Tribute To Jack Emerson – Mercy Lounge (Nashville, TN)
Later on, toward the climax of this six-hour tribute that was also a benefit to cover lingering medical bills of the late Jack Emerson, Steve Earle said, “A lot of people are here tonight that I haven’t seen in one room in a long time — and we’re here because Jack was one of our heroes. He always believed that this was a rock ‘n’ roll town — and he was right.”
So was Earle.
The comfortable Mercy Lounge was well-packed with those who remembered Emerson fondly, those who wanted to help, and, inevitably, those who wanted to spend some time with the special lineup that the occasion summoned back together. The business of this night was rarely mourning; it was largely getting on with that Nashville rock.
The act associated most with the early years of Emerson’s stand in Music City, Jason & the Scorchers, and his later partner Earle, the other “E’ in E-Squared, were rightly, and rippingly, the headlining closers. Jason and Steve knew each other when few in the musical world knew either of them, while young Emerson was going from Scorchers bass player to manager and label head at Praxis Records — which birthed much of the “other side of the alley” rock scene here. Earle played solo on his “Tom Ames’ Prayer”, a favorite of Jack’s, and “Christmas In Washington”, its “come back Woody Guthrie” refrain right for the season of year and the times.
The reunited (and somewhat reconstituted) Scorchers backed Steve and Jason on their co-written “A Bible And A Gun”, and they traded verses on Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” — a touching choice for the moment, just the sort of predecessor song that connects their two acts. Earle finished with the rueful comment, “See you on a good day, partner.”
This was, meanwhile, a good night.
Tim Krekel and his poppy, British Invasion-influenced band the Sluggers brought back his song “I Can’t Help Myself”, one the Scrorchers covered famously on their original Praxis EP Fervor. Veterans that Praxis had backed when no one else would were on hand as well. John Hiatt, who’d first played with the Goners under Jack’s auspices, offered a succession of pounding blues numbers, including “Fed Up With The Blues”; guitarist Sonny Landreth provided the leads, as well as some Mardis Gras rhythms in his own set.
Steve Forbert offered his own hit “Romeo’s Tune” from back in the day, as well as a version of the Stones’ “Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown” gone twangy. Billy Joe Shaver, whose career Emerson had helped revive with the 1993 Praxis release Tramp On Your Street, turned the evening into a sort of revival meeting, delivering “Georgia On A Fast Train” and “Hottest Thing In Town”.
Emerson’s continuing reach and active musical interests were brought home by a set from the young rockabilly-influenced Boston singer-songwriter Jake Brennan, whom he’d spotted and signed at last year’s South By Southwest festival. Webb Wilder and band, tearing into Johnny Cash’s “Cry, Cry, Cry”, reminded the performers and producers and publicists and sheer fans in this crowd (“like a high school reunion,” as Wilder put it) of Jack’s punkier excursions.
And Bill Lloyd stopped by to remind everyone about the “pop meets country” end — not a small part for the man who worked not only with the Foster & Lloyd vet, but also had the V-Roys on E-Squared.
“The most important lesson about the music Jack taught me was that you can’t always sound good — but you can always look good,” Jason Ringenberg said, taking the stage for the finale, showing the inner lining of his trademark screaming red jacket, which Emerson helped him design back in 1985.
“And Jack lives in the sound of…”
WHOMP! The Scorchers tore into “Lost Highway” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Shopping Around” and “Both Sides Of The Line”. And there were Jason and Warner Hodges one more time, whipping and spinning in the air in unison, reminding us that, in some ways, you have to see this band it to get it — still.
This particular brand of music in which Jack Emerson lives on just jumps, and can be, as it seemed again for this occasion, music as strong as anybody in Damn Loud Cowpunk has ever made. It came from right here. Thus, the Scorcher number that maybe said the most on this poignant, memorable night was one of their oldies, the one that announces the whole scene Jack did much to make so: “Greetings From Nashville.”