These days, we take live music for granted. On any given night, you can wander downtown, to Elliston Place or any hole in the wall dotted across this city and hear an astonishing array of music. And that's not to mention all the big-name bills that pass through the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry House, Dancin' in the District and AmSouth Amphitheatre.
But there was a time when the music wasn't quite as plentiful. (Don't forget that you couldn't go out and buy a beer here for years.) So when a performer hit one of the city's clubs or the Municipal Auditorium, it was a pretty big dealthe kind of thing people talked about for days, the kind of thing people still talk about, if they were lucky enough to have been there.
Consider the following highlights from Nashville's musical history, a colorful assortment that includes early nightclub performances from some of the city's most talented musicians, appearances from almost famous singers who'd soon enough hit the big time, and plenty of legendsfrom the Stones to Joni Mitchell to a younger, but still funked-up, George Clinton.
Before the '40s, this strip of saloons, located near the printing houses, was called "The Gentlemen's District." It survived Prohibitionafter all, judges and politicians were among its most active patronsbut until Nashville legalized liquor by the drink in 1969, it was strictly a brown-bag, BYOB affair.
Charlie McCoy, best known as a harmonica virtuoso, was the multi-instrumental boy wonder who could simultaneously play trumpet with his right hand and electric bass with his left. The members of his band, The Escorts, were regulars on the '60s fraternity party scene and went on to become A-list session players featured on countless country, R&B and rock recordings (famously among them Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline).
The Casuals were Brenda Lee's touring band. On a club date like thiswith a dance floorthey would play "Down in the Boon Docks," "Kansas City," "I Can't Stop Lovin' You," "La Bamba" (sung with nonsense lyrics that sounded vaguely Spanish), some early Elvis, "Night Train," Floyd Cramer's "Last Date" and the show stopper: Ray Charles' "What'd I Say." Tony Moon, of The Casuals, is today the chef/owner of Jack Russell's Restaurant in Green Hills.
And Chet...! Although his last name was often misspelled (as it was here), the man with the orange Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar would play "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie" at the same time and match Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" with his own delicious, chicken-pickin' version called "Yakety Axe."
The Rolling Stones1965
Obsessed with the blues of Jimmy Reed, the brilliant but unstable Brian Jones (1942-1969) ran an ad "seeking to form a Chicago-style rhythm and blues band" in 1962 and soon met Mick Jagger, who called himself "Mike," and Keith Richards, whom his friends called "Ricky." Soon London's mods and jazz beatniks, dressed in Chelsea boots and gaucho trousers, were following them around the club scene. Opening for the Everly Brothers and Bo Diddley led to two years of UK concert pandemonium, and when the fuzz-tone intro to "Satisfaction" hit car radios in the summer of '65, all hell broke loose.
This Nashville show, their first, was a noisy 40-minute affair at the Municipal AuditoriumVox amps blaring, vocals inaudible. Brian played his pear-shaped guitar and did a dog whistle on Rufus Thomas' "Walkin' the Dog." Mick shook his maracas and did those lips. The encore was "Get Off My Cloud," which had just hit No. 1.
In his 1990 memoir Stone Alone, Bill Wyman recalled the gig: "Nashville was a good show.... Later, we met Luther Perkins, Johnny Cash's guitarist, who took us to a club to see the Steadman Family. The whole day we had been laughing about an incident from the day before, in Memphis. We'd been sitting in the hotel coffee bar, when an old lady, who looked exactly like Granny Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies, walked over and hit Keith in the head with her umbrella, complaining about the length of his hair."
The Allman Joys1966
Duane and Greg Allman were born in Nashville, briefly attended the old Castle Heights Military School in Lebanon (tied to the whippin' post), moved to Florida as young teens and, inspired by a Jackie Wilson concert, became obsessed with R&B.
By 1966, they were The Allman Joys, a pun on the candy bar, schlepping from city to city in an old Ford station wagon and playing loud, fuzzy "psychedelic" covers of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," with Duane using a plastic cold tablet pill bottle as a guitar slide.
Songwriter J.D. Loudermilk heard them here at The Briar Patch, at the time Nashville's hottest club, and his friend, Buddy Killen, recorded them at Bradley's Barn in Mt. Juliet as The Hour Glass.
After Duane's 1968 session work at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Phil Walden signed them to his new Capricorn label. And in what must be a record, from the summer of '69 until Duane's death in October '71, the Allman Brothers Band played 509 shows.
Today The Briar Patch is an empty building downtown near the homeless shelter, clearly doomed for the redevelopment wrecking ball.
