25 August 2012

Playing Nashville

by Elizabeth Zelvin

I’m in Nashville this weekend. I drove the 900 miles from home in New York City, not to try my luck on Music Row, but to attend Killer Nashville, a mystery conference sponsored by conference founder Clay Stafford’s American Blackguard Film and Television along with Mystery Writers of America’s and Sisters in Crime’s national organizations and local chapters and a roster of bookstores and authors. It’s my second time at Killer Nashville, and the first time was such a grand adventure that I’m thrilled to be back.

I hadn’t yet started recording my own album, Outrageous Older Woman back in 2009. In fact, I had managed to forget both the lyrics and the melodies of the songs I’d written over the years. I spent long stretches of the two-day drive re-learning them by singing along to cassette tapes that I was lucky I managed to unearth in the mountains of stuff in my apartment. Along with the kind of urban folk songs I write myself, I’m a fan of the best of country music. So I’d always wanted to visit Nashville. But I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to perform.

At the awards banquet that year, guest of honor J.A. Jance was presented with a gorgeous black silver-inlaid acoustic guitar. I had to get my hands on that guitar! I’m unlikely to reach guest of honor status as a mystery writer in this life. So I sidled up to Clay Stafford and whispered, “Can I sing a paranormal murder ballad?” To my great pleasure, he said yes, and so did J.A. Jance. So I got to sing “Long Black Veil,” one of the greatest wailers ever. It was written in 1959, and everybody has sung it, including Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, and the Chieftains. I think the fact that I sang surprised all the mystery folks, and the big surprise for me was that I hit the high notes without effort—thanks to those 900 miles singing along in the car.

You could say that the journey to release my Outrageous Older Woman CD started that night. This year, the trunk of my car held a box of my CDs as well as copies of my three mysteries, and all are available in the book room at Killer Nashville. Even better, I got to sing a couple of my own songs at the Sisters in Crime reception on Friday night. None of my songs have murder in them, but they’re about a lot of the issues that provide motives: love, ambition, family, alcoholism, and abuse, among others. I just happen to write about the up side: love, perseverance, family support, recovery, and healing.

I ducked out of the conference for long enough to have lunch with a Nashville songwriter buddy, Mike T. Lewis, yesterday. He and his wife, MaryBeth Zamer, perform as the Twangtown Paramours. The panel I’m participating in comes up this afternoon: “Talk Is Cheap; Effective Dialogue Is Priceless.” Music at the banquet tonight will be provided by special guest and bestselling author Jeffery Deaver’s XO Band. Yes, he’s got an album. In Nashville, that surprises no one.


  1. Way to go, Elizabeth! Hope you're having a great time and enjoying southern foods. I'm looking forward to the follow-up report.

  2. Enjoy- and I hope you get to sing at this one, too!

  3. I only wish I'd been there to hear "Long Black Veil" - Sing it again for me.

  4. Eve, here's the link to me singing Long Black Veil at Killer Nashville in 2009. The video is not good but the sound should be fine.

    Long Black Veil


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