I am delighted to welcome Neil White back to Grab This Book.
Neil’s new book, Lost in Nashville, was published on 8 November and takes the reader on a nostalgic road-trip as a father and son go traveling through the life of the one and only…Johnny Cash.
As is always the case when someone reveals a favourite artist there is one question which must be answered.
I’ve been asked to pick my favourite Johnny Cash song as part of the lead-up to the release of Lost In Nashville, my novel about a father and son who travel Johnny Cash’s life and songs in some effort to reconnect. When I apply my mind to it, it seems an almost impossible task. Try looking across a sun-dappled meadow and being asked to pick your favourite flower.
I don’t know when I realised I was a Johnny Cash fan, because he was very much the soundtrack to my childhood, my father blasting him out whenever he put music on. Eventually, it seeps into you and becomes part of you.
What I do know is that Johnny’s music covers such a wide spectrum and that they all have their own particular appeal.
There are the early Sun records, raw and young, and then there are the songs about the wild west and cowboys. Historical songs were a common feature, and a lot of my knowledge of American history is down to Johnny’s songs. Like, who assassinated President Garfield, or the story behind one of the men hoisting the US flag at Iwo Jima, Ira Hayes. Tales of the American west and its characters, from the legendary cowboy figures to the stories of great Native Americans, they were all handed down to me by Johnny Cash, the son of a sharecropper from some small dusty Arkansas town.
Johnny wasn’t just about history to me though, because he sang about hardship and the lost lives of those who ended up on the wrong side of the law. The raw energy of the prison concerts sent shivers down my young spine, Johnny singing tunes that spoke to them, was in their language, tales of murder sung to whooping audiences of murderers that sparked an interest in criminal law. I ended up a criminal lawyer and an author of crime fiction. Johnny shaped me as well as entertained me.
That is why it is so hard to choose a favourite song, because they cover so much and all spark different emotions.
I’m going to settle on one though, because I’ve been asked to choose, and that song is Orange Blossom Special.
The reasons are numerous, but most of all because it’s a great song, Johnny’s version of an old fiddle tune about a train that ran from New York to Miami. There is a story about how it was written, but I’ll leave that for the book to explore, but the story centres on Jacksonville, Florida, and it does for me, in part.
I’ve picked the song partly because of the rhythm. It’s about a train and the rhythm of the song captures it perfectly, from the whistle-wail of the mouth organ to the way the steady pluck of the guitar matches the wheels on the rails. It’s impossible to listen to it without imagining the train hurtling south.
Another reason is that it was the song that turned my father on to Johnny Cash, and without that, my musical education would have been much different.
A final reason is that the album of the same name created a romantic image that stayed with me, of cruising the wide open plains on an old boxcar, feet dangling, the country moving slowly by. The album cover shows Johnny sitting on top of an old boxcar, looking into the far distance, and in my head he’s looking towards the prairie, of distant opportunity.
I know the reality of boxcar living was less romantic, hopping from train to train looking for work, town to town, dodging the beatings from the guards, but the romance of carefree travel is one that stayed with me.
Back to Jacksonville, pivotal for the story of how the song came about, and I was there once, travelling from Tampa to New Orleans by train. There was lay-off of about eight hours, and I spent it on Jacksonsville station, unaware of its place in the song, watching long lines of freight trains going past and thinking of how great it would be to hop on and rumble into the distance, my mind on that album cover.
For all of his great songs, Orange Blossom Special gets the top spot.
Lost in Nashville is published by Manatee Books and is available in paperback and digital format here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Nashville-Neil-White/dp/1912347008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1510267687&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+in+nashville&dpID=51TrbUTk2JL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch
Lost in Nashville
James Gray is a lawyer and his life is a success. Or at least, he thinks it is, but something is missing – a bond with his father, Bruce. Bruce Gray is old, retired and estranged from his family. He spends his time drinking and drifting in the small seaside town in England that James once called home. James decides to take Bruce on a road trip, to try and connect with his father through the one thing that has always united them: a love for Johnny Cash and his music. Together they travel through Johnny Cash’s life; where he grew up, the places he sang about – a journey of discovery about Johnny, the South and each other. Always fascinating, an evocative and emotional road trip, Lost In Nashville will captivate you, inform you and along the way may even break your heart