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I’ve Been Gone Since I Walked In To “Southern Babylon”

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic

I did a thing this past Sunday. I got a tattoo. It’s very visible. It’s on my left forearm. It isn’t decorative or colorful. It’s a bunch of words that, truth be told, aren’t super legible. If someone really wants to read what they say, they’re going to have to get right up on them and look closely. They might even need me to help them out. Don’t bang on the tattoo artist, she did a fine job, actually, she got it exactly right. Sometimes it isn’t about straight lines and perfectly formed block lettering. Sometimes it’s so much more that that.

You see, my tattoo is a song lyric. It comes from “Southern Babylon,” a deep cut from the Ashley McBryde album, Girl Going Nowhere. I chose that particular lyric for a few reasons, but what makes the tattoo extra special is the handwriting. It’s Ashley McBryde’s own “crappy handwriting.” Her words, not mine. Do I care what it looks like? Not at all. I can read it. I know what it says and that’s what matters to me. The tattoo artist, Mel Lockett of Hart & Huntington Tattoo in Nashville, Tennessee nailed it. She didn’t “pretty it up,” she allowed it to be what it was and I am forever thankful for that.

So, why that lyric? Why in Ashley’s own handwriting? What’s that other signature? Those are the questions that people might be asking. Or, maybe the biggest question of all, why would you even permanently put something like that on your arm? I’m going to answer all of them right now.

To really understand why I did this I have to disclose that I only have one other tattoo and it’s on my hip. It’s rarely visible to anyone. In fact, when my oldest granddaughter was small, she followed me into the bathroom once and saw it. She said, “Grandma, you got a boo boo?” It’s actually my husband’s name with a Celtic knot. I really never expected to get another tattoo in my life. That was more of an experiment, just because I was curious. I always wondered what it felt like to get one, so I did. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. It didn’t hurt, it was merely uncomfortable.

Now that you know about that, let’s back up to February of 2018. It was my first CRS in Nashville. For those that don’t know, CRS stands for Country Radio Seminar and it’s essentially a huge convention for country radio that’s held each year in Nashville. There are people from country radio stations all over that come together for seminars, to receive awards and to hear the best live music anywhere. Oh, and there’s a little bit of partying that goes on too. As a Staff Writer for Think Country, I was along for the ride with our CEO and Founder, Annette Gibbons when then-breakthrough artist, Ashley McBryde walked into our little cubicle for an interview.

Photo credit: Bill McClintic/90 East Photography for Think Country

Never mind that Ashley had been pounding the pavement for quite a few years as an independent artist and was known around town as a gifted songwriter and vocalist. That wasn’t what mattered anymore. She had a song on the radio with “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” was signed to a major label, Warner Music Nashville, and was about to release her debut album, Girl Going Nowhere. I know, I know. She had albums before that, but in the music industry, anything you put out independently doesn’t count once you’re signed to a major label. That first major label album is now considered your “debut.” Don’t shoot the messenger, I didn’t make that rule.

Within the first minute I knew I liked this artist, not just for her music, but I liked her. I was scribbling notes as she spoke, and I recall scratching out two words, “soft” and “hard.” I think I may have even circled them. I immediately realized she was the “softest hard person” I’d ever met. Meaning, she looked hard, but she came across very soft. She was soft-spoken, despite her tattoos and rough and tough exterior. She was just an instantly likable person. It’s hard to imagine now because she’s become so wildly popular and successful worldwide, but this was before she’d ever crossed an ocean. Ashley was to visit the UK shortly after that interview, and was excited because Annette Gibbons lives in England. Naturally, there were a million questions on her mind that Annette could answer and they talked! They talked about long flights, busking, fish and chips, pubs. It was interesting just listening.

Of course, I did get my moments to speak, and there were some key things that were said that thanks to good listening skills and an even better memory, served me well later on as far as getting further work, but the one thing that really opened a lot of doors came from one seemingly odd question we asked in our interview. We asked it of just about all the artists we talked to. Ashley’s answer, however, had a longer lasting effect for me.

We asked if she were to open a Nashville restaurant/bar, what would she name it and what would the theme be? It only took her a couple of seconds and she said she’d call it “Southern Babylon.” She then told us she would call it that because it was the title of a song on her upcoming album. She wrote it with a friend. They were discussing what happens to songwriters when they die. Did they go to Heaven or Hell? Or where did they go? They decided they go to a purgatory-like place that’s actually a dive bar, where you’re stuck playing cover songs for eternity. She never elaborated much further on it except to say she’d serve whiskey and a simple “meat and three” menu. That was it. She didn’t mention who the “friend” was who co-wrote it. She didn’t talk about what the song sounded like. She stuck to the restaurant question. It was a good answer and it sounded like a place I’d like to frequent. I wrote up the interview and that was that.

