In the spirit of this week's cover story, let's say that you are so Nashville if Joe Savage has ever bisected your bar table with a chainsaw. Or poured Jack Daniel's down your throat, while his bald head and wolf's-tail Mohawk glinted with firelight. Or let you feel his snake.
In the 1970s and '80s, quite a few Nashvillians could make those claims. In those pre-rock scene days, at now-defunct venues such as Cajun's Wharf, Savage drew some of the city's biggest club turnouts with a literally blazing revue that combined glam-rock theatrics, Vegas-style pizzazz, horns, dancers, pyrotechnics and exotic live animals — most notably Dino, his 18-foot python.
Dino, alas, is now just a snakeskin occupying a place of honor in Savage's kitchen. But Savage means to resurrect the rest of the experience this weekend, in a two-night stand at the only venue he says can support his brand of showmanship.
"Dick's Last Resort is the only restaurant in the world where they give people a show," says Savage, at 70 as trim, wiry and intense as ever. On Friday and Saturday, he promises, at the Second Avenue insult saloon that serves equal helpings of apps and abuse, you're going to see "one show meeting another show."
"Remember that old song, 'You gotta get a gimmick?' " Savage says, just back from a Zumba class at the Harding Place Y. "You have to give people a show. It has to be so outrageous, it's like a drug — you're just addicted, you're hooked."
The Brooklyn native had that down at his very first Nashville appearance in 1972, at a long-gone club called The Villa. Curiously, Savage would end up staging a magic-slash-burlesque show there some 30 years later when the Hays Street location became Club Platinum.
Over the decades in between, the former New York jitterbugging champ — who still makes his own ruffled shirts, choreographs his shows and works out all the pyro — played to untold thousands in biker bars, casinos and theaters from Tunica to the Cayman Islands, while calling Nashville his home. Sadly, this was overshadowed by the tragic 1988 death of his 2-year-old daughter, mauled by one of his pet leopards. He was entertainment director for the short-lived British-themed nightclub complex Trafalgar Square, and most recently aided the successful battle on behalf of the Nashville Motor Speedway.
During the past 20 years, Savage has performed intermittently on the road, saying his main project has been raising his two sons. Now that they're grown, he says, it's time to remind Nashville audiences what a show looks like. He's assembled a crack band he says can handle anything from classic-rock medleys to originals; he's found a singer, Danielle Bloom, of whom he says with typical understatement that "there's not another act on the planet as good as she is." Plus he's got a mic stand that shoots fireballs. In the words of his hero, Al Jolson, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
"People are gonna feel that addiction they had back then," Savage says, audibly engaged, blood pumping, pulse rising. "I'm gonna re-create that enthusiasm in Nashville today, 'cause it's not there." Expect anything. After all, when Joe Savage says he has a 90-pound jackhammer on standby for this weekend's shows, you're so Nashville if you know he just might use it.
Nice piece, Jim.
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