In her admiring and humorous foreword to Marshall Chapman’s unforgettable memoir, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller, novelist Lee Smith praised the way that Chapman excels at images that perfectly capture a time, place or way of life. Ingeniously, in that memoir, Chapman told the story of her life, and of the changing scene of the country music business from the 1970s into the late 1990s, by telling the stories behind 12 of her songs. Now, in They Came to Nashville, Chapman invites 15 of her friends—such as Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Miranda Lambert, Bobby Bare and Willie Nelson—to tell their own tales about how they first heard about Nashville, how they ended up in Nashville and why they stayed.
Reading these wide-ranging interviews is like sitting in on intimate conversations between old friends reminiscing about good times and bad in a city where the promise of a music career inspires musicians to persevere doggedly in pursuit of their dreams. Bobby Bare recalls, for example, the electricity he felt in the air when he arrived in Nashville from L.A.: “You couldn’t help but get caught up in it. You’d get very creative and want to do something. It was magic.” Miranda Lambert remembers how lonely and scared she felt during her first year in Nashville, even as her stomach fluttered with excitement every time she realized she was in Music City.
When Chapman asks her friends to describe their first 24 hours in Nashville, Willie Nelson hilariously responds: “I got drunk—layed [sic.] down in the middle of Broadway.” Emmylou Harris, who had lived in New York City and Boston, recalls her early reluctance to put down roots in Nashville. She compares the city to “some guy you’ve known all your life and he’s a friend, but you never really thought romantically about him. Then all of a sudden, you wake up one morning and you realize this is the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.”
They Came to Nashville is a fitting tribute to Music City, and it’s enough to convince anyone that Marshall Chapman is a musician, singer-songwriter and writer that you’ll want to spend the rest of your life with.