Todd Snider is only a few minutes late for his American Songwriter recording session. He walks in sporting dark sunglasses and an old pair of Chuck Taylors, his hat cocked at a rakish tilt. It’s just after 11 a.m., but we’re impressed the man is even awake, given his reputation as a late-night bard of the gonzo variety.
“You know Elvis once stayed in this room,” Snider says matter-of-factly of his manager’s office, located in the old Spence Manor Hotel, at the tail end of Music Row. It’s an interesting bit of Nashville lore, and a bit surprising, due to the utter drabness of the building itself. From the street, it looks more like a place where Nashville Metro might run a sting operation through Craigslist.
But Elvis did in fact stay here (as did The Beatles), according to numerous historical accounts, when he’d come to record at RCA Studio B, just a block away.
Today, the old hotel now functions as a condominium and office complex. Beside it sits a swimming pool in the shape of an acoustic guitar – a curious bit of Nashville kitsch from the late ‘70s, when the Country Music Hall of Fame ran its operation across the street. The pool was a popular tourist attraction back then, modeled after the pool at the Belle Meade mansion of Webb Pierce, a country singer from the ‘50s with a serious flair for pomp and excess.
Snider tunes up his classical guitar (“a gift from a friend,” he says) and sound checks with Dylan’s “You’re A Big Girl Now.” He says he lived in this building in the early ‘90s, when he first moved to town. This singer of “agnostic hymns” seems like he’d be a fish out of water living on Music Row. Today, Snider could be dubbed the unofficial poet laureate of East Nashville, a weird province of Music City popular among artists and made up of working-class neighborhoods and housing projects. He can often be found holding court at Drifters, a local bar in the Five Points area of East Nashville, chatting it up and collecting song ideas.
On this day, Snider treated us to “Too Soon To Tell,” one of the choice cuts from his latest album, Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables. Hope you enjoy.
Audio recorded and mixed by Steve Martin. Video shot and edited by Ian Maravalli. Text by Caine O’Rear. Photo by Jamie Younger.