CMAs: Random Notes From Nashville

Jimmy Wayne: A Nashville star who can quote Fat Boys lyrics!

NASHVILLE - The first voice I heard upon arriving at the airport here yesterday was Kellie Pickler's.

The "American Idol" dingbat was singing "Don't You Know You're Beautiful" on a video screen at the CMT store, right around the corner from the guitar-themed Gibson Cafe and across the concourse from a display of Marty Stuart's black-and-white portraits of a bunch of old-time country stars, including Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.

If you didn't know better, you might be inclined to think that the entire city of Nashville is a country-music souvenir shop/theme park. Only half of it is that way.

You also might be inclined to think that Kellie Pickler's marginally twangy, totally cheesy pop anthem about female beauty represents the modern Music Row sound. And actually, it does. Which explains why Pickler -- a much more interesting talker than singer (you don't have to Auto-Tune her dialogue) -- is a minor star. Whereas someone as terrific as the throwback singer-songwriter Ashton Shepherd is struggling to break through. Pity that.

Thankfully, balance and order were restored in my universe when I visited with George Jones at his estate in a subdivision south of Nashville, where country's greatest singer -- the man with the thrillingly baroque voice and a remarkable ability to immerse himself in a lyric -- broke into song a few times during the course of our interview. It. Was. Awe. Some. As were some of the Possum's stories about his life and career. Much, much more on Jones later, before the Kennedy Center Honors.

Nashville is buzzing this week, what with the Country Music Association Awards scheduled for Wednesday night. The city is loaded with country-radio DJs, half of whom seemed to be getting loaded last night at the Palm, on some record company's dime. The more interesting sighting there, though, was Miranda Lambert, in town from Texas for awards-show week. I was invited to a surprise birthday party for her but skipped it, even though I'm totally in the tank for her music, as the party was being held at a totally grungy, smoke-filled bar whose descriptions made it sound a lot like a redneck version of Jaxx. Didn't want to have to steam-clean the stench off later. It was apparently quite a set-up, though, to the point that Lambert thought her beau Blake Shelton had a concert date in another city -- when, in fact, he was awaiting her arrival at the bar.

Instead of that soiree, I went to an awards dinner staged by the publishing performance rights company SESAC. Wasn't interested in the awards themselves, but in hearing Jimmy Wayne perform "Do You Believe Me Now," which was co-written by a SESAC guy, Tim Johnson. The lachrymose mid-tempo ballad sounds more like an adult contemporary pop tune than a country song, but that didn't stop it from reaching No. 1 on the country charts.

Big difference between a No. 1 and a No. Anything Else, Wayne told me. He'd reached as high as No. 3 earlier in his career, but "Do You Believe Me Now" is his first No. 1; the slaps on the back are harder now, the strangers chatting him up more plentiful, and writers now appear eager to give him their best material since he's proven he can take a song to the top of the charts.

Anyway, Wayne performed the song solo acoustic, his sweet, soulful voice soaring above the clinking of forks on plates during the dessert course. (Flourless chocolate cake with Grand Marnier creme anglaise and mixed berries, if you must know.) But first, he had another idea: "I'm gonna play a song I like," he announced before opening his two-song set with a gorgeous version of "Sara Smile." Yes, the old Hall and Oates tune.

Wayne's publicist and manager had goaded him into doing the song after he'd mentioned to me during dinner that he's long been a big Hall and Oates fan -- and that he sometimes covers the duo's music in concert. But he might be an even bigger Anita Baker fan. Lionel Richie is right up there for Wayne, too, which makes sense when you hear him sing.

What doesn't really track: Wayne used to be a breakdancer, explaining that when he was growing up in small-town North Carolina as a foster child, he and some of his friends would set up cardboard on the streets and throw down. I didn't believe him, until he started singing part of the old b-boy anthem, "Jam On It," by the electro group Newcleus. Then he began to beatbox the rhythm from Run-DMC's "My Adidas" at the dinner table.

As far as I know, he's the only Nashville star who can quote Fat Boys lyrics and talk about the joys of fat laces. That makes him alright in my book, even if his biggest hit sounds like something you'd hear in the waiting room at a dentist's office. Or, I guess, on your way through Nashville International Airport.

By J. Freedom du Lac |  November 11, 2008; 9:44 AM ET CMAs , Randomness , Roadies
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Did you watch the CMA Awards last year? Kellie Pickler delivered the best performance of the night (I Wonder) and won the CMT Music Awards Performance of the Year award for it. Don't You Know You're Beautiful isn't even close to her best songs. Funny you compared her to Ashton because CMA Vocal Duo of the Year winner Sugarland said they picked Kellie and Ashton for the same tour because both are great country vocalists. Top male vocalist winner Brad Paisley also picked Kellie for his tour. And female vocalist winner Carrie Underwood has mentioned wanting to tour with Kellie. Kellie is terrific, one of the best live singers and needs no auto-tune. If you ever get to see her in concert you will be impressed. She's also a great talker.

Posted by: inspiration1 | November 12, 2008 12:34 AM


SESCAC is not a publishing company, which one would think Mr. DuLac would have discovered during the course of the four hour awards, dinner and suprisingly sophisticated for such a backwater town dessert at SESCAC's Music Row headquarters. It is a performance rights company. Like ASCAP. And BMI. Ho hum, yawn. City boy comes to Nashville to report on what "real" country music is. Thanks dude. We'd never know otherwise. Hope to see you in the media room at the Country Music Association Awards tonight. Down here, in Twang Town, we skip the big words and call them the CMAs. Bless your heart.

Posted by: kswest55 | November 12, 2008 2:20 PM

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