Andy May and Kenny Malone - photo courtesy, Kevin Schlatt Photography

There were all sorts of events both musical and public ceremonies going on around Nashville last Sunday. It was a slow time getting up and I wasn’t really up for the pomp and circumstance, but, I was up for some good music.

The Country Music Hall of Fame has a schedule of free demonstrations, concerts and films. September 11th sounded interesting with Andy May and Kenny Malone doing a “Guitar and Drum Demonstration” set in the Gibson Room at 1Pm.

This was an opportunity not only to listen to an interesting set but to ask questions and get some interesting answers and advice by a couple of masters.

Andy May is a guitar and mandolin player as well as a singer, songwriter, and music educator. Andy has won the guitar grand championship at the Old Time Fiddler’s Convention (Union Grove, North Carolina) and he has appeared with Brownie McGee & Sonny Terry, Merle Haggard, Nickel Creek, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger, and others. He is a regular at Merlefest .

Kenny Malone is a percussionist who has performed or recorded with Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and others. 

Kenny Malone, not just a drummer, but, a master percussionist, brought world beat to Country Music years ago. One of the first records that he used Djembe drums and other percussion was with Don Williams. Kenny talked about how he likes to read the lyrics before he reads the music so that what he performs on the song doesn’t distract from the lyrics.

Kenny showed his newest set-up, five Djembe drums set up in a full pentatonic scale.  Kenny stated, “Several cultures independently found the pentatonic scale on their own. The pentatonic scale would be the black keys on the piano. When drums are tuned to a pentatonic scale, there is no discordance with the music being played and you can hit any drums together and they blend.”

Andy showcased his versatility not only by playing his own songs such as “Love is The Greatest Gift of All” off Blackberry Jam, on a Martin Acoustic through a Roland Cube which sounded 10 times bigger than it was, but, took requests from the audience to maximize what Andy and Kenny could do between Guitar and Percussionist, going everywhere from “Roll Over Beethoven” to “Star of the County Down” sung by Andy’s daughter.

Kenny showcased a new percussion piece for the first time which he decided to call “9/11,” in honor of the date.  Andy and Kenny both talked about deciding on doing the gig together on 9/11.   Rather than being about what happened on 9/11, it was a time to memorialize the 10th anniversary and remember that American Music is a blend of different cultures. Drums coming from big brass band European military music.

“The snare came from the battlefield. They needed something that would crack through everything. The snare was used to give directions on where to shoot or fight. It was code tapped out on the snare. The percussionist brought nothing into battle but a snare drum. It was dangerous work. Of course there is the Scottish drum and fife corp.”- Kenny Malone

Kenny- “When I was in the military, playing music was part of the job. When we passed a Russian ship in international waters we had the responsibility to play the national anthem.”

Andy commented about music being a mixture of roots in traditional folk melodies mainly known through older gospel music and religious traditions of different cultures.

Kenny made the remark that we are constantly blending musical forms noting that he was playing traditional African instruments as well as a snare from military tradition while Andy was playing an instrument that came out of Europe in various forms hundreds of years ago.

Kenny has been doing the acoustic guitar/drum duet thing for a while with Darrell Scott (songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) at Hippy Jack’s, the Americana Music Festival and the Folk Alliance in Memphis.

Kenny will be playing with Darrell Scott to celebrate Darrell’s new Country music release at the Station Inn on October 5th and 6th. This is a show not to be missed.

Before leaving The Country Music Hall of Fame, I stopped into the Ford Theater to see Bill Monroe’s appearance on Austin City Limits back in 1981 and 1986 and this was a tribute special aired in 1997. It was cool to see him and Ralph Stanley on the big screen. I guess 9/11 can be a day when we celebrate American culture and what we have given to the world. Music is the great communicator and no ideology or extremism can take away what we have been able to accomplish by blending this stew we call America.

Night Ranger, before lift off

My friend, Steve in Wichita, who may the biggest Night Ranger  fan in the world, insisted I go to their unplugged set at the Hard Rock Nashville at 7Pm. I was glad I went.  Not so much for the rare acoustic interpretations of their own songs but whatever came to mind.

Night Ranger w/Mark Volman - The Turtles

Kelly Keagy, drummer, is a Nashville resident and I have caught one of his unplugged sets he did with Mark Slaughter and Kip Winger (both Nashville residents) before but this featured six tequila shots each as well as a guest walk up of The Turtles – Mark Volman and a Night Ranger run through sing along with 200 of their closest Nashville friends of “Happy Together.”

It became a challenge to see what could be played on the guitar.  One of the biggest surprises was when Jack Blades asked Brad Gillis to tell the story about what happened when he took over the Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Oz tour after Randy died. Randy was killed in a small plane crash mid-tour and Brad came in and filled the guitarist shoes after a short audition to finish out the “Diary of a Madman” tour.

A little Deep Purple "Highway Star"

There were banners like “Randy Forever” flying in the crowds and he was met with the challenge of matching one of the greatest guitarists of the day when Brad was a virtual unknown outside of the California Bay Area.

Sharon Osbourne, who managed Ozzy at the time decided to give Brad a bad time. She said, “Oakland is cancelled.” Brad- “Why??” “Lack of ticket sales.” Sharon said with a frown, then after a moment, she smiled and said, ”just kidding, it sold out in three hours.” Brad was asked to stay on but was anxious to get back to record Night Ranger’s first album. This lead to an outrageously good acoustic rendition of “Crazy Train” with Brad Gillis ripping the Randy lead part on a Taylor. He got a roomful of cheers for that one.

Kelly singing The Doors "Roadhouse Blues"

After a few Tequila shots, Kelly celebrating his Birthday, began to reveal his age when he talked about seeing The Doors in 1968. After guitars started churning “Roadhouse Blues”, the band went full swing, on a great tribute to The Doors with Kelly doing his best Jim Morrison.

It was over the top moments like these one of which featured a full on Ritchie Blackmore ripping – Deep Purple “Highway Star” mid-song bust out as well as the fact that this was a benefit for families dealing with children with drug problems, You’re Not Alone  Organization, that made the cozy room above the Hard Rock Café feel like a private party for Kelly Keagy and 200 of his best Nashville friends.

Music is one of the things that pulls us together as a country, it helps to identify those special moments in our lives, for Night Ranger it was like Déjà vu. “Ten years ago on 9/11 we were playing with Journey in Detroit. Now we are still on tour with them. A tour that started in 1982…ha-ha…”- Jack Blades

Night Ranger will be opening for Journey and Foreigner tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

Kelly Keagy's copy official set list

 – Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN     thenashvillebridge@hotmail.com

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