The "old" Exit/In opened in 1971, in a building that had housed a pinball machine company. Originally a tables-and-chairs showcase for local favorites like Dianne Davidson, Tracy Nelson and Barefoot Jerry, by the end of the decade it rivaled L.A.'s Troubadour and New York's Bottom Line as one of America's premier listening rooms. (Keith Carradine's Exit/In appearance in Robert Altman's Nashville helped boost the club's reputation.) An impressive array of names passed through its doors: Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Blood Sweat and Tears, Cheech and Chong, Melissa Manchester and a host of what were then young up-and-comers: Jimmy Buffett, Barry Manilow, the irritable Billy Joel (who cussed the soundman all evening) and Tom Waits, wearing a French beret and chain-smoking Old Gold cigarettes to give his voice that proper raspiness.
The holy terror of the Kent State dorms, Joe Walsh took Cleveland's James Gang from bar band to opening act for The Who. A year in Boulder, Colo., gave him his 1973 hit "Rocky Mountain Way." This Nashville show, which took place at Municipal Auditorium shortly before he joined The Eagles, was almost a clinic in the range and beauty of the electric guitar, with dazzling foot-pedal colors, effects and a note-perfect performance of Maurice Ravel's classical "Bolero."
One of rock's true characters, Joe Walsh's humor was all over the house. As the opening act left the stage, some guy with long hair, a bushy moustache and jeans came out, waving his arms to get the audience's attention. He told us that Joe would be out in a few minutes to "rock your socks," but first, the auditorium had a few public service announcements. He pointed out the locations of all four exits and noted that the T-shirts on sale in the lobby had been "fully licensed by the tour."
After the intermission, it turned out, of course, that Mr. Announcer was none other than Joe himself, who knew that no one in the audience likely had a clue what he looked like. And to this day, I'm not absolutely sure he wasn't the guy standing out on Fourth Avenue scalping tickets before the show.
Each of Steve Martin's three Exit/In appearances ended up outside the club. The first time, he took the audience across the street to see his new red Trans Am in a church parking lot. The second time, he tied skinny balloons around everyone's heads, lined them up in the middle of Elliston Place, and led a Bunny Hop procession in the direction of Baptist Hospital.
The third time was so funny that he has recalled it to several interviewers over the years. At the end of his late show, he took the arrow out of his head, laid down his banjo and said, "Man, I'm starvin'. What's the name of that eat-a-sackful place up the street?" The audience howledat that time, there was a Krystal up on West End across from Vandy.
Five minutes later (it was well past midnight), the white-suited Pied Piper was leading 75 people up the sidewalkmost of them clearly under the influence. Outside the restaurant, he waved his arms to get everyone organized, his face beaming with cosmic possibility. "How do I order the things? What do I actually say?"
The crowd walked in, trying to contain themselves. The woman behind the counter smiled, "Hepp Ya?" Steve Martin said, "Yes...I'd like...317 Krystals." He turned around, "How many want a pickle? Raise your hand...."
After a year at Syracuse University, Lou Reed made his way to New York City's Chelsea Hotel, home to Andy Warhol and his surreal cast of hangers-on. In the mid- to late '60s, he led The Velvet Underground, his affect-free monotone vocal proving the perfect vehicle for his low-life lyrics. By 1972's Transformer album, he'd become a solo star with the FM radio hit "Walk on the Wild Side." This Nashville show at War Memorial Auditorium drew a subculture not often seen in publicvery few suntans in evidence. The all-white stage lighting was the perfect minimal complement to black T-shirts, black leather and deafening power chords.
A child prodigy on piano, Leon Russell joined the house band at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Okla., played two years with Jerry Lee Lewis, and started work with L.A.'s "Wrecking Crew" session pickersall before he could drink a beer legally. His studio credits read like the Top Ten of the '60s: The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, "The Monster Mash," The Stones' Let It Bleed, The Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," and on and on. He emerged as a solo star when he fronted the band on Joe Cocker's 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.
His appearance at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds was part of a 58-city tour riding the success of his Carney album and the single "Tightrope." His encores were "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and the old-timey classic "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms."
For several years in the '80s, Edgar Winter joined Leon's tour. The story goes that whenever they walked into a truck stop, with their long white hair and beards, all heads would turn, and invariably some guy would walk over to their table and say, "Hey, ain't you guys ZZ Top?" Whereupon Leon would take out a pad of paper and write, "Best wishes to you from Billy Gibbons."
Mitchell's only Nashville show, at the newly opened Grand Ole Opry House, followed the success of her Court and Spark album, on which the simple acoustic guitar, piano and dulcimer accompaniment of her Toronto and New York City folk club days was giving way to a pop-jazz sound, complete with soaring soprano sax. By the end of the '70s, she was playing with the pantheon of jazz fusion musicians: Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton and Jaco Pastorius.
Sax man Tom Scott (whose father wrote the Twilight Zone and Dragnet themes) is still active today. He's the soloist in the Standing in the Shadows of Motown reunion concert/movie. Trivia fans will remember him as the bandleader of Pat Sajak's short-lived 1989 talk show, which featured straight man Dan Miller, best known (both before and after) from WSMV-Channel 4 News.
