Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Clinic on Country Music

Category: Concert Review

When Don Helms passed away last June he left behind a legacy of great music as well as a large number of friends and fans. Unfortunately, he also left behind quite a few medical bills. So on Sunday, March 8, some of his friends and fans gathered at the Texas Troubadour Theater next to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Nashville's Music Valley Drive to celebrate the steel guitar legend's life and raise money for those expenses. The results were nothing short of a clinic on traditional country music, with professor emeritus Ray Price providing the headlining.

The jukebox outline behind the stage at the Texas Troubadour Theater seemed to be more of a doorway to a time machine on this Sunday afternoon, beckoning the capacity crowd back to the era of some of Don Helms' greatest accomplishments. Helms was the steel guitarist for the Drifting Cowboys Band (and was the final surviving member of Hank Williams' band), and most of the music presented reflected Williams' era -- the truly classic period of country music.

The first half of the show was presided over by Jesse Lee Jones and Brazilbilly. Jones, a native of Brazil, worships at the altar of Marty Robbins, and that's a good thing: his voice is very much like Robbins'. The band opened with "El Paso" and continued for three more classic country songs. Their presentation quickly brought to mind the classic line about Waylon Jennings: like the late country great, Brazilbilly couldn't go pop with a mouth full of firecrackers. They were excellent.

After their own songs they turned into the house band for the remainder of the first half of the set, backing the other regional acts who came to appear on the tribute. The best of the "unknowns" was far and away David Church, a regular on RFD-TV's Midwest Country program. He dressed like Hank and he sang like Hank, providing enjoyable renditions of three Williams songs.

Gail Davies stopped by to do three songs. Her bigger contribution to the show, however, was her son, Chris Scruggs. This man is absolutely amazing on a steel guitar. He does NOT play pedal steel (Don Helms did not, either), but rather relies on his talent and ability to coax every sound out of the instrument. As emcee Eddie Stubbs accurately stated, "The future of country music is bright with young men like Chris Scruggs around."

The second half featured two greats in country music. Bobby Bare performed for 45 minutes, opening with "Me and Bobbie McGee." He asked the audience to sing along on the "la la la's" at the end of the song, then quipped, "You know, Kristofferson's a great songwriter, but you'd think he could've come up with a better last verse." He continued through a number of hits, and even threw in a joyful obscure number, "The Mermaid," from his 1973 classic Lullabys, Legends and Lies. He had four of his grandchildren join him onstage for "Singin' in the Kitchen" near the end of the set before closing with "Marie Laveau." Bare sadly did not have enough time allotted to him, but he certainly made the most of his time onstage.

The Hall of Fame great Ray Price, who began his career using Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys, was the final performer of the evening. The 82-year-old walked out on stage, stood in the middle, and lectured the audience on country music for the next 75 minutes. Opening with "San Antonio Rose," Price hit several of the highlights of his career. He introduced "Release Me" as being "B.H. - Before Humperdinck." Price even let a 13-year-old fiddler play "Faded Love" with his band. How many modern superstars would do that?

There is absolutely nothing lacking in Ray Price's voice. He made that clear from the first note. The classics such as "City Lights," "A Way to Survive," "The Other Woman," and even the "Nashville sound"-era ballads "I Won't Mention It Again" and "For the Good Times" were delivered with beautiful clarity, even though Price said he was suffering from allergies. "They told me when I left Texas that Nashville is a good place for allergies," Price said as he wiped his nose with a handkerchief. "Damn straight," he added with a laugh.

Price close out the afternoon of music magically, a fitting tribute for one of country music's greatest session men.

No comments: