You Can Make It If You Try: The Ted Jarrett Story Of R&B In Nashville
Ted Jarrett has worked as a producer, label executive, artist manager, and disc jockey. As a songwriter, he’s seen his songs reach the top 5 on both the country and R&B charts. Still, it’s a pretty safe bet that outside of a circle consisting of R&B historians, liner note-aholics, those who buy every release from the soul arm of the magnificent Kent label, and people who visited the Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues, 1945-1970 exhibit at the Country Music Hall Of Fame, relatively few people would recognize his name. (And, yeah, there’s a huge overlap among the four segments of that circle.)
This autobiography isn’t poised to change that, but for those already on board, it does provide an interesting look at Nashville’s music culture — specifically, a routinely overlooked and seldom examined section of that music culture — in the latter half of the 20th century.
Like most autobiographies written by people in the music world, You Can Make It If You Try has two distinct parts: Jarrett’s life in and around the music biz, and the rest of the story.
Working with Nashville music industry veteran Ruth White, Jarrett, still going strong at 80, lays out the latter part in a folksy style that’s sometimes disarming in its straightforwardness and sometimes distracting in its meandering. But the success Jarrett ultimately finds after a hard-luck/hard-work childhood does live up to the book’s title — which is also the name of his biggest song (a smash for Gene Allison in 1958 and a cut on the Rolling Stones’ 1964 debut England’s Newest Hitmakers).
The music-and-life portion of the book delivers more of a payoff, especially for those who enter with enough obscure soul and R&B knowledge to appreciate anecdotes about and profiles of such Jarrett proteges as Larry Birdsong, Roscoe Shelton, and Herbert and Rufus Hunter. And it’s easy to imagine the handful of readers who don’t already own the Kent compilation Music City Soul hungrily tracking it down, as it could serve as the soundtrack of this book’s last quarter.