(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
The ultimate Nashville album has finally been released.
It’s a tribute to all of Nashville’s losers, to all of the hundreds and thousands of wannabe country stars who have poured into Nashville over the years with little but a dream and a song. Most of them leave with a heartache and not much else. I still occasionally see them get off the Greyhound buses downtown at the bus depot on Eighth Avenue at Demonbreun, armed with only a battered guitar case and an air of determination. (The more accomplished ones arrive by air, but the Long Dog still hauls the long dreamers.)
These are not even one-hit wonders; these are never-weres. Most were talented. Something happened or didn’t happen that derailed their careers. Their luck was bad or their timing wasn’t right. They caught a bad break. They pitched the wrong song. They trusted bad people. They were half an hour late for the appointment that would have changed everything. They got drunk at the wrong time or the wrong place (like at a Wal-Mart showcase, as has happened). They punched out the wrong guy (like an executive of their record label, as has happened more than once).
Some of them are now immortalized by flamboyant Nashville producer Aubrey Mayhew. His Little Darlin’ record label has seen them come and seen them go over the years. Some were keepers — Johnny Paycheck being one — and some were losers. Now he’s put an album together of some of them.
Mayhew, a country character if ever there were one, has a huge collection of John F. Kennedy artifacts, memorabilia and documents. He even bought the Texas School Book Depository building in Dallas several years after President Kennedy was assassinated by shots fired from that building. He planned to make it a Kennedy museum, but the plans never materialized and the building is now owned by Dallas County. Mayhew also owns the musical estate of the late jazz artist Charlie Parker, but that’s another story. And he is an accomplished songwriter in his own right — he and Paycheck co-wrote such classics as “The Pint of No Return” and “(Pardon Me) I’ve Got Someone to Kill.”
At Little Darlin’, he produced the best work that the outlaw Johnny Paycheck ever recorded. Now, Little Darlin’ has embarked on a re-issue campaign (via Koch Records) with Paycheck and other such originals as “Groovey” Joe Poovey, the great steel guitar player Lloyd Green, Jeannie C. Riley, Stonewall Jackson, Don Williams and Texas bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins.
And, of course, the promising but unrealized singers on The Little Darlin’ Sound of: Should Have Been Hits.
And there is some good music in this collection, albeit rooted in the ’60s. It’s mostly glorious misery-drenched, stone-cold honky tonk songs. Mayhew’s Dream City Music is the publisher of 18 of these 20 songs, including a nice honky-tonk arrangement of Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” here attributed to the songwriter “P. Dee” (as in “PD” for “public domain,” I’m sure). A couple of these artists are still around: Hoot Hester is staff fiddler on the Grand Ole Opry; Frank Myers is a successful Music Row songwriter.
In his telling liner notes, Mayhew delivers thumbnail summaries of each artist’s history, sometimes spelling out their death knells:
“Lee Potter came and went very quickly. Although Lee had a very commercial voice, he did not have the drive to compete.” That means Nashville crushed him.
Joe Pain was the stage name adopted by a man named Ernest Trent. (“Joe Pain” came from the Jack Clement song “Heartbreak, TN,” recorded by Johnny Paycheck.) “A hard-working artist, Joe was deceived by poor management.” Like many before him and after him.
“Jackie [Frazier] just did not have the magic in the studio as he possessed on stage. Jackie moved back to Florida to drive a truck.” Jackie was probably better off.
“[Mark Jevicky] tried to make it for a while in the business, but gave up too soon.” There have been a lot of those. Lightweights.
The Herbert Brothers “came to Nashville on a whim after writing several songs. After tryin’ at the music business they returned home, never to be heard from again.” And certainly there have been an incredible number of those.