Somewhere along the dusty trails of musical history, the name Nashville took on a greater cause. No longer was it simply the name of a city nestled on the banks of the Cumberland River in central Tennessee. It became the focal point for country music, and the name was soon encompassing both a movement and culture and not just a location. Like countless musicians before him, Trent Summar's obsession with Nashville is the inspiration behind his music. But his is with Nashville the place that is, not Nashville the musical enigma.
"I'm an eighth generation Tennessean," says Summar in a telephone interview. "One of my relatives signed the census way back in 1810. I'm from rural Tennessee. I didn't move to Nashville to do this - I was here anyway."
"I started a band with a bunch of buddies, and it turned into something, so my inspiration for making music comes from this place. It comes from traveling and from just riding down the road and experiencing stuff, And, okay, some of it also comes from staying out in bars late night!"
If you have ever been to one of Summar's rollicking live performances, you will have firsthand experience of how Nashville has worked its way into his music. Summar, who just released "Horseshoes & Hand Grenades" (Palo Duro), wraps his witty observations of everyday life within a torrent of energy-infused sound that he affectionately refers to as "Farm Rock."
Summar's songs are like tales you would hear in a local bar. But they are the ones that have you slapping your thigh in delight rather than those that see you crying in your beer.
"I'm not one of those singer songwriter guys," declares Summar, "I like to rock, And a lot of what ends up in songs comes from hearing things when I'm out and writing it down. I don't believe you can just write 10 songs a year, and they'll be the ones. You got to do it every day. You got to be gathering information all the time. I am always scribbling stuff down on napkins and then working it into songs. But, having said that, I have no real idea what I am doing, but no one seems to care."
Regardless whether he thinks he knows what he is doing or not, Summar is certainly doing something right, A big part of that comes from not taking himself too seriously.
That's not to say that Summar is not serious about creating music. Two dynamic solo albums ("Trent Summar & The New Row Mob" in 2000 and "Live at 12th and Porter" in 2003) and a Hank Flamingo recording (a self-titled disc on the late Giant Records in 1994) certainly speak platitudes about the significance of his musical concerns.
Which makes one wonder whether the humor and wit that Summar embraces within his songs is perhaps a reflection of his approach to life in general?
"I hadn't thought about it like that," offers Summar, "But I'd say you're probably right. I take having a good time seriously, and I take being around my friends and buddies seriously too, And it's definitely the way I look at the band and the music we make. I'm gonna be doing this my whole life, and I realized only recently that I've been given a rare opportunity to make a living at this. I'm serious about working hard. But you don't always have to be so serious about everything."
Even if Summar isn't taking life too seriously, people are taking him seriously. With a publishing deal tucked under his arm, Summar's songs have recently been finding their way into other people's hands,
But despite his self-professed drollness, he has quickly become someone not to be taken lightly.
"I have a silly wit, and I get that from my parents who got it from their parents," offers Summar. "In music, it's all about timing and where the line is. With a song like 'Love You,' we just made ourselves laugh with each line, A friend of mine then heard it and said 'that's what you've got to record!' So I demoed it and put it on my record, Then my buddy Jack Ingram was over at my house, and I played it for him. He asked if I would mind if he cut it, and I said 'hell no!' Now it's gonna put a new roof on the house!"
Along with Ingram's recent rendition of "Love You," Summar's songs have recently been recorded by the likes of Billy Currington and Gary Allan. It is something that Summar feels is important to keeping his music fresh,
And with Ingram in the top 15 of the Billboard country song charts with "Love You," it raises the question as to how the song's author feels about the feat. Might there be a degree of jealously lurking amongst the merriment of success?
"No, not at all," Summar proclaims defiantly, "I have been doing this my whole life, and maybe you get caught up in that a little bit when you are on the road slugging it out in a van and your buddy is touring about in a bus. But Jack was out in a van last year, So, no, I'm not jealous. I just want to open for him and his band and kick their butt every night because I know that we can, And they know it too!"
