Nashville, as we well know, serves as a connecting point for all kinds of music, a town where country, rock and R&B have long intermixed and commingled. Lifelong Nashvillian Buzz Cason embodies this free-flowing musical spirit as well as anyone: Here's a guy who grew up in the Inglewood neighborhood, got his start playing in a rock 'n' roll band, had a hand in writing an everlasting '60s soul classic, helped give Jimmy Buffet his start in music, and has seen his share of country songwriting credits as well.
Those are just a few of the highlights from Cason's career, which dates back to the mid-1950s, when he more or less elbowed his way into a local rock combo, The Casuals, with little more than a love of R&B and a craving to perform in front of people. The early days of rock 'n' roll figure prominently in his new autobiography, Living the Rock 'n' Roll Dream (published by Hal Leonard), which recounts Cason's lifetime in music with an easygoing string of anecdotes and amiable narration that suggests the author has yet to lose his sense of wonder after nearly five decades in the music business.
The first few chapters make entertaining reading for anyone who's ever struggled in a rock 'n' roll band, or anyone who grew up listening to doo-wop and Elvis Presley. As a member of The Casuals, Cason went from playing local teen dances to performing with Brenda Lee (who was, of course, a teenager herself at the time). Serving as Lee's backing band, The Casuals logged tens of thousands of miles on the road, and Cason recalls both the drudgery of lugging amps cross-country (before the interstate highway system made such travel a lot easier) and the thrill of sharing bills with Fabian, Chubby Checker, Duane Eddy and Jerry Lee Lewis, among plenty of others.
Indeed, one of the best things about the book is that it captures the sense of newnessand possibilityduring the early rock era. Back then, the gulf between an up-and-coming band and a pop star didn't seem so wide: They shared the same stage as part of multi-artist revues, and they often traveled and palled around together. Living in an age of celebrity-obsessed media, it's hard to imagine the same kind of camaraderie taking place among musicians today, or at least not so easily.
At the same time, Cason betrays the awe appropriate to encounters with such larger-than-life characters as Elvis and the Killer, which accounts for much of the book's charm. Living the Rock 'n' Roll Dream covers plenty more, as Cason recounts his role in Nashville's recording industry and its evolution into "Music City USA." He reinvented his career several times over, finding success as a performer, songwriter and song publisher, and as he touches on these aspects of his life, he gives us glimpses of the city as it comes of age. (There's also a detour to Los Angeles, where Cason worked for Liberty Records in the early '60s.) But because the book is written from a first-person vantage point, it doesn't offer the depth or context a reader might want. We hopscotch through the events in Cason's life, getting up-close and personal encounters with an astounding variety of famous people, but we don't always find out exactly how or why things happened the way they did. As compensation, Cason offers plenty of stories and vignettes, all rendered in his down-to-earth, good-natured voice.
The author celebrates the release of Living the Rock 'n' Roll Dream with a concert and book-signing 7 p.m. this Thursday, April 22, at the Belcourt Theatre. Among others, he'll be joined by Richard Williams, his former bandmate in The Casuals; Mac Gayden, his songwriting partner on Robert Knight's 1967 hit "Everlasting Love"; Clifford Curry, the Nashville soul singer with whom he worked in the 1960s; and The Crickets, with whom he toured in the mid-'60s. Interestingly enough, the venue brings Cason's story full circle: As he explains in the book, his first experience onstage took place at the Belcourt, when, as a teenager, he starred in a Nashville Children's Theatre production of Buffalo Bill.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 383-8682.
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