‘Labor of love’ highlights city’s rich musical talent

Southern Music Icons of Hendersonville, Tenn., will be available on Amazon.com and at local stores on Jan. 31.

Since I write news and feature articles for a living, most people assume that stringing words together into a compelling narrative comes easily to me.

Like all I need to do is sit down at my computer and they tumble out in this perfect sequence like an Olympic gymnast on her A game.

Nope. Not even close.

My attention-deficit disorder coupled with an unhealthy obsession for finding just the right word or phrase often turns what should be a pretty straightforward task into an otherwise herculean effort.

Yes, the struggle is real.

Which is why I would NEVER try to write a book because that would be TORTURE.

At least I had no intentions of writing a book until May of 2019.

That’s when Jennifer Bruce made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

OK, it wasn’t really an offer. It was more of an idea.

I had interviewed Bruce for the Hendersonville Standard about the state markers she secured on property once owned by Johnny Cash and Marty Stuart along Hendersonville’s Caudill Drive.

During the interview, we strolled along the windy road, marveled at its beauty and chatted about its unique, almost magical history. Even today, the area holds a mystique that is almost palpable.

Most people know by now that Cash and his wife June Carter lived at 200 Caudill Drive for more than 35 years until their deaths nearly two decades ago. Many know too that Stuart and his wife Connie Smith lived next door to the couple. The tragic story of the land between them, where the home of legendary singer Roy Orbison once stood, has faded from many memories though.

Bruce, who had moved here a few years before from California, had centered her Capstone project for Vanderbilt University around memorializing the land’s legacy.

“Somebody needs to write a book about this place,” she said.

I didn’t disagree. The idea had gnawed at me for years.

After moving to Hendersonville in 1998, I was hired as a part-time feature writer for the now-defunct Hendersonville Star News. For more than 20 years I’ve chronicled Hendersonville’s growth as both an observer and as a participant. I’ve also heard countless stories about the city’s early days when tourists flocked from all over to visit the Bobby Bare Trap, the House of Cash, and Twitty City.

“You don’t know the half of it,” I said.

A month later Bruce sent me an email thanking me for the article I wrote and asking if I’d like to collaborate on a book with her.

“Sure,” I said, honestly not thinking anything would ever come of it.

My phone rang a few weeks later.

“We have a contract,” she said as breathlessly as if she’d just sprinted a 5K.

Unbeknownst to me, she had submitted a full book proposal to The History Press, a publisher of local and regional history books.

And, like the two of us, they thought a book about Hendersonville’s musical heritage – beginning with Roy Acuff in the mid-1950s to a young Taylor Swift in the early 2000’s – would be a worthwhile project.

Nearly three years later, Southern Music Icons of Hendersonville, Tennessee will be released on Jan. 31.

Of course, we wouldn’t have had anything to write about if there hadn’t been so many talented people who have lived here. The Cashes, Orbison, Stuart and Smith, Swift, Conway Twitty and the Oak Ridge Boys immediately to come to mind for many.

But there’s also country music pioneers Roy Acuff and Kitty Wells; record producer Fred Foster; “Rocky Top” writers Boudleaux and Felice Bryant; “Heartbreak Hotel” writer Mae Axton, Bobby Bare, Ricky Skaggs, T. G. Sheppard, Kelly Lang, Dan Seals and Kelly Clarkson, to name a few more.

Researching and writing about their accomplishments made the sometimes-torturous writing process almost enjoyable.

To borrow an overused cliché, our chance collaboration was truly a labor of love – one we hope sparks a renewed interest in some of our city’s unique musical heritage.

Tena Lee is a reporter for the Hendersonville Standard.

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