Friday, April 11, 2008

Gibson Brothers at XM Radio and the Station Inn

Owen Bradley Memorial

Nashville is a large, and to us, confusing city. It has, as far as I can tell, three major areas important to people interested in its major product, music. Downtown contains the Broadway area where the live music venues are found and Music City Square, a group of streets where the music industry does its business. Out in the suburbs, the Opryland area contains the new amphitheater where the Grand Ole Opry is held as well as an absolutely huge mall containing the Gibson Showcase where Gibson instruments are made behind a glass display area and Gibson instruments are sold in spacious and welcoming showroom. Yesterday we spent time in all three areas and only gained the beginnings of a perspective on it all when our faithful GPS took us through the Broadway area on the way home from the Station Inn.

Kyle Cantrell

In the Broadcast Studio
The Music City Square consists of several blocks of buildings devoted to the music industry. The headquarters of ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) is, fittingly, perhaps the most imposing one. Fittingly, because this organization guards the rights of the people who create the music and assures they get paid. SONY and RCA are nearby as well the headquarters of GAC, one of the two television stations devoted to country music. Surrounding these huge corporations are hundreds of small companies catering to meeting the needs of the people who create the music. The current studios of XM radio’s Nashville branch are tucked away in a suite of offices on the second floor of a modern but unprepossessing building. If you weren’t looking for it, you would happen upon it, because it’s only a name and a number with no logo or sign outside. The satellite radio giant will be moving to more elaborate and accessible digs in a few months. We took the elevator up and opened the door to find a pleasant looking, somewhat chunky man at a reception desk pounding a computer.

From the Control Room

Kyle Makes Room in the Corner
“Can I help you?” he asked and we introduced ourselves. Kyle Cantrell stood up and with a big, genuine smile introduced himself. Although he clearly had been at work on something, Kyle leaned back in his chair, and we chatted for quite a while. Early in the life of this blog, I had not been very nice to Kyle Cantrell in print, he had justifiably taken exception, and we had started off on a bad footing. We had pretty well repaired our relationship during the exchange of several e-mails and a couple of phone conversations, but I was very pleased to be invited to the studio for this live interview with the Gibson Brothers. We chatted about the nature of XM radio, its developing role in broadcasting, and its future. Kyle couldn’t, of course, say much of anything about the planned merger of XM radio, the industry giant, with Sirius, a smaller company which has moved to take it over, but our conversation was open, interesting, and informative. Kyle Cantrell is not only an interesting and engaging on-air host and a first rate interviewer, he is also a thoughtful and perceptive observer of the broadcast industry as well as country music and its major sub-genre, bluegrass.

Travis Turk Tickles the Keys

After a while people began drifting into the studio area and we heard the Gibsons had arrived and were setting up in the broadcast studio itself, so we moved back into the core area of the XM offices. The studio setup consists of an irregularly shaped room filled with microphones and sound baffling, an observation space separated by a thick window, and the technical area of the studio, filled with electronic equipment totally meaningless to me and a comfortable couch in front of another sound proof window. Further back there are some other offices and another reception area. Not exactly overwhelming for the Nashville offices of a music empire reaching out to about 10,000,000 subscribers and who knows how many listeners, but such is the stuff of modern media. The Gibson Brothers are working with the sound engineer to balance the sound as the representative from Sugar Hill records settles in and Lyn Hayes, mandolinist Rick Hayes’ wife and a valuable adjunct to the band makes herself comfortable. The broadcast studio is just large enough for the five members of the band to fit themselves in and for Kyle to sit in an office chair behind a small music stand in the corner. The guys run a sound check, the door slams shut, and Kyle starts off. In the control room, I watched as Travis Turk’s fingers flew over the sound board, constantly making minor adjustments to get it just right. A legendary sound engineer and voice actor, Turk is worth a blog entry all his own.

