I attended one of the most interesting, moving, emotional, musical, inspiring, and eye-opening memorials yesterday for an old friend. I truly don't mean this to be a somber post. Because I'm not feeling somber. I just was so intrigued by this gathering and I can't fight the urge to talk about it. Yesterday I was wildly emotional, but in a reminiscent way. An inspring way. And a growing and learning way. My old buddy, Greg Humphrey, was the band leader and talent scout/booker at Tootsie's World Famous Orchid Lounge in Nashville, TN. He was one of many in a cast of characters that roam the streets of Broadway and the "halls" of that infamous bar. He was as crazy as they come. And it's with saying goodbye to him that I realized how influential his crazy was to so many people in this town.
I moved to Nashville 7 1/2 years ago. And as I type that number I am hit with a wave of reflection on how much has transpired in those years. I believe I could write a trilogy just on my past years in Nashville. And there are few people I would allow to read it all! :) But when I arrived I knew no one, nobody, nada, zilch. I was newly married, no job, no home, no clue what I was going to do next. I had a dream and a smile, and often that smile was hard to recognize. I was sent by a former (for good reason) manager to Tootsie's and told to "Go find Greg Humphrey." A day later I was standing on the back stage in the back room auditioning at an open mic for a coveted slot at the famous purple bar. This is how my debut performance went.
Greg - "What song do you want to sing."
Me - "Ummmm I don't know....how about....ummmm...well I know this Dixie Chicks song....but...."
Greg - "Great, let's do Sara Evans, Suds In A Bucket."
Me - "But I don't know that song."
Greg - "Hit it!"
And the band played. And I looked left and right, and made up a few words, and sang under my breath, and then quickly exited the stage vowing I would never be that embarrassed again. The next week I came back.
Greg - "What song do you want to sing?"
Me - "Walking After Midnight" by Patsy Cline.
Greg - "We know who it's by. What key do you do it in?"
Me - "Ummmm, I don't know. B?"
Greg - "Great. We do it in C. Hit it"
The next week I came back.
Me - "Hey guys. Here's my song list. Let's start with Walking After Midnight. Key of C. HIT IT!"
I thought Greg was such a jerk and didn't care at all about my performance or helping me grow. What I didn't realize is that he was feeding me to the lions with good reason, and I was learning to roar. I'll never forget the smirk on his face the first day I held my own on that stage. I got it then. I also got a standing slot at Tootsie's that day. One of the coolest experiences to date in my life, and I've done a lot of things in this life so far.
Greg's memorial yesterday called out such a colorful audience. The list of speakers who shared memories included David Preston (Director of Writer/Publisher Relations at BMI), Don Goodman (a well known songwriter here in Nashville), a guy who I can only assume was super high, a man with a LONG grey beard wearing a multi-colored circus looking hat recounting awesome memories, and many former and current Broadway musicians and singers who Greg has helped give a start to in this crazy town. I was one of those artists in the crowd who hadn't given enough credit to someone from the past who set me on a course in life I could have never imagined growing up in Dallas.
I hadn't talked to Greg in quite sometime. And I now truly regret not checking in with him and updating him on what was going on in my career. But it was so good for my soul to hear everyone's stories of torture and triumph, and all of the frustration everyone shared with the ways Greg handled (or didn't handle rather) business and booking at Tootsie's. Greg was horrible with money and I could never figure out how someone who worked all day every day always owed everyone money. What I didn't realize until yesterday was he was constantly borrowing money to give to others who needed it even more than him. Hence the homeless man Greg bought medicine for and the struggling artist who Greg was paying the cell phone bill for (for years). I do believe a lot of that money went to help a lot of musicians be less uptight and more laid back with the aid of a friend named Mary Jane who would meet Greg and the crew in the back alley between shifts.
But I bitched for countless hours about how mad I would be at Greg for booking me on a gig and then showing up only to realize there were 8 other singers also playing the same gig. I was so mad I showed up and he was also giving 8 other singers a chance to sing only a couple of songs. Until someone made me realize yesterday, he was giving 8 other singers a chance to sing a few songs! It was a shot, an opportunity, and he was so proud of that opportunity and that stage. And looking back I'm so proud I was one of the many.
Rob Simbeck, a Nashville journalist, spoke yesterday about all he has learned from Greg Humphrey, and my favorite thing I took from that speech was "Find great people. Introduce them to each other." Those are such awesome words. So simple, and yet so impactful. It's amazing if you take time to think about people you have met over the years, and how that introduction has affected your life. To think "I met you, who led to you, who led to you, etc. is pretty powerful as you watch it begin to mold your experienes and path. And who knows what shift you create by introducting awesomeness to awesomeness. There are probably tiny explosions all over you don't even realize are happening by these connections. It excites me.
The beforementioned "stoned guy" who spoke yesterday (who by the way was awesome and made me laugh and cry) said something that stuck with me. I can't remember the exact way he phrased it, but it was about letting your dreams be the very last thing you let go of. With a comparison of life to a flight that is about to crash, hold on to your dreams as tight as possible and let that be the last thing you are left grasping to when you go down. Something like that. I can't recount it, but I totally get it. Greg did just that. He played 8 hours of straight music at Tootsie's last Thursday, then went home and went to bed, smiling I'm sure, and didn't wake up. He literally died doing what he loved. His daughter said she remembers saying "Daddy, I wish you didn't have to go to work today!" to which Greg said, "But honey, I don't have to go to work. I get to go to work!" That's a dream I can get on board with. Greg taught me more than I even realized. And I know that relationships I have because of him will continue to do so.
Play on old friend. Heaven just got funkier.