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The Story Of Nashville Rock And Roll Comes To Finally Friday

Finally Friday with Bowen * Young,  Jason Ringenberg & Tommy Womack
Tommy Womack, part of a triple bill on Friday at Noon at 3rd & Lindsley.

This week’s Finally Friday tells an important story about Nashville, because Tommy Womack and Jason Ringenberg don’t merely have history together. They made history, changing the narrative of rock and roll in Music City.

It begins in 1981, when Ringenberg, son of a hog farmer in central Illinois, moved to Nashville to build on a vision he’d developed during collegiate and post-collegiate bands. Once he got here and formed The Scorchers, it was the closest thing to an alien invasion the sleepy city of chiffon country music could have imagined at the time. Guitarist Warner Hodges executed whirling dervish spins and thunderous downstrokes. Jason swung his heavy mic stand like a lariat and took defibrillator paddles to the spirits of Hank Williams and Eddie Cochran. The band earned acclaim nation-wide, pioneered the cowpunk and alt-country genres and ginned up an army of super-fans in their hometown.

Tommy Womack was one of them.

“They were my idols. And I was a pest, going back almost 40 years now,” Tommy told me this week. “I used to go see ‘em and be on the front row, and I was so obsessed with learning Warner Hodges guitar licks that if he turned his guitar neck around where I couldn't see it, I would reach out and pound on his boot with my fist and say turn back around. Warner hated me!” Not really. And certainly not with a little time. Tommy launched his career with Government Cheese, a band made semi-legendary via Tommy’s own definitely legendary memoir The Cheese Chronicles. When Ringenberg and Hodges read about themselves in that down-and-gritty, ultra-honest book of rock and roll road life, they really fell for the guy from the front row. “Warner called me up and we talked for about an hour. He said ‘I'm on page 45! And it is unbelievable. You have written the life we lead!’ And we've been best buddies since then.”

More than that, they became peers. Tommy’s second band The Bis-quits with Will Kimbrough and Mike Grimes became foundational in Music City and earned a one-album deal on John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. Then as a solo artist, Womack kept hitting dingers as a songwriter and album-maker, including the searingly honest, relentlessly tuneful There, I Said It! From 2007. Moreover, he wrote songs with Ringenberg and Hodges and joined Jason on his 2002 duets album All Over Creation. “They're still my heroes,” Tommy said. “These people are still rarefied personalities to me. And just to be friends with them on top of that, it still puts a lump in my throat.”

If you follow the scene, you probably know that Womack has had to battle cancer several times, and he endured a complicated recovery from a bad 2015 crash with a big rig in Kentucky. But the man endures. His late 2021 album I Thought I Was Fine is a fantastic, unabashed rock and roll record that he and others count among his best work. Plus, the label that put it out - Schoolkids Records - has released 30 Years Shot To Hell: A Tommy Womack Anthology, with 42 songs (CD edition) and liner notes by Peter Cooper and Marshall Chapman. Both of those projects are out on vinyl, something that remarkably has never been part of analog Tommy’s solo career before. He sounded great on the phone, and he’ll sound great following a set by Jason Ringenberg at 3rd & Lindsley on Friday. The gig will foreshadow a full nighttime show at the same venue on Nov. 20, when Tommy celebrates his 60th birthday.

Leading off our lunchtime music this week will be Bowen Young, the husband and wife duo of Clare Bowen and Brandon Robert Young. Clare, a native of Australia, emerged as a star of sound and screen with her role as Scarlett O’Connor in the TV series Nashville. Music Row Magazine summed up her new life/music partnership recently: “The two first came together in 2013 when Young was a last-minute replacement for Bowen’s duet partner during her first solo set at Bridgestone Arena. Since then, Bowen spent time on the show Nashville and performing off-screen with artists such as Vince Gill, Zac Brown Band, and more. Meanwhile, Young has spent a decade touring with John Hiatt and collaborating with Emmylou Harris, Colin Linden, and Mikky Ekko.” Their new single “Skeletons” reveals a punchy, contemporary country rock sound that will be fleshed out with a debut album in 2023.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org