Eric Gibson, Kyle Cantrell, Leigh Gibson

For the next ninety minutes or so, The Gibson Brothers sing selections from their new CD Iron and Diamonds as well as from their earlier work, while Kyle asks questions designed to draw out both Eric and Leigh as well as the other members of the band. They talk about the brothers’ methods of approaching song writing, their unique brother harmonies, their influences, their instruments, and more. Kyle’s questions are thoughtful and probing, showing careful preparation without ever losing their sense immediacy. There’s nothing canned about a Kyle Cantrell interview. Suddenly, the time was over, Leigh and Eric recorded a couple of promos, and the band left.

Kyle Cantrell and the Gibson Brothers Band

One brief example shows the level of Kyle’s professionalism. At one point during the taping, one of the microphones wasn’t working. The engineer stopped everything, bustled into the studio, and got the mic fixed. Then Kyle asked for a playback to get the rhythm, seamlessly added in his live voice, and the session was off and running again. There won’t be a hint of a break in the broadcast show. After the session was over, Kyle talked about his extensive background in broadcasting. He has spent many years as an on-air personality at WSM radio and with the Grand Ole Opry. Early in his career, Kyle had been suddenly assigned to do a warm-up interview with Bill Monroe, an event that threw him into something of a panic. The interview worked out very well; he and Monroe developed a relationship lasting until the founder’s death. Kyle, however, found he had not saved a tape. Years later, a listener asked him whether he remembered having done the interview and said he certainly did, but had not had enough presence to tape it. The listener said he had made an over the air tape and later supplied Kyle with a copy of the treasure.

The Work of the Street Team

The entire afternoon was a delight. Hearing the Gibsons is always a joy for us. Meeting and getting to know Kyle Cantrell and watching him work added to our store of knowledge about how the music business works as well as continued the development of what we hope will be a friendship with him. We headed back to our hotel for a rest before the next item on the agenda.

The Scene at The Station Inn

The Gibson Brothers On Stage

Clayton Campbell

Mike Barber

Leigh Gibson and Mike Barber
The Station Inn is one of the legendary venues in music. Located in the mother city of country music, it is a location where bands perform on their way through town, local bands and some of the great Nashville sidemen get together to jam. Recently, the Infamous Stringdusters, one of the hot young groups in bluegrass music got together at one of these sidemen jams and created a sound that is proving to be enormously popular as well as groundbreaking. Other recently formed bands which found themselves at the Station Inn are The SteelDrivers and The Mashville Brigade. Meanwhile, historic perfumers, like Roland White can be seen both from the stage and in the audience. Last night, White was there as well as Stephen Mougin, the very able lead guitarist for the Sam Bush Band. This week alone, seven CDs by major performers are being released here. The Station Inn is clearly an important venue, and a fitting place for the Gibson Brothers to hold the official release party for their new CD. Given its importance, The Station Inn isn’t a very impressive place to look at.

Eric Gibson

Rick Hayes

Clayton and Eric

Located on the corner of 12th Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Nashville, The Station Inn is a small, block building entered through a beat up, industrial style door. Inside the walls are lined by some old, well-worn vinyl couches. There’s a small stage in the front, twenty or thirty small, square tables, a bar/food counter, and a small area for the band to sell its merchandise. By 9:00 PM, the room was nearly filled, The Gibsons took the stage, and, without introduction, began to sing. For the next two and a half hours, The Gibson Brothers Band lit up the room with their unique style and charm. Despite the fact that this was their fourth performance of the day (three radio interviews), they never seemed to tire or lose their energy. They played almost all the songs from their new release as well as songs from all the other disks in their catalog. They took requests or selected songs in such a way as to create a constantly varied and interesting program. Between songs their humorous brotherly bickering spiced by the clear love and respect between them provided laughter and kept the event moving along. Both Leigh and Eric were in top form, as were the other members of the band. The audience included a bunch of Finlayson cousins from Alabama. Finlayson is their mother’s maiden name and grandfather Arleigh, subject of one of their best songs, was a Finlayson. At 11:30, fans were still calling out requests, but the brothers encored with The Barn Song and left the stage, elated. The release party had been a huge success, Iron and Diamonds has been launched, and the Gibson Brothers are headed to new heights. On Friday night, they will appear at the Grand Ole Opry.

The Merchandise Table

Meetin' and Greetin'
Leigh, Jerrold, Eric
Leigh with Finlayson Cousins from Alabama