about this guy is that while I don’t profess to be a guitarist even in the same galaxy as Carl Stewart, I felt as though I had no knowledge of the instrument as I watched him play. First, he plays left-handed. Some left-handed guitarists are not left-handed, but they learned at the feet of a left-handed player. Some left-handed players string their guitar as a right-handed player would with the low E-string at the top, and high E at the bottom. Steward played a right-handed guitar, left-handed and upside down. I couldn’t tell what key he was playing in until just before we left the club.
Not only did he play with grace, precision and soul, I felt just the way I did when I was a child enamored by any guitarist. I felt as though I had no knowledge of the instrument, yet I was spell-bound by it.
I have had the honor to play with some of the best guitar players in the business. In fact, some were so good I didn’t even feel qualified to play rhythm to them, but this experience was different.
I have often looked back on my days pounding the streets and banging on doors trying to be heard in regret, feeling as though I failed. However, I was reminded over the weekend that you will often hear and see better, more talented musicians, singers and entertainers on the streets and clubs of Nashville than you will ever see on the stage of the Opry or hear on the radio.
No, I don’t claim to be in the caliber of talent that Carl Stewart is in, but I was quite honored to have been in the same club with him as he performed this weekend.
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. You can email him at [email protected] and follow his work at http://www.HerbDayVoices.com and http://www.HerbDayRadio.com.