The popular American perception of Nashville has changed radically since 1966, when Charles Portis lovingly lampooned the city’s ambitious, strenuously earnest musicians laboring out on the road and in the honky-tonks night after lonesome night, “singing their songs, some trash, some gold, about hearts and wrecks and teardrops.” What hasn’t changed is Nashville’s predilection for the fertile fringes. By fringe, we don’t mean the variety found on Western shirts, skirts, and Nudie suits, but rather the cultural fringe, the underground realms of outsiders and weirdos prowling their own private, dimly lit lairs on the stoned periphery of the ubiquitous Nashville machine, in the company of likeminded eccentrics and heroes.
As ringleader, maestro, and indomitable troubadour of Nashville’s most private, elusive, and exclusive far-out scene—the Dead End—visionary artist and Nashville lifer Chance Martin (aka Alamo Jones, the Voice in Black aka the Stoned Ranger) could have stepped from the pages of a Portis novel, Barry Hannah story, or Coen Bros. script. After working for and touring with his friend and mentor Johnny Cash as cue card man, stage manager, and lighting designer for eight years, in 1977 Chance began a new life. By the time he was thirty-one, he had already worked stagehands union gigs for all the greats, hung with them and partied with them backstage, and realized that it was now or never—time to turn off all the outside influences, hunker down, and make it new, or else. So he started writing songs on Johnny Cash’s D35 Martin, a gift from the master.
Chance and his gang holed up in the Dead End, the kitted-out “bonus room” above his parents’ garage on a cul-de-sac in a residential South Nashville neighborhood, complete with reel-to-reels, bed, bar, a Head of Security, and a Sergeant at Arms. Under the direction of Chance as guru, they spent five years in secrecy and self-imposed musical isolation, writing songs and recording endless hours of work tapes, periodically emerging under the cover of night, in a convoy of limos and people-movers, to record midnight sessions at the Music Mill and Cowboy Jack Clement’s. (These days Chance hosts a radio show with Cowboy Jack on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Station.)
The result was In Search (1981), a fierce, inimitable, and mythmaking countrydelic masterpiece of insular inspiration and absolutely singular vision and scope. Despite its intensely personal origins, long gestation, substantial financial costs, and deadly serious deliberation, the album betrays very little in the way of outside influences or traceable authorship. Commanding, aggressive, and unabashedly masculine, it literally sounds like nothing else we’ve ever heard—this is as close as we’ve gotten to unique music (if there is such a thing), the real deal, an obsessive, private-press triumph of the imagination. The closest analog we can (tentatively) venture is some unholy pot likker of Waylon Jennings, Funkadelic, the Fields of Nephilim, and the Bob Seger System: a strange Southern Gothic, alternately frightening and funky, and utterly transfixing. One can only wonder as to which interstellar channels Chance is tuned, but whatever he’s hearing is not the same transmission that the rest of us hear. And God bless him for it.
Paradise of Bachelors is ecstatic to present the first-ever reissue of this long-coveted collectors’ item, complete with dozens of outrageous photos and a 13,000-word oral history of Chance in a gatefold package. So sit back, listen to this remarkable document, and live with Chance for a spell. Live The Search.
- Terry Allen’s Juarez Out Today | Terry Allen Tamale T-Shirts | Sale + Other News.
- Promised Land Sound release + Autumn Leaves Press + Tour Dispatch.
- Steve Gunn on NPR, Chance in Grantland, Initial Hopscotch Day Party documentation.