Nashville's Music Row bade a stately but high-spirited farewell to songwriter Dennis Linde Friday (Jan. 5) with a New Orleans-style funeral procession that culminated in a noisy party with a copiously flowing bar.
Linde, who composed such megahits as "Calling Baton Rouge," "Goodbye Earl" and "Burning Love," died Dec. 22 of a lung disease at the age of 63.
The procession assembled midafternoon in the parking lot of EMI Music, Linde's publisher. Among the many fellow songwriters who came to pay homage were several who had worked alongside Linde as staff writers at Combine Music (now an EMI catalog), including Kris Kristofferson, John Scott Sherrill, Bob DiPiero, Johnny MacRae and Bob Morrison.
Also spotted in the crowd were such formidable tunesmiths as Lee Clayton, Layng Martine Jr., Verlon Thompson, Shawn Camp, Paul Craft, Dickey Lee, Buzz Cason and Gary Nicholson.
Linde's son-in-law, Jimmy Marsden, called the crowd to order and lined out the relatively short parade route. Then, led by a smartly dressed Dixieland band, the mourners set out under an overcast sky to the tune of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."
Hardly had the last notes of that dirge blended into the first strains of "Sleepy Time Down South" when a fine rain started peppering down. By the time it trudged past the entrance to the Country Music Association on Music Circle South, the procession bloomed with large black umbrellas.
A few steps farther on, as the band breezed through a few bars of the inevitable and ironic "Amazing Grace," the parade halted. A handful of the participants split off and walked down into a small community park that abutted the route. This group included Kristofferson and Cason, singers Clifford Curry and Vicki Hampton and a small boy who held tightly to a tugging bouquet of white balloons.
Backed by John England on acoustic guitar, Hampton led the group in singing Tracy Chapman's "Say Hallelujah" (a hymn that advises, "Throw up your hands/the bucket is kicked/the body is gone"). At the end of the song, the little boy released the balloons, and the crowd cheered as the white spheres soared over the nearby Hall of Fame motel and headed toward downtown Nashville.
After that, the procession resumed to the sprightly cadences of "I'll Fly Away." Rounding the corner of Music Circle North, the band moved on to "You Are My Sunshine" and then to "Bill Bailey."
(History should note that the band that set the jaunty tone for this affair was made up of Sam Levine on clarinet; England on banjo and guitar; Don Sheffield on trumpet; Billy Huber on trombone; Bobby Durham on tuba; and Chris Brooks on drum.)
By this time, the mourners had reached their destination, the headquarters building of BMI, the performance rights organization to which Linde belonged. The crowd clustered at the entryway while the band swirled out "Sweet Georgia Brown." The formal part of the ceremonies concluded with the whole assembly singing "Oh Happy Day."
Then it was party time.
As they filed into the BMI reception room, the mourners were directed to sign guest registers. Joining the crowd were producers Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney) and Blake Chancey (the Dixie Chicks); Tim McGraw's manager, Scott Siman; former CBS and Atlantic Records president, Rick Blackburn; and singer-songwriter Bobby Bare Jr.
For the next half-hour or so, the party was standard Music Row mingling-and-munching -- although an inordinate number of the revelers managed to drift over to say a word or two to the always-amiable Kristofferson and pose for a picture with him.
Eventually, a voice called for the crowd's attention, after which several members of Linde's family stood at a speaker's stand to recount his quirks and virtues. Daughter Katie Brown read a poem to him that included the lines, "It does not matter where you go/Just promise me you'll come back home."
Sister-in-law Cindy Lawson said Linde once called her and complained that he was creatively blocked. He asked her if she had any ideas he might use for a song. Since she was taking medication at the time, she playfully read him the medicine's prescription number. He turned into the song "DR 31."
Bob Beckham, who ran Combine Music and later became Linde's father-in-law, explained, "Dennis was the kind of ol' boy who'd get to you -- but you wouldn't know it for two or three weeks." He recalled that when Linde first came to Combine, he admonished him for writing songs that sounded more pop than country. Kristofferson overheard the criticism, he said, and shouted, "Hey, Beckham, let him alone. He's already where we're trying to get."
Later, Beckham continued, Linde brought him a song titled "The Longer You're Gone, the Harder It Gets." Said Linde, "If you want country, that's it."
Hanging on a wall just beyond the bar and snack table was a large white rectangle of cardboard that was labeled "We'll Miss You Dennis." On it, various Linde friends had written their farewell messages. Among these was one neatly penned by songwriter Debbie Hupp. It said, "As you would have it, it was."