The legendary Hargus “Pig” Robbins played piano on many of the greatest songs in country music. A member of Nashville’s “A” team, his first big hit was “White Lightning” by George Jones.
“He’s most known for his signature licks on Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich,” says his son, David Robbins. “Dad did "Walking After Midnight," "Sweet Dreams," and "She's Got You" with Patsy Cline. He played a lot with Connie Smith, including "Once A Day," her first hit.”
When Robbins died at the age of 84 in January of 2022, many mourned his loss while reflecting on his incredible musical legacy.
Blinded as a child after a knife accident, Robbins would attend the Tennessee for the Blind. There, he started taking piano lessons at the age of seven. It’s also where he got the nickname “Pig.” He loved sliding through the building’s old metal fire escapes, and when he once returned covered in black soot, a supervisor described him as dirty as a “little pig.” The name stuck.
In the late 1950s, Robbins headed to Nashville to pursue a music career. After his break with George Jones, he started getting more attention on Music Row.
“Then, when Floyd Cramer decided to take his act on the road, my dad became swamped with work,” says David. “If he was here, he'd tell you he was in the right place at the right time."
In the following years, Robbins played with some of the biggest names in country music. In 1999, he left the music scene for several years to battle lymphoma but later returned, picking up where he left off.
While he’s well-known for his music, Robbins was also a devoted family man with a wonderful sense of humor and a passion for NASCAR. David says although Robbins was blind, he was determined to do everything a dad with sight would do.
“When I was probably five or six years old, old enough to hold a baseball bat, he would go out there and try to pitch to me. And the ball would hit me or go behind me, and I don’t think I was ever able to hit one of them.” David laughs as he remembers. “But it was that special father/son time, you know? He’d also take me to the movies with his driver.
David’s cousin, Sonja Robbins Scales, also has fond memories of her Uncle Hargus.
“He was an amazing example of a human,” she recalls. “He cared about people and loved having fun. He and David and my Dad and brother would go to NASCAR races. My uncle couldn’t see, but he loved to go.”
When Robbins passed away, one of the greatest reminders of the man they loved so much was his piano.
“When he wasn’t working, which was rare, he would practice on that piano,” David says. “He felt he didn’t practice every day, he’d get rusty.”
The family could have sold the piano but wanted to keep it in the family. And it’s always had a special meaning for Sonja.
“When I would go to their house, instead of greeting them, I would go and look at that piano first,” she says. “I told my uncle if he ever wanted to get rid of it, I’d love the opportunity to purchase it.”
“It has a lot of sentimentality,” says David. “We were offered $10,000 to put it in the Musicians Hall of Fame, but we declined. It wasn’t about the money.”
Sonja remembers when she got the news the piano was hers.
“David called me one day and said, ‘Do you have room for that piano? And I just buckled.”
It’s now in her home in Sante Fe, recently tuned.
“I’m going to learn to play it,” she says. “It’s the most precious piece of furniture in my house. It has my uncle’s fingerprint marks on it and warms my heart every time I sit down to it.”
David and his wife, Pam, have also donated a couple of his Dad’s other smaller instruments to the Tennessee School for the Blind.
While he’ll miss the piano, David feels his Dad's presence everywhere.
“My Dad played on 400 No. 1 songs and probably some 15,000 recordings overall. Pam and I listen to Willie’s Roadhouse on SiriusXM every day, and Dad’s on like every third song we hear. So, he’s still with us.”We are a one-stop-shop for all your news and magazine needs. From breaking news to in-depth analysis and feature stories, our team of experienced writers and editors are dedicated to bringing you the best content in the industry. With Muletownlocal, you can access the latest news, reviews, and interviews from the comfort of your home or office.
The voice of the Blue Raiders reflects on a long career in broadcasting, as well as his beloved hometown
By Jason Zasky
photography by Michael Tedesco
Chip Walters—aka “the voice of the MTSU Blue Raiders”—has been working in broadcasting since he was 15 years old but has never strayed far from his roots. Growing up in Columbia in the 1970s, he spent summer nights listening to Major League Baseball games on the radio, marveling at how people got paid to broadcast Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals games. Suitably inspired, he was soon calling Columbia Central’s football and basketball games, a high school endeavor that jump-started a career that continues to this day.
In fact, Walters has been part of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) football broadcasts for 33 years and has served as play-by-play man for both football and basketball for the past 15 seasons. He says he enjoys the job as much as ever and especially appreciates the opportunity to reminisce with players from years gone by when they return to campus and visit the booth.
As for his favorite Blue Raiders broadcasting memory, that came in 2016 when the No. 15 seeded MTSU basketball team stunned No. 2 seeded Michigan State in the NCAA tournament, becoming just the eighth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 since seeding began in 1985. His No. 1 football memory came last year when MTSU shocked the No. 25 ranked Hurricanes in Miami.
