Nashville

Brad Baker

Nashville has always allowed quirky characters to thrive.  From dueling President “Old Hickory” Andrew Jackson, to George Jones getting DUI’s on his lawnmower, and Miley Cyrus’ tongue; there is never a dull moment in the town’s history.

My favorite local legend passed away almost two years ago after months of complications.  Brad Baker, 58, was the very grumpy, longtime sound man at The End.  Most musicians in town that played The End had a love/hate relationship with Brad, who would almost always come over the monitors and say, “you suck,” (or worse) to even the better bands in town.

Brad had an affinity for the booze and loved to drink and tell wild stories about his past; the truths of which are still drunkenly debated today in his absence (pour one out).

Fact: Brad managed Third Encore Studios in Los Angeles.

Legend: Brad was working when Nirvana was rehearsing to record Nevermind. He, of course, told them they sucked the entire time.

Fact: Brad was the guitar tech for REO Speedwagon and in their crew band Hotel Bill and The Incidentals and penned cult classic Wasted Rock Ranger.

Legend: Brad continuously claimed he came up with the Guns and Roses song “Night Train” after they had taken a break from being in the studio all day and someone drove by and yelled out the window, “I’m on the Night Train.”

Fact: Created and promoted the Itchycoo Park Festival in Nashville (now known as Bonnaroo).

Legend: Brad was out with cheap trick and he claimed he was credited as “porque” on live at budoken.

Whatever the truth, his legacy lives on; for no one is truly dead until their name is whispered for the last time. RIP Brad.

 

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The Gift Box Bomber

gift box

Some people are just plain evil. And with Travis Tate, known as the Gift Box Bomber, you could see it in his eyes.

On June 2, 1960, nine days after the birth of his daughter, Tate mailed an explosive jewelry box to his then ex-wife who was living in the Inglewood neighborhood of Nashville.  When she opened the package, the blast blew off her hands and left her blinded.  Miraculously, the newborn was unharmed but Mrs. Tate’s two children from a previous marriage were seriously injured.

June 11, 1960 Kansas City Times:

“Tate told authorities he rigged the bomb because he was tired of hearing people ask when ’“Frances” was coming home. The couple is divorced. “I guess 1 just went crazy,* Kerkeles quoted Tate as saying. Butler said the break came after a restaurant cook told sheriff’s investigators that he saw Tate in a restaurant 25 miles south of Nashville at 2:30 a. m. June 2. Tate had maintained that he did not leave his home near Fayetteville until 3 a. m. on the day of the bombing.”

Strangely, his name changes by source; either known as Willie Levoy Tate or Travis Tate, but the story remains the same.  He was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Carney Street

During the Great Irish Potato Famine, an estimated 10,000 Irish Travelers came to the United States between the period of 1845-1860.  They spread across the country eventually ending up in the mule trade.  Due to the high demand of mule power for agriculture in the Southeast, the Travelers settled pockets of the area.

Irish Travelers are made up from four groups in the U.S. based on where they settled; the Georgia Travelers, Texas Travelers, Ohio Travelers, and Mississippi Travelers.  According to oral tradition, the Georgia band are what makes up parts of Mississippi and Texas groups.  They all originally settled in Nashville and then moved to Atlanta sometime around the Civil War where all the groups splintered off.

1930’s depression era Nashville played host again to the Travelers who would bring a touring carnival through town.  The carnival was less than reputable, but each year would set up in the lot on 2nd Avenue, near the Fairgrounds.  Nothing remains from this time, except for the family they buried locally, and a nod to the past on the aptly named Carney Street (between 4th and 2nd Aves).

carney

 St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Nashville  has always had a connection to these Irish Travelers, and performs weddings and funerals for them still today.  If you look, many of the graves have Georgia Traveler family names like Cooper, Cooley, Harrison, Pierce, Stanley, Young and Jeffery.  

 

 

 

 

Historic Renraw – East Nashville

Driving down Gallatin Road today, you are faced with row after row of sketchy corner markets, fast food restaurants, check advance places, and don’t get me started on how many Hair Worlds there are.  If I needed to sum it up in one word, the only one suitable would be “unattractive.” Though, at one time, it was the beautiful “summer” home of one of Nashville’s wealthiest men – Percy Warner.

The Warner Brothers are best known for their namesake parks on the west side of the city – Edwin and Percy Warner Parks.  However, I was unaware that Percy might have been ultra-hip East Nashville’s first hipster with his daddy’s money (James Warner was co-founder of Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad; later sole owner of Warner Iron Company) and quirky pet choices (he kept a beloved crane named Rufus, among other exotic animals, on the grounds of the home).

