From 1983 to 1988, songwriter Bobby Bare hosted the informal Bobby Bare & Friends show on the Nashville Network. The series was a chance for Bare to chat with many of his contemporaries and new artists as well, on a wide range of subjects, including, of course, country music. Bare now takes the format into the 21st century with a podcast that shares the same name and that same casual, free-flowing atmosphere of the original, which was anything but a standard interview show.
In the premiere episode, which is available on several digital platforms including Spotify and Apple Podcasts, as well as on WSM Online, the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame member chats with fellow songwriter Jamey Johnson, with whom Bare recorded “I’d Fight the World” on the 2012 tribute to the song’s writer, Hank Cochran.
Here are five of the fascinating things we learned from Bobby Bare and Jamey Johnson during this inaugural episode of Bobby Bare & Friends. New episodes of Bobby Bare & Friends will be released twice a month. Listen to the first episode here.
Jack of All Trades
Johnson’s earliest jobs in Music City included one for which he would soon discover he was ill-equipped. “When I left Alabama, I was a framing carpenter. I had a job selling copiers, sold cable door-to-door. I had all kind of experience,” Johnson says of his pre-stardom resume. “My first job in Nashville I was working for a company in Antioch called FastSigns… I think it was about nine, 10 months in I realized I wasn’t cut out for this job at all. [I’m] colorblind and I’ve got people trying to get me to help them pick colors for their logos and signs. I didn’t know how to tell these people, ‘You’re on your own.'”
Right Song, Wrong Key
Johnson would spend his early nights in Nashville on lower Broadway, where he hung out in the bars and meet various musicians and producers, including Greg Perkins, who played fiddle and steel guitar for Tammy Wynette. Through Perkins he began singing on demos, with his distinctively low voice garnering calls for additional studio work. Between contracting jobs, he would listen to songs in his truck to prepare for recording the demos. “One of them I picked the absolute wrong key. When I got to the session to do the vocal on the song I realized it’s both too high and too low. What I did was I dropped the verses and sang ’em real low. It ended up being one of the best songs for Trace Adkins there ever was. It’s a song called ‘Songs about Me.'” By the time that song made it out I had another song on that same record – a goofball song I wrote with a couple of buddies of mine, Randy Houser and Dallas Davidson, called “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.”
Having quit drinking and smoking (both cigarettes and weed) all within the last decade, Johnson recalls sneaking his first taste of alcohol on a family fishing trip. “I was 9 when I had my first beer,” Johnson confesses. “We went out fishing, me and my dad and my Uncle Barry. It wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t like somebody gave it to me. They had their cooler and we usually stopped and got me a couple of Cokes, but for some reason that morning we didn’t stop at the store. I guess we was late to get to the boat. We were out there on the pond for a couple of hours, slinging bait. Finally, I just decided I’ve got to have something to drink. There wasn’t no water, no Cokes, but that cooler was sitting right in front of me, I reached down and got me a beer. I got lit up like a Christmas tree. People ask me why I quit and I tell ’em I got tired of waking up surprised.”
What Would Willie and Waylon Do?
“Nothing affects Willie,” Johnson says of country legend Willie Nelson. “Remember when Willie owed the government $32 million? You know what he said? He said, ‘It ain’t much if you say it real fast.'” “I was with him and Waylon [Jennings] at some studio way out in the country,” says Bare, “It was during the time period with the IRS. Waylon said, ‘Look over there. He’s just having a big time, laughing, carrying on. If the government had me by the balls the way they’ve got him right now, I’d be in the fetal position, screaming. Not Willie.”
Memories of Merle
Johnson also takes particular glee in recounting an experience he and Bare shared after a tribute concert honoring Kenny Rogers at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. “We slipped out the back, walked up the hill. We walked right into the back door of the Ryman, unannounced, uninvited. The security just let us right on in. We went unimpeded, without even slowing down, all the way onto the stage, right in the middle of a Hag song. He just looked up and smiled! We went right out there and helped him sing a song or two.” “Haggard was one of a kind, buddy,” Bare says, “Nothing shocked him. “I remember a day in my life where that probably would have got me shot at,” Johnson says with a laugh.