Stavanger, Norway 13 June 2013
Awake and out of the unusual hotel at 8 o'clock, Bergen enveloped in heavy dark clouds, cold and teaming down rain. Head down I made a dash for the bake shoppe and in through its front door to the warm smell of fresh pastries and coffee. Two double espresso and a croissant guaranteed I'd feel much better about the rest of the day. Then it was back to pack the bags and check out though not before a re-run of Lake Bergen after my shower. As it was, I was hurrying to make the departure call and when I hit the lobby was taken aback.... way back... to see my old friend Steve Earle standing there. He and his band had just checked in as they were playing the same festival event we did the night before. I got to spend a couple of minutes catching up before we had to leave. I produced a couple of albums for Steve shortly after we moved to Nashville in the mid-80s and it was Steve who was one of several people who encouraged us to make that move from Los Angeles. One of those albums, Guitar Town, opened many doors for me in Nashville, both as musician and record producer and my hat will always be off to Steve.
A very short flight to Stavanger. So short we never levelled off, we were either ascending or descending with a hurried snack in between. A distance of 120 miles, no doubt the only reason for flying rather than driving would be to avoid what the crew experienced getting there by road. Nearly 8 hours to go 120 miles. It involved two ferry trips and juggling the departure times of them. When we arrived at the venue this afternoon, you would have never known how tired they were, not one complaint. On top of their inconvenience, they worked all day at the venue with a well meaning but completely inexperienced local crew as the venue is brand new.
That venue is the DNB Arena, built to house their hockey team. Apparently prior to the arena there was no place to hold a show or sporting event other than outside. Ours was only the second show in the place somewhat explaining the lack of experience from the local crew. Tonight was a standing crowd of great folks and a good show followed by a runner back to the plane where Liz had chicken curry and drinks at the ready. To call it curry was a stretch, however if one thought of it as chicken stew it put a whole other slant on things. It was hot and tasty and just fine with a gin and tonic. We landed an hour later in Gothenburg, Sweden, checked in to the hotel and made it downstairs to the great pub/bar just under the wire for last call.
I want to note the passing of Johnny Smith, one of the all-time greatest players that ever graced a guitar, who died yesterday at 90 years old. Though not a household name, Johnny was well known through the 1950s and '60s, a musician's musician and no less than Charlie Parker's favourite guitar player. Smith scored a rare jazz hit with his first record in 1952, Moonlight In Vermont that was on every jukebox in every cocktail lounge in America. Johnny recorded albums prolifically after that as well as holding down the staff guitar chair at N.B.C. radio and television networks in New York City. A busy and hugely influential guitar player, he walked away from it all in 1958 when his wife died suddenly leaving him to raise their 4 year old daughter in the city. He thought his daughter was far more important than his career and left New York for Colorado Springs, Colorado. There he bought a modest brick home, opened a music store, taught guitar and remarried, occasionally returning to New York to record and playing shows in the Denver area. In 1960 Johnny Smith hit a windfall with a song he'd written and recorded five years earlier called Walk Don't Run. A beat group from Seattle calling themselves The Ventures simplified and transformed the song into a rock and roll instrumental that was a massive hit record and is still played widely today. Smith recorded his last commercially released album in the late '60s and quit playing altogether back in the '80s. A man of great humility, he lived and died in that same modest home he originally bought and was fond of saying he just tried to stay out of everyone's way. He famously said the best view he ever saw of New York City was in his rear view mirror and referred to his guitar as a "box of mistakes". To this day Johnny Smith continues to inspire, influence and confound me. For those interested, there's no better place to begin listening than the beginning. Here from 1952 is Moonlight In Vermont, the great Johnny Smith on guitar and sax by Stan Getz.