David Ezell and The Peddler Bar

Thursday, May 01, 2014

David Ezell and The Peddler Bar

Posted on Thursday, May 01, 2014

David Ezell
By Jeremy L. C. Jones
Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

I didn’t expect such a cozy place to be tucked away upstairs.

To the right is the steakhouse—white tablecloths, soft lighting, and a menu to drool over. To the left is the bar—busy on the weekends, laid back during the week and on Wednesday night there’s live music at 7 p.m. And tonight I’m here because the legendary Spartanburg troubadour David Ezell is playing.

The Peddler bar is the Cheers of Spartanburg,” Ricky Harris would tell me later. “Everybody knows each other, and if you don’t know, you soon will.” Harris is a Spartanburg attorney who books the musicians for The Peddler.

“The room has great acoustics,” Harris added. “Musicians say we might as well be performing in a studio. The wood. The brick. They don't build them like this anymore.”

And then there’s the low light for “the vibe” and the “unique antique” décor.

When I arrived Ezell had started early and he was in the middle of “Houston Town,” a song written by Rick Gordon and Walter Hyatt. I found a table by the fireplace with a clear view of Ezell, who was set up in the back corner. He wore a gray jacket, black jeans, and played an amplified acoustic guitar.

Ezell and The Peddler are two of a kind. Both of them have “got history.” The Peddler has been a mainstay in Spartanburg for more than 30 years, and David, well, he’s been a touring musician for that long, too.

I once heard Ezell referred to as The Godfather of Spartanburg’s Music Scene. I expected Don Corleone, but got someone much closer to a southern Pete Seeger—tall, thin, and intense.

After some light banter, Ezell eased into Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You.” His voice reminded me, at first, of Townes Van Zandt on a sunny day, but it didn’t take long before I stopped making comparisons and just enjoyed his distinctive mill town high tenor, gentleman’s gentleness, and hard-earned wisdom.

“That’s the way it is at The Peddler,” he says, pausing to tune up. “Songs just come out after all these years.”

There’s an old cigarette machine over in the corner, red and white stripped boxing trunks on the wall, and a dented and tarnished tuba suspended above the bar. The walls have a railroad and clubhouse theme: Railroad Crossing and Blasting Zone signs, golf towels from courses around the world, and a rack displaying what might be the world’s largest collections of antique left-handed putters.

As more people drifted in, Ezell greeted them by name. He had a warm smile, graying hair, sad eyes, and either he knew everyone or he was just plain friendly. There wasn’t an ounce of cheesiness about him, not a whiff of insincerity. I was reminded of folk and blues musicians’ love of and quest for authenticity, genuineness.

“I don’t know why this just popped into my head,” said Ezell. “It’s a Little Feat song by Lowell George called ‘Trouble’…”

And, of course, he played his own tunes. Sometimes it was hard to tell which songs were his and which were covers. He’d play songs by Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Don Williams, Kevin Welch, John Hiatt, and the Everly Brothers with the same intimacy as he’d play his own songs. Each song seemed as familiar to him as a sibling, cousin, or friend who just driven up from the coast to see him.

“That’s what we’re about at The Peddler,” he said in between songs, “doing great songs and serving the songs well.”

I returned a month later. Ezell and I met for dinner before his set. The Peddler is a traditional steakhouse with hand-cut, char-grilled steaks, butter-soaked baked potatoes, fresh rolls, and salad. That night Ezell ordered the seafood special and I ordered from the extensive appetizer menu.

“I think of this place as a pub,” he said. “It’s got soul. It’s got history.”

Ezell grew up in Spartanburg in the 50s and 60s. He was gigging around the Upstate by the time he was 16 and was a regular in Nashville by the time he was in his early 30s. He spent a lot of years on the road. “I lived through a lot of eras,” he said. “My songs fit a lot of molds. I'm proud of that.”

Ezell remained independent. He continued to do what he wanted to do—write, collaborate, play.

Eventually, he returned home to Spartanburg to help his brother care for his aging parents. The two of them began meeting at The Peddler to talk, to “chill” and have shrimp cocktail and a drink. “I’d look over my shoulder and think, ‘this would be a great place to play acoustic music. I’d love to play here.’”

That was three owners ago.

Ezell introduced me to Harris, the booking manager, before starting his set. Harris and I stood by the bar’s entrance and I asked him why he didn’t schedule music for the weekends. He explained that Friday and Saturday each had its regulars, some of whom have been coming to The Peddler for 30 or 40 years. The room can get cozy, especially during the fall and winter months.

“The Peddler is like your living room,” said Harris. “The living room you wish you had.”

The Peddler bar opens at 4 p.m. and closes at 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The steakhouse opens at 5:30 p.m.

Jeremy L. C. Jones, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.

Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and lecturer living in Spartanburg County with his wife, daughter, and two miniature poodles. He teaches English part-time at Wofford College, volunteers at the Carolina Poodle Rescue's dog sanctuary, and plays folk ukulele ... but not very well.

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