Mickey Newbury – Bluebird Cafe (Nashville, TN)
“I can tell this isn’t gonna be a live album, friends,” rued Mickey Newbury, referring to the rash of tuning, intonation, and memory problems that beset him at this show. “I can’t get through one damn song without hitting a bad chord. It’s like makin’ love on a sidewalk.”
After yet another false start, this time on “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye”, Newbury, who had hoped to tape the show and release it as a live disc, looked as though he was ready to call it quits. That is, until some guy, expressing the feelings of most everyone who’d crammed into the Bluebird, blurted out, “We’ll sit here while you write one.” Whether it yielded enough complete takes for a live album or not, the legendary singer-songwriter’s rare Nashville appearance offered an intimate, humorous and often moving glimpse of his peculiar genius and spirit. The fits and starts made it all the more personal.
Accompanied on guitar by his good friend Jack Williams, a self-styled raconteur who opened the show with a set of Southern-flavored originals, Newbury played nearly 20 songs in two hours. Half of his set was newer material, including several bittersweet reflections on mortality and the passage of time. “Here’s to the piper, the bastard’s been paid,” he sang on “Long Road Home”. “Do you ever have a longing for a pure and simple time/When all we had between us was a dream and a single dime,” he pondered, his voice both craggy and expressive, in “Some Memories Are Better Left Alone”. “I always wanted to write happy songs,” Newbury later confessed. “I just didn’t write when I was happy.”
For the most part, Newbury’s choice of older material delighted the audience: “Cortelia Clark”, “Sweet Memories”, “Poison Red Berries”, “I Came to Hear Music,” the dark, brooding blues of “Why You Been Gone So Long”. Fellow songwriting legend Harlan Howard, however, wasn’t so easy to please. “Hey Mickey,” Howard shouted at one point, “How ’bout ‘Frisco’?” “Well I can see right now you wanna hear that old shit,” quipped Newbury. “You don’t like my new songs.” Newbury didn’t play “Frisco Depot” or “San Francisco Mabel Joy”, not even as encores, but he did relate the story about the day he brought the latter song into his publisher at Acuff-Rose. “I took ‘San Francisco Mabel Joy’ into Wesley,” Newbury said, referring to Wesley Rose. “‘What am I gonna do with a song this long,’ he said. I said, ‘Hell, that’s not my job. It’s your job to get my songs cut.'”
Over the years, Acuff-Rose helped put Newbury’s songs in the hands of such artists as Ray Charles, Eddy Arnold, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joan Baez, Roger Miller and Kenny Rogers. Regrettably, though, Newbury’s own inimitable renditions of his classic material, particularly the stuff on his late-’60s and early-’70s albums on RCA, Mercury and Elektra, have long been out-of-print. As such, the chance to hearing him play some of those songs made this show all the more special.