The title of this musing is a reference to a line in a country song by our friend, Thom Schuyler, who wrote “16th Avenue,” a hit for Lacy J. Dalton in the early 1980’s. This photo is of a few of those boys who made the noise; however, I must also pay homage to the women who were writing songs and having hits, too. Marijohn Wilkins was also at this taping.
This particular photo makes me happy. I like seeing Harlan surrounded by some of his lifelong friends especially when those friends preceded the successful years. Harlan and Bobby Bare were friends in California prior to Harlan’s arrival in Nashville in 1960. Harlan and Willie became friends in the early 60’s when they both wrote for Pamper Music. Billy Walker, “The Tall Texan,” hit the streets of Nashville in 1959 a few months prior to Harlan’s arrival.
This photo was taken at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in 1995 for the filming of a documentary, titled Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge: Where the Music Began, hosted by Willie Nelson. The film features songwriters and performers talking about the ethereal beginning of Nashville becoming known as Music City. It focused on the life and influence that Hattie Louise “Tootsie” Bess had on musicians, songwriters and recording artists in the formative years of Music Row. Tootsie’s was a refuge for hungry writers trying to prove their mettle. The upstairs back room was a safe haven for songwriters to swap song thus the beginning of guitar pulls. Songwriters were friendly competitors. They liked to gauge the likelihood of success for the song they just wrote. They liked to size up new writers in town. If they were lucky, they might get to play their newest creation for a recording artist on break waiting for their turn at the microphone at The Opry. To quote Harlan Howard, “lots of business gets done in a bar” when you’re a songwriter in Nashville. The bar was synonymous with the office in the early 1960’s.
We know most of the rest of the story. Bobby Bare, Harlan, Willie are all in the Country Music Hall of Fame. A fact that may or may not be well known is that Billy Walker was supposed to be on that fateful flight that killed Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Billy Walker gave his seat to Hawkshaw. Billy returned to Nashville using Hawkshaw’s commercial flight ticket. In 2006, Billy Walker along with his second wife, Bettie, and two band members were killed in an automobile accident returning to Nashville from a gig in Alabama.
Being on the road is not for the faint of heart. Performing may seem glamourous but getting to and from gigs is not. I applaud touring musicians, performers and the road crews—road warriors. To the boys and girls that make the noise, you make life more enjoyable by sharing your talents with us. Thank you.
Melanie Smith-Howard 3.9.20