Warner named the Estate “Renraw,” (Warner spelled backwards) which is now the site of the Nashville Auto Diesel College.  There is a plaque proclaiming that you are entering “Historic Renraw” as you turn down Cahal Avenue, legitimizing the surrounding sprawl with a small note on what was once an “escape” from city life.

It is unclear to me why someone would have a country home nowhere near a natural water source before the days of indoor plumbing, but there may have been a spring somewhere on the property.  My old neighbors in Renraw told me that there are limestone springs all over underneath the ground here but I have been unable to find any information about this.  If anyone knows anything about springs in East Nashville, please let me know!

What’s Lies Beneath – Percy Priest Lake

While never more than 30 minutes from a river, lake, waterfall, abandoned quarry or swimming hole; the only (sizable) natural lake in Tennessee is Reelfoot Lake, formed by the 1812 New Madrid earthquake.   To create the other lakes, the property was seized by the State and flooded, leaving behind underwater ghost-towns and the secrets of the people who once lived there…

Tennessee is well known for it’s Body Farm in the outskirts of Knoxville, where students and forensic experts study bodies in various stages of composition to enhance their knowledge of estimating situational time of death.  But before this world-famous Body Farm was another – now mostly buried at the bottom of the Percy Priest Lake just outside of Nashville.

Since the mid 1800’s, Uriah Moreland and his family owned a large farm that lie in the path to be flooded to create part of the Percy Priest Lake.  Rumors around town were that Uriah and his wife Abby practiced black magic rituals in the woods of their property.  Uriah was also famous for his temper and his disappearing farm hands, who had dubbed the place, “the body farm.”

When, in the 1960’s, the Civil Corp of Engineers came to remove Uriah and his family from the property, they found Abby and the children brutally murdered, but no sign of Uriah.

The family graves were moved, and the land flooded but Uriah was never found.  Many people claim to feel a “darkness” on the land at the edge of the lake where the Moreland farm once was, but maybe old Uriah himself is the one still haunting those woods.

 

 

 

 

Buffalo Road

Yesterday I described the more recent history of Nashville’s Dickerson Road, but it did not begin with Andrew Jackson’s pride.  The natural history is much more sad to imagine, because it is no longer even comprehensible.

There is a reason that if you get off Interstate 24 at Spring Street and hang a right over to Dickerson Road that you soon come upon statues of several buffalo.  The road was a natural trail that the buffalo used to come from the North of Nashville over to the Cumberland River to get to the salt licks there.

ImageTo me they serve as an homage to the time before the pimps and pavement, and hint at all we have lost under development.

Putting the Dick in Dickerson

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I’ve always loved maps because learning street names will tell you a lot about a place.  From the Cherokee “Hiwassee” Street and River in Georgia/North Carolina/Tennessee; the Algonquin “Montauk” Highway in Long Island; the Shoshone “Shoshone Drive” existing in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming; the “charming,” quaint New England tendency to add old to common things like “Old Barn Road;” to all the damn Peachtree streets in Atlanta, Georgia; you can start to imagine the history of a place instantly.

Ten years ago, if you drove down Dickerson Road in Nashville on a hot summer night you would see the throngs of prostitutes, junkies and pimps and you might wonder if the name begets the action of the place, or if the actions begat the name.  Today, the “victimless crimes” are not so blatant, but still there and it had me researching the origin of the road because the innuendo has always been a real high-brow joke in Nashville…

While its roots are disappointingly not lascivious, they are nonetheless entertaining.  It starts with Tennessee’s pride and joy; Old Hickory himself.  To you folks ain’t from around here, we’re talking about Andrew Jackson.  Andrew Jackson had a real reputation for his temper and rumor had gotten back around to him that prodigy sharpshooter, Charles Dickinson, had basically been running around town calling Rachel Jackson a slut.  Andrew challenged Charles to a duel, but clever as he was, decided his only real shot of living was to let Charles go first in the off chance the wound would not be fatal.  He hedged his bets correctly, and once taking two shots to the chest, he turned around and aimed true at Charles; killing him point blank.

People in Nashville were not pleased about this effrontery, especially because Charles was such a talented and promising young man.  It was proposed that a main thoroughfare in town be named after him, Dickinson Road, but a clerk wrote the name down as “Dickerson,” sealing the fate for the its future glory.