Gary Nicholson visits Champy’s with Friends and brings some great music – PHOTOS

by Steve Wiggins
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MUSCLE SHOALS – Gary Nicholson is a prolific songwriter and musician. Originally from Texas, he’s been a resident of Nashville since about 1980 and has written some of the best music on the planet. And everybody’s cut his songs. Here are a few names: Garth Brooks; Lonestar; Dierks Bentley; Alabama; Toby Keith; Patty Loveless; Delbert McClinton; T. Graham Brown. And this list truly doesn’t scratch the surface. This guy is a songwriting phenom. He has several CD’s of his work. This writer’s two favorites are Nashville Songbook and Texas Songbook.

And he sings and kills on guitar. So the other night, Gary was over at Champy’s, the first time he’s appeared in The Shoals in a while. The music was great. Kelvin Holly and Will McFarlane were on stage. What a show!

Before the evening got started, we sat down with Gary to find out more about him and his stage alter-ego, Whitey Johnson. When we started, Nicholson let us know that Whitey, contrary to the sign out on the front of Champy’s, would not be appearing. He said that Whitey was, “out in the car sleeping off last night’s excesses…” OK, fine… It’s like Whitey is for real…

QCD: When did you record the Nashville Songbook and Texas Songbook?

Gary: The Nashville Songbook was released in 2010 and Texas Songbook about a year later. But see, we did a CD – Whitey Johnson – back in 2008.

QCD: So Whitey’s been around for a while.

Gary: Yeah. Whitey appears in the Texas shows a lot. About half the time.

QCD: Well, even though Whitey’s not appearing tonight, I think he’s a really interesting fella… How did you come up with Whitey?

Gary: Whitey Johnson originated because I once wrote a short story that was about a composite character from my youth, a guitar player named Whitey Johnson. I wrote this story for a book called “A Guitar and a Pen”, which was compiled by Robert Hicks. There’s a lot of song writers who’ve got short stories in it. A lot of great guys, Kristofferson, John Hiatt. It’s a really good book to look for. Lots of great stories there. Anyway, it’s called, “A Guitar and a Pen”. And so, that short story of mind describes Whitey Johnson, who was a black guy… But he was albino… So his family called him, “Whitey”. And he was a great guitar player and he was an inspiration to me. In the story… in my youth, Whitey dies in a fire that was started by the Klan, ‘cause he used to go over to a Pentecostal church and play the Minister’s White Falcon” guitar. He had a broken leg at the time and he couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the fire at the church. (The story goes) but I got my Dad to drive me over. And he drove me to the church. and I found a melted key, a tuning key from a White Falcon guitar and I put that in my pocket and I kept it for all these years. I came across it years later. I found it in a drawer of my Dad’s belongings. I held it in my hand and I felt compelled to, uh… Compelled to go to Sam’s Mens’ Wear on Fifth Avenue in Nashville. And that’s where I saw a white suit in the window. And it was a ”Two-For-One”, so for fifteen more dollars I could get a purple suit for my friend Colin Linden. And we played country blues music, all of my songs that were in that style. Colin and I made a record. And he had me come up to Canada to perform at a festival with him. And Keb Mo and Robert Cray were there and they were friends of mine. And so, that was my first performance as Whitey.

QCD: When would that performance have been?

Gary: That would have been 2006 or something like that…

QCD: So Whitey was a big influence on you?

Gary: Absolutely.

So with that, Nicholson got up because his Champy’s chicken dinner arrived. And that was the end of the interview. We can’t blame him. That’s some great chicken that Wade Baker serves over there.

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