by Michael Buffalo Smith
Now where were we?
On February 25th, 2010 I was staying at the Hotel Preston in Nashville with my new friends Gig Michaels and Mark Carlyle of the band Swampdawamp. We had driven in through the cold rains the night before. By the time we got to the Preston we were all dead on our feet.
Mark and Gig had business meetings all day on the 25th, so I hung at the hotel. I did have a nice business lunch with videographer Rick Broyles and his friend, but the rest of the day was spent writing and chilling out. After all, my recent laser eye surgery had not yet healed, so I was not at my full potential and needing some rest.
Mark and Gig went out that night for a show at the Wild Horse Saloon downtown. The Swamp guys invited me to have dinner on them at the Preston while they were gone that night. They told me to ask for Chef Danny, which I did. Chef Danny was a great guy, and hooked me up with what may have been the best ribeye steak I ever had. It was amazing. No wonder the hotel Preston attracts so many music stars. All of this and a staff that is just great. everyone is friendly and helpful.
The guys came in at about 2 AM and we sat up and talked about their excellent night with their rep from Jagermeister, who has been sponsoring the Swampdawamp Tour. Fellow Jager tour artist Eric Church was providing the show tonight, and the guys had a blast. Gig even ended up on CMT, but as the stories wound down, we all were ready to hit the sack. Gritzfest was the next day.
Mark put the big Ford truck in the wind and by early afternoon we were pulling up in front of the Space and Rocket Center Marriott. Immediately things began to hop and they didn’t slow down until the end of the day at 3:00 AM. I met my co-conspirator Sonny Edwards in the lobby, and we began to unload the truck. The next person I met was Karen Blackmon Caldwell, whom I had just reconnected with a month earlier via Facebook.
Karen was lead singer in the APB (Artimus Pyle Band) back in 1981. They had a deal with MCA Records and released an album called “Night Caller.” My friends and I used to see them a lot in Spartanburg. When the band broke up, I never heard from Karen again. It was really terrific to see her again after 29 years.
After tossing my luggage into my room, I got a call from Tommy Talton, telling me to come downstairs to the restaurant. When I got there, all my buddies were there, seated around a table. Talton, his former Cowboy partner Scott Boyer, Tommy’s wife Patty, and the Queen herself, Bonnie Bramlett. After a lot of hugs, Karen Blackmon and her friend joined us, and I stepped to the adjacent table to meet another longtime phone and internet friend for the first time. Peter Cross had flown all the way from England for Gritzfest, and he introduced me to his friend Jeannie Greene - a popular singer from the 70’s Muscle Shoals scene, and her family. Everyone was extremely kind.
Our time chatting and sipping coffee was short lived, and it was soon time to get dressed and head to the crossroads music hall. I caught a ride with Tommy and Patty Talton, and we arrived just in time to hear the sound check.
I was running into one old friend after another. From former Crawlers singer Thad Usry (now with Fat Mama) to my friend and my songwriting pitchman Joe Meador who drove in from Nashville. It was great. I only wish I had more time with each one.
Dennie from US Legends Guitars was set up for his Silent Auction, and I saw Terry Reeves and her intern Willie from Music Matters Entertainment helping the fine folks from Bandito Burrito setup the food in our green room. What a spread it was, all sorts of Mexican food, individually wrapped burritos, tacos, etc. along with great trays of raw veggies, sandwiches and much more.
I felt like a spinning top. Every way I turned I was greeted by familiar smiling faces. Sonny, who was perhaps the hardest working man in show-biz by this point, was running all over, trying to be sure all of our T’s were crossed and our i’s dotted.
Tommy Crain and the Crosstown Allstars had finished setting up their gear. Crain’s excellent band would serve as backup band for all of the acts. Bonnie Bramlett had her soundcheck first. She sounded as great as ever. Tommy Talton sound checked next, followed by Jimmy Hall. Mere minutes after soundcheck was over, stage manager Dick Cooper told me the doors had opened and in minutes it was time for an acoustic set from my Angelus buddy, Nashville songwriter Guy Gilchrist, best known at present for his “other” job as cartoonist of the world famous Nancy comic strip.
As a special treat, Guy brought along world class fiddler Greg Holt, a superb player who has worked with artists such as Billy Joel and Bo Bice among others. The two turned in a fantastic set.
Bonnie had been feeling a bit poorly, so she asked to go on early. She took the stage next along with the Crosstown Allstars seated in a straight back wooden chair. The divine Ms. B proceeded to set the bar extremely high during a short set, beginning with “Strongest Weakness”, a song she proudly introduced as being penned by her daughter Bekka. The crowd moved closer to the stage as Bonnie delivered the title track from her latest album, “Beautiful.” Now I have called this one of the most beautiful ballads ever written, and her version with The Crosstown Allstars was breathtaking. At the end, Bonnie found herself wiping away her own tears, much like a few audience members standing around me. She closed her set with “Only You Know And I Know,” a classic she performed countless times with her late husband in Delaney and Bonnie and Friends.
