To play the Station Inn is to court spontaneity. It was no surprise then that Gail Davies ’ album-release party Wednesday night (March 28) at Nashville’s famed temple of bluegrass quickly transformed itself into a general celebration of music and those who make it.
Davies was in glorious voice and apparently having the time of her life. That may explain why she never got around to actually mentioning the title of her new album, a promotional sin for which the audience was clearly disposed to forgive her. (For the record, the title is Live & Unplugged at The Station Inn). The show was broadcast live on WSM-AM (650), with scholarly deejay Eddie Stubbs at the controls.
Among the luminaries who came out to see and, in several cases, sing with Davies were Mrs. Webb Pierce and her daughter Debbie, Mandy Barnett, Rosie Flores, Valerie Smith, Paul Craft, Kathy Chiavola, Patty Mitchell and Davies’ songwriting brother, Ron Davies. With her son and her husband playing in her band, it was a thoroughly family evening.
Over the course of the nearly three-hour soiree, Davies and company sang 38 songs, almost all of which the singer introduced with charming stories and observations. At the beginning of “I’m Hungry, I’m Tired,” she recalled how she had written the song in tribute to Roger Miller’s harsh childhood when she was touring as one of his backup singers. When Miller became tearful as she sang it for him, she said, she knew she really was a songwiter.
Davies brought her brother Ron on stage to help her sing “Sleepless Nights,” prefacing his arrival with a story about how the two of them, while still kids, learned the song from a prized Everly Brothers’ album.
She reminisced about driving to Texas to see her father for the first time in 27 years and writing “Bucket to the South” on the way. The last verse of the song, she noted, alludes to her dad’s tendency to “trifle” with the ladies. When Ava Barber, then a singer on The Lawrence Welk Show, recorded “Bucket” in 1978, Davies said Welk insisted she omit the final verse, deeming the word “trifled” too “dirty.”
Observing that neither she nor Tammy Wynette was able to score a hit with their recordings of “Unwed Fathers,” a disarmingly gentle indictment of men who love and leave, Davies speculated that their problem may have been that “too many unwed fathers were programming country radio.”
Davies was generous with her microphone. She invited Mitchell, Flores and Chiavola each to sing a song from their new albums. Chiavola sang “Across the Great Divide,” Mitchell “A Love That Could Last” and Flores a hard-driving cover of the Davis Sisters’ “Rockabye Boogie.”
When Davies invited Barnett to join her for “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World,” she related that Barnett was only 14 years old when she first met her. At the time, Davies was working as a staff producer for Jimmy Bowen. “She started singing,” Davies remembered, “and I like to wet my pants.” Barnett soon went on to distinguish herself in the lead role of the musical production, Always, Patsy Cline.
“It’s a Lovely, Lovely World” was a 1952 hit for Carl Smith and a Top 5 in 1981 for Davies. She dedicated her show to Smith and his wife, Goldie Hill. Near the end of the evening, Davies’ son, Chris Scruggs, turned in a totally rocking version of Smith’s 1954 chart-topper, “Loose Talk.”
Jamie Johnson duetted with Davies on several numbers. He did so most bewitchingly on the classic “Rank Strangers,” which Davies recently recorded with Ralph Stanley.
Providing Davies musical backup were Hoot Hester on fiddle: Rob Price, bass; Bob Grant, mandolin; Bob Mummert, drums; Chris Scruggs, rhythm guitar; Scott Neubert, Dobro and steel; and Mark Webb, lead guitar. Price is Davies’ husband.
While Davies did not play to a full house it was certainly a joyful one.