We threw a pop-up Bluebird Cafe In-The-Round Experience at our Guitar Center Nashville store, inviting seven songwriters to perform and talk about their experience navigating Music City's plethora of opportunity - meet Alabama-natives Josh & Judy Allison.
Photography by Alysse Gafkjen
Tell us about your Martin StreetMaster.
Josh: I've never been a fan of oddly-colored acoustics - I like the old, dark, stained wood. It just has character. I get so many questions about my Martin StreetMaster OOO-15M - How old is that thing? Truth is, I was playing at The Swampers over in Muscle Shoals, and a guitar collector showed up from New York. At the time, I was playing a Fender Tim Armstrong Hellcat - he saw me in the hallway and showed me a picture of the Martin. The first thing Judy said was that it "looked like the guitar Jesus would have played." I'm like, I think I might have found the one. Two weeks later, I walk into The Fret Shop in Huntsville, AL, and there's that guitar - a bigger, dreadnought body version of it. You could say it was meant to be - when I walked in the room, I knew that was my guitar. Some people have told me the way it sounds corresponds with my vocals - It has a bottom, rootsy sound.
Take us on a tour of your acoustic gig bag must-haves.
Josh: I have a wristband that I wear because I play for so long - it goes around my arm so I don't rub a hole in my inner arm after an hour and a half set.
Judy: That, and herbal tea. [laughs]
Tell us about getting the call that you were chosen to play The Bluebird Cafe.
Judy: The day before I got the email, I was drinking out of a Bluebird Cafe mug, and I said to myself That’s my investment - I'm going to focus on making it happen. It’s going to happen. [laughs] And then we get the email that we were selected - "Hey, honey, guess what? It's happening."
Josh: I don't remember anything about the audition. All I know is I walked in and it looked like a battlefield. There were people everywhere, and guitar necks sticking up out of a sea of heads. Everybody's tuning. Everybody's warming up. I was nervous as can be.
Judy: His beard was shaking.
Josh: It's different. Especially when you're performing in front of the audience that you're competing with. Everyone looking around like Is this guy going to make it? Is he better than me? Am I going to make it?
Judy: It's become a really comfortable place, now that we've played a few times. We've gotten to know some really amazing people there.
What do you feel makes a song successful?
Judy: When it becomes part of your DNA, or part of somebody else's DNA, and that becomes part of somebody else's DNA – when someone identifies with it.
Josh: People have used our song "Hold You" during proposals and at weddings for first dances.
Judy: It's been really, really cool.
What steps are you taking to help grow your career?
Judy: Before I met Josh, he was playing locally in bars. Since we've been together, we've integrated more originals into our live shows, even though we love playing the covers, too. People don't even realize it. After a while, they start recognizing our originals. Our goal right now is meeting more songwriters and learning the craft of songwriting, like sharpening our pencil -
Josh: Our songwriting pencil. Because right now, it's kind of dull. Once you get a sharpened pencil, you can do anything.
Judy: When you meet other writers at The Bluebird Cafe, they inspire you to be better. We’ve started cowriting, something we hadn't tried before.
Josh: I love the community. It’s just like creating a bigger, more comfortable circle with all the people that you love.
What advice would you give yourselves early on, from the artist perspective?
Judy: Piano lessons. [laughs] And don't stop, because I stopped, and I wish I hadn't. What about you?
Josh: [sighs] Don't worry so much. What I've learned from being a band leader is sometimes you just have to look at a situation, smile, and keep going - because really, all you're doing is stopping your own process. I used to freak out about a lot of things, and it would start to show - like turbulence on a plane. But by the end of the show, we were fine. Some nights, I look at my band members and say Hey, I haven’t even looked at my watch, and I'm not going to. We'll start when everything's ready, because if we're not, it's not 100%. Also - push. Because the more you push, the sharper your pencil is getting. Don't be scared to work as hard as you need to. It may seem like nothing's going to happen right now - but sooner or later, something usually happens.
For more from Josh & Judy Allison, click here.
To learn more about The Bluebird Cafe's audition process, click here.