Soon after that interview, I was given the advance copy of Girl Going Nowhere to review. I remember being really excited to listen to it and I’ll never forget where I was when I first did. It was late at night and I was in bed with the light on. I had my earphones on because my husband was asleep. I had a notebook just in case I felt the need to write anything, but I was mostly just listening that first time around. I was listening to the album in order, but I remember thinking I was extra interested in hearing “Southern Babylon” because of that restaurant story. I waited for it to come up and didn’t jump ahead. When I heard it start, I couldn’t believe my ears. I kept on listening and about halfway through I stopped it and woke up my husband. “You have to hear this song!” Groggy and not quite understanding my urgency at that moment, he fell back asleep (multiple times), until I finally got his attention long enough for him to sit up and listen. He was as floored as me. This wasn’t just any old album cut. This song was brilliant. It was country music gold. It had all the elements one could ever ask for in the perfect country song. It had expert storytelling. It had supreme vocals and instrumentation. It was incredible.

I gave the album a glowing review, but there was no doubt in my mind that “Southern Babylon” was the standout track. It wasn’t just the best song on the album to me, it was one of the best songs I had ever heard – period. I thought it was as near-to-perfection as any song I’d come across in any genre. I gave it all the accolades I felt it deserved in that review. Then the dominoes started to line up. One by one a chain reaction of things that somehow connected back to “Southern Babylon” began to show up in my life. I was contacted by the song’s co-writer, Tommy Collier. He said he had a demo and asked if I’d be interested in hearing it. He sent it to me and I was really impressed by it. There were some killer songs on there, so I did a review of that demo.

Photo courtesy of Tommy Collier

From there, Tommy Collier sent me a YouTube video of a young girl doing a cover of “Southern Babylon.” Her name was Ava Paige. We were both amazed that this young teenager chose that particular song to cover and that she did a pretty good job of it to boot. I wanted to know more about this girl. I contacted her to ask for an interview. That was back in 2018 and today Ava Paige is a household name in the Nashville songwriting world.

The connections continued to happen. It was as though the door cracked open with that one silly question about a Nashville restaurant, and then the review released the floodgates. “Southern Babylon” was the key that opened a thousand doors for me. I owe a lot to that song. Why that lyric though? Well, I chose that line because although the song created so many opportunities for me, it also made my life a little harder sometimes. The lyric I have tattooed on my arm is “Honey, you been gone since you walked in to Southern Babylon.” That’s so true. Since that song entered my life I’ve had so many amazing new offers to write and I’ve met so many new people, but I’ve also been busier than ever. I’ve had a hard time keeping up, and honestly, I can’t keep up with everything. I’m one person and I can’t possibly do all the things that I get offered to do. So, it’s been mostly a blessing, but it’s also been a slight curse. So, yes, I have been gone since I walked in to “Southern Babylon.”

I’m not complaining, I’m just explaining. I’ve written so many things, but nothing has impacted my life as much as that initial interview with Ashley McBryde or the Girl Going Nowhere review, and they tend to go hand-in-hand. I’ve provided links to both of those pieces at the bottom of the page in case you’re interested.

How did Ashley McBryde’s own handwriting end up on my arm? I know that’s the next thing people are wondering. That would be my husband’s doing. He actually was the one who asked her if she’d write the lyric for me. I wanted to kill him for doing that, but she readily agreed and did it quickly. I can’t thank her enough because it really means so much to me. I then decided it wouldn’t be right to not include Tommy Collier’s signature as well. He did, after all, co-write the song, so I asked him directly for a signature and he sent me one. I must stress one thing though. Please don’t inundate Ashley McBryde for handwritten lyrics. She’s busier than ever right now. This was a really random request and she was kind enough to do it. I don’t want to be the reason there’s a wave of sudden requests for handwritten lyrics coming at her. I’d really appreciate everyone leaving her alone with that.

Photo credit: Bill McClintic/90 East Photography for Think Country

Why did I decide on a tattoo that has forever altered my body? I didn’t at first. I thought of so many other things. I thought of framing the lyrics in a beautiful frame. That was actually almost it. Then after a while I realized that I wanted this to be something special that was always with me. I wanted to always be reminded how much something simple can change your life. That’s when the idea of the tattoo came in. I thought about it for a long time. This wasn’t a snap decision. I looked at a lot of tattoo artists online. I wanted to be sure I had the right person. Yes, they’re only words, but that made it even more imperative that I chose the right artist. I didn’t want lettering on my body messed up. It had to be correct. I’m grateful for how it turned out and know I made a responsible decision.

Finally, I would ask that anyone who has never heard “Southern Babylon” to go stream it. It wasn’t a single, but it’s such a fabulous song. I was fortunate to hear Ashley and her band play it live in Nashville back in 2018. There’s a live version of it out digitally now. Definitely listen to that one and the studio version. True Ashley McBryde fans know the song, but if you haven’t heard it, do it.

Video (audio) courtesy of Ashley McBryde and YouTube

Video courtesy of Ashley McBryde and YouTube

Thank you to Ashley and Tommy for making this tattoo happen, but more than that for creating such an insanely good song. I still stand by it being the best track on the album and always will. Storytelling in a song at its finest. It just doesn’t get any better. Also, if you’re looking for me for any reason at all, and I haven’t gotten back to you, please remember, I’m doing my best to keep up, but I’ve been gone since I walked in to “Southern Babylon.”

Link to original Think Country interview with Ashley McBryde HERE.

Link to Think Country review of Girl Going Nowhere HERE.

For more news, interviews, reviews and features that always bring country closer, please visit thinkcountrymusic.com.

Photo credit: Bill McClintic/90 East Photography for Think Country

*Featured image courtesy of Patti McClintic


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