|Ron Sexsmith boosts city in concerts, documentary|
|Wednesday, January 19, 2011|
There’ll be a job in Lebanon, Tennessee
Get off the bus on the border of town
Folks don’t treat you mean in Lebanon, Tennessee
By KEN BECK
And no offense to Canadian pop-folk singer-songwriter Sexsmith, even though the song has been out there for 15 years now, most citizens of Lebanon have never heard the song.
Sexsmith has rectified things on his part—about 12 years ago, he took a few hours to explore Lebanon, walk around the Square and dine at a local restaurant.
Perhaps the time is right for residents of the Cedar City to reciprocate and take a listen to the lovely, melodic tune that does a right nice job of promoting Lebanon as a good place for out-of-towners to find a job, buy a home and make friends. (Note: See lyrics.)
Sexsmith’s newest album, “Long Player Late Bloomer,” will be released March 1, and “Love Shines,” a documentary about the making of the album, will hit two cable television channels, The Movie Network and Movie Central, later this year. Among the highlights in the film, he performs “Lebanon, Tennessee” from Toronto’s Massey Auditorium.
While he may not be known to many in Wilson County, Sexsmith has fans in musical high places. Among his devotees are the likes of Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow and Nashville’s John Hiatt. Several of those artists have covered his songs, while his best-known composition, “Secret Heart,” has been recorded by Nick Lowe, Rod Stewart and Feist, and his song, “Whatever It Takes” can be heard on Michael Bublé’s album, “Crazy Love.”
Sexsmith, 47, who hangs his guitar strap in Toronto, discussed his song about Lebanon by phone last month. He wrote the tune in late 1992, and it debuted on his first major record label release, “Ron Sexsmith,” in 1995.
So where did the inspiration come from to write a song about a small Southern town he knew nothing about?
“I was delivering a package and another courier came in with a box, and he said, ‘All the way from Lebanon, Tennessee.’ Those two words together sounded interesting to me,” said Sexsmith, who was working as a courier in Toronto at the time. (He confesses to writing a lot of songs on the job.)
“Down there you say ‘Leba-nun’ (he pronounces it ‘Leba-non’ like the foreign country in his recording). I said, ‘Wow, Lebanon, Tennessee. I remember walking out the door singing it kind of like a country song like ‘Luckenbach, Texas.’ The song took on this sort of other thing about a person just wanting to go somewhere and start over where nobody knew him.
“I came at it more than from just a pop side. I love country music. I grew up with it. I’m really proud of the song,” Sexsmith said. “It was really big in the UK (United Kingdom) for my live shows. People always call out for it. People relate to the freedom of going somewhere and picking up. It seems to strike a chord. I first started it as kind of a jokey thing, but there are more levels to it, I guess. I still enjoy performing it.”
About three or four years after he recorded the song, Sexsmith finally set foot inside the Lebanon city limits.
“Our tour bus driver was from Lebanon, Tenn. He didn’t know the song, but he took us there to walk around. We had our picture taken in the center of town and had breakfast at the joint where the bus driver’s wife worked. I was excited to see it,” said the singer-songwriter, who confesses to being a bit of homebody.
In the meantime, his partner, Colleen Hixenbaugh, who sings in the duo Colleen and Paul, performed at LuLu’s Coffeehouse in Watertown, just 12 miles south of Lebanon, back in October.
Sexsmith’s upcoming album has proven to be a kick for the singer. Recorded last year in Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles, it was produced by Bob Rock, who has worked in the studio with such artists as Metallica, Bon Jovi and Bublé. Among the musicians who back up Sexsmith on “Long Player Late Bloomer” are keyboardist Jamie Edwards (Aimee Mann), guitarist Rusty Anderson (McCartney), bassist Paul Bushnell (Elton John, No Doubt) and drummer Josh Freese (Devo, Nine Inch Nails).
“I think it’s definitely a pop-rock album. The producer, Bob Rock, is mostly famous for doing Metallica. I met him at the Junos (Canada’s premier music awards show), and we just kind of struck up a conversation.” Sexsmith said. “I sent him the songs. It’s kind of a confident record. The last few years I’ve kind of lost my confidence. I felt like I hadn’t existed. Bob kind of helped me, held my hand. It sort of felt like in the big leagues. The songs are coming out of a place that’s a bit of disillusioned, but the music is kind of happy.”
As for the songwriters who have inspired his writing the most, he answers, “Gordon Lightfoot, Buddy Holly, Elton John, The Kinks, The Beatles, Burt Bacharach. Anyone good with a lyric.”
As for the film “Love Shines,” Sexsmith described it saying, “The movie is mostly about me making the new record with Rock. The last couple of albums sort of came out and died the next day ’cause no one wants to pay for the music. The movie catches me at sort of a low time in my life, and then Bob Rock comes into my life, and I get excited about making records again. It’s a standard documentary, but it just feels weird to have a movie about me.”
Sexsmith is planning an extensive tour of North America and Europe this spring. Right now, Lebanon, Tennessee, is not on the list, but who knows? After all, like his song says, “it’s as good a place as any.”
And perhaps on his next visit here, he will no longer be a man of mystery.