I love museums.
To regular readers of Bobby Karl, that might come as no surprise. It seems I’m writing about museum parties just about every month – The Musicians Hall of Fame, The Tennessee State Museum, The Frist Fine Arts Center, The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame gallery and what have you.
It is not true that Bobby Karl would cover an envelope opening. But when it’s an exhibit opening and the Johnny Cash Museum or the Country Music Hall of Fame call, I answer.
For one thing, it’s kinda fun to see the displays before anybody else gets to. The folks at the Johnny Cash Museum made the most of that drama at their preview party for “The Legends of Sun.” When you entered the gallery, the cases were all draped in black.
On Wednesday afternoon Aug. 13, we gathered there. Here’s another great thing or two about this sort of event: There’s usually an open bar and the catering is usually first rate. So while we schmoozed, we snacked on pork & waffles and on hot chicken nuggets & pickles.
Bob Doerschuk, Bob Paxman, Mike Martinovich, Michael Gray, Al Schiltz, Alan Stoker, Billy Burnette, Peter Cooper, Jerry Phillips and David Anderson mingled.
Attendee Steve Popovich Jr. says he is planning a Bluebird Café songwriter celebration on Sept. 11 for his finale Ray Price CD, Beauty Is. He is also hot on Tanya Tucker’s trail. He hears she’s working on an album and wants it for his label. Tanya was a big buddy of Steve’s late father and sang beautifully at his memorial service.
Piano wild man Jason D. Williams was there. Jason has just completed a new CD, Hillbillies and Holy Rollers. His presence at the party was highly appropriate, since his sound is a living link to the Sun Records era. In fact, the CD was recorded at Sun. It is produced by the great Dale Watson and features the great Sleepy LaBeef on guitar. I also got to meet Jason’s business manager, his better half, Jennifer James Williams.
Pam Lewis greeted us in the new exhibit hall. “Bill Miller met Johnny Cash when he was nine years old, and they struck up a lifelong friendship,” she related. “Out of that, grew this museum.” She cited the abundant media coverage this extraordinary attraction has generated since it opened last year. Miller’s vast collection of Cash memorabilia forms the basis of the museum. As many have noted, this is an essential stop for anyone visiting Music City.
“I’m just a country boy from Los Angeles who decided to open this a thousand miles away,” said Miller in greeting the crowd. “I live here now, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, other than opening this museum.”
Miller introduced a short film that featured vintage footage of the exhibit’s subjects, Sun Records stars Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. The film’s songs include Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” (not recorded at Sun), Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman” (ditto), Perkins’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire.”
One highlight is footage of Cash doing a hilarious send-up of Presley non-singing “Heartbreak Hotel” while throwing out his back gyrating his hips. He was billed as “Velsford” on TV’s Town Hall Party for that caper. Johnny’s sister Joanne Cash Yates laughed loudly, as did everyone else. My favorite clip was the studio footage of Cash, Perkins, Orbison and Lewis shot during the recording sessions for the 1986 LP Class of ’55.
As the film concluded, Miller intoned, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Legends of Sun!” We turned around and behind us, the black drapes fell away and the display cases were fully illuminated. Very classy. The new exhibit features posters, costumes, records, graphics and other artifacts, plus listening stations.
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Over at the Country Music Hall of Fame later that Wednesday eve, the big reveal was the “Kenny Rogers: Through the Years” exhibit. “The Gambler,” himself, was on hand for the party. So were such celebs as Jan Howard, T.G. Sheppard & Kelly Lang, Nora Lee & Duane Allen, Polly & Ray Edenton, Chuck Mead & Brenda Colladay, Linda Davis & Lang Scott, Manuel, Jeff Wiliams, Jo Walker Meador, Jimmy Capps, Victoria Shaw, Dianne Sherrill and Mandy Barnett. Hall of Famer Patsy Montana’s grandson, singer Michael Montana, was introducing petite singer-songwriter Brittany Bexton, who says she’s making her own luck in Music City.
Kyle Young welcomed the crowd saying, “We’ve invited you to be the first to see ‘Kenny Rogers: Through the Years,’” which will be open through Jan. 14, 2015. The museum is also publishing an accompanying illustrated book, including a forward by Dolly Parton.
Charlie Worsham saluted Rogers by singing “Sweet Music Man.” He was accompanied by Matt Glassmeyer. Matt’s father, Steve Glassmeyer, has been in Kenny’s band for 38 years and was looking on proudly. Talk about an unbroken circle.
“At the end of the day, people relate to you through your voice,” Charlie told the Hall of Fame honoree.
“The a-ha moment happened for me the night you were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame,” said Don Schlitz. “It was then that I realized you weren’t just singing from your heart – you were singing from our hearts.”
Schlitz sang “The Gambler,” his composition that gave Kenny his everlasting persona.
“When I came to Nashville in 1973 — at the age of four — the person we all wanted to have sing our songs was Kenny Rogers,” added Schlitz. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years now, and the person I still want to hear singing my songs is you.” Schlitz also co-wrote this year’s Kenny-Dolly duet “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
“I have a confession to make,” Kenny told the crowd. “I haven’t always been this old.” He introduced the original members of The First Edition, who stood for applause.
“If I have a skill, it is picking hit songs,” Kenny continued. “If they touch me, I figure they can touch somebody else. We had the best songwriters in the world and the best musicians in the world. And they were stuck with me as the singer.”
He introduced sisters Susan & Shawn Pirkle, two fans who have been to 1,100 of his concerts: “They saved the collection they’ve had for 30 years, and they gave it to the Hall of Fame.” Kenny Rogers concluded his remarks with an appeal to have his duet partner, Dottie West, inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As I mentioned, the catering at museum exhibit preview gigs is dandy. The Hall of Fame’s party featured turkey breast and roast beef carving stations, grilled vegetables, Cajun potato wedges, orzo salad, arugula salad and salsa on toast points, plus desert offerings including cream layer-cake slices, cupcakes, chocolate treats and Boston cream pie morsels.
Attending fabulons included John Briggs, David Briggs, Patsy Bradley, Harold Bradley, Charlie Monk, Charles Dorris, Ken Kragen, Ken Levitan (“all my managers are named Ken,” said Kenny), Kay West, Andrew Kintz, Jim Bessman, Sandy Knox, Melanie Howard, Anita Hogan, Katie Gillon, Abby White, Dwight Wiles & Diana Johnson, Cindy Wilson, Dann Huff, Norbert Putnam, Kitty Moon Emery, Lori Badgett, Phyllis Stark, Earle Simmons, Mike Milom and Kyle Lehning.
One interesting tidbit about Hall of Fame soirees is that they attract loads of city dignitaries, as well as music people. Miss Mary spotted Howard Gentry, Erica Gilmore, Seab Tuck, Jerry & Ernie Williams, Pat Emery, Frances Guess, Chase Cole, Hershell Warren and more.
The museum will host two opening weekend events on Saturday, August 16: a performance by songwriter Don Schlitz at 11:30 a.m. and an intimate Q&A with Rogers and museum historian Dr. John Rumble at 2:30 p.m. More information can be found at countrymusichalloffame.org/calendar.