Several years back – I believe it would have been eight or nine years ago – I was in Nashville on book tour for my publisher. Nashville was always good to me with lots of radio and television appearances, good crowds at the signings, and a spot on its best-seller lists.
In between obligations, I was going to have lunch with my longtime friend, Don Light, one of the pioneers of the music business. “An original hillbilly,” he would say. Those men who started in the business in the early days, always referred to themselves as hillbillies. It was a badge worn proudly and those who still survive refer to themselves as such. It’s a small, exclusive club.
Don was sharing a cute bungalow on 17th Avenue, owned by Chet Atkins’ estate, with producer extraordinaire Tony Brown. His secretary waved me into his office where I found Don on the phone in a well-mannered – he was a true, soft-spoken Southern gentleman – disagreement with someone. There was a glossy magazine spread open on his desk. A few minutes later, he hung up the phone, shaking his head in exasperation.
“Marshall Chapman.” He shook his head again, picked up the magazine and handed it to me. It was the first time I had ever seen Garden and Gun magazine. “She wrote this article on Miranda Lambert and called her the freshest songwriter since Loretta Lynn. I was just telling her that I thought that was an overstatement and premature.”
Lambert only had two albums out at the time but I had them both and was thoroughly impressed by her songwriting. I never disagreed with Don because I make it a point not to challenge anyone smarter. This time I did.
“She’s right. She is fresh and raw.”
He rolled his eyes again. “I think it’s a bit early to be making that proclamation. I like Marshall a lot but I think she’s wrong this time.”
“Maybe she’s a prophet,” I replied.
He stood up and changed the subject. “Let’s have lunch at the Tin Angel.”
Over the years, I’ve told that story several times because Marshall Chapman did prove to be prophetic in her bold assessment. In the way that different worlds touch unexpectedly, one of my good friends, Jane White, recommended that I read Marshall Chapman’s books (she’s a terrific songwriter and musician). Jane had gone to grammar school with Marshall in South Carolina and said, “Hers is a great story. She was raised in a debutante world but rebelled to become a rock and roller to the astonishment of her proper mother.”
Several months ago, I read both of her books and was stunned to read the Garden and Gun/Miranda Lambert/Loretta Lynn story – stunned because Marshall wrote the story exactly as I witnessed it. Truth, some people say, often has different perspectives. But Marshall’s version was verbatim to the story I have told often over the years. It was the truth of the truth.
When Don Light died, I attended his memorial service held at the Country Music Hall of Fame. After the service, I was chatting with my precious, longtime friend, Judi Turner, when she spotted someone across the room.
“Do you know Marshall Chapman?”
“No,” I replied.
“Oh, you have to know Marshall. She’s one of the greatest people ever.” Judi called her over. A very long-legged, lean woman with tousled, almost shaggy, blonde hair, strode toward us. Judi introduced us.
In a matter of moments as we discussed our connection through Don and Jane, I realized Judi was right: she’s a terrifically entertaining, engaging woman who is kind and, above all, not boring.
And, after reading her books, I can say: The truths she tells are unvarnished truths. Sometimes hard, sometimes difficult, sometimes funny. But unvarnished, nonetheless.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir Of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]