Yet even more exciting upset opportunities are just around the corner, as MTSU football opens its 2023 campaign against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 2, with another road game against an SEC team a week later at Missouri.
Conference USA also has a different look since last season, with four new programs—Liberty, Jacksonville State, Sam Houston State, and New Mexico State—having recently joined the league.
This year’s football schedule also features what Walters describes as an “interesting twist,” as the Blue Raiders will play three games on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays in October, getting MTSU and other Conference USA programs on national television week after week.
That said, Walters likes the team’s chances to make another run at a Bowl game, much like it did in 2022 when the Blue Raiders finished 8-5, culminating with a 25-23 victory over San Diego State in the Hawai’i Bowl.
Meanwhile, Walters continues to find time to serve as a real estate agent for Exit Realty Bob Lamb & Associates in Murfreesboro, even in the midst of the football and basketball seasons.
“I worked in corporate sponsorship sales for a good long while before starting in real estate seven years ago,” he recalls. “Fortunately, being the Voice of the Blue Raiders gives me a platform to be visible in this town and to be somewhat recognizable to folks who have been around a while.”
Working as a real estate agent has also given Walters the opportunity to re-connect with his hometown on a more regular basis, having already done business there—with the hope of doing more.
“Every time I come home, I try to drive around the square and see all the exciting things going on,” he begins, with the music scene and the downtown area of particular interest. Walters admits he tries to time his business trips to Columbia around midday, so he can grab lunch at the Jumbo House, which is operated by a friend he has known since first grade.
“That was my favorite place when I was a kid, and I still like to go there. I also like going to Southern Tré when I am in town, not to mention Betty’s Parkway, which is great for a steak or burger.”
Notably, Walters says he remains close with many of people from Columbia Central High School.
“I’d put our senior class (1981) against any other as far as being a group that enjoyed being around each other, and more than 40 years later, we enjoy being around each other just as much. I’m really happy to have those relationships, and I’m always excited to come back home,” he adds, with his sister still residing in the house they grew up in.
By Pam Windsor
photography by Michael Tedesco
The majestic home known as Rattle and Snap sits on a hilltop seven miles west of Columbia. Completed in 1845, it's considered one of the best examples of Greek Revival residential architecture in the country. This designated National Historic Landmark is home to retired Dr. Michael Kaslow and his wife, Bobbi.
The two lived in California when they bought the property 20 years ago, but Michael had deep ties to Maury County.
"I was born here, just outside Columbia," he explains. "My mother and grandmother lived here, and my great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. He was in the Bigby Greys."
A statue and marker in Mt. Pleasant tell the story of the Bigby Greys, a hundred local men sworn into Confederate service on April 20th, 1861.
While Michael had roots here, it was Bobbi who had the idea to buy Rattle and Snap after first seeing the outside of the house during a visit with her mother-in-law. Then, a couple of years later, she returned and was able to go inside.
"We came on a tour," Bobbi recalls, "and once you see this place, it gets into your very soul. You never forget it. So, I went back to California, and told my husband we really ought to buy Rattle and Snap."
At the time, it wasn't for sale, but when it went on the market in 2003, they bought it.
"When we first came here, the house was basically falling apart," Bobbi explains. "There were 35 leaks in the roof, the columns were rotting, the upstairs ceilings were cracked and coming down, and the inside walls were bubbling. We thought, what have we gotten ourselves into? But we just focused on one problem at a time, fixed it, and went on to the next."
Rebuilding, then furnishing the home, has been a labor of love, especially for Bobbi, who has extensive knowledge of antiques.
"I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, so I was used to big houses and fine furniture. And I've always been partial to the Victorian era, which is, of course, the period during which Rattle and Snap was built. So, we just did research, read books, and we started going to auctions."
Despite its size and many antiques, Rattle and Snap has a welcoming feel to it.
"It's 16,000 square feet, but in spite of that, it has a homey feel," says Bobbi." We do tours, and when people come here to visit, they always comment on how warm and comfortable it is."
During her tours, Bobbi shares the home's history, such as where it got its name. The house was built for George Polk, whose father, William Polk, was a land surveyor and won the tract of land during a game of chance called "rattle and snap."
She also delves into fascinating aspects of the home itself.
"I share what's original to the home, when it was built, what Greek Revival architecture is, and I talk about the columns. They're 28 feet tall, and they're Corinthian columns which are the most ornate. They were made in Cincinnati, Ohio, shipped down the Cumberland River to Nashville, and brought here by oxcart. When you think about that being done in the 1840s, it's amazing."
It's also interesting to note that Rattle and Snap has ten columns, while the White House in Washington, DC, only has eight.
