The Blue Side of Town 

R&B P.D.Q.

R&B P.D.Q.

It’s a sad truth that the history of Nashville rhythm and blues—which encompasses some of the most exciting, vital singles ever recorded—is better known to European and Japanese audiences than to Nashvillians. In the past two years, though, superb reissues of the Excello R&B and Nashboro gospel catalogues have hipped a large new audience to the city’s wealth of sweet soul music. As a result, Nashvillians outside a small circle of collectors are discovering such artists as Roscoe Shelton and Earl Gaines.

The next great Nashville soul-music figure to receive his due will be Ted Jarrett, the songwriter and producer whose career stretches back to the late 1940s. This September, the esteemed British reissue label Ace Records will release Across the Tracks: The Other Nashville Sounds, Vol. 1, the first of several compilations devoted to Jarrett’s staggering output between the mid-’50s and the early ’70s.

“Ted was one of the first independent producers,” observes Fred James, the Nashville producer/musician who compiled the first CD and penned the liner notes. (James owns the rights to the masters; Jarrett himself owns the publishing.) “The fact that he was also a world-class songwriter makes him even more unusual.”

Jarrett, a Fisk graduate, is best known as the author of such R&B standards as “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours a Day)” and “You Can Make It If You Try” (cut by Gene Allison and later the Rolling Stones). As a producer, he recorded for Excello as well as the Decca and Vee Jay labels. But it’s the treasure trove of Jarrett’s own Champion label, along with its subsidiaries Calvert and Cherokee, that the first Ace compilation explores. The CD will include 30 tracks recorded between 1955 and 1960 during Champion’s heyday, when it boasted a roster of artists including Gaines, The Fairfield Four, Gene Allison, and Christine Kitrell.

For anyone not familiar with Nashville R&B, Across the Tracks should come roaring from the speakers like a sonic fireball. Even hardcore vinyl hounds will find some rare gems. James is especially proud of Shy Guy Douglas’ gritty blues single “Let’s Rock ’n’ Roll” and Little Ike’s raucous “She Can Rock,” a bona fide collector’s item known to fetch $200 for a 45 in good condition. The rarities reflect the assistance of many Nashville R&B lovers, including noted Middle Tennessee collector Bruce Kinnard, who let Ace delve into his private stash—and knowledge—of vintage 45s.

Ultimately, Ace is expected to release three or four CDs of Jarrett’s work. One future volume will contain singles from Jarrett’s mid-’60s Poncello label, which featured some prominent Music Row session men in backing groups. Another plunders his late-’60s Ref-O-Ree label, which James compares to the “quintessential Nashville soul” coming from the celebrated Sound Stage 7 label—“maybe even a little funkier.” All in all, the project represents a couple of years’ work for both James and Jarrett.

Today, Ted Jarrett still maintains an East Nashville production office and can be found working part-time at Main Street Drive Inn Liquors. Fred James hopes that Across the Tracks and subsequent CD releases will bring Jarrett’s music a new audience. “It’s great music, no doubt about that,” he says. If you can’t wait till September for a taste of spicy Nashville R&B, scour local stores for any of the excellent Excello reissues on AVI, or dial 1-800-838-7774 for Strategy Records, which James touts as a reliable, well-informed, and inexpensive resource for hard-to-find soul records.

Bluegrass musicians Jim and Royann Calvin have been getting a lot of attention since the June release of Hillbilly Boogaroo, their second record together, which boasts the talents of local honky-tonk favorites Greg Garing, BR5-49, and Marty Stuart. Fan Fair even found them knocking around with Stuart, who not only invited them to join him for an in-store appearance at the Great Escape but took every opportunity to plug the couple’s self-financed CD—which, in one short month, has nearly sold out its modest first pressing of 1,000 copies.

The Calvins also accompanied Townes Van Zandt on a rendition of Walter Hyatt’s “The Early Days With You” at the June 23 Ryman Auditorium tribute to the late singer-songwriter. They will likewise be heard on two tracks on The Highway Kind, Van Zandt’s forthcoming album for Sugar Hill Records. A good friend and fellow Mt. Juliet neighbor of the Calvins, Van Zandt likens playing with Jim and Royann to a breath of fresh air, citing their spirited, unpretentious approach to old-time music. (The legendary Texas songpoet is also a fan of the couple’s weekend-long pickin’-party barbecues.)

Those who can’t wangle an invitation to one of those marathon affairs can check out the Calvins July 20 at Cheekwood’s Little Spoleto: A Children’s Festival of the Arts, where they’ll be performing along with local band Slack, the Village Drum and Dance Ensemble, and dancers from the Nashville School of Ballet.

