one of the most enigmatic fringe figures in Nashville’s musical history has to be the prophet omega. he was a radio evangelist who broadcast from his own apartment, “Apt. Q258 at 488 Lamont Drive,” a place he called the “Peaceway Temple”. I first found out about him through my friend Al Kooper* who gave me 45 minutes worth of the Prophet's sermons and ad-lib commercials for the Shipp Moving Company and J&B Boutique.
I loved every word of it. the sound of his voice!
no one knows for certain when the broadcasts were made, most people estimate the 70's. if I could travel back in time, I would be in the front row of apartment Q258.
as the mr. music head tour of 1989 began I brought the Prophet tape with me. each morning when Rick Fox, Mike Hodges and I would start up our rent-a-van for the next city, we would put on the Prophet. eventually I knew every word and could do a pretty good imitation.
little did we know the same was happening in tour buses all around the U.S. supposedly the Rolling Stones were fans, as well as Bob Dylan, and Melissa Etheridge. in fact the Prophet Omega tape was the smash hit of the rock band tour bus circuit!
In their 2000 documentary Friends Seen and Unseen, Demetria Kalodimos and Kathy Conkwright unmasked the Prophet as the late Omega Townsend, a former carny who became a fixture on the “prophet circuit” offering advice, readings and lucky numbers to the spiritually curious. by the end of their film he has fittingly become an ice cream vendor, spreading joy through the neighborhood from the window of an ice cream truck. the most poignant moment of the film for me was when demetria and kathy played my song I am what I am for his 20-something son and daughter. they cried at hearing his voice again. happy tears I think.
I have used snippets of the Prophet's voice in 3 songs now: I am what I am from young lions, I know what I know and that is all I know and I know it from coming attractions, and troubles from side three.
the trick has been the timing of each phrase, which needs to fall rhythmically just as a singer's phrases would. it's never been a problem though since the Prophet is very close in delivery to a bluesman or even a James Brown-type soul singer. of the many singers I've worked with, no one's voice intrigues and beguiles me quite like the Prophet Omega's.
amen, ain't that right about it!
*any self-proclaimed music lover should know Al's contributions to the music of Bob Dylan, (organ on like a rolling stone) the Stones (french horn on you can't always get what you want), the bands he started Blues Project and Blood Sweat, and Tears, his studio work with Hendrix, Cream, The Who, B.B. King, Ray Charles, George Harrison, etc. his discovery and production of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and so many other historic musical moments. Al is a dear friend, a gifted musician, ranconteur, musicologist, and one funny guy. this year he was given the Les Paul Award.