Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I think this qualifies for the “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” award of 2009.

I think this qualifies for the 'Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina' award of 2009.

Last week while at the Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis (where Peter Cooper and I were showcasing our snappy little duo act), Peter found out that he was headed to the Caribbean soon thereafter to be a part of the Cayamo “music cruise.”

I was instantly jealous.

But then I was instantly not so jealous, because he told me he thought I could be his cabin mate if I wanted.

I wanted.

Especially since the cruise embarked on Feb. 28, which was my birthday, and since Peter never knows what to get me for my birthday, I figured I was really doing him a favor.

And so it is, this second day of March, 2009, I find myself on the “Norwegian Dawn,” docked in Samana, Dominican Republic. As I say, don’t cry for me. Except maybe for my skinned knee, scraped on an underwater bit of driftwood as I took a dip in the fine, salty, wavy Caribbean this afternoon, after riding an ATV over some hills and dales to get to a spectacular beach.

Okay, you don’t have to cry.

As the song says, “I got lucky bones.”

So the cruise started in Miami.

Peter and I flew there from Nashville on Friday night, made our way to the hotel where many of the musical acts were gathering the night before Saturday’s boarding of the ship. In the lobby all kinds of folks were milling about, great artists, plus their various band members….

Let me just give you a rundown on some of the folks performing on this 7-day cruise: Lyle Lovett, Shawn Colvin, John Hiatt, Indigo Girls, Webb Wilder, Joe Ely, Patty Griffin, Darrell Scott, Brandi Carlisle, the Greencards, Kathleen Edwards, a fellow from Barenaked Ladies, a fellow from Sister Hazel, Vienna Tang,Tift Merritt, Glen Phillips, Shawn Mullins, a fellow from Collective Soul, o man o man… I’m drawing blanks… there’s about 20 more artists on board. Oh ! I’m remembering some of the less well-known performers: Katie Herzog (great), Girlyman, ummmm

Well, you could look it up:


Anyway. I’ve never been on a cruise before. It’s un-be-lieve-able. Several very good restaurants serving food all the time. A 24-hour casino (Peter knows his way around a blackjack game, and with his help, I managed a $120 win the first night. We won’t talk about the second night…) Four performance halls. A movie theater. A library. Of course a big pool deck, lots of hot tubs…. I mean…. I could go on and on… but let’s just say it’s mind-blowing. There are a little more than 2,000 guests on board, I hear. And apparently 1,000+ employees. (Because of all the health issues on cruises the past few years, there are folks walking around with spray bottles of hand disinfectant ready to zap you.) I’m sort of dumbfounded by the whole thing, frankly.

I mean, I’d seen big cruise ships, like when Last Train Home came down to the Caribbean in 2005 and 2006 (I think that’s when it was…?? Oy my brain…). We weren’t on the ships then, but we always saw them docked at the places we were playing. My reaction then was to dismiss them. And you and I could certainly get into a discussion about the pluses and minuses of the cruise industry, but being on the inside of this thing gives me a new perspective.

I won’t lie: I like it.

I’m even hoping that Peter and I, or Last Train Home, or both, could get invited back as performers next year. It’s like an enormous music festival that happens to be on a big ship in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

So, no, in answer to the unasked question, Peter and I aren’t performing. Dang.

Peter is wearing his journalist hat and helping coordinate media interviews for some of the better-known artists (there are a few music journalists on board…)…

Cell service and internet service are pretty expensive, so mostly they both remain in “Off” mode. I’ve only seen one clock on board—seriously. It’s easy to just let it all go….

The first 48 hours since Miami have included shows by Lyle Lovett, Darrell Scott, Shawn Colvin, Kathleen Edwards, Indigo Girls w/ Brandi Carlisle, Webb Wilder, Katie Herzog, the Greencards…. And those were just the ones I saw… there were a dozen more I didn’t make it to. Insane.

And besides the music, there turns out to be lots of folks I know on board. It’s easy to just walk around and find someone you know and have a nice chat, then move along and find a nice lounge chair and worship the sun.

I think the Cayamo Cruise infomercial is over now.

I’m just checking in to say hi.

And thanks to everyone who sent birthday greetings (man, that Facebook is quite a phenomenon, isn’t it??)

Peter and I get back on Sat. March 7, and that very night we head to Norm’s River Roadhouse, where we’ve got a gig playing with the great Phil Lee and the tremendous Tom Mason. If you’re in Nashville, come on out.

And if you happen to be in Johnson City on Friday March 13, PC and I play the Down Home that night…. And if you’re in the DC area, PC and I play Monday March 16 at the Institute for Musical Traditions concert series in Rockville. I’ll be sending out a note about that…

Okay, back to the shuffleboard court.

Hope to see you all soon….

