Mac Gayden – The Glory of The Nashville Cat! (Christmas Cracker 1)

While you’re getting on with your everyday life the world keeps on turning. Day becomes night and Spring ripens into Summer before Autumn leaves fall heralding the coming of Winter.

And, though it once seemed so very far away ChristmasTide is upon us once again! Last year The Jukebox celebrated with the very well received,
‘Christmas Cornucopia’ series which featured a gallery of great artists singing Christmas songs.

The Cornucopia will return next year. Those of you of a nostalgic bent (and everyone gets a free pass to indulge in nostalgia at Christmas) and those who have become Jukebox readers this year are warmly invited to catch up with the first Cornucopia post here http://wp.me/p4pE0N-4U

This year, as my own form of indulgence, The Jukebox is going to present a series of artists and records which hold a special place in my affections – often for reasons I can’t fully explain (which is the way with many of our deepest affections).

Many of these have been fixtures in my music treasury for decades and have been the subject of lengthy encomiums delivered with beery exuberance on licensed premises often starting with the phrase, ‘What do you mean you’ve never heard of ….’

Given the season that’s in it I have called this series, ‘Christmas Crackers’. So let’s get cracking with a record from 1975, Mac Gayden’s hugely uplifting, ‘Morning Glory’ a song that always puts a mile wide smile on my face every time I hear it.

Now tell me that ain’t better than a medicine for healing!

This is guitar playing that soars with devotional grace like the lark. Guitar playing that glides and glides, stilling time as it opens up azure realms of weightless joy. John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful (whom god preserve) wrote a hymn to the skills of Nashville’s musicians called ‘Nashville Cats’ which perfectly captures the brilliance of Mac Gayden’s guitar playing here:

‘Nashville cats play clean as country water, Nashville cats play wild as mountain dew’.

I first listened to Morning Glory on the radio in my student room in Cambridge. I vividly remember my deeply knowledgeable muso friend Neil (who improbably managed to combine a deep appreciation of Albert Camus with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fabulous reggae records emanating from Jamaica’s Studio 1) nearly breaking his neck as he vaulted down the stairs from his room in the floor above me to breathlessly ask, ‘Who the hell is that guitar player!’.

Mac Gayden, I airily replied based on thirty seconds or so of superior knowledge! From that moment on I made it my business to find out all there was to know about Mac Gayden.

Turns out he really was a born and bred Nashville cat and that as well as being a stunning slide guitar virtuoso he had played with the great and good all the way from Bob Dylan to Elvis.

Mac was also a fine producer and a terrific songwriter with a gem studded catalogue of songs. And, one of those songs, ‘Everlasting Love’ was one of those songs that got up andwalked by itself into immortality.

A song that was a hit in the 1960s and 1970s and 1980s and 1990s and which is still beingsuccessfully covered in the 21st Century! Everybody knows Everlasting Love, though I doubt one in ten thousand could name Mac Gayden as its author (strictly speaking co-author with Buzz Cason). A song that’s built up a very healthy pension for Mac Gayden.

There are versions worth investigating by U2, Carl Carlton, Gloria Estefan, Rachel Sweet, Love Affair and Jamie Cullum. But, as is my default setting, it’s the beautifully restrained and dignified glowing original from 1967 by Robert Knight that features here on The Jukebox today.

The genesis of the song goes back to Mac picking out a lullaby melody on his grandmother’s piano when he was only 5 years old! The same warm melody that’s carried by the horns and organ on Robert Knight’s version above.

The more immediate inspiration for Everlasting Love was the rumbustious live music scene of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. The fraternity houses provided lots of work for Music City’s up and coming musicians.

The legend goes that one night as Mac took a break from his set at Phi Delta he was entrancedby the sound of a true rhythm and blues/soul voice carried on the night air from Kappa Sigma.

Investigation established that this was the voice of a Franklin Tennessee native, Robert Knight, who had an early 60s hit as a member of The Paramounts with, ‘Free Me’. After some hesitation Robert was persuaded that Mac was a Nashville Cat who was every it as much at home with R&B and soul music as he was with Country music.

The result of their collaboration was a record that might be termed country soul – a record that is immediately memorable and singable with a chorus that all of us think we must join in with arms aloft enthusiasm. The rest as they say is history.

Mac Gayden’s superb slide skills and his understanding of when to unleash those skills and when to lay back supporting others made him a handsome living as a studio musician.

In addition in the early 1970s he was part of two high class Nashville based musical ensembles, Area Code 615 and Barefoot Jerry which allowed fellow studio greats like Wayne Moss, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Kenny Buttrey to stretch out, maintain the groove and show off their chops for longer than a radio friendly single demanded.

I am going to close this tribute to Mac Gayden with his sublime Wah-Wah slide playing with the laid back and leathery supreme master of sun going down back porch groove, J J Cale. There may be a track that’s more lazily hypnotic and addictive than, ‘Crazy Mama’ but if there is I haven’t found it for four decades and more!

Mac Gayden belongs in the secret hero category of musician. I hope that today’s Christmas Cracker feature has done something to let the secret out. Spread the word!

Notes

Mac Gayden – In addition to Everlasting Love Mac Gayden also wrote the Northern Soul classic, ‘Love On a Mountain Top’ for Robert Knight. The Box Tops, Clifford Curry and Geno Washington all took full advantage of his soulful strut of a song, ‘She Shot A Hole In My Soul’.

Morning Glory can be found UK Ace Records excellent combination of two 1970s albums, ‘Skyboat’ and, ”Hymn To The Seeker’

I also recommend, ‘Southern Delight’ by Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615’s eponymous debut LP and the, ‘Trip To The Country’ follow up.

Robert Knight – His tender tones can be explored further on a compilation inevitably named Everlasting Love on the BGO label.

Buzz Cason – As well as co-writing Everlasting Love Buzz worked with Leon Russell, The Crickets and Snuff Garrett. He sang backup for Elvis and Kenny Rogers. He ran a very successful recording studio and wrote a fascinating memoir, ‘Living the Rock’N Roll Dream’.

Yet, despite all these accomplishments his greatest moment for me is as the writer of, ‘Soldier of Love’ for the peerless Arthur Alexander.

A song picked up, played and greedily memorised by a couple of young men from Liverpool, Paul McCartney and John Lennon who would go on to write more than a a few classic songs themselves!

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