Just like other artists interpreting his compositions keeps his songs fresh, Summar feels it is also important to keep his own sound unsullied. In so doing, he ventured into the studio for his latest recording with a different band of musicians to those who contributed to the first self-titled New Row Mob recording, And the names that grace the credits this time around will certainly have people paying some close attention to the album.
Joining Summar across the course of the 11 compositions are Nashville luminaries the caliber of Raul Malo and Brooks & Dunn steel guitarist Gary Morse, Add to this a rhythm section featuring former Ozark Mountain Daredevil Michael "Supe" Granda and Dave Kennedy from the Cactus Brothers and Georgia Satellite Dan Baird wielding guitar, and you start to get sense of the enthused dynamics from which Summar's new release is shaped.
"Most of the records here in town get made over and over again by the same six or seven guys," offers Summar.
"So, to get these characters together to make an album is what drove the personality of this record. I make a record thinking that I am going to take as many of these guys out on the road as I can. I want people who I know can mix it up in both the studio and on the road, and there are just a handful of those guys, Things happen, and the music changes. So, if you're lucky enough to make a couple of records in your life, then you're a lucky son of a gun. I know that much."
Mixing things up on the album wasn't only confined to the execution of Summar's own material either, as it characterized their sense of interpretation as well. For lurking amongst the 10 Summar penned compositions is a rather surprising cover.
Surprising not in the sense of its choice, but rather in its schizophrenic presentation. In serving up an explosive rendition of Braddock and Putnam's classic "He Stopped Loving Her Today," one quickly ponders what the reaction to the George Jones staple will be.
"We didn't want to record that one because I felt it was just a live thing," explains Summar.
But Rand Bishop - the album's producer - forced his hand a little with that song.
"It's always raised an eyebrow or two. I have noticed that when we do it live the kids just love it, and we'll get old people off the dance floor who are just floored when we go into it, but they end up getting the joke."
As fate should have it, Summar's latest album has ties to the same publishing company that looks after some of Bobby Braddock's publishing interests, Thanks to one of the company's music pluggers (staffers who suggest songs to artists to record), "Horseshoes & Hand Grenades" found its way into the hands of Braddock himself and, while recently visiting the Sony office to drop off newly pressed copies of his album, the plugger in question coyly invited Summar into his office.
"He leaned over to his answering machine and hit play, and it was Bobby Braddock," enthuses Summar, "I was shaking when I heard his voice. He said 'hey this is Braddock, and I was just listening to that new Trent Summar & The New Row Mob song and nearly ran off the damn road, That's the second best version of that song that's ever been recorded. Next to George Jones, that's my favorite version'. I was floored, So, if you're gonna pick on a song, it pays to go to the top."
Having spent 10 years in the services of Hank Flamingo, the band's dissolution in the late nineties gave rise to Trent Summar & The New Row Mob. But whether fronting a band or serving up cuts for others, Summar has always kept it simple and real. A reflection of his determination to remain grounded.
"I worked a straight job for eight years and played in the band at night," offers Summar, "We were lucky enough to end up getting a major label record deal, and it all just sort of found me I guess. I could have taken some different paths in life, but this how it worked out, And, like someone once said, I have been quitting everyday for the past 20 years! Music is definitely in me. I just love to play and to write songs and to sing. I love all of it."
And he loves his home town too, For everything Nashville has become in terms of corporate gentrification, it is still a city filled with genuine people and real experiences.
While the business side of music might at times become all consuming, there are seemingly plenty of other distractions and compensations not too far from hand, For Trent Summer, it is all just part and parcel of the business of being in Nashville.
"Nashville is the drinking town with the music problem," jokes Summar, "I have a bunch of buddies who are starting to make something of their lives and aren't into bars as much anymore, and I am starting to worry about them, There's something to do here every night of the week, And, being a musician, a lot of it you can write off too, There were three number one parties yesterday for the same song - The Wreckers' song - and I had friends who went to all three parties. That's Nashville for you."