Articles proclaiming "There's more to Nashville than country music!" have turned up with amusing persistence over the past 10 years. But the Rev. Keith A. Gordon has spent more than three decades keeping the faith in Nashville's diverse non-country universe. Gordon has published reviews, interviews and commentaries in publications both local (The Metro and Bone among others) and national. While he subsequently wrote and/or contributed to seven books on music, as well as various other websites, he's frequently revisited Music City's multiple communities for updates and new articles.
His newest project is the exhaustive book The Other Side of Nashville: An Incomplete History & Discography of the Nashville Rock Underground 1976-2006 (Excitable Press, $33; available at www.othersideofnashville.com). Culled and compiled from numerous articles, with assistance from friends and colleagues over a six-year period, Gordon's volume is both an important document of the city's club scene and a labor of love from someone who's spent much of his professional life giving exposure to neglected and ignored artists.
That doesn't mean Gordon's an apologist or PR flack in disguise. His zeal doesn't compromise his sense of integrity, and Gordon's never had any problem expressing disdain or disapproval for music he finds substandard or phony. No one who reads The Other Side of Nashville will get a sanitized presentation — nor one written by an author lacking passion or knowledge.
The Scene recently interviewed Gordon via e-mail about his latest endeavor, eliciting his views about contemporary Nashville music, journalism and other subjects.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions outsiders have regarding Nashville's non-country music scene?
Even after the success of bands like the Kings of Leon and JEFF the Brotherhood and artists like Ke$ha, a lot of people still firmly identify Nashville with country music, cornpone and Hee Haw. Through the years, this perspective has made it harder for bands from Nashville to break out and get signed, or even to be taken seriously. Even a group as great as Lambchop had to go to England to make a name for itself. Over the last few years, though, with the Internet allowing for listeners to discover the music for themselves, Nashville's reputation as a rock 'n' roll hot spot has begun to grow, and these former misconceptions are beginning to melt away.
;What are the greatest positive changes you've seen over your tenure as a writer and observer?
As an old-school rock critic who grew up on Dave Marsh and Lester Bangs and was mentored by Rick Johnson, I've seen the concept of writing about music grow from a cultural curiosity into a legitimate form of journalism. Back in the '70s, when I first started down this road to obsession, only classical music critics were held in any sort of high regard by their peers, but these days music criticism is as much a part of the cultural landscape as pop culture itself. If anything, I think that it's swung too far, and you have too many people writing too poorly about artists that are too slight. There's little sense of history from many young "music journalists," although the Internet has made fan writing much better and accessible. I think that as a lot of today's music journalists discover that you can work 40 years and make little or no money from your passion, they'll drift off into independent filmmaking or something, leaving the field to we true lifelong obsessives.
What person and groups have you most enjoyed hearing and interviewing?
To be honest, there are few musicians that I haven't enjoyed talking with. Out of the hundreds of interviews that I've done, Nashville has some of the friendliest and most intelligent artists that I've spoken with over the years. Jason Ringenberg and Warner Hodges from the Scorchers are two great guys, and always a lot of fun to interview. Webb Wilder, aside from being another nice guy, is a fast-walking, slick-talking conversationalist that always keeps you on your toes.
Who are some of the least publicized and underappreciated people and groups?
One of my biggest complaints through the years, dealing with editors in New York and Los Angeles, is that Nashville has always had talent as good or better than anywhere, and has been provided little (or, often, insulting) coverage. I always felt that the late Max Vague was one of the city's most interesting and adventuresome artists, and it's a crime that he died before hitting the big time. Bonepony are one of Nashville's most talented and hard-working bands, and they don't get anywhere near the attention that they should. Threk Michaels has become a pet project of mine. He's recorded with legends like James Burton, Joe Osborn, and Glen D. Hardin and made great early-'60s-styled rock albums (including an acclaimed Rick Nelson tribute CD).
Of the newer bands, I think that The Features and Glossary both have incredible catalogs of music and should be much bigger than they are. If the Kings of Leon are one of the city's most-hyped bands, The Features and Glossary are easily their equals in talent. Then, of course, there's Dave Cloud, our own underappreciated genius (Practice in the Milky Way is a great album), and now R. Stevie Moore — the guy I credit with starting the Nashville rock scene in 1976 — has returned home.
What music style hasn't yet exploded that you felt would have in Nashville?
I feel that Nashville's blues scene is on the brink of national attention, and the re-location of artists like the Black Keys and Jason Ricci, among others, to Music City is a great first step. Of course, Nashville has a long and respected blues and R&B tradition, with artists like Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Jones putting the city on the map back in the early '60s. Nashville lost a great blues talent this year in Rick Moore, who seemed to be forever on the verge of breaking out, but I still think that the city offers a lot of great blues music.
Do you feel there's enough media support for Nashville's non-country styles?
No, I don't. People can gripe about him all they want, and I've often been the loudest voice in that chorus, but Gus Palas did something that nobody else has done since, and that's publish a magazine that provided media support for local non-country musicians when he published The Metro. Daryl Sanders had a great idea a few years back with his Cashville411.com website, and I was happy to work with him in providing coverage for Nashville rock and rap artists. But I think that Daryl was ahead of his time and didn't have enough investors to make it last. The Tennessean is the voice of Music Row, and while the Scene offers decent coverage of non-country styles of music in the city, it can't take the place of a dedicated magazine or website.
Does the city's black music scene get the exposure and coverage it deserves?
I don't believe that it does, and I'm probably as guilty of this oversight as anybody else. I included a handful of black artists in The Other Side of Nashville book, figures like Aashid Himons (blues-reggae, country-blues), All Star (rap) and Utopia State (hip-hop), among others. I would have liked to include more on Nashville's thriving rap scene, but I'm just not plugged in enough to provide the coverage it deserves. From what I see of the Scene and Tennessean (reading both online), black music in Nashville often gets infrequent and inconsistent coverage.
How did you decide on what stories and interview to include?
At some point, while working on The Other Side of Nashville, it became apparent that those musicians most interested in the project were those people that I knew and/or covered back in the '80s for The Metro and, later, for Bone music magazine in the '90s. They were the easiest to reach out to, and as the book evolved over six-plus years, the focus became more and more on the evolution of the rock scene from 1976 until today.
Donna Frost was an easy choice, as we went to high school together, have known each other for 40 years, and she a very talented artist. Scott Feinstein (Shadow 15) is a great guy and one of the book's biggest supporters; ditto for Robert Logue (Royal Court of China, The Shakers). Some like Jason Ringenberg and Tommy Womack were also an easy choice, but in the end, I tried to pick people with interesting stories (Dessau's John Elliott was a great interview).
That being said, I ran out of time and room (the book is already a massive 620 pages), because I would have loved to have included new interviews with Webb Wilder, Will Kimbrough, Bingham Barnes from Glossary, and several others ... so in the end I mixed up a bunch of new interviews with musicians crucial to the development of the local rock scene (Kenny Wright, Jeff Cease, Barry Nelson, etc.) with older interviews from The Metro and elsewhere (The Dusters, Webb Wilder, Threk Michaels) to provide readers with an idea of the wealth of musical talent in Nashville.
Do you ever anticipate returning to Nashville?
To be honest, I miss Nashville every day, and I hope to be back to visit early next year. One never knows where life is going to take you, though. ... In 55 years, I've lived in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth and now the Buffalo, N.Y., area. I grew up in the Nashville area, though, and lived there for 33 years, so the city is always on my mind.