Contrary to public perception, Crossfire Entertainment is alive and well. Just recently, the publishing company reaffirmed its existence with the placement of Mark Addison’s “Don’t Come Around Tonight” on Cher’s new album, It’s a Man’s World. It’s easy to understand why members of the music industry might think the company had folded, though, since Crossfire owners Ken Levitan and Will Botwin both recently took executive positions at major record labels.

“People are constantly confused as to what’s going on with us,” says Betty Rosen, who runs Crossfire’s day-to-day operations. She explains that Levitan and Botwin split apart their management partnership, VSOP, when the two assumed their new posts—Levitan as president of Nashville-based Rising Tide Entertainment, Botwin as senior vice president with Columbia Records in New York. They continue to share ownership of Crossfire, however, and both remain involved in company affairs.

Indeed, the company is flourishing at the moment, Rosen explains; several writers are looking forward to seeing their cuts surface on upcoming albums. Craig Carothers, the most recent addition to the Crossfire stable, will have a track on Trisha Yearwood’s next album, which is due out in August. And Tom Littlefield, former leader of Nashville-based rock band The Questionnaires, has been enjoying a lot of activity lately: Shawn Colvin, Nanci Griffith, Anne Murray, Kim Richey, and new Curb Records artist David Kersh are all planning to include a song written or cowritten by Littlefield on their upcoming albums.

Meanwhile, Crossfire writer Jimmie Dale Gilmore has just released an album, Braver New World, on Elektra. His latest follows recent albums by Crossfire artists Daniel Tashian and Jay Joyce (the latter through his band, Iodine). Upcoming albums by other Crossfire writers include new releases by The Borrowers (featuring the aforementioned Mark Addison), Lisa Germano, and Matthew Ryan, who is working on an EP for A&M Records.

Elliptical dispatches: During the week of Summer Lights, honky-tonk hero Paul Burch played what can only be called the gig from hell at the Station Inn. For starters, there wasn’t a sound man. Then the PA went haywire. Then Burch broke a guitar string—without having any replacements. That Burch maintained a certain amount of poise throughout the entire ordeal says something about his perseverance. So please help erase the memory of that cursed gig by showing up for Burch’s (cautious) return to the Station Inn on Wednesday, July 24. He’s one of the best hard-country talents in town, and he’ll be joined by a couple of noteworthy pickers:Cayton Roberts, who has played steel guitar in Hank Snow’s band since the ’50s, and Raymond McClain, who plays fiddle withJim and Jesse....

Fluxnet, the Web site of New York’s Luminous Flux Records, is seeking CDs, cassettes, and singles for review, possibly for inclusion on upcoming CD samplers. The site includes a monthly online e-zine with sound samples; it also offers independent releases for sale. Bands are asked to send music and press kits to the attention of Fluxnet A&R, Luminous Flux Records, 8 Forest Ave., Glen Cove, NY 11542. The deadline is July 26, and materials will not be returned. For more information, consult the Fluxnet site at http://www.fluxnet.com, or call (516) 674-3229....

Watch for Self’s video “So Low” on MTV’s 120 Minutes. The video was directed by Jesse Peretz, who did the Foo Fighters’ fresh-and-full-of-life video “Big Me.” The Murfreesboro art-popsters, led by young studio whiz Matt Mahaffey, will also be the only band to perform at the West Coast’s Jose Cuervo California Region Beach Volleyball Championship, an event presented by Rolling Stone....

John Prine, Todd Snider, and Bone Pony are among the featured acts on Rock Live From Mountain Stage, the latest volume of the popular Mountain Stage CD series on Nashville’s Blue Plate Records. The live performances, compiled from the nationally broadcast Mountain Stage radio program, include Wilco’s “I Must Be High,” the Jayhawks’ “Blue,” and Jackopierce’s “Jacob.” The CD should be in stores now....

Taking a page from his former band, Nine Parts Devil, former Raging Fire drummer Mark Medley has a standing gig every Saturday night at Victor/Victoria’s with his new group, Tabasko Kat. Tabasko Kat plays Sinatra-esque swing and lounge-lizard jazz with traces of rockabilly and punk. Go for the Twin Peaks ambience and the cheap beer; stay for the music....

Jeoffrey Benward, one of the first artists on the Franklin contemporary Christian label Forefront, has just released a best-of compilation for the label. Entitled Strength for the Journey: The Best of Jeoffrey Benward, the album assembles 10 tracks from three albums Benward recorded for Forefront between 1985 and 1990, Let the Church Rise, Set It Into Motion, and The Redeemer. Fans of lushly arranged “adult-inspirational” pop should enjoy Benward’s dramatic Peter Gabriel-like vocals and keyboard-laden production. The CD is in record stores now....

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