I wrote a book called Old Timer’s Blues. It’s set in Nashville, Tennessee back in the 1970’s. Nashville is the town I’ve called home for 19 years. If you were a kid in the south in the 70’s — 80’s and halfway decent at the guitar everyone told you, “Go to Nashville.”
Remember the old Family Wash? That corner was a stop and rob. It was a place to get shot, get hit on the head, get car jacked. One stop shopping for no good Friday nights. Now there’s a cafe on every corner. Remember the Slow Bar? You had to grab your amp, look both ways, keep the head active, keep the shoulders up and run for it. The old Radio Cafe? First time I played there the guy said, “Well no one’s getting famous tonight, let’s get started.” There was one coffee shop. Bongo East. We had good times then. Nothing was Instagram ready, no marble countertops, no reclaimed wood, no copper fixtures.
Then the flood happened. Then the flood of people. Now it's a deluge. Maybe you know Nashville because of Jack White and Third Man Records. Maybe it’s Connie Britton, her hair, and the TV Show Nashville. Maybe it’s Dan Auerbach. Maybe Sheryl Crow. Maybe Robert Plant. Maybe Steven Tyler. Nicole Kidman. They all showed up here. I’ve heard stories about them at The Whole Foods, the library, a red light or a coffee shop. Everything changed. The scene changed. I hung up my guitar and decided to write a crime novel.
I remember when I was a kid sitting on the hill above the trailer my grandmother lived in with my three aunts. At the bottom of the hill by the road was the trailer, the hill went up between the old cabin where my Great Uncle Willard lived and the old smokehouse. My aunts were talking about Stringbean. About how he carried money around in a poke sack. About how he lived in a cabin out in the country. Then he got robbed and killed. This is why my aunts locked the door at night. My great uncle had a sawed off shotgun.
The next time I heard the story was Nick Tosches in his book Country. He said something along the lines of “This story would make a great In Cold Blood like crime novel.” Well, you don’t have to tell me twice.
I could still see the old shadows, what is it they call the old painted signs on the sides of buildings? Ghost Signs. And there is the old neon. Weiss Liquors and Wendell Smith’s. The top of the Life and C building. The Drake Hotel. There are places like Dino’s, which has a damn good burger and though it’s owned and operated under new management, it’s untouched, God bless them. I go down 4th till it turns into Nolensville Pike. I drive Lafayette or Murfreesboro Pike or Gallatin. I can see what was left of that world.
Henning Mankell, the pathos noir master of Sweden, had a book called Faceless Killers. In Lunnarp, Sweden, in a country farmhouse an old couple is tortured and murdered. The book starts when their neighbor realizes something is wrong when he doesn’t see smoke from their chimney the morning after the murder. In my head this became Grandpa Jones looking over the hill at his friend Stringbean’s house. This was the last clue I needed, in the parlance of detective fiction, to start the investigation.
I did what any bad ass does. I hit the library. The Nashville Room to be specific.
I made it out to the site of the crime in Ridgetop. A friend of a friend introduced me to the current owner. I walked around the place. I got the lay of the land. I saw the bullet holes in the floor. I went to Ernest Tubb REcords and bought every disc they had by Stringbean.
I read about Grandpa Jones, Roger Miller, and Marty Robbins. I asked a friend whose dad was on the Opry then, to ask his dad, “What was he like?” I got the info back. I asked a friend who plays the banjo, “What sort of player was he?” I got the info back. I watched the Robert Altman movie Nashville, which was originally planned to be a movie about the murder. It was filmed in 1974. It was a cinematic time travel. I pieced it together. Time and place. I drove around the points of interest. I started to make fact into fiction.
But nothing could replace the Nashville Room. The archives for the Nashville Banner newspaper resides there on microfiche. You turn on the machine, the light, the hum of the motor. Flip the switch, turn the dial. You go back. It’s like a record player for the past. I read all the articles. I read the adjacent stories. I dug up more crime. I put together a crime spree from the time. Nashville was dangerous then. A friend of mine who grew up here in the 1970’s said, “Oh yeah, it was the Wild West.”
I wrote it by hand, then I typed it on a desktop then I edited it on my phone. Lot’s at Crema. Lot’s at home. Lot’s in Florida at my mother in law’s place. Lot’s at Pinewood. Lot’s at Smith and Lentz. Lot’s at the old Red Bicycle on Nolensville Pike. Lot’s at the Nashville Room. There might be other places. I can’t remember.
I listened to those Stringbean records I bought at Ernest Tubb. I’d never hear them before. Because of the Anthology of American Music, I was into Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley, and Charlie Poole. String was bad ass. He was their inheritor. Besides that stuff, a-lot of Led Zeppelin. “When The Levee Breaks” definitely plays in the trailer for the movie in my head. I listened to “The Joker” by Steve Miller a-lot. It was a hit in 1973. I listened to ambient stuff. Adrian and Meredith. I listened to The Legendary Shack Shakers, the fit the psycho rural vibes. Stuff that was droning and spooky.
I had some cash for an editor. Not as much as I needed but enough. They ran it through the wash. Then I hit it again. I did what I could do. Last Fall, I realized it was time to let it go. I typeset the book myself using Reedsy, I did the photo shoot for the cover with my iPhone, then I did the cover design in Canva.
If you live in Nashville, then please go but it at Grimey's or The Bookshop. Both are located in East Nashville. If you’re not in Nashville, I must send you to Amazon for now.