A singer and a radio station experience poor health.

A singer and a radio station experience poor health.

A Rude Awakening

On June 25, longtime Nashville club performer Emma Grandillo returned to her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to sing at the wedding of Nashville promoter Rick Wetzel. That night she was showing some out-of-town guests the city, and she stepped out of a car to go into a club. She instantly collapsed. That’s when she noticed her right arm and leg were numb. She wanted to go home and sleep, but her friends insisted on taking her to the hospital. Two days later, Grandillo awoke to find her family sitting around her hospital bed—where a priest had performed the last rites over her.

After Grandillo regained consciousness, a surgeon told her that a tumor “the size of a grapefruit” had been removed from her brain. The tumor was benign, but it had been growing from the time she was 2 years old. Even though she’d never felt any symptoms, it had crowded into her brain and exerted pressure on her brain stem. Had she gone home to bed that night, as she wanted, she never would have awakened.

“When I came out of the coma, I couldn’t speak because they had something in my throat,” remembers Grandillo, who performed with Jay Joyce in the mid-’80s group In Pursuit before pursuing a solo career. The doctors handed her a pad of paper and told her to write down any questions she had. She says she looked at her mother and handed back the pad with a single question written on it: “Can I still sing?”

As it turns out, she can. Grandillo emerged from the eight-hour surgery with no permanent brain damage—a miracle, since doctors had feared she might be paralyzed or beset with severe impairments. The treatment was successful, but it wasn’t cheap. Grandillo has incurred many thousands of dollars in medical expenses, and she still requires another operation as well as a CAT scan. She also faces several more weeks of recuperation before she can return to her job in the A&R department at Capitol Nashville.

That’s why Grandillo’s many friends in the Nashville music scene have banded together for a benefit show Tuesday night at the Exit/In. Organized by photographer Michelle Gilbert, working with Capitol’s Betsy Morley and GOB’s Leslie Turner, the show brings together several of Grandillo’s bandmates and friends from the past 10 years.

Members of Grandillo’s backing band, including bassist Preach Rutherford, guitarist Jonathan Bright, and drummer Paul Simmons, will appear with their own groups—Rutherford with Stella, Bright and Simmons with Vagantis. Also on the bill are the Rayon City Quartet, 400, Poor Man Starving, Shawn Martin, and Spoonful. As for the guest of honor, she won’t be able to attend, but the show is being videotaped for her. She said just knowing that this many people would pull together for her is helping her recover.

“This is something you’d never believe would happen to you,” Grandillo says from her parents’ home in Cleveland. “But I really believe that everyone’s prayers pulled me through. It’s a sign that miracles can happen.” The show kicks off 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Exit/In; admission is $5.

The music went bang, the deejay said “fuck,” and the station went dead. The calls started almost immediately. By 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, the word had spread through Nashville’s rock scene: Thunder 94 was toast. In a surprise move that left staffers without notice or without jobs, WRLG’s owner, Tuned-In Broadcasting, pulled the plug on the city’s most progressive commercial-rock station. While Tuned-In president David Tune wasn’t available Friday for response, a press release issued late that afternoon explained that the decision was “an economic choice.”

Almost immediately, Tuned-In’s office, situated atop the Life & Casualty Building, was swamped by angry calls. Many callers then rang the Scene. “This really sucks,” moaned a young Nashville engineer. Just a few days earlier, he had announced the formation of a new alternative record label for local groups, and he was counting on WRLG’s support. “They were really into local rock bands,” he said. “Nobody else was playing the same things they did. Now what do we do?” Another caller announced that he was banding Thunder 94’s listeners together to force Tuned-In to reconsider.