"See how special that is," she says with a laugh.
Michael dedicates a lot of his time to overseeing the landscaping. Even though they've called this place home for nearly two decades, they're still in awe of it.
"When Michael drives up the driveway, he says he still can't believe we actually own this house," Bobbi says. "We feel more like caretakers than owners because it's so magnificent."
Tours of the home are available for $25 per person with a four-person minimum, and reservations are required a week in advance. For more information, visit: http://rattleandsnapplantation.com/
By Pam Windsor
While farmers and ranchers are considered the backbone of America, their hard-working way of life rarely falls into the category of “glamorous” or “exciting.” But that changes when a TV production crew for the FOX Network show Farmer Wants A Wife moves in and sets up shop.
Maury County farmer Allen William Foster is one of four men featured on this season’s show. He became involved after someone contacted him – out of the blue.
“I got a message one day via Instagram,” he says, “and at first, I kind of thought it was a scam. But once we talked by phone, I realized it was, in fact, a serious deal.”
The show, hosted by country singer Jennifer Nettles, brings in farmers from across the country, introduces them to women interested in finding a husband, then allows the farmers to narrow the list to a smaller group they can get to know better.
“I just decided this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Foster says, “and maybe a way to find the love of my life that I would never get again. So, I took the opportunity, and here we are.”
The show, currently airing new episodes, follows the farmers as they interact with each of the young ladies. Foster admits having movement or action filmed for TV took some getting used to, especially in the beginning.
“It was interesting, I’ll say that,” he says with a laugh. “This small-town kid had never seen, of course, this is an exaggeration, but 12 cameras in my face with 50 people standing around watching me on a quote-unquote 10-minute first date with a woman I’d never met before.”
What makes this reality show unique is the women not only get to know the farmers, but they also get a close-up look at the farming way of life.
“The majority of the show was filmed right here at my farm in Santa Fe,” Foster explains. “I think it was a really cool aspect that these ladies came out and lived the lifestyle. Then every weekend, we’d go to a different location for what they called a mixer which was just a way for us guys to get together and see what was happening at the other places.”
Filming for the show has wrapped up now, but with so much movement and activity during the shooting process, it was difficult to keep what was happening under wraps.
“This is a small, southern Mayberry-type community where everybody knows everybody – good or bad,” Foster says. “So, while it’s not that we really tried to hide it, but we really didn’t announce it either. Still, it didn’t take people very long to figure out something was going on that was out of the ordinary.”
With episodes of the show still left to air, Foster can’t confirm whether or not he met his soulmate. However, he will say the experience has made him a better communicator.
“You’ve got five young ladies all wanting to know how I feel, wanting to know what emotions I’m going through,” he says. “And as a man, especially as cowboys, that’s not something we’re very good at. I really had to learn to express what I was feeling, and that was tough in the beginning, but as the show progressed, it became easier, so I think I grew in that way as a person.”
And again, while not revealing how it all turned out, he’s grateful for the experience, and so appreciative of the support he received in doing it.
“My family and friends and people here in the community are excited and thrilled I’ve had this opportunity, and they’ve been very, very supportive.”
It’s not too late to tune in and catch Foster on the show. Farmer Wants a Wife airs Wednesday nights at 8pm CST on FOX.
BY PAM WINDSOR
The PBS show Reconnecting Roots, which kicks off Season 3 this month, has an interesting connection to Columbia. Local fans may have noticed familiar sights appearing randomly throughout the nationally broadcast show over the past two seasons. There's a good reason for that, a number of the production staff and crew live in Columbia.
"I love being local," says Gabe McCauley, who hosts the show and owns lilDRAGON and Soul Feather Studios, the two companies that produce it. "So, when we can, I always kind of default to shooting in Columbia."
He says it limits having to travel so much, and the people of Columbia go out of their way to help.
"There's just such a willingness with people and business owners here. It's been nice to have a community that is truly interested in developing good art and educational programming."
Reconnecting Roots is a series of 30-minute shows that looks at American life over the past six generations. It was inspired by Frank Smith, a Canadian American engineer, author, and songwriter who wrote a book about America.
"He basically came to us and said we want to turn this into a television show," McCauley explains. "And the fun part for us has been figuring out how to take someone's observations over the course of 80 years about what makes America great and turn it into a compelling and entertaining TV show."
They do it with creativity, innovation, music, graphics, and on-site field trips. The episodes are fast-moving, with McCauley serving as host.
"We didn't actually start the program with me in mind. In fact, we weren't even sure there would be a host. We were just trying to figure out what the show is and how to make it work. And because I was part of the production company developing the show and I was free as talent to be on camera, we said let's try it out," McCauley said with laughter.