-- eric

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Station Inn CD release... a mighty fine night....

So Saturday night Jan. 24 was a night to remember. It was the CD release show for "You Don't Have To Like Them Both," the duo CD that Peter Cooper and I have just released. But that's not why it was a night to remember. Well it's ONE reason...
But here's another, and here's what's going to stick in MY head: I got to meet Tom T. Hall and sing a song of his and have him declare it "really fine." Oh lord. I can die happy.
Tom and his wife Dixie were at the Station Inn here in Nashville that night because Peter Cooper had invited them. You see, Peter is the music writer for the Tennessean newspaper (it's his tiny little side gig besides playing in a duo with me.... oh, and he's also a Vanderbilt professor.... the man is busier than anyone I know).... and over the years Peter has gotten to know Mr. Hall, and written about him a bit, and has recorded a song of his, and we've done several Tom T. songs live, etc etc...

So the first set of the night was just the new record, top to bottom, 12 songs. And starting at 9 pm, we let 'er rip, with this band: Dave Roe (upright bass), Pete Finney (pedal steel), Paul Griffith (drums), Tim Carroll (guitar), and Jen Gunderman (keys, accordion). It was sooooo great to bring these songs back to life after having had such a good time recording them back in August.

When we finished the last song of the set (a version of Todd Snider's "Yesterdays and Used to Be's"), Peter leaned over and said, "You wanna do 'I Flew Over Our House Last Night'...? Tom T. is here and he probably won't stay for the second set." So, with shaking nerves, we did that song, one I consider just about the finest country song ever written. Seriously. It's perfect. Last Train Home recorded it on the "Live at IOTA" DVD, and Peter and I have sung it a long time together, so i thought we could get through it without screwing it up....
and we DID! (get through it, not screw it up)....At the end of the set, we took a break, and I saw Tom T. walking my way... i got nervous... He stopped in front of me and stuck out his hand: "Young man, I just wanted to introdcue myself and say thank you for playing my song." Oh boy, how about that....???We had a nice chat.. he told me how he'd come to write that.... on a plane over Kentucky, returning to Nashville from a gig (he was on a bill with Connie Smith, was was on the plane too)... He said: "I looked down, and we were passing right over my ex-wife's house. I took a piece of paper out and wrote down 'I flew over our house last night.'"
Tom T's bandmate, sitting in the seat next to him asked: "What's that you're writing?" and Tom said, "I flew over our house tonight... trying to start a song." And nearly 40 years later, there I am, singing it and hearing the story about the song straight from the man who wrote it....Only in Nashville.The rest of the night was great too... lots of friends, fellow musicians, etc... and we had a blast.... I got to wear my sparkly suit... and I can't imagine having a better time....

(Ann Soyers who booked us and worked the door, and Kurt Storey who did sound both deserve big shout outs here... THANK YOU BOTH!!)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Grammy Nominee in our midst !

So once again Last Train Home was passed over by the Grammy nominating committee. Can you believe it?? "Wait'll next year!" the crowds cry.
But hold on: The word is out from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (the folks who put on the Grammies) that Lloyd Green was just nominated for a Grammy! And what's that to you? Listen up: Lloyd Green is perhaps the world's greatest pedal steel player (it's an ongoing debate in places like the "Steel Guitar Forum"), and LTH singer Eric Brace (okay, i confess, that's me, the guy typing this...) had the great good fortune a few months ago to make a record with Lloyd Green. It's called "You Don't Have To Like Them Both" and it's a duo CD from "Eric Brace & Peter Cooper" and you can find it at www.redbeetrecords.com starting Monday Dec. 8. It's also available from CDBaby right now! Get it for the stockings of all your friends. Seriously. If only for the steel playing of Lloyd Green (there's more reasons, but that's the one I'm talking about right now...)

But Lloyd isn't nominated for this record, he's nominated for a track on the most recent Jerry Douglas record... the song is called "Two Small Cars in Rome," and it's nominated for "Best Country Instrumental." J.Douglas says he wrote it "expressly as a setting in which to conduct an instrumental conversation with the esteemed Lloyd Green."
When Jerry was the Artist-In-Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame here in Nashville, he gave a series of performances, and at the first one he invited Lloyd to join his band on stage and play "Two Small Cars in Rome." (It was the best part of the night, says me.)
As he introduced Lloyd, Douglas said: "As far as I'm concerned, he's the best steel player that ever lived, Douglas said. When I was playing with the Whites, I would really study every move Lloyd Green made, on all those Don Williams songs, and every record by Charley Pride, Warner Mack, all those things. I would listen to how he phrased, and how he framed-in the singer and would make the singer better every time. I think Lloyd Green had a lot to do with shaping country music." He's got that right.

