I don’t care what the show says, Nashville is a ten year town.
I heard about this before I moved here. I was prepared. Kind of. In that way that a child, whose mother has just told him to stop jumping on the couch before he hurts himself, is prepared for twelve stitches in his chin.
Still, secretly, I imagined that Nashville was a ten year town for your average songwriter, and maybe, say, a two year town for your resident badass. Just to be clear – I am NOT the resident badass in question.
Every year, a slew of songwriters arrive here in Nashville hoping to break into the scene. Some hope to be the next Big Thing. Some are just hoping for a marginally comfortable position as a staff writer at a publishing house. Whatever their ambitions, they sort of ooze into town over the course of the year, and because they are new, they end up meeting each other at all the events that attract fresh Nashville meat… open mics, writer’s nights, auditions, workshops, etc. By the end of your first year in town, you’ve amassed what amounts to a freshman class. Like any class, there are stand-outs and there are just-hanging-ons. But, nonetheless, you all go to the same parties, you show up at each other’s gigs, you hope for the best for each other. Well, except for the assholes. There’s always a couple assholes. You still go their shows and parties, but as infrequently as possible, and the whole time you’re hoping someone, anyone, will come along and put them in their place. We may be Southern, be we aren’t saints.
I had a great freshman class. I was surrounded by people I knew from my time at Berklee, as well as new friends from far flung places (some were even married with kids, like me) and even old friends from back in my folksinger days. There was one guy – he and his wife were both working at Cracker Barrel – who had a daughter just a year older than Zoë. They gave us countless hand me downs and fed us incredible homemade food and peach infused sweet tea. He was a drummer. He busted his ass for a couple years and landed a job touring with a major country act. He hated it. I remember sitting in his kitchen one night when he came home from an audition, trying to find a new job. He was all lit up and said, “I just auditioned for this really young girl. She’s like 14, but she’s really got it together.” He became that young girl’s drummer as well as music director, and toured with her for almost a decade. Al had that intangible – more than just monster chops, it had something to do with how he made you feel… I guess she couldn’t shake it off, shake it off. It was super exciting to watch.
There was also this other stand out… He goes down in Dominguez family history as the only one to ever wake a baby while playing in a guitar pull in our living room. For years we had monthly “music parties” where we’d invite anyone we knew who played, wrote, or enjoyed music. We’d sit around in the living room, passing around guitars and bottles of booze while my children slept upstairs. All those parties, and there was only one guy who consistently woke a child every time he played: Matt Ramsey. If there was ever a badass/really good guy who deserved to walk into town right into the arms of a contract, it was Matt.
The first time I met Matt we were both playing a writer’s night in some random bar in the outskirts of Nashville. In the evening’s lineup, I was third and he was fourth. I have never been so glad to not have to follow someone onto stage. Eleven years later, and I can still remember Matt standing in that dinky bar wailing on his guitar while doing that Springsteen shoulder thing, singing,
I need to get to you
as fast as this little stick-shifter can burn rubber.
I’ve got the hammer down, engine screaming loud,
I can’t get any more out of her.
If she breaks down, I’ll start running down
this road, fast as a mother…
I need to get to you…
One way or another.”
It’s impossible to do it justice with only the lyrics, but it does say something that I have no recording of that song, and over a decade later I can still sing it to you if you ask. Matt probably can’t. That was 100, 300, 400 songs ago for him.
Last night, my husband stopped me on my way out to my car to tell me that Matt Ramsey FINALLY had a Number One song. Not as an artist, mind you (though he’s now part of a stellar band called Old Dominion) but as a writer – which is maybe better (writers earn royalties every time a song is performed or played on the radio – artists do not). I almost crashed my mini-van twice on my way to teach a piano lesson; I was that excited.
Now, Matt and I haven’t even spoken in more than seven years. The last time I saw him I was dropping off a bag of baby hand-me-downs (kind of a theme) shortly before his first child was due. I can’t be sure he even remembers me – the parties at my house, or the infamous party at his, where shortly after being introduced to a beverage called Redneck on Vacation (a PBR with a slice of lime shoved through the pop top) we all ducked for cover as shots rang out not far from his front porch.
None of that is important. I’m not trying to win some He-and-I-go-way-back; I-knew-him-when Award. The point is, I’m ridiculously happy for an old friend that I’ve always been ridiculously proud to have known. If there ever has been a person who should have expected to have Nashville handed to him on a silver platter, it is Matt Ramsey. But it didn’t work that way. He had to bust his ass for years to get where he is… which I imagine is just at the beginning of a very successful career.
The song is called “Say You Do” and it was recorded by Dierks Bentley. Here it is, if you’d like to hear Dierks sing it. I can almost promise you that Matt could do it better.
I’ve gotten a little addicted to watching that music video. Kinda crazy for a girl who avoids country music like someone might avoid an old abusive ex-husband. Still, beyond even that, I’m completely captivated by this photo:
This is Matt, Dierks, and the other writers at the ASCAP party celebrating the #1. As Matt says in his CMT interview, “It’s like I’m looking at a movie about the last 12 years of my life.”
A reader turned me on to this video. It’s Matt singing “Say You Do” two years ago when it was fresh off the presses. I love how he asks, “Should we work this up with the band?” Um… yeah, I’d say you should.
Told you Matt does it better.