by Jim Ridley
If you haven't read this week's cover story, then you haven't lost an eye to Phil Lee, knife thrower, reformed rapscallion, and one of Nashville's very best songwriters. Much better than reading about him, though, is seeing him live. He'll be doing an early evening record-release show tomorrow night (Saturday) at Norm's River Roadhouse to play songs from his new CD So Long, It's Been Good to Know You.
Here's a testimonial from songwriter and Tennessean music journalist Peter Cooper that didn't make it into the story, but it's too good not to pass along:
I haven't toured with Phil, but I have gotten to play some shows with him. One memorable one was at the Bluebird. We were doing an in-the-round with Fayssoux McLean, and Emmylou Harris came by to sing on some of Fayssoux's songs. Emmy needed a place to sit down and sing, and Phil suggested, "Why don't you come over here and sit on old Grampee Lee's knee?"
Emmylou declined the offer, and we found her a spot. At song's end, I said something into the microphone like, "Well, folks, you never know what to expect here at the Bluebird. You might hear a hit song, you might hear an unknown song that brings a tear to your eye, or, apparently, you might witness Country Music Hall of Famer Emmylou Harris being sexually harassed." Phil then said, "That was Emmylou Harris? Somebody needs to fill Grampee Lee in on these kinds of things." And Emmylou's smile was absolution. Here's a woman most songwriters in town treat like the Virgin Mary, and Phil Lee gets her to smile by inviting her over to sit on his knee.
If there's no baseball game on, I don't really do anything except sit around and listen to music all day. Sometimes I type while I'm listening. Sometimes I drive while I'm listening. Sometimes I strum a guitar and sing while I listen to myself strum a guitar and sing. Anyway, I listen a lot, and I've never heard anything that reminded me of Phil Lee. He's a singular fellow. While the rest of us appease, he frightens and charms, and sometimes offends, and always entertains. He's the only songwriter in the last 15 years who has come up with an effective couplet that rhymes "maybe" and "baby": "The woman I love's got an ugly baby/ He calls me 'Pa,' I don't know, maybe."
If Guy Clark was raised by a carny, he might write Phil Lee songs.