home photo of Michael Rhodes by Rick Malkin

A Conversation with Michael Rhodes (continued)

MR: It was so different in Nashville back then. There were those enclaves everywhere in town. There was Pic-a-Lick.

PM: Right.

MR: And Roger Cook and all, and that bunch of guys, Tony Newman playing drums, and Spadey Brannon, and Joe Allen, you know, with Don Williams, and that whole bit over there. And there were these pockets of very intense family-bands, and teams. It was more team oriented. It was not competitive in a negative way, but everybody was just, you know, busy.

PM: It was more competitive like Motown was, it was families of people trying to outdo each other.

MR: Yeah, yeah. It was trying to one-up each other, and keeping tabs on the other guys, but everybody had their arms around one another, you know? So it was very great time to be here. The roots were deep. There was a lot of old growth that was still standing in the town at that time. Not to lament about the good old days...because, for some people, these are the good old days, too.

PM: But roots are roots. And if you were there, it's important to know.

MR: Well, I'm much more interested in and motivated by someone who knows who Lefty Frizzell is, whose history goes back at least that far, than by someone -- and I don't mean this disparagingly, but someone whose roots don't go back any further than Garth Brooks, you know?

PM: Yeah.

MR: But there again, it's a different time, and a different place. And I'm not saying one's better than the other. But I feel pretty fortunate.

PM: It's funny, I know great songwriters in town whose first heroes were Kiss. They have no blues, no bluegrass, no country in their background. I mean, "What are you? Are you American?"

MR: Well, quite so, but it's more of a franchise mentality. It's the difference when people think, you know, a good Italian restaurant is the Olive Garden.

PM: Right!

MR: It's the same kind of thing. And that's not to say anything bad about Kiss. They're great. But they are primarily a marketable commodity. It's less about the music. And that's a good analogy, because there's a lot of that mentality driving the music business. These days it's more about business than it is about music. Not to say that there isn't some great music being made. But it's having trouble finding its way through. I know that you know what a pinhole a record has to squeeze through these days to get on the radio. It's such a controlled medium now.

PM: And to squeeze through that pinhole, it takes a lot of grease.

MR: Oh, man, it's the ultimate sonic sperm race.

PM: [laughs]

MR: You got to swim hard to get out ahead of the pack and hope it takes.

PM: And you got to grease that monkey down.

MR: Man, you know. It's so hard. There's so much stuff coming out. But there it is.

PM: Pardon my backtracking, but you had started to say that along with Don Ganz, that Jim Ed Norman really helped you.

MR: Oh, Jim Ed. Eddie Bayers, a drummer here in town, who's like the brother I never had and we're tight to this day -- he and I had developed into a really, really good rhythm section from doing a lot of work together. We did hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of demos together, and just worked all day. And that's when we used to do like triple and quadruple sessions a day, you know, like we'd work from 10:00 until 10:00 at night. And later, because we were young. What else were we going to do? And it was fun, you know. So anyway, Jim Ed Norman had begun to use Eddie on some stuff. And Eddie hipped him to me, and so Jim Ed said, "Okay, I'll take a chance." And so Jim Ed used me on a Charlie Rich record, and that led to some other stuff. Jim Ed was really my first good solid account.

PM: And was that Charlie Rich record your first big record?

MR: Yeah, I'd have to say, I think it was.

PM: Do you know which of his records that was?

MR: No, I can't remember now. It had "Marie" on it, that Randy Newman tune.

PM: Oh, really? What a great song.

MR: Yeah, yeah. But anyway, then one thing just led to another.

PM: So Jim Ed became a first key account. And do you remember what that leapfrogged onto, or who else might have come into the picture at that time?

MR: Well, there was a lot of stuff going on then. I mean, it was a pretty crazy hotbed of activity at the time.

PM: And where are we, chronologically?

MR: Well, we must be around '81 to '84, somewhere. During that time I played on some little nickel and dime kind of things, and a few bigger things. Then I just continued to sort of simmer. But know this, man: some of my favorite bass players in the world were active and working in town then. There was Tommy Cogbill who was a mentor to me. God rest his soul. Tommy was heavy. He played all that early Aretha stuff, you know, produced "Sweet Caroline" for Neil Diamond, a major guy.

PM: Whoa.

MR: He'd moved here from Memphis. He played on "Funky Broadway." Remember that?

PM: [laughs] Uh, yeah.

MR: So that's how heavy the cat was. Anyway, he took a liking to me. He was a great guitar player. He would play guitar on some sessions, and I would play bass. I learned a lot from him.

But all that is to say that there were some great bass players here in town, and you pretty much had to take a number and wait for something to open up and you could slide in. They were taking the bulk of work. Joe Osborn was here, and he was doing a lot of work. He was doing a lot of work for Jim Ed. Whenever Joe couldn't make it, or they needed something that was a little different sounding, then I would get a call. But I didn't really catch a break -- a record that would have really been instrumental -- so I just simmered like that for two or three years.  continue

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