It’s easy to see why Thunder 94’s perpetually disenfranchised listeners are pissed. In 1994, its parent station, Lightning 100 (WRLT-FM), was settling into its adult-alternative format and weeding out the edgier extremes of modern rock. Tuned-In thus created Thunder 94 to satisfy alt-rock fans who were bored senseless by Bonnie Raitt and Marc Cohn. The puny low-wattage station was stomped in the ratings by 100,000-watt monster KDF, which switched to a “cutting-edge” rock format and stole 94’s thunder. But the scruffy, ramshackle 94 created excitement in the local music scene, mainly by playing artists that fans couldn’t hear on KDF. Its Sunday-night “Thunderground” show built a sizable audience for such groups as Ladybug Transistor, Man or Astroman?, and Archers of Loaf. Now those listeners can’t even turn to KDF, which no longer hones its cutting edge. Vanderbilt’s wonderful but erratic 91 Rock is the only game in town for hardcore indie-rock fans.

If Thunder 94’s abrupt end left listeners fuming, they probably won’t like what’s replacing it. WRLG will arise from the ashes in October as “the Radio Phoenix,” Nashville’s first station to carry exclusively the new “Americana” roots-music format. It will broadcast music along with programs about cultural news and “wellness.” Gone will be Thunder 94’s loyal 18-35 demographic. In its place, according to the press release, will be a new target audience over 35. The station will serve “Nashville’s culturally and intellectually focused listeners, with special emphasis on the music industry.”

If indeed it flies, the Phoenix could be a real boon to Nashville’s alt-country scene and to the city’s many clubs. Strangely, though, it faces a competitor that’s already well established in town—its sister station, Lightning 100. The Thunder 94 press release defines the nebulous “Americana” format as “a familiar combination of roots music, including folk, rockabilly, gospel, world music, blues, and bluegrass.” (In dog terminology, it’s a “Heinz 57”—a mutt of no discernible breed.) That’s as good a definition as any for Lightning 100, which on Saturday was playing blues numbers alongside 25-year-old country-rock tunes by Neil Young.

How can the Phoenix establish a separate identity—and a separate listener base—when even its press release calls it “similar to the adult-album-alternative profile of Lightning 100”? We’ll see in October. In the meantime, the fans of Thunder 94 find themselves once again stuck on permanent scan.

Saxman Kirk Whalum, keyboardist George Duke, and session guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. (whose credits range from Michael Jackson to Whitney Houston) are the featured artists at “The Gospel According to Jazz,” a night of music being recorded next week at Opryland. Whalum, Duke, and Jackson will be backed by J.D. Blair on drums, Tyrone Dickerson on organ, and a 12-person choir; Whalum’s brother Kevin will perform a solo vocal. The live recording, slated to be released on LP next year, takes place 8 & 10:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at Opryland’s Acuff Theater. Tickets are available at all TicketMaster outlets; a percentage of proceeds goes to the Baptist World Center to provide job training for young adults.

Round about 1980 or so, The Misfits usurped the American punk rock crown from the Ramones. Under the leadership of Glenn Danzig, the Lodi, N.J., group channeled their love of horror flicks and Orbisonian crooning into unfettered explosions of young male aggression. Whether Danzig was singing about alien invasions or the Kennedy assassination, he took his fascination with the macabre to the extreme; the result was cathartic and visceral, a wallow in the disturbed psyche of a working-class punker. More than a decade since the band’s breakup, two longtime members, bassist Jerry Only and his guitarist brother Doyle, have reformed the band—only without Danzig at the helm. As the group’s recent American Psycho release suggests, it just ain’t the same. The riffs have gone the way of pop-metal, and even though the sing-along choruses are still intact, they sound anemic coming from replacement vocalist Michale Graves. Alas, The Misfits are indeed a shadow of their former selves, but if you’re curious—we were, until we heard American Psycho—you can check out the ressurected group this Friday at 328 Performance Hall.

Last week brought two Emmylou Harris sightings in as many days at local clubs. Last Tuesday Harris dropped by Zanies and sat in with Buddy and Julie Miller at Billy Block’s Western Beat Roots Revival. The next night she turned up onstage with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings at the jam-packed “No Depression Night” at the Station Inn. That’s why we love Music City.


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