Transitioned: Keeping My Calluses | Nashville Public Radio

Transitioned: Keeping My Calluses

Jul 23, 2011

Fifty-three-year-old Alison Prestwood leads a double life. She’s a newly-minted lawyer and a veteran bass sideman who has loved making music for as long as she can remember.

She recalls a photo taken of her when she was a toddler. “I’ve got on this crazy majorette outfit, you know, my hat is askew and I think I’ve got a black eye,” she says. “But I’ve got a little guitar in my hand, and so I know that for whatever reason, guitar was just it for me from nearly day one.”

The Beatles’ 1964 appearance on Ed Sullivan sealed the deal for Prestwood. “And I fell in love with that idea,” she says. “Wow! Look what they’re doing! I want to do THAT.”

The Long And Winding Road

After mastering her instrument over more than a decade of playing the Atlanta club circuit, Prestwood followed her musical dreams to Nashville in the early 90s and cut her teeth playing bass with Rodney Crowell, Patty Loveless, and Shawn Colvin. But in the early 2000s, she started seeing the bustle of Music Row begin to die down. She got fewer calls to play sessions. And she realized that no matter how hard she practiced, the realities of a flagging music business meant that the trajectory of her career wasn’t fully in her hands.

“And my dad was a lawyer, and he loved his career so much,” she says. “There’s a part of me that always wondered what it would be like to be a lawyer.” Her father encouraged her to take the leap.

On her first day at the Nashville School of Law, she turned 48 years old, and her father died. To honor him, she vowed to graduate first in her class—which she did, after four years of playing sessions during the day and going to class at night. She recalls studying in the studio between takes, her class notes on the music stand next to her chord sheets. And the hard work paid off. A year and a half ago, she found a job she loves at a small Franklin law firm.

In My Life

Prestwood still plays a session or two a week in addition to periodical gigs with the band, Fab. “I’m playing at least enough to keep my calluses,” she laughs. She says it’s kind of funny to think of having music as a fallback. But now, she says, she can play music just for the love of it, with the added promise of greater financial security that her law work will likely bring.

“I get to live both lives fully,” she says. “Music was a powerful force that I followed, and loved it so much that I got pretty good at it. And I love law so much too that I intend to get really good at it. And there’s still a lot of life ahead.

“It reminds me of being a little girl, playing guitar, playing bass, and, you know, the world’s in front of you,” Prestwood smiles, sitting behind her father’s sturdy, 70s-era law desk. There’s still a yellowed page he long ago taped to the desk, with a poem scrawled on it:

He was a very cautious man who never romped or played.

He never smoked or ever drank nor ever kissed a maid.

And when he up and passed away, insurance was denied,

For since he hadn’t ever lived, they claimed he never died.

“I love that!” Prestwood says. “That just makes me smile. So, you know, even though he’s gone,and I can’t ask him advice, I feel his presence.”