Reconnecting Roots takes viewers through different aspects of America's history. Previous episodes have touched on education, national parks, horses, hunting, bicycles, and more. In addition, the show has showcased Columbia with singer/songwriter Rory Feek's one-room school house, an interview with Mike Wolfe at Motor Ally, Muletown Coffee, Skipwith Hall, Possum Holler, and more.
McCauley's wife, Mandy, a singer, songwriter, and musician, is the Music Supervisor. She helps find songs to support the storyline. The show also has a house band that performs some of the music.
"The house band is a duo called firekid which is actually Rory Feek's daughter, Heidi, and her husband, Dillon. What they do is find public domain songs that are relevant to the topics we choose," McCauley explains. "As an example, for our hunting episode, they did a version of "Home on the Range," for the Irish immigration show, they did "Danny Boy," and for a travel episode, they did "Wayfaring Stranger."
Each season, they release an album of the music used in the shows. One side has original versions of the songs and the other features firekid's versions.
Season 3 kicks off in April with the first episode on Space. Since each PBS station makes its own schedule, the best way to find airtimes is to check local listings. But new shows, along with previous episodes from Seasons1 and 2, are available online at https://www.pbs.org/show/reconnecting-roots/
McCauley, who stays busy with other projects through his production companies, says "Reconnecting Roots" has been one of the most interesting projects he's ever worked on. He's already gearing up for Season 4.
"I've worked on a lot of projects that have been fantastic, but there's something unique and special about this one. It's really been a lot of fun."
By Pam Windsor
Casey Marvin opened Veritas Guitars more than a decade ago in Vancouver, Washington. He’s proud of how it’s grown into the operation it is today – now based in Mount Pleasant, Tennessee.
“I started the company in 2010 in my garage by myself,” he says. “It was a one-man shop for a long time, and just kept growing and growing. I never thought it would be as big as it is.”
Veritas builds custom-made guitars for a wide range of clients, from those who play music for fun to professional musicians. Well-known artists, he’s proud to call customers include Thompson Square, Russell Dickerson, Kelsea Ballerini, Mercy Me, Zach Williams, and others.
Marvin developed his passion for guitars at a young age.
“I fell in love with the guitar at the age of 10,” he recalls, “and I wanted to start a band. Then, when I was 12, I took apart the Squier Strat my parents bought me, because I wanted to see how it worked. My mom was really upset when she came in and saw my whole guitar taken apart.”
She was also surprised when he successfully put it all back together. From then on, he had a fascination with the way guitars are built and how they sound.
“I began modifying and tweaking a lot of my friends’ guitars. Then, at 16, I decided I wanted a really nice guitar, and since I couldn’t afford one, I was going to build my own.”
As soon as he finished, he realized he’d made some mistakes.
“I strung it up, strummed one chord, then took it apart and started on my next guitar. And that’s when I fell in love with designing guitars.”
It would be a while before he did it for a living. A talented musician in his own right, Marvin played semi-professionally for years. Later, after hanging up life on the road to start a family, he built guitars on the side. Then, someone suggested he do more with it.
“A friend of mine who owns a drum company called Truth Drums kind of pushed me into doing it as a career. I decided to give it a shot and call it Veritas, which means truth, since he encouraged me to do it.”
His guitars are all tailor-made, specifically designed for the musician who will play them.
“They’re all original; I design all of them,” he says. “I love vintage guitars and have always been a big vintage guitar guy but could never afford one. The thing I don’t like is the struggle. Vintage guitars don’t always play in tune, they can be noisy, troublesome, and finicky. So, when I approached this, I said let’s take what makes vintage guitars special and fix all of the things that make them challenging.”
He had a lot of success in Washington state, where he started, moving from one bigger building to another.
“And then COVID happened,” he says. “Then, the rioting and everything, and it made things extremely difficult for us. It was no longer a safe place to raise a family, and the way of life didn’t align with how we wanted to live.”
So, he and his family headed to Nashville, where he was already doing business with artists buying his guitars.
“We wanted to be part of a community and be in a small town, and we found this building in Mount Pleasant. We fell in love with it and the people here. It’s been amazing.”
Marvin has an exceptional team that shares his passion for creating one-of-a-kind guitars. To learn more about Casey Marvin and Veritas Guitars visit veritasguitars.com.
By Jason Zasky
As the owner and chairman of the board for Columbia-based WireMasters, Inc., David Hill has long been a fixture in the local business community. But in the past 15 years, he’s also been pursuing his passion for preserving the history of Columbia and Maury County.
Most notably, Hill and his wife currently own three historic properties in Columbia, namely: the Mayes-Hatcher house; the Skipwith-Harlan home; and The Depot at Union Station.
