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New book pays tribute to Nashville artists, big and small

Rita Rose

Great Day TV

In the 1970s, after Chicago transplant Tim Ghianni went to Nashville, Tenn., to begin his newspaper career, he began a love affair with Music City. In the process, he became friends with many of the singers and musicians that he covered.

That was the impetus for his new book, “Pilgrims, Pickers and Honky-Tonk Heroes: My Personal Time with Music City Friends and Legends in Rock 'n' Roll, R&B, and a Whole Lot of Country” (Backbeat Books), a tribute to well-known and more obscure Nashville talent as well as a 50-year history of the city and its dramatic changes over the years.

In this book, you’ll find chapters on Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Slim Whitman, Roy Clark, Duane Eddy, Little Jimmy Dickens and Ghianni’s special friends, Kris Kristofferson and Bobby Bare, who wrote the preface of the book. Ghianni also writes about session players, bluegrass stars and R&B and rock artists, folks like Uncle Josh Graves, Frank Howard, Scotty Moore, Funky Donnie Fritts and many others.

Ghianni says he always loved the written word. “All I ever wanted to do was be a writer,” he says. “I wanted to write the Great American Novel. But the best way to make a living was the newspaper business, so I threw myself into that. In those days, the ’70s and ’80s, there was no better way to make a living than working in a newsroom. I liked the writing, editing and the teamwork. I liked telling stories about people, slice of life stories.”

When Ghianni’s parents moved from Chicago to Nashville in 1972, he spent a lot of time there, so he decided he wanted to work there after graduating from Iowa State in 1973.

“I liked Nashville, so I looked for a newspaper job. I began as a sportswriter in Clarksville (50 miles northwest of Nashville) and spent most of my time there as associate editor. Then I moved to the Nashville Banner first as night city editor then state editor. There was a shakeup in the newsroom and the publisher wanted a more newsy edge to entertainment, so they moved me to the entertainment desk,” Ghianni recalls. When that afternoon newspaper folded, he went to the morning newspaper, The Tennessean, where he spent many years as entertainment editor.

Beginning with his Banner years, he began collecting the friendships displayed in this book, starting with guitarist and label executive Chet Atkins. When Ghianni was called on to do a breaking news obituary on a musician, he turned right away to Atkins, not only for quotes but also for information on who else to talk with and their phone numbers. “Chet would direct me to people who helped.”

Ghianni began collecting a list of those contacts, mostly older musicians whose time as stars or stellar sidemen had passed and who generally were overlooked by the newspapers, local TV and country radio. He continued to call these people for obits, then kept on calling them as friends.

“I liked talking to these guys, the veterans who were being forgotten or overlooked as both the city and the music they’d helped to create changed. When I had the time, I’d get that list out and I called these people on a regular basis. I’d call them just to chat and let them know not everyone had forgotten them and that they still mattered as musicians and as human beings.”

As a Chicago teenager, Ghianni was a big fan of singer Kris Kristofferson.

Eventually, they became friends.

Author Tim Ghianni (right) chats with his good friend, Kris Kristofferson, after the singer-songwriter performed at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum n 2007. (C) John Partipilo Photography

“His music had strong lyrics and that was important to me. I bought his album, ‘The Silver Tongued Devil and I,’ and loved it, then bought his other albums. My goal was to meet him, and when I first got to Nashville in the summer of 1972, I’d hang out in his neighborhood -- which was Music Row, Nashville’s ‘Hollywood,’ home of the recording studios, honky-tonks and singer-songwriters like Kris. I saw him playing a few places but didn’t bother him,” says Ghianni.

The sought-after meeting turned into a friendship about 30 years later. “By 2003 I had interviewed Kris by phone a few times. After Kris’s mentor Johnny Cash died, Kris’s wife, Lisa, called me from their home in Hawaii to let me know they were coming to Nashville for a Cash tribute special, and she wondered if I had Sunday afternoon open. I picked him up at a fancy hotel and we took a tour of ‘Music City Row,’ as he called it. He’d left to be a touring music star and movie star, and this was his first daytime visit to the Row in more than 30 years. After I pulled up in front of his hotel, he came walking out, and here’s this guy, a long-time hero, walking to my car. I was thrilled of course. It also was a different feeling that I never felt with any other entertainer.”

That encounter is detailed in Ghianni’s book, which was a COVID project. His freelance jobs died with the pandemic, so rather than pout about it, he turned writing this book into his job, he explained. “I consider it my best writing, and I relied on my own recollections and a lot of digging. I do have a good memory, but I also relied on old stories I’d written. I had a lot of notebooks and notes in my computer. I had pretty good quotes people had given me. I did a lot of research and listened to (their) music before doing a chapter. It was an intense process.

“Most of the people I wrote about were old, dead or dying, people I knew and loved, and I didn’t want these people to be forgotten. This book is a result of those friendships I developed over the years.”

Ghianni said he never met Elvis but saw him in concert in 1973. He became good friends with Elvis’s original guitar player, Scotty Moore, which he covers in the book.

He also makes several references to The Beatles, but you’ll have to get the book to see what that’s all about.

The author is now a freelance journalist who has written several other books including one about his newspaper career, another about an alien invasion of a Kentucky town and then about his mother’s death. He’s currently working on another collection of Nashville stories.

To order “Pilgrims, Pickers and Honkey-Tonk Heroes,” go to or anywhere you order books. For more about Ghianni, click here:


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