The audience was mesmerized. Now it was time for the Crosstown Allstars to rock their own stellar set.
It’s no secret that Tommy Crain is true Southern rock royalty, having spent over 15 years on the road and in the studio as a member of the Charlie Daniels Band, co-writing many of Charlie’s best loved song, including the zillion-seller “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” While Crain is the point man in the Crosstown Allstars, his band is made of of a group of truly top flight musicians, including Towson Engburg on drums, Bob Rumer on guitar, Bob Jones on keyboards and the most recent addition. famed Wet Willie bassist Jack Hall, who replaced Kerry Creasy following his tragic death in December, 2008. The band is tighter than Jack Benny’s hatband, and have become masters at backing their fellow Southern rockers, while shining like the Harvest moon on the own material.
The Allstars blazed through a 45 minute set that included smoking blues and high octane Southern rock, like their crowd favorite,”The Hill.” Of course, Tommy never fails to pay tribute to the man he calls “my old boss,” by playing “Long Haired Country Boy.” I was happy to be invited onstage to sing, along with Guy Gilchrist and fiddler Greg Holt. We had a blast. Following on the heals of that one, I took over lead vocals for a tribute to our host club, singing the blues staple “Crossroads” with the Allstars and Sonny Edwards on guitar. For my second song, I lead a full state of jammers on Toy Caldwell’s “Can’t You See.” Bob Rumer and Sonny Edwards rocked on guitar, and Bob Jones wore out the B-3. It was great having a fiddle on hand to sing a verse. Backing vocals were aso added by Donna Hall and Terry Reeves.
During a short break in the action I made my way backstage where old friends were having a great time catching up, and Tommy Talton stood playing an acoustic guitar, rehearsing with Donna Hall and Karen Blackmon.
Tommy Talton was on deck next, bringing along friend and guitarist Kelvin Holly (Little Richard) to join the Allstars band. Now Talton is always great, but tonight he was just over the top good, shining on guitar and making jaws’ drop with his stellar slide playing. Talton treated the crowd to an amazing set that included many of his best loved songs, including several old Cowboy tunes. He was joined by Jimmy Hall on sax for a simply bombastic rendition of Alan Toussaint’s “On Your Way Back Down.” The interplay between Hall on sax, Talton on slide and Tommy Crain on lead was a huge crowd favorite.
Without skipping a beat, Jimmy Hall took the center stage position and the church of Southern rock was in session. Joined by sister Donna Hall Foster and Allstar brother Jack Hall, it was an impromptu family reunion - there was little doubt we were about to see some serious Wet Willie action.
Jimmy Hall is a consummate showman. This Southern rocker has been going strong for 40 something years and hasn’t lost a thing. Fact is, like a fine wine, he has only gotten better with age.
Jimmy rocked the joint from the get go, delivering the goods on classics like “She Caught The Katie” and his “Rendezvous With The Blues.” Jimmy’s vocals, considered by many (myself included) to be the best in Southern rock, were at their peak this night, and his sax and harp work only served to enhance the whole Wet Willie style experience.
Jimmy turned lead vocals over to his sister Donna, who nailed Delbert McClinton’s “Everytime I Roll The Dice.” Before one could gather the breath back that Donna had knocked out of them, Jimmy took us all to church with a rocking “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” that brought screams of applause from the crowd.
Of course. Hall saved the best for last, closing with his biggest hit, the eternally optimistic “Keep On Smilin’,” which ended several times, only to kick back in like the best James Brown live performance.
Sonny Edwards and Guy Gilchrist took the stage for a live auction of goodies donated by Charlie Daniels, Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Poe, and Guy himself, among others. This was followed by the choosing of a winner for the guitar signed by all of the Gritzfest performers, donated by US Legends Guitars.
Shawna P. closed out the show with a set of amazing acoustic tunes. Although an allstar jam had been scheduled, the show ran long and we just ran out of time.
Gritzfest II was over, but would not soon be forgotten. The music was amazing. Seeing all of my friends was a treat.
I’d like to personally thank everyone who participated. We were able to raise some money for Haiti Relief, and hear some awesome Southern rock.
Special thanks go out to Sonny Edwards who put the whole show together with me; the folks at Crossroads Music Hall; Jimmy Hall, Donna Hall, Bonnie Bramlett, Karen Blackmon Caldwell, Tommy Talton, Tommy Crain, Bob Rumer, Towson Engberg, Bob Jones, Jack Hall, Kelvin Holly, Guy Gilchrist, Greg Holt, Shawna P, Darren Brothers, Danny Hall. and our kind sponsors - Crossroads Music Hall, Terry Reeves and Music Matters Entertainment, Wildman Steve Radio, The Valley Planet, Datatek, The Huntsville Marriott, The Southern Rock Society, Bandito Burrito, Kahuna for the hotel after party, Swampland.com - and thanks to Dennis of US Legends Guitars.
Photos by Buffalo, Dick Cooper and Lori Deluca Putnam.