Editor's note: Marshall Chapman, a Nashville author and rock 'n' roll hero, describes her latest project as "my love book to Nashville." Indeed, They Came to Nashville chronicles the first visits to Music City by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, among many others. Chapman writes eloquently about her relationship with each artist, then offers an insightful Q&A portion about their arrivals in Nashville as young, hopeful musicians. The book is available from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Store. Here's an excerpt from a chapter featuring Chapman's 2008 conversation with promising country star, Miranda Lambert.
"We're planning to feature her on the cover."
That's what Garden & Gun editor Sid Evans said after he asked me to interview Miranda Lambert for the magazine's September/October 2008 issue. For the uninitiated, Garden & Gun is a magazine that spotlights Southern culture. Often described as a cross between Oxford American, Southern Living and Field & Stream, it was launched in early 2007 out of Charleston, South Carolina.
In all honesty, I had only vaguely heard of Miranda Lambert. She could've been the hottest thing in country music for all I knew. And even if she was, I was wondering if Evans had lost his mind. A country singer on the cover of Garden & Gun? The idea seemed far-fetched. Like Mother Teresa on the cover of Playboy. Or Paris Hilton on the cover of Mother Jones.
"She's from Texas," Evans said.
"Texas?" I replied. "Is that the South?"
"Well, she's from East Texas," he continued. "She writes some pretty interesting songs. I think you'll like her. Merle Haggard is her favorite singer. And ... ah ... she has a concealed handgun license. I'll overnight you some of her press. Look it over and we'll talk." Click.
The next morning, a FedEx box arrived at my doorstep. The box was noticeably heavy. Inside were articles featuring Miranda from every publication imaginable -- Rolling Stone, Texas Monthly, People, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, the Village Voice, No Depression, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Post ... you name it. The kid was hot.
As I read the articles, I found myself silently rooting for this Miranda Lambert. Her first album had sold over a million copies without a radio hit, which is almost unheard of these days. The girl had moxie, no doubt about it. She seemed to be single-handedly shaking up the country music establishment in a way that hadn't been done since Loretta Lynn sang "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)."
That evening, my husband and I sat down and listened to Lambert's first two CDs -- Kerosene and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
"She sounds like Dolly Parton backed by Lynyrd Skynyrd," I said. "I'll bet she knocks 'em dead when she plays live." One line in particular caught my attention: "His fist is big, but my gun's bigger/He'll find out when I pull the trigger."
The next morning, the phone rang.
"Well, what do you think?" Evans said.
"Count me in," I replied.
WHEN I HEARD THE PHOTO SHOOT would be in Nashville, I offered my house and garden as a location. I was thinking Miranda and her people could make themselves at home, and -- best of all -- I wouldn't have to leave the house.
Two days later, a photographer and his assistant flew to Nashville. After all was said and done, it was decided the shoot would, indeed, take place at my house.
The day of the shoot was like a circus come-to-town. At one point, there were twenty people running around the house and yard -- photographers, assistants, hair and make-up specialists, managers, road managers, publicists, assistant publicists, caterers, gofers ... you name it. Racks of clothes were wheeled into our dining room, which ended up being a makeshift beauty salon and dressing room for Miss Lambert. My husband, who was working for the city government at the time, even arranged for a retired policeman to drop by for additional security. All the activity was a welcome break from my usual monastic routine. Plus, I learned a new word.
"Would it be okay if we used the dining room for Miranda's glam?"
"Glam ... you know ... hair and make-up."
I immediately filed glam away with another favorite showbiz word -- gherm. Gherm is a verb that means "to gush excessively when around a famous person." I love turning my literary friends on to these words. I mean, how can you have an MFA and not know about getting ghermed? Man, you wouldn't be-LIEVE how I got ghermed at the mall yesterday! I like to imagine that getting ghermed somehow derived from getting slimed, from the movie Ghostbusters.
I spent most of the day of the photo shoot working in my writing room. But every now and then I'd venture out to watch the circus. After the shoot, as things started winding down, Miranda and I sat down for the interview.
I found her refreshingly open and sane as she talked about her love of Merle Haggard, her fear of snakes, playing Gruene Hall in New Braunfels [Texas] and hearing herself sing on the radio that first time, while touring stations with her mom -- "just like Loretta and Doo." When she mentioned that her mom used to babysit David Allan Coe's kids, that's when it hit me: My God, she's only twenty-four years old! She's a baby! With her petite stature (5 feet 4 inches), lustrous blond hair, and dimples to die for, she seemed more girl-next-door, cheerleader at the local high school than country music star. But there was no doubt that inside that cheerleader body lived an old soul.
When Miranda mentioned she had once lived in Nashville, the thought crossed my mind to interview her again for this book.
NOW FIVE MONTHS LATER, here we are. Meanwhile, Miranda has charted her first Top 10 single ("Gunpowder & Lead") and -- just four days ago -- performed at the annual CMA Awards show, where she was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year (for "Gunpowder & Lead").
We meet for coffee just before noon at the downtown Hilton on a bright and blustery November Sunday. With Nashville's churches still in session and the Titans in Jacksonville, we have the lobby bar all to ourselves.
November 16, 2008
I know we touched on this briefly when we talked before, how you came to live in Nashville when you were nineteen years old. Was that the first time you had ever been to Nashville? Did you ever come with your parents, like when you were a child?
Yeah, I did. I came the first time when I was fourteen. I came for Fan Fair.
What was it like?
Well, I was so excited to come because I love country music, and I was a huge fan. So to come during the week that ... you know, now I realize (laughs) it's probably the last week anyone else would want to come, but as a fan I was just so excited.
Did you wait in line to meet any of the stars?
I didn't, because I didn't want to miss the shows. You know, because people were performing while people were signing autographs.
What year was that?
I was fourteen then and I'm twenty-five now, so ... I don't know. Can't do the math yet. Haven't had enough caffeine. (laughs) I just remember I had my best friend Laci with me and my mom and dad.
Did the four of you drive up from Lindale [Texas]?
Yes. And after we got here, I remember we were walking down Broadway and some guy comes up and says, "Are y'all from Texas?" And I guess you could just tell, you know? (laughs) And so, I just remember walking by every door, and there was country music blasting out of every door on Broadway, and I was like, "This is heaven!"
[In Chapman's book, Lambert goes on to discuss singing karaoke in Nashville, flying in to join the cast of Nashville Star, missing her family back in Texas, finding an apartment and writing songs.]
So you lived in Nashville totally for how long?
A year. Not including Nashville Star. Probably a year and a half in all.
I'm just going to shoot you one last, crazy question: can you remember the first time you ever heard the word "Nashville"?
Hmm ... (barely audible) heard the word "Nashville" ...
"No" is a perfectly acceptable answer. (laughs)
I can't remember the first time I heard the word. Nashville was just one of those places I was always hearing about. It was where the dreams came true.
Your father had the dream, right?
Yeah. He had a band, like, before I was born. He was a singer-songwriter.
Do you feel that, in a way, you're living out his dream?
He never knew I would be doing this, but he was excited when I decided to. But growing up, I don't remember the first time I heard it [the word "Nashville"], but every time somebody would say "Nashville," I always got a little flutter in my stomach.
Excerpted with permission from They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman, published by Vanderbilt University Press and Country Music Foundation Press.