Y’All Are Gonna Wanna Get Hip
to Bonnie Bishop

"Music Industry Showcase" at The Rutledge in Nashville - December 8, 2009

About 5 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual American Music Conference here in Nashville (little known fact: I was actually on the Founding Council that started the AMA back in like 2000).

After the conference, I sat down with the program guide from all the showcase and went on line (at the time it was LaLa.com) to stream/listen to some of the artists whose showcases I’d missed.  One track stopped me in… well, my tracks.  It was an artist I’d never heard of named Bonnie Bishop and the track was called “Lucky Ones.” Here, listen to it for yourself:

Bonnie has released a couple of records since then; visit her Spotify page to hear more.  What you’re going to hear is one of the gut-wrenching-est voices this side of… well, Janis Joplin comes to mind…

I tracked her down later that year, and she let me photograph a showcase that she performed at one of Nashville’s clubs.  She was still doing her level best to land a fucking record deal…

Over the past decade+, Bonnie Bishop’s career has seen all the vagaries  typical of today’s itinerant, independent singer/songwriters – they who that travel and toil under the radar of the mainstream commercial music industry.  They for whom the life of an “artist” is “mostly driving.”

Two years ago, she was on the threshold of throwing it all in.

That’s all going change with the release of  her new CD, “Ain’t Who I Was” next month.  The title track was released today:

And here’s what you need to know about the pedigree of this new record, which will be officially released on May 27:

  1. It was produced by Nashville’s hottest producer, the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley of the twenty-teens, Dave Cobb.  Talk about being on a roll: Dave Cobb is responsible for the breakthrough solo releases by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and  2016 multi- CMA, Grammy and ACM winner Chris Stapleton (all Spotify links).  You just don’t get any hotter a hand than the one Dave Cobb has been playing over the past few years.  And the Atkins/Bradley reference is not an overstatement – he recently took over the keys to Nashville’s fabled Studio A (sometimes referred to as Nashville’s Abbey Road), which was built by Chet and Owen in the 1960s and narrowly escaped  a condo-developer’s wrecking ball in 2014.
  2. The release and distribution of “Ain’t Who I Was” is being handled by Thirty Tigers, a new-paradigm label services and distribution company that is one of the few companies  that has cracked the code on the new digital business – and not coincidentally the same firm that handled the break out releases for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

RollingStone.com has got a great account of the kismet that went into the song selection and production of this new record:

The recording sessions were coming to an end when Cobb’s cousin, singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, walked into the studio with a track he’d co-written earlier that afternoon.

“Dave opens a brand new bottle of his favorite tequila,” Bishop remembers, “and we all take shots. Then Adam [Hood] and Brent play us the song they wrote. I have chills. I look over at Dave, who is nodding his head and grinning at me. Then I sing the words back to them while Brent plays the guitar and they sound so natural coming out of my mouth. It’s like I’ve been singing this song all my life.”

The song was “Ain’t Who I Was,” which became the title track to the new CD. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that the spiral has come back around, only at a much higher level, and that Bonnie Bishop is about to become, truly, one of “the lucky ones.”

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

It’s Nice to Have “Fans” …

Chuck Cavalier of Franklin, TN and his print of Carnton Plantation

…and even better to have “patrons.”

Above, that’s my friend and patron Chuck Cavalier, and on the wall behind him a beautifully framed print of my photo of Carnton Plantation that was taken at about 4PM on November 30, 2013 – exactly 149 years to the minute from the moment the Battle of Franklin started.  Chuck is a history “Civil War buff,” and this Carnton print is just one of four that Chuck purchased from me to adorn the walls of his home in Franklin.

Accounts of the Battle of Franklin say said the sun was setting into a blood red sky as Confederate descended from Winstead Hill south of the village of Franklin toward Federal emplacements.  That’s exactly how the sky looked 149 years later….

Carnton Plantation at ~4:30 PM November 30, 2013 - exactly 149 years 'to the minute' from when the Battle of Franklin commenced under a similar sky...

Carnton Plantation at ~4:30 PM November 30, 2013 – exactly 149 years ‘to the minute’ from when the Battle of Franklin commenced under a similar sky…

This image was used for the cover of The 1861 Project – Volume 3: Franklin.   Listen to it via Spotify:


Go See “Machisma”

Machismo, at Corvidae Collective Gallery in the Arcade

File this one under “Paul attempts to review an art show”:

Karen Renee Robb and Nina Covington

Karen Renee Robb, one of the subjects of “Machisma”  and Nina Covington, the photographer/artist who created the exhibit.

I want to encourage all my readers (well, those that live in or near Nashville) to hasten themselves down to The Arcade in downtown Nashville [Google Maps]. On the ground floor, next door to Manny’s Pizza (best place in Nashville for real New York street-style pizza) you’ll find Corvidae Collective Gallery.  Climb the stairs, go around the corner, and behold Nina Covington’s marvelous photo exhibit, “Machisma.”

What you will see is a stunning collection of black-and-white-on-metal prints of women Nina has photographed over the past two years.

I think “Machisma” is a word Nina coined herself.  I’m going to go out on  limb here and surmise that the term is a feminized version of the word that the spell-checker on my laptop keeps wanting to correct it to, the more familiar  “machismo.”

My dictionary defines “machismo” as “strong or aggressive masculine pride.”  I believe what Nina has captured in this riveting portrait series is the feminine equivalent, which is actually something very different.  Both genders can be “strong” but where the masculine version is “aggressive” the feminine version is more, “I’m not coming after you, but I’m not taking any of your shit, either.”

What Nina Covington has assembled over a period of two years is a series of black and white portraits of women from all walks of life, all of which show women at both their most vulnerable and their most powerful.


Nina Covington with three of the prints from “Machisma” – her mother, herself, and her grandmother. Photo © Kirabelle Frabotta

They all posed… I’m at a slight loss for words here, because to say the subjects are “topless”  engages all manner of pop-culture stereotypes and invokes a certain risqué and daring – which is not what these photographs are about.  So let’s just say that all the subjects, regardless of body type, have posed for Nina’s camera “without the burden of clothing” over their torsos.

And, perhaps a bit oddly in light of all those cultural stereotypes, that is precisely how/where the images derive their impressive power. “Machisma” captures the infinite variety of female body types apart from the hyper-sexualized, impossible-without-makeup-and-Photoshop “ideal” form.

Nina’s secret for capturing these compelling images?  I overheard her at the opening last Saturday (April 2)  telling a visitor, “I spent an hour with each subject just talking” before she even opened her camera bag or set any lights.

I have been learning in the course of my photo work that finding a rapport with your subject is infinitely more important than all the technical details like camera settings and light angles.  As a photographer myself I was duly impressed with the technical excellence of all these portraits, but I am even more impressed with the character that is captured in each image.

I’ve said enough.  Go see the photos, they do a much better job of speaking for themselves than I can do speaking for them. And better yet, take your daughters.

(If you’re not near Nashville or otherwise not able to see the show, click the banner below to see the images on the Corvidae Collective Gallery website:


New Installment to “Time Capsule: 1969”
Port Huron Revisited

A picture of consistency over 6 decades...

The whole time I have been rummaging around in the “Time Capsule” that I sent myself from 1969, I have been thinking that part of the justification for the exercise is that we are seeing a resurgence of some of the rhetorical underpinnings of the period  in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders for President of these (somewhat) United States.

So it was inevitable that I would scour the web (“scour” being an overstatement since it wasn’t at all hard to find) to take a fresh look at what was arguably one of the seminal documents of the 1960s, the organizing manifesto for the Students for a Democratic Society, aka the SDS.

That is precisely what I have done in the latest installment,

Port Huron Revisited 

…which I have just published to Medium.com along with the other chapters I’ve published so far.

Incidentally,  have been writing and compiling all of this material with the aid of a tremendous but little known ‘word processor on steroids’ that is engineered for writers called Scrivener.

Scrivener tells me that I have so far posted about 25,000 of the 75,000 words I intend to write and publish (the equivalent of ~225 printed pages).  Assuming that’s the goal, I’m roughly 1/3rd of the way to completion.

Back to work then…

Endangered Species
The Station Inn

The Station Inn - March 20, 2016

I’m looking for some photos to submit to a show under the title “Signs of The Times.”

I just had this idea that a photo of Nashville’s iconic Station Inn bluegrass venue – surrounded my towering new condo and office-tower developments might fit the bill.  It certainly is a sign of the times we’re living in here in Twangtown.

The image above is one from a series I haven’t sorted or edited yet… I edited this one with Snapseed in my iPhone and posted it to Instagram with the header “Endangered Species.”

That header induced some unintended dismay for one of my followers, so I sent her this clarification that was recently published in a special section of The Tennesseean about the pace of development here and the impact it’s having on the community:

Though it seems the Gulch is changing daily, the Station Inn isn’t going anywhere. Charlie Wehby — owner of the land on which the Station Inn sits — says he has no plans to sell the property to developers, though some have approached him over the last several years: “J.T. (Gray) and I have a pretty good rapport together and as long as we’re around, I think the Station Inn is going to stay there.”

That said, nobody can promise forever.  And the consensus among the cognoscenti is “once they come for The Station Inn, ‘Nashville’ is over…”

I don’t agree entirely with that sentiment.  I think that Nashville is much about the people than any building come or gone.  The growth we’ve seen over the past 10 years or so has only deepened the well of creative souls who are drawn to this city.

And, who knows? Maybe one of these days that priceless corner to will be sold, and developed.  And maybe the developers will have the good sense to make the ground floor of their new whatever-tower a new Station Inn.  That wasn’t really the plan, but I think it worked for The Sutler.