published Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Dalton Roberts: Riding the bus for decades


by Dalton Roberts

An interviewer once asked Merle Haggard, "What is it like to be a big-time country music icon?"

Hag answered, "It's a 33-year bus ride."

In the '70s, when I lived in Nashville and had a hit song, I rejected my shot, as small as it may have been, at that kind of lifestyle, opting to stay home and work gigs in and around Chattanooga.

I had played local clubs since I was 15 but in 1994, when I quit politics and ended my term as Hamilton County executive, I developed a one-man show, using stories and my own songs. Since then I have played hundreds of conventions, churches, schools and all kinds of community groups.

I thought today I would take you along on some of my recent gigs and let you experience some of the fun I experience all the time.

Bluesman Russell Gulley booked me for a gig at the Mentone Alabama Arts Council. In this large arts exhibit hall, where they have some of the finest paintings and displays I have seen in an art gallery, they simply move all the exhibits out of the room at showtime and suddenly you have a fine performance hall with chairs just right to create an intimate mood.

I played an hour, took a break, and went back for 20 minutes. Before the show we dined at one of those quaint little restaurants for which Mentone is famous.

My mother was an artist and loved Mentone. She took me there when I was a small child and the atmosphere never left me.

Then I played the Christmas party for the Sam McConnell Sunday School class at Hixson United Methodist Church. It threw me into a "Sam McConnell trance" as I remembered the great life that the former Hamilton County school superintendent lived among us. He left so much of himself in all those beautiful people that I could not escape a feeling that he was there with that great smile and wide open spirit.

Judge Clarence Shattuck now teaches the class and it is clear to see he is equally loved and appreciated by the people there.

I also played the Sunday morning worship service at Christ Unity Church in Brainerd. It is one of my favorite places. Jim Palmour plays guitar there and he is one of the best all-around guitarists in Chattanooga, equally at home with folk, jazz, country, rock and gospel.

Jim was not there that Sunday but Joseph Akins wowed all of us with music he has written for piano. Joseph teaches music at Middle Tennessee State University and he excels on solo meditation piano pieces -- my favorites. Watch for his concerts in and around Chattanooga.

Another reason I like Christ Unity so much is that it's the home of Charlie and Myrtle's Coffeehouse on Saturday nights. Songwriter Andrew Kelsay runs the coffeehouse with a creative, loving hand.

I've said it before and I will say it again: Some of the best music I have heard in my life has been played there on Saturday nights before less than 20 people. Even now, after all these years, it is virtually undiscovered by lovers of live music and original songs.

It starts at 8 p.m. and the suggested donation is $10. Not the least pleasure is Andrew's cookies. They'll make you slap Granny out the kitchen door.

Contact Dalton Roberts at downhomep@aol.com.

about Dalton Roberts...

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