Friday night at the Merchants Dave Williams   Db

C                                               G           C
It was late Friday night and I was feelin' all right
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I walked in the Merchants' Hotel
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an establishment down on the low side of town
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its a dive that Nashville knows well

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When its quiet at Tootsie's and you're 86d at The Wheel
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the Merchants just might be your scene
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there's a band in the back and if its company you lack
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you can dance with a honky tonk queen

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The manager there is one Robert McNair
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a large and a dangerous brute
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 if you step out of line soon enough you'll recline
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on the street at the end of his boot.

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And the band is playin' and they're singin' off key
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at the Merchants nobody cares
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Darlene is cursing the poker machine
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for twenty she'll take you upstairs

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and Lenny the cook is reading a book
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I'm drinkin' and feelin' so swell
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Tommy is swampin' the floor (with a mop)
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It's Friday night at the Merchants' hotel!

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Through the smoke and the din a drunk with a grin
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said "that red head's a lookin' at you"
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she looked pretty rough but she had the right stuff
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so I stepped up and bought her a brew

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We danced and we drank 'til we were both in the tank
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drinkin' beer and switched over to gin
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when out of the blue a stranger stepped to,
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 said: "better run if her boyfriend walks in"

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I stopped now to think still sipping my drink
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said: "its cool and why should I care"
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"well good luck senor, he just walked in the door
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it's the manager, Robert McNair!"

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the red head now slumped on my shoulder dead drunk
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not good how things might appear
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he pushed through the crowd and said right out loud:
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"what the hell is going on here?"

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The woman awoke when he gave her a poke
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she spilled her drink on the floor
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said: "Dave's my new friend, he's got money to spend"
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as I beat a path to the door

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McNair slipped and fell and I guess you can tell
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that night I got out alive
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that was a long time ago and I want you to know
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the Merchants is no longer a dive.

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Its now all upscale with cognac and Kale
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and the patrons all dressed to the nines
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it once was a zoo, now they haven't a clue
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to the things that went on where they dine

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And after hours when its still, you might feel a chill
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and hear voices but nobody's there
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and I'll join in the fun when my days are done
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I just hope I don't see McNair!

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Now it all seems a fright, those honky tonk nights
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and some things one best never tell
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but take it from me, It sure beat TV
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Friday nights at the Merchants' Hotel!
Friday nights at the Merchants' Hotel!
Friday nights at the Merchants'!
Friday nights at the Merchants'!
Friday nights at the Merchants Hotel!

Song Notes

I lived in Nashville for 22 years, having moved there from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1978. The first 10 of those years were my drinking days full of the chaos that I used to call "fun". I don't know that I managed to visit every bar in Nashville but I tried...I definitely tried. Of all the low life gin mills I had ever stumbled out of in the 1970s, the honky-tonks of Nashville's Lower Broadway were far and away the crème de la crème. And the queen of all the Nashville honky-tonks was the notorious Merchants Hotel. The "manager" at that time (first name "Robert", last name similar to "McNair") was well known for his brutality in dealing with unruly patrons. I personally witnessed him roughly ejecting a reveler who had the nerve to bleed all over the floor as a result of a stab wound. A few minutes later, the man, still bleeding, came back in, stepped up to the bar and ordered a drink. When McNair saw the man, he flew into a rage and again forcibly ejected the man. But this time, McNair administered several hard kicks to the man's ribs as he lay in the gutter bleeding and moaning. A small audience, myself among them, gathered for the spectacle, some from within the bar and some passers-by. McNair loudly announced that "this is what happens to anyone who f**ks around in the Merchants". The crowd dispersed and those of us from the bar mostly went back in and continued drinking. My song "Friday Nights at the Merchants' Hotel" is about an incident that took place at a later date. I was drinking and dancing with a woman who after about an hour's time, while slow dancing, mumbled: "I sure hope my old man don't walk in". I asked her: "So who is your old man"? With a broad smile she said: "Robert, the manager". The song ended, I quickly finished my drink and left. That was my last visit to the Merchants' Hotel!

Capo Dave Williams

By the 1970s, the spot transformed into a honky-tonk dive bar. Surrounded by porn shops and peep shows, lower Broadway became known as a skid-row hangout for local boozers. Southern Reader recounts the sidewalks as “rough-and-tumble” and  “in its death throes” during the time, and writer Steve Newton described Merchants itself as “crucifixion-born and whiskey-bred in the red dirt and gasoline pumping heart of Southern life, with characters so outlandish, archetypes so exaggerated, that to walk into the Merchant’s [sic] was like entering Federico Fellini’s great film of the late Roman Empire, Satyricon, only transferred to hillbilly central, with revelers wearing cowboy hats and party dresses instead of togas, drinking bourbon instead of wine, but with the same come hither, spider-to-the-fly leers.”  Kathleen Squires Aug 2013 in