The first of his purchases was the Mayes-Hatcher house—aka Mayes Manor—in November 2007, which was built by Samuel Fulton Mayes on the eve of the Civil War.
“I was in Florida considering retirement, and upon returning home, I learned that the Mayes House (in Columbia’s historic district of West 6th St.) was going to be sold at auction two days later,” recalls Hill. Long story short, Hill paid $480,000 for the property, “which everybody thought was crazy,” because the home was a “total mess,” as he puts it.
“The house was basically used as a warehouse from 1968-2007, and the roof was leaking, and the plaster was falling in, and the chandeliers were gone,” relates Hill, “so I restored it back to its glory. Now, if you go inside, you think you’re going into a museum. All the furnishings are to the period when it was built.”
Similarly, the Skipwith home—which was built circa 1811 for Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene’s daughter and her husband—was dilapidated and in danger of falling down.
“When I bought Skipwith in 2011, it had been on the market for at least three years. If I hadn’t purchased it, the house wouldn’t have lasted three or four more years,” opines Hill, before adding that he did a “complete restoration” and “got it out of the situation it was in.”
Last but certainly not least, Hill went on to purchase Union Station, which opened on Nov. 13, 1903, and
was used for passenger travel until 1966 and freight traffic through 1982.
“It was brought to my attention that it was on the Top 10 list of the most endangered historic properties in the state of Tennessee,” says Hill, which motivated him to purchase it and begin searching for the materials needed to restore the building to what he describes as “better than new” condition. That included a trip to East Tennessee, where Tennessee pink marble is quarried.
“(The Depot) had been totally stripped of every beautiful aspect that was once there. All the doors were off the hinges, and all the glass was broken. All the plaster was coming off. It was a complete restoration, and no expense was spared in doing it right. I tell people now that’s it’s better than it ever was, and it really is,” says Hill, before noting that the station now has marble baseboards and marble dividers in the bathrooms, like it did in the distant past.
But Hill’s interest in preserving history isn’t limited to architecture.
He also has three authentic log cabins (built in the 1820s-30s) that he moved to his farm, which also happens to be home to a small herd of Buffalo.
“They are beautiful to see—majestic animals—and fit in with my love for American history,” says Hill, who values the idea of “preserving history for the people who come after me. After I’m gone, these things will hopefully be around for a long time.”
And while The Depot and the above-referenced homes aren’t open to the public, tours are available from time to time. For instance, the Skipwith-Harlan-Hill house will be on the Maury Home Christmas Tour this year.
“We finished the restoration of The Depot in 2014, and it’s been on the Maury Home Christmas Tour at least twice,” says Hill, before revealing that there’s a third-floor conference room that Wiremasters uses for executive meetings.
“I’ve always said that WireMasters is one of the best-kept secrets in Maury County. A lot of people don’t even know we’re here,” offers Hill, despite the fact that the company has grown exponentially since he got his start in the warehouse when the operation was just three years old.
“The company was small when I purchased it,” notes Hill. “It had 11 employees and was doing about $9 million in annual sales with one location. Now we have 14 locations in three countries, and we employ over 400 people globally and are knocking on the door of $300 million annually.”
That said, Hill’s philosophy about hiring—and who to hire—hasn’t changed in the intervening years.
“I enjoy helping people to try and get ahead, and we should share our blessings because if we do that, everybody wins,” he begins, emphasizing how WireMasters is always looking to hire.
“We love to hire local people and people we know in the community,” he concludes. “It’s all about commitment. I believe if you really commit to something, you’ll be successful.”
By Pam Windsor
By Pam Windsor
A typical workday finds Jill Harper painting in her home studio in Spring Hill, her dog Daisy Mae, right there at her feet. Harper always loved art as a hobby, but a little more than a decade ago, she found herself able to devote more time to it.
“I grew up drawing and doing art and always enjoyed it,” she explains. “Then, when I had my second son, and I started staying home with them, I wanted to do something on the side. I started doing local craft shows and art shows. Then I started getting into stores, and it became a full-time job for me. It’s amazing. I love it so much!”
Her paintings, which vary in size and subject matter, have become very popular with customers in the stores that display her work, like Vintage 615 in Spring Hill, the Faded Farmhouse in Columbia, and Mercantile 1858 with locations in Franklin and Arrington.
“I paint churches, barns, flowers, but I do love seasonal pieces, too,” she says. “Because when people collect, they can get additional paintings to trade out. If you have a fall piece out, when it’s time for Christmas, you can put a new one in the same spot.”
She also paints local landmarks, showcasing famous and familiar spots such as the Ryman, the Franklin Theater, Arrington Vineyards, and others. Harper was born in Memphis but moved to Franklin when she was 12 years old. She has a rich appreciation for the area’s history, as well as history in general. She has a degree in Human Ecology-Housing and Design from Tennessee Tech.
