March 20, 2009
A couple of Saturdays ago a singing pal of mine and I took a day trip over through the Delta. The drawing card was a concert to celebrate the start-up of the Delta Music Institute (DMI) at my old alma mater, Delta State University.
The campus has seen lots of changes over the years with new buildings and such, all added to accommodate the steady increase in enrollment the university has seen. Lots of times modern architecture has a way of interrupting the flow of things. A tip of the hat to the planning committee for making sure the campus kept its charm. In my eyes, it''s still one of the prettiest campuses in the South.
I took time to walk around and peer in a few windows. My stroll brought back a lot of good memories. I had forgotten how good I had it back in 1972 -- always broke, two pairs of jeans, a few shirts, my Air Guard-issued field jacket and Mexican gut string guitar.
The Delta Music Institute was made possible by a very generous gift from one of Delta State''s own, Viking founder Fred Carl, not to mention a lot of planning and thought by Executive Director Tricia Walker, a Nashville songwriting pro who boasts a long list of cuts by many of Nashville''s top recording artists.
The university recognized a need for a program that would provide musicians an education in the technological, creative and business areas of the music and entertainment industries.
And what better place for the Institute than Cleveland -- right on U.S. Highway 61, the most famous highway in America? (Save your emails referencing Route 66 -- don''t want to hear it, because the greats like Muddy, Ike and John Lee didn''t live on that street.)
I got a good look at the DMI. It has two (no Strummin'' exaggerations here) world class recording studios that can handle the largest choirs and ensembles all the way down to "plain jane" guitar pickers like me. In addition, students are given computers with programs and interfaces that allow them to play and record their music while away from campus. How cool is this? The DMI bringing respectability to ne''er-do-well guitar pickers, barroom piano players and crooners like I am.
Now, most of you know I didn''t drive almost 400 miles and spend 10 bucks on food for a studio tour and a walk around my old alma mater.
Tricia Walker was throwing a coming-out party (not Delta, but Nashville style) and had invited a couple of her old songwriting pals, Mac McAnally and Fred Knobloch, down to "season the skillet."
Sometime back in the mid-''70''s, when the now-retired fiddling doctor and I were playing a little music around Jackson, I got a call from him to meet at Hinds Junior College to hear Mac, an unheard-of kid from Belmont who, according to one of the doctor''s in-the-know cohorts, was on his way to stardom. That afternoon, after hearing Mac play and sing "Barney," I knew we were in the midst of a master.
About that same time, Fred Knobloch was Jackson''s favorite Happy Hour picker, entertaining at just about every popular watering hole in the Capitol City. He must have tired of hearing folks going on about how he was wasting his talent hanging around there. He made the leap and moved on to the big time with several hit records, followed by multiple cuts on recordings from artists like country and western legend George Strait to jazz great Etta James.
Tricia, Mac and Fred brought my favorite music house, Nashville''s Bluebird Café, to Cleveland. In succession, they performed hit after hit they had either written and/or recorded.
Mac showed why is one of Nashville''s A list guitar pickers and most recent addition to Jimmy Buffett''s Coral Reefer Band with his flat-picking intro to "Simple Life."
Fred, at my request, gave a soulful rendition of the hit song he wrote for Confederate Railroad, "Three Verses." The chorus of that song could be my anthem.
Tricia brought the house down with her tune "All the Way Home." It''s worth every penny you would spend after visiting her Web site to order her CD.
I''m proud of my old alma mater for bringing guitar pickers like me into the world of respectability with the DMI; however, I beg them not to get too academic and dull the vibe that''s the soul of our Mississippi music.
Now that we Mississippian''s have the DMI, they may have to rewrite Waylon''s old hit "Mamas Don''t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys." It might go something like this.
Mamas, let your babies grow up to be cowboys.
Let ''em pick guitars and drive them old trucks.
Let ''em be writers, pickers, singers and such.
Roger Truesdale owns and operates Bayou Management Inc. and is a semi-professional guitar player. His e-mail address is [email protected]
Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.