18th August 2021
A Personal Tribute
One of the best Sundays I ever experienced was in Nashville, Tennessee. A friend and I were on a road trip, and we had driven up from Atlanta, on route to Memphis, New Orleans and the wide open road.
Sundays in London in the late 80s and early 90s were dire; shops were closed, no football and people were either hungover or dreading the grim imminent Monday morning feeling.
Yet here were were, downtown Nashville, wearing shirt sleeves, sitting on a porch outside a store, sun shining, just passin’ the time and chewin’ the fat. Along comes a fine Southern gentleman, tips his hat to us, smiles and says, “Howdy.” Later, mid afternoon, we popped into a small bar, took an ice-cold beer and began talking with a local. Suddenly he excused himself as it was his turn to take the stage and play, and he dedicated a song to his, “Two new friends all the way from England.” The rest of the bar looked over, clapped and smiled.
London, some months later. It’s autumn, I’m living in a claustrophobic bedsit in the East End of London. The couple in the next room were constantly, and loudly, fighting. The house next door had a burglar alarm that frequently went off in the early hours, and I was working, six days a week, in an unspeakable low-paid job. And it was cold, wet and miserable.
I desperately needed to rekindle my USA vibe. ‘Twin Peaks’ was just starting on TV, but the high-rise council tower blocks made the reception almost unwatchable. Luckily, serendipitously, when I was at the library, going through the small music section (we were allowed to take out two items, price 20p each, 30p for a double cassette or LP) I saw a small black cassette tape by Nanci Griffith. It was the live recording, ‘One Fair Summer Evening’ (1988). Life suddenly became a whole lot better.
I knew very little about her, though I was vaguely aware as I had briefly worked in a record shop and we stocked her most recent LP, ‘Storms’ (1989). Now I was hooked, the intimate warm way Nanci introduces the songs, each one being a self-contained short story. Farmers barely surviving the dust-bowl years, lovers going through relationship troubles, or people just wanting to forget their troubles and take a ‘spin on a red brick floor’.
One of the standout tracks on the live tape was ‘Love at the Five and Dime’ which was on the ‘Last of the True Believers’ LP (1986). Appropriately enough, I picked up the cassette from my local Woolworth’s store in the Leytonstone High Road.
A year or two later, and Nanci came to London, performing at the Albert Hall. As she remarked during the concert, she’d come a long way from playing small clubs in Austin, Texas to this iconic venue in London.
I moved to Berlin in the mid 90s, and stayed with a friend who only had a few cassettes, but one of them was the Grammy-winning ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ (1993). He later formed a band and they covered ‘Spin on a Red Brick Floor’. We only had the live version to listen to, and we played it over and over, trying to get the lyrics. Some of them were impenetrable, and my friend just made noises and nonsensical sounds.
On a visit to London, I managed to pick up some second-hand LPs, including ‘Once in a Very Blue Moon’ (1984) which had a lyric sheet and I was therefore able to tell my buddy that he should be singing:
“Honey, here’s to you, sleep tight,” not “And a hoochey, coochey coo,” and:
“That hot Houston neon buzzing,” not “ahahahahahahaha hahah.”
Another LP I found, and probably my favourite cover, is ‘Lone Star State of Mind’ (1987).
So now, here’s two songs I’d be honoured to recommend (unfortunately I’m not able to post links to YouTube here).
The first is an album track from the ‘Lone Star’ LP, called ‘Beacon Street’.
The second is a live version of ‘Love at the Five and Dime’.
I hope that you love them as much as I do.
Goodbye, Nanci, love forever xo xo
Nanci Griffith July 6 1953 – August 13 2021