Click this banner to learn more

Connect to The Advocate

Goodbye Kingston Springs: 500 Houses

Vince sitting up in the boat, floating the Harpeth with a friend. Photograph by Rich Heiden

Vince sitting up in the boat, floating the Harpeth with a friend.  Photograph by Rich Heiden

Editor’s Note: 2 weeks ago you read Vince Matthews and Jim Casey’s song, “500 Houses”, lamenting the impending arrival of, US!

What follows here are some of Casey’s memories of those times, the people who were here then, and why he and his buddy were so sad to hear that everything was about to change.

With a population of under three hundred folks in 1970, Kingston Springs could hardly be considered a metropolitan city. It was less than twenty miles from Nashville to Kingston Springs.

Not close enough to yet, be a bedroom community to the working class of Nashville, but beautiful enough to catch the eye of land and housing developers.

Once I-40 from Nashville to Memphis was finished, people started streaming out of the city on weekends, headed for the country comfort of Kingston Springs and many small burgs like “The Springs”. Just as turn of the century gentry had headed by train to Kingston Springs, their modern day counterparts headed their air-conditioned automobiles west from Nashville, seeking the peace and comfort of Kingston Springs’ “temperature inversion”, and a chance to regroup for another week in the city.

Most of Kingston Springs’ traffic was local, just good ol’ boys cruising the two blocks of main street, hoping to see a new face, maybe a pretty girl who was in town to visit a relative. To Vince and Casey, the weekend meant a carload of writer buddies from Nashville, guitars and singing under the huge oak tree in Vince’s front yard, dubbed “Clarence the Tree”, and memorialized by Johnny Cash in his poem, Clarence the Tree.

Cash knew what we were up to in Vince’s front yard. He had been there, done that, and though he wasn’t “doing that” anymore, his inner self was right there, singing about trouble and change, and puffing on a fat one. One amazing thing about Johnny Cash was that he never really changed from the cotton field boy, scared of the city and nervous in his own skin. His talent grew with age, but the rebel within him stayed mean-eyed and greased back, with an attitude that said,” Don’t lay any bull on me!” John Cash did not revel in people kissing up to him or playing with his mind, although John was playful and funny, and smart beyond books.

Growing up in Nebraska, I was raised to treat everyone the same, no matter what their status was or wasn’t. Perhaps a teacher or preacher was given higher honor, but for the most part, we gave everyone the same treatment and hospitality. Cash appreciated being treated like “just another person.” In front of crowds, he was visibly nervous, even on his television Johnny Cash Show, he couldn’t escape his own skin, and some of these moments were torturous to Cash.

Behind the scenes John was different. Contrary to what the public thought, Johnny Cash didn’t always wear black. The “Man in Black” liked bright colors and t-shirts. With a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his shirt sleeve, Cash could pass for any Southern good o’ boy, and communicate in the backwoods or field hand lingo of the common man.

John’s wife, June Carter, always shared the spotlight with John. Like many men, who had fallen, more than once, in life, Johnny Cash realized much of the honor given him was due his having such an incredible wife. Just like Vince Matthews, and later myself, Johnny Cash had a wife that immediately made one think, “That guy must have something going on, look who he’s with!” Cash always gave ‘first chair’ to June Carter.

His respect for her mother, Maybelle Carter, and her family was always apparent. One of the greatest stage shows ever presented in Country music was the early 70’s Johnny Cash road show, that included Mama Maybelle Carter and the Carter sisters, Carl Perkins, The Statler Brothers, and Glenn Sherley. After one such Sunday afternoon show at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, Vince and I carried Mama Maybelle’s guitar and auto harp from the backstage area to the waiting car and driver. She laughed a girlish laugh as she teased us about being “the youngest groupies” she had. We thought it was one of the sexiest things we had ever done. To carry Mama Maybelle Carter’s instrument was the equivalent of carrying Babe Ruth’s bat out of Yankee Stadium.

The theme of The Kingston Springs Suite was, “change is going to come, nothing stays the same, embrace it while it’s here!” To experience the love and talent of the Cash family members and performers was to experience real country music, not the media driven country music that was waiting in the future, around the bend.

To be continued …

Leave a Reply