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Norman Greenbaum - Classic Rock Legend's Spirits Are Elevated in Nashville Return

by Rich and Laura Lynch

One of our favorite lasting memories of our time in Nashville is the night we watched classic rock legend Norman Greenbaum perform an extended version of his miraculous song "Spirit in the Sky" for an enthusiastic packed house at the Basement East in 2019. That's because the raucous and celebratory version of the track played in the East side of town that evening was wholly unexpected and just as equally unlikely to have ever happened in the first place.


Norman Greenbaum and Bonita on stage at the Basement East in 2019.

You see, the one-time folk singer originally hailing from Boston waited three quarters of a century before he even set foot in the Volunteer State on a vacation to visit some friends and relatives here. By sheer coincidence, Norman and his partner Bonita - both being music lovers - were searching the calendar for some live entertainment when they learned that the large and eclectic Americanafest was taking place at the exact same time they were in town.

They were hooked and quickly made plans to return. The next year Norman was a featured act at the "1969: To The Moon & Beyond" show held in East Nashville and he also lined up several radio interviews including a prestigious slot on Bill Cody's morning broadcast at WSM 650 AM. The flagship of the Grand Ole Opry even invited him out to a show and introduced him to an appreciative audience at the Opry House.


Norman Greenbaum and Bill Cody on the air at WSM 650 AM.

All of this felt like a career revival for the man who almost died in a 2015 car accident. Post recovery he endured a few other health setbacks as well but he remained undeterred and resilient. Upon discovering Nashville the wheels in his mind began turning that maybe he could live here someday. He even got a new band together and began booking dates outside of his comfortable California confines where he's been known to play out from time to time. But, the global pandemic had other ideas.

"I got tired of collecting royalties," Greenbaum told MCN founder Rockin' Rich Lynch during his return to Mid-Tenn in May of 2022 to begin scouting out the region with an eye on relocation to continue making music and picking back up where he last left off in Tennessee. You see, Norman loves it here especially because "music really is really important to the people in this town."


The original version of the amazing song - "Spirit in the Sky".

While that is undoubtedly true it is his song "Spirit in the Sky" that has meant so much to so many since its release over 52 years ago. Why it endures as perhaps the most wondrous one hit wonder of all time is because of the universal issues it deals with. Yes, we are all going to die. But, more than that most of us hope there's going to be something after and the song speaks to the concept of eternal life and going to a better place. He couldn't have drawn it up any better.

If there was any doubt about the song's enduring legacy - well, let not your heart be troubled. The cut has a track record of being featured in dozens of commercials and movie soundtracks since really finding its footing in the 80's. In 2022, "Spirit in the Sky" was prominently featured in 20/20's look back at the 25th Anniversary of the Heaven's Gate cult's ultimate departure. And, this year's Oscars presented a full Gospel send up take on the song during its "In Memoriam" section of the show. As for us? We're just glad Norman is still here and in good spirits and we can't wait to see what he does next once he makes Music City his home.


Norman and Bonita on their return trip to Nashville in 2022.

Related Links: For more information on NORMAN GREENBAUM and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Norman Greenbaum | There's Still Spirit in the Song at Americanafest | Is There a New Wave of Jesus Rock Rolling Right Out of Nashville?

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