So let's wish Lloyd luck and cross our fingers on Grammy night.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An election hangover....

What a night last night....Watching history... I was vibrating... humming with emotion... a little choked up.... but maybe it was the 1000 mgs of steroids that had just been IV'd into a vein of my left forearm....(back to that in a minute).
Last week I was in the hospital at Vanderbilt University, and a male nurse took me to the private room, wrapped my arm in that blood pressure velcro thing and started pumping the balloon at the end of it. "So you're a musician?" (he must have read my employment status on my admission sheet). "Yep." "122 over 60, that's good."
"Oh good!"
"So what do you play?"
"I'm the singer in a band called Last Train Home. We do a kind of country rock, roots rock, american thingy." (I never know what to say)
"Do you know Hank Cochran?"
(Do I know Hank Cochran.... I love Hank Cochran. If you're a songwriter in Nashville and you don't know Hank, you really shouldn't be here..... 'I Fall to Pieces' is his best known perhaps... LTH has performed "She's Got You" when brother Alan Brace was playing with us... man he could sing the bejeebers out of it. Almost better than Patsy. No really.)
"Oh sure"
"Well he's not doing to well with his cancer right now, but he's such a wonderful man, we're good friends.. he's always been so good to me."
"Really? How did you meet?"
"Well I came to town managing a young artist, and we got him a record deal. One of the things I wanted to do was record a Hank Cochran song. And we did, we recorded an album, but my guy was dropped before it came out."
"Oh man, that's too bad."
"You want to hear an unreleased Hank Cochran song?"
Hell. Yes.
So the nurse pulls out his Blackberry... punches some buttons....
"Now I warn you, this one'll tug aatcher heartstrings."
He looks at me hard. He knows the doctor is about to come in and tell me some news that could be bad.
"It's called 'Afraid'...." He hits the button.
A fine steel lick slides by...
A fine voice starts singing. It's right dab in Merle-George-Keith territory. Maybe a little too much '90s slick in it, but coming from the right place.
The song plays... all the way through... it's a little emotional. The guy's watching me listening as he holds his Blackberry closer to me.
"Man... that's a good one... you were right."
And it was. Not A+, but solid and real.
(oh, the steel player on the song was Jim Vest... 20 years of A-list pedal steel session calls. He's something else...)
"What happened?"
"Well, he didn't get the deal.. .kind of got put on the shelf... and I got out of the business and went to nursing school."
'Well I'm glad you did. It's the only way I guess i would have gotten to hear that song!"
.... Ahhhhh.. Nashville... My nurse is playing me a never-released tune by one of my all-time songwriting heroes... on his Blackberry... as I sit in my robe, wondering if I'm ever going to feel anything in my legs again...
Yes, a couple of weeks ago after a cup of coffee with horn player Scotty Huff I was walking to my car and I couldn't lift my arms and they went numb.... I made it home hunkered over the steering wheel, steering with my shoulders, basically...
A few hours later my legs went numb.... I waited.. not panicking about possible heart attack or whatever, since it was happening on both sides and arms and legs...
But finally I got scared and we went to the emergency room.
Tests... days go by... numbness continues....
I go in for a few days to get slammed with sleroids to make the inflammation of the nerves go down.
MRI shows lesions in the myelin around the spine.. where the nerve endings reside....
apparently some viral condition is eating away at the myelin and causing numbness....
Spinal tap: is it MS? Doesn't look like it. But doesn't NOT look like it...
Tests.. tests... test..... nice folks at Vandy...
More ambiguous tests.... Lyme disease? No. B-12 deficiency? No? Strange tropical auto-immune disease from monkeys? (no kidding) No. Mono? Nope? etc. etc. etc.
Scary, but what can you do.
Two weeks into it.... more weakness... but feeling kinda better... Mostly been lying on the couch...
Now, another MRI shows no new lesions, and shows drastic reduction in preciously spotted lesions.
Okay that's GOOD: means i'm repairing myself. I'm visualizing microscopic repair crews with tiny hard hats coursing up and down my spine with patching asphalt and getting on it.
They say this happens... many people have just one strange numbness episode that knocks them for a loop. It goes away, and in 3 to 5 months, they're back to normal. Well okay. But for now, a few more doses of steroids to help get the nerve swelling in check.
So more steroids yesterday and today.... Have you *had* 1000 mgs pumped into for days at a time? I was warned of depression and aggression... didn't happen... but I'm buzzing... inside my skin... humming... I can almost hear the note..... vibrating... but it's in a good way... no really .. even if it doesn't do good things for sleep.....
Of course, it could be Obama I'm buzzing for.
I'm feeling lots better tonight.... thanks Barack. And thanks, 63 million americans (no thanks to 61% ot Tennessee voter who went for McCain) for giving me a big old shot in the arm...