“I especially love painting some of the older landmarks because there’s so much history and character to them. I learned a lot about architecture in school and just love it.”
She uses acrylic/latex paint to create a textured feel that sometimes gives her paintings a vintage look. She’s passionate, too, about experimenting with different colors.
“That’s another reason I like design - is color,” she says. “I love choosing different color palettes and keeping and adding color in, but making it neutral, also. So, it can still match if you change your colors.”
In addition to the artwork she sells at area stores, Harper does quite a commission work. It can include everything from custom paintings for someone’s home that incorporates a specific wall color within the painting itself to create a perfect match, to paintings of buildings and landmarks with special meaning.
“I’ve done a lot of churches where people get married. I paint for some realtors, and I’ll do closing gifts such as a painting of the home they sold if it was a family home, or a new home. It’s a lot of fun.”
She never dreamed when she started pursuing her art on a part-time level, it would work out so well.
“When I started doing it on the side, I had no expectations. I feel the community here really supports artists and small businesses, and I guess that’s why it works. And I’m also thankful to the shop owners because they’ve been so good to me. Being in the shops is a huge blessing because that’s not always easy.”
Harper, who has a strong faith, says she’s grateful to be able to do what she loves.
“On the back of my business card, it says, ‘I love using the talent God gave me.’ I truly believe there’s so much talent, not in me, but in the world. And for me to be able to do this, I know it’s God leading it.”
To learn more about her art, visit www.jillharperdesigns.com
By Pam Windsor
Wynn Varble has written many songs through the years with cuts by Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, and others. But country music fans are likely most familiar with the three that went to No. 1: "Have You Forgotten?" by Darryl Worley, "Waitin' on a Woman" by Brad Paisley, and "A Little More Country Than That" by Easton Corbin.
Varble, who lives in Maury County, discovered a love for traditional country music as a young boy growing up on his family's farm in Georgia. By the age of 14, he'd learned to play the guitar and was already writing his own songs.
"Of course, they were terrible," he says with a laugh.
But the spark was there, and he knew he wanted to write and become a songwriter.
"I saw an Austin City Limits episode," he recalls, "and Whitey Shafer, Hank Cochran, Floyd Tillman, and a bunch of old songwriters were on there. And they were passing the guitar back and forth, playing songs they'd written for other people, and they were having so much fun. And I said that's what I want to do."
He headed for Nashville at the age of 22.
"I had a cousin that was a tape copy guy at Combine Music which was one of the biggest publishers in Nashville. And he played me some songs that were coming in and being written, and I thought, man, I don't have any songs that are that good. I've got to go do some more living, so I'll have some stuff to write about. So, I left for 10 years."
He played music at clubs, worked the horse show circuit for several years, and hitchhiked around the country. Once he felt he'd "got a little livin" under his belt, he returned to Nashville. That was 1992.
Working side jobs to support himself, Varble focused on the craft of songwriting. Soon, people were recording his songs, and in 1996, he had his first song, "Fit to be Tied Down," recorded by a major artist.
"They took me over to the record label to play the cut. And it was very surreal to see a guy I'd heard on the radio, Sammy Kershaw, singing one of my songs."
It would take another six or seven years before he had his first big hit with "Have You Forgotten," a song he and Darryl Worley wrote together after the 9/11 attacks.
The song resonated with a wounded America. Varble was asked to sing it at a rally at Marshall University. Before the performance, he met a New York City firefighter who asked to stand beside him onstage.
"He'd been there cleaning up the stuff after 9/11, and digging out the bodies, and he shared some stories," Varble says. "It blew my mind when he told me how important this song was to them, and how it kept them driving on when they were so exhausted."
Varble took to the stage and sang, and as he got to the final chorus, the firefighter was overcome with emotion.
"He threw his arms around me," Varble says, "and was hugging me while I was still singing. And I was trying not to squall. It was really something, I'll tell you."
His most recent No. 1, "A Little More Country Than That," is a co-write with songwriters Don Poythress, and fellow Maury County resident Rory Feek.
Varble says song ideas can come from anywhere, and collaborating often helps because writers can toss ideas back and forth.
He still writes daily, and even after doing it for so many years, he still loves it.
"The process of writings songs is still as fun to me as it ever was. You just do what you do, and every once in a while, you write one that'll stick."
To learn more about Wynn Varble visit: https://www.wynnvarble.com
By Jason Zasky
There’s no shortage of places to visit and sites to see in Maury County. No one knows this better than Kellye Murphy and Erin Jaggers, the two individuals at the forefront of promoting the county—and the county seat—to the visiting public.
