Tuesday Night’s Pickers, making music for 30 years

Wednesday, June 14, 2017
A fiddler member of the Tuesday Night Pickers takes a solo turn. The group has been “playing around” for 30 or more years in the lobby of Walker Die Casting Inc.
Photos by Syed Hasnain

The lobby of a manufacturing plant is an odd place for a music venue, but for the Tuesday Night Pickers, a group of musicians who gather each week at Wallker Die Casting Inc., on Higgs Road, it’s all about the music, not the place where the music is played.

Robert Walker, 90, the ringleader of the Tuesday night pickers, sings along to a song.

“Wantin’ to play, that’s what it is,” said Gerald Pollock. The stresses of life and troubles of times past cease to exist when this eclectic, spirited bunch of about 12 sits down to play and exchange friendly jabs at each other.

“We get together and tell old stories and try to play up some good old tunes,” Pollock added.

“I gotta do a commercial break,” Johnny Isley said, a sly smile appearing on his face. “This portion of the show is brought by Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats. They are crunchy and they are sweet and they’re... old,” he said of the crushed package held aloft.

The packet falls out of Isley’s grasp and everyone laughed.

There is a genuine camaraderie among the mostly crowd of men in their 60s and 70s. They come from all walks of life, brick layers to a pastor to farmers to professional types, all united by their love of playing music. The ring leader is Robert Walker, 90, who plays most string instruments and says that these get-togethers have been occurring for 30 or 40 years.

“I been around the world, and then war in Korea and been shot at and everything, and well, this is fun,” Walker explained. More fun than anything I know of. I enjoy it. I plan on enjoying it until I die.”

Walker, who gets around slowly with the help of a metal walker that he leans upon, is only a spectator these days, his ability to play affected by his poor mobility.

There is no sense of gloom or foreboding when he refers to his own mortality. The idea of coming here for the remainder of his days is a happy one.

Walker recalled the beginnings of the Tuesday Night Pickers.

“We didn’t have a good place to play and so we had this place and we weren’t using it all,” he said. “And we have just been playin’ here for all this time and havin’ a good time and that’s all.”

Though the purpose of the weekly event is fun, a novice player may find themselves humbled among the legitimately skilled and experienced musicians who show up week to week. It is apparent from watching them play that they’ve been at this for years.

“I’ve been playing saxophone with a jazz band out of Tullahoma for 25 years,” Josh Edlin, another regular said. “I played bagpipe in Nashville for about 10 years, and then decided I was gonna buy an upright bass and showed up here about nine months ago and didn’t know a whole lot... and Johnny over there encouraged me and now they drag me out everywhere.”

Edlin stands out for being noticeably younger than the rest of the gang; a fact that he says is often the source of some good-natured ribbing.

“I’m the young guy. They make some jokes about my age but for the most part they’ve kind of accepted me, and it’s great.”

In the midst of the group is Carol Stacy, the only woman, who has been playing upright bass for 21 years and is accompanied by her husband, Ron, who’s also a regular.

“I’ve known these guys -- most of these guys -- forever,” she said.

Moreso than the old stories and the jokes, it is the music itself by which they seem to communicate and relate to each other. When someone begins playing, there is often no conversation about what song they’re going to do or when someone else will come in. It just happens by itself, and the others seem to know exactly how to respond. It comes as naturally as breathing, which is perhaps why Robert Walker wants to continue this for as long as he’s breathing, too.

“I know you can’t live forever, but I hope to be able to play one more time.”

Syed Hasnain is a journalism major at Middle Tennessee State University. He was one of several students who recently spent a week in Marshall County writing stories for the Marshall County Tribune.