"Songs From The Rocky Fork Tavern"
At first I knew Bill Wence only as a very good radio promoter from Tennessee. And then, as a very pleasant surprise, his own CD "Songs From The Rocky Fork Tavern" showed up... Accompanied by recommendations from incredible ladies like Mary Gauthier: "My friend, Bill Wence, has finally let loose with a new album and it's a fine piece of work. We have shared the love of songs for years. Please give the music a listen. You'll smile and you'll feel the love." and Mare Winningham (a fine actress but also a singer-songwriter): "I am so enjoyin' your record. Thank you for introducing me to your music, you old rock and roller. The songs are so good and your voice has such a country soul. I'm really enjoying driving around with it playing LOUD." When I apologized for not knowing this side of him, Bill wrote back: "I've been doing the music thing since I was a teenager..."
with Jerry Lee Lewis
Of course I couldn't resist asking Bill to tell in his own words about all the things he has done. This is the short story of a very productive life: "I started playing piano in my early teens and won a contest at 15 to meet Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Helms, The Four Preps, The Silhouettes, Bill Justis, and some other rock and rollers in San Jose, California. The year was 1958 and all of these acts had big hits going at the time. The next year, my Dad had run into Bobby Bare, who was in the Army at nearby Fort Ord and he brought him by the house to hear my band. Bobby asked me to play piano with him at his Fort Ord gig and that led to a friendship that continues today. I played the Northwest and California until 1973 when I moved to Nashville. I soon hit the road playing piano with Tom T. Hall, where I worked over 1000 shows. During this time I had a few of my songs cut by Cristy Lane, Ronnie McDowell, Bobby G. Rice, Orion and a few others. I had 4 Billboard singles in 1979-80 under my name and put together Cristy Lane's band, later working with Slim Whitman during his comeback in 1980. In 1980 I started my radio promotion company, but never did quit writing. I had a top 30 Americana album called "California Callin'" out in 2001 and my new album, "Songs From The Rocky Fork Tavern" is currently out now."
A picture on the back of the booklet shows The Rocky Fork Tavern and Bill tells about it: "My son, Kris, built me a small cabin in the woods not far from the house. I call it "The Rocky Fork Tavern" and it has a jukebox, piano, fridge, no phone..., all of the right ingredients to write a song, or at least to give it a try".
When I first listened to Bill Wence on this album, it might have been the piano, but he made me think of my hero Charlie Rich. And then I realized Bill actually KNEW Charlie Rich in person! "I booked Charlie Rich when I was a DJ in Alaska in 1972... That was right before he had his big hit, "Behind Closed Doors"... which was written by my long time neighbor here in Nolensville, Kenny O'Dell. I got to hang out with Charlie back in 1972 and again around 1978... I was playing piano for Tom T. Hall and we did a show together in Virginia. He remembered me from 1972 and we had a good visit."
And then there are the guest singers and musicians on "Songs From The Rocky Fork Tavern", quite an impressive list. We hear The Jordanaires (Gordon Stoker, Ray Walker, Louis Nunley and Curtis Young), Bekka Bramlett, Sisters Morales, Jonell Mosser, Becky Hobbs, John Wesley Ryles and Adie Grey. Charlie Mc Coy plays his virtuoso harmonica on almost all the songs and the other talented musicians are Byrd Burton (guitars), Doyle Grisham (steel guitar) and Rob Hajacos (fiddle). Bryan Owings and Rick Lonow are the drummers, Mike Leech and Stick Davis the bassists, while Bill himself plays piano on all the cuts, except two where we hear John Rees, who also plays the Hammond organ. Yes, this is a rich production, going back to the countrysoul, that came out of Nashville in the 1970's. The same kind of music Charlie Rich was so good at!
Most of the songs are from Bill Wence's own hand, "Honky Tonk Heartache" (uptempo -very fast- with fiddle), "Soul Mate" (soulful and catchy indeed, Bekka Bramlett singing, great percussion & drumming too), Marvin Rainwater's "Gonna Find Me A Bluebird" (featuring pedal steel guitar solos!) and of course "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)" are covers. The highlights of this delightful, diverse collection of songs? I mentioned "Soul Mate" already, some would go for that other track with Bekka Bramlett, "So Used", a rock&roll / soul combination. Or slow piano piece "She's Leaving For Dallas", The Jordanaires singing along, where Bill sounds most like Ray Charles, this could be the song Charlie Rich never recorded. I like "The Coming Home Song" a lot, quite fast & rhythmic with acoustic guitar and Charlie McCoy's harmonica. But my absolute favorite is "Old Rock And Roller" a slow ballad (!) where piano and Jordanaires shine in lyrics straight from the heart, basically telling the story of Bill's life. "I started young, and I ain't no quitter / But that's all right / I've been forgiven / And time keeps moving on", continuing: "And when I've reached my journey's end / Turn that jukebox up my friend / And let that old rock and roll carry me home". "I put my money on those fortyfives / When that boy from Memphis / Brought the world to life. / I'm just an old rock and roller / A dying breed turns one year older / It's Happy Birthday one more time / And I'll be on my way." Yes, just like Mary Gauthier said, we definitely can feel the love for music here!!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, August 2007.