For her part, Murphy is Tourism & Marketing Director for Visit Columbia Tennessee, the official tourism entity for the City of Columbia, and has been in her role for the past five years. Jaggers has been Director of the Maury County Visitors Bureau since 2012, where she works alongside an assistant director, office manager, and two part-time visitor center assistants to promote and market Columbia, Mount Pleasant, Spring Hill, and all points in between.
“Our focus is promoting the history, adventure, art, music, shopping, dining” and events in the county, says Jaggers, including the Mid-South Barbecue Festival, held each October in Mount Pleasant, to name but one example.
“Adventure tourism is also big around here,” she adds, with mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and kayaking four of the more popular endeavors. “People come from all over for the antique trail, and we have several Civil War driving tours,” not to mention historic Rippavilla Plantation (Spring Hill), the Maury Country Fair (September 1-5 in 2022) and Maury County Rodeo (July 15-16, 2022). Plus, a diverse array of eateries, boutiques, and music venues sprinkled throughout the region.
As for Columbia, one of its premier attractions is the ancestral home of the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk, located on West 7th St., just a block from the iconic Maury County courthouse square.
In terms of sports & leisure, “Try canoeing the Duck River, biking the Chickasaw Trace Park trails, watching a softball or soccer tournament at Ridley Sports Complex, or trail walking at Yanahli,” says Murphy. Never mind Columbia’s signature annual events, like Mule Day (April) and the Columbia Main Street Christmas Parade & Tree Lighting each December.
Two monthly events are also becoming increasingly popular among locals and tourists alike.
“We want to invite everyone to come out for First Fridays, a family-friendly event the first Friday of each month in downtown Columbia from 5 to 8 p.m.,” Murphy begins. “Shops stay open a little later, musicians perform on the street corners, there are artisan booths and vendors on the sidewalks, and a variety of food trucks serve up their specialties in and around downtown Columbia.”
There’s also Cars & Coffee, which takes place every third Saturday in downtown Columbia from 7 to 10 a.m., where “people show off their favorite vintage cars, muscle cars, hot rods and exotics in Columbia Motor Alley,” she adds.
And don’t forget all that’s been happening in the Columbia Arts District, which Murphy says will undergo a further transformation in the next year or two.
“This fresh facelift will bring wide sidewalks, benches in gathering spaces, lighting, and opportunities for public art,” she says. “This new streetscape will make the Arts District prime space for arts-related, outdoor events.”
Better yet, what’s happening today seems only the beginning of an ongoing renaissance that promises to continue for many years to come.
“I believe Columbia will continue to be a vibrant, growing community and a destination for people seeking the ideal community to raise a family. Downtown will see more residential options and businesses developing. The Columbia Arts District will continue to grow and blossom into a true artist community. As the business community expands, it makes sense that a conference center is in our future,” she adds.
More than that, Murphy hopes Columbia and the rest of the county come to exemplify all that is great about living in one of the fastest-growing parts of Middle Tennessee.
“I hope to see great strides made in cultural diversity, conversation, and connectivity between Columbia’s varying communities, who each have their unique stories and culture to share.”
For more information: VisitColumbiaTN.com ExperienceMaury.com or the Experience Maury Tennessee app
by Jason Zasky
The first thing you need to know about Larry’s Country Diner is that it’s 100% unscripted. “Our show is improv, and you can tell it’s improv, and you never know what is going to happen next,” begins the show’s founder and namesake, Larry Black, before noting that they have never stopped tape in the course of producing more than a hundred episodes in the past 13 years. “I’ve told everyone: We’re going to do one pass. If you screw up, you have to get out of it because we’re not stopping,” he says proudly. The second thing you should know about Larry’s Country Diner is that it’s one of the most popular shows on RFD-TV, where it airs on Thursday and Saturday nights. The down-home variety show combines interviews, music, and entertainment. It features regular characters that include Black and announcer Keith Bilbrey (of Grand Ole Opry Live and Music City Roots fame), not to mention waitress Renae Johnson and church lady Nadine. It’s taped live in front of a studio audience in Columbia, Tenn.—in an intimate, country diner setting. “It’s a very personal show,” says Black. “There are a lot of warm fuzzies, and people feel like we’re family.” That feeling extends to the show’s guest musical artists, who appreciate the opportunity to perform their songs for an enthusiastic, country music-friendly audience. “The thing that hits me the hardest in a positive way is when artists tell us the impact their appearance has had,” says Black. “The Oak Ridge Boys came up to me once and said they got more comments about being on our show than they did when they were on The Carson Show.” Artists also enjoy the chance to banter with the show’s regular characters. Black recalls one occasion when he “got smart” with Vince Gill. “He responded with the same kind of smart-aleck comment, and I said, ‘I don’t have to take that. This is my show!’ Then I got up and walked out,” recalls Black with a chuckle. “But then I was outside the diner wondering how I’m going to get back in. I decided to come back through the serving door with a tray of food and served a table. He just kept laughing and singing.” Moreover, when mistakes are made, they only add to the charm and allure of the show. One time Mickey Gilley forgot the words to “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time,” offers Black. “We took a commercial break, and when we came back, I had him start up again.” Larry Black’s Favorite Musical Guests As for some of his favorite musical guests, Black is quick to highlight Gene Watson, Exile, and Bobby Bare, among many others. “My current favorites are the Malpass Brothers,” says Black, referring to the “retro” duo of Christopher and Taylor Malpass. “They are like the Smothers Brothers except they are country, and they have a spontaneity that nobody else comes to the table with. “The next three years are going to be real climbing years for them,” adds Black. “My prognostication is that they will be Grand Ole Opry members within the next couple of years.” The Future of Larry’s County Diner As for the future of the show, Black makes it sound as if Larry’s Country Diner might be changing, in part because he’s getting into his late 70s. “For me, we’re pretty much at the end of the road. My mouth still works, my brain still works—at least partially—and I love the people. But when they get to the point where they have to duct-tape me to my chair, then I probably have to stop,” he admits. He also notes that the show has already hosted most of the possible musical guests who are available. “We’ve never had Dolly Parton, and we’ve never had Garth Brooks,” he says, referring to a handful of possible country artists that likely remain out of reach for one reason or another. And with his long film, television, and radio career winding down, Black says he and his wife Luann are thinking of moving from Bellevue to Columbia, as his youngest son, Jared, and five of his 10 grandchildren live in Maury County. “Now that we are getting older, we thought if we get closer, it would be easier for them to come to be of assistance to us. For more information visit larryscountrydiner.com
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Charity Kimes says the idea to create a program to provide snacks for kids in school evolved over time. The seeds were planted during her 27-years as a speech pathologist when she worked in various public schools. "I think that was kind of the very beginning of me coming home and sharing things with my husband about the need in different schools and different areas," says Kimes. Her husband, Bradd, began thinking more about what they could do to help. It led to them creating Bright Apple in 2019. It is a non-profit organization that started small, but now, with the help of lots of volunteers and support throughout the community, it delivers some 200,000 daily snacks annually to kids in six Maury County schools. Kimes says the goal behind getting healthy snacks to kids during the day is to help keep them alert and ready to learn. "Most schools start feeding kids lunch at around 10 o'clock in the morning to get all of them through the line. And that's unfortunate because a lot of our schools don't dismiss until around 3. So, if a teacher is trying to teach reading at 1:30 in the afternoon and that child ate lunch at 10, you can see where there's going to be a problem with them paying attention and focusing." The program focuses on elementary schools where kids learn fundamentals that will carry them through life. "If you don't learn to be a proficient reader by the third grade, research shows things start stacking against yu. From third grade to fourth grade, you really stop being taught to read, and you start 'reading to learn.' So, if you don't get the reading down by then, as you go on to the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, you'll keep getting further behind," says Cimes. Collecting and delivering snacks to school kids isn't as simple as it might seem. In addition to the cost factor, there are specific requirements for what's considered an approved snack under national nutritional guidelines. "When you're taking snacks into the school system, they have to be USDA Smart Snacks," Kimes says, "and that means there's nutritional quality. They can be things like fresh fruit, and we do quite a bit of that, but it's not all fruit. Since we deliver once a week, we start out with fresh fruit, and by the end of the week, it might be a Nutri-Grain bar or something similar." Bright Apple was off and running in 2019, and then the COVID pandemic hit. But while it could have caused a significant setback, Kimes says it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. "When COVID hit, the community really got behind us. We were able to put together a website, and people just started donating, which was amazing. Before we knew it, we were in our dining room going round and round a table, putting five snacks in a Ziploc bag." Parents were able to pick up the snacks at the schools. Bright Apple currently uses a distributor to package and deliver the snacks to area schools. It's all funded by donations, most of them coming in consistently, monthly. "We appreciate all donations," Kimes says, "but the monthly donors are the ones really making this happen because we need to know month to month what we have coming in and what we can provide." She's been pleased by the strong community support that's allowed them to grow so quickly. "It started with one school, then two, then three. At this point, we now have six schools and can see, in the foreseeable future, adding more. We are also talking to people about doing this in other counties. But we're really happy it started here." And happy, as well, to see it making such a difference. "I love the feedback we get from teachers and even some parents about the behavioral changes. Kids are focusing better, and all from a banana or an apple at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. If we can help these teachers help these kids with something so simple, that's a win." To learn more about Bright Apple or donate, visit: brightapple.org