The Alice Cooper Show1972
After bombing on the Los Angeles club scene with Who and Stones covers, Vice Furnier and his friends withdrew to an old Detroit hotel and developed a unique theatrical conceit: that a loud rock band could frame a big, crazy American Gothic melodrama in the same way that a loud symphony orchestra could frame a big crazy German opera.
This Nashville show at the State Fairgrounds was the classic doom-'n'-gloom, early Alice: guillotine, electric chair, hangman's gallows, butcher knives, boa constrictor, madman's face with black eye makeup ("a raccoon on amphetamines"), and a giant video projection of '50s horror star Vincent Price.
At 55, Cooper is today a popular personality on local TV in Phoenix. And, in an achievement indicating that the wild excesses of the '70s may finally be over, he recently hit a hole in one at the Arizona Biltmore Country Club Pro-Celebrity Golf Tournament.
By the mid-'70s, George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic had become a crazy and inspired dance band/traveling circus with outrageous onstage gags, a horn section recruited from James Brown, Bootsy Collins snapping the strings of his star-shaped electric bass, and a taste for spectacular productions.
George Clinton once explained to a writer, "I wanted to rescue dance music from Motown. It hurt my heart to see five brothers in matching suits dancing like Fred Astaire." So his musicians had a wardrobe from the lunatic's yard salewedding dresses, feathers and sequins, giant baby diapers and the headdress of the Wild Man of Borneo. In the program of this Nashville show at Municipal Auditorium, George Clinton lists himself as "Lead Vocalist and Zookeeper."
Today, at 63, the man responsible for countless hip-hop backing tracks still fronts the P-Funk touring machine, having appeared in Nashville countless times in the last few years, most recently at River Stages.
Easy listening for difficult times1970
In Nashville, the '60s didn't arrive until well into the '70s. Most of our '60s concerts were easy-listening acts who'd appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, throwbacks to the Hit Parade days of the '50sThe Lettermen, Andy Williams, Dixieland horn men Al Hirt and Pete Fountain. These were shows you got dressed up for. Suffice to say, they were a world away from the big-spectacle rock concerts that would arrive here a few years later.
Muther's Music Emporium1974
Former WMAK program director Joe Sullivan was one of the unsung heroes of the local music scene. Moonlighting as a promoter, his Sound Seventy Productions single-handedly brought arena rock to the Municipal Auditorium.
In the fall of '73, he bought a bankrupt fabric store out past the old General Hospital, installed a state-of-the-art sound system and opened this ambitious but short-lived venue. The idea, modeled on L.A.'s Catch a Rising Star, New York City's Bitter End and the Boston Tea Party, was to present new bands headed toward national attention. (There was an explosion of talent in 1973 and '74to get a feel for what it was like, just watch the film Almost Famous.)
The undertaking went belly-up in four monthsthe bands were too expensive, and there were always problems with teenage attendance at "rock clubs"but the venture remains a wonderful footnote in Nashville's music history. The glass-front building lives today as Innotech Water Systems Inc.
A Bruce Springsteen fan Web site actually has a brief description of his gig at Muther'shis first show in Nashville, during his pre-glory daysat www.springsteen. org.uk/gig1974.htm#7.
Surely the oddest State Fair booking in history, Frank Zappa attracted only a few hundred die-hard freaks, who got their fix of antiestablishment sarcasm. The few curiosity-seekers who showed up no doubt came out more confused than enlightened. The show was Zappa's distinct crazy-quilt of music and satirerock, Stravinsky, The Flintstones, doo-wop, an out-of-tune "Louie Louie," Lawrence Welk and testosterone-crazed opera singers, all drenched in the goofy preadolescent bathroom humor of rats, vomit, pimples, stinky feet andon this nighta rant against Nixon.
Magazine profiles called him "Nashville's Renaissance Man" and "The Golden Boy of Belle Meade." As an advertising executive, Frederick "Tupper" Saussy made a ton of money for himself and Purity Dairies. As a musician, he produced tracks at the Creative Workshop, wrote pieces for the Nashville Symphony, got nominated for a Grammy and moonlighted as a superb lounge pianist with a repertoire that ranged from Mozart to Stevie Wonder.
In the '80s, his attention turned to political activism. He became involved with Jim Garrison, the JFK assassination theorist, and he co-authored a book with James Earl Ray. As a scholarly opponent of the income tax, he refused to file returns, leading to 10 years on the run as a fugitive from the IRS. Living incognito in California and playing piano at a mall, he was arrested in 1998, served a year in prison and is now back in action with an online "museum" at www.tuppersaussy.com. In December, he was in Nashville for the opening of an exhibit of his watercolor paintings at a gallery in West Meade.
Lenny Breau, with his sublime jazz chords and soft touch, was called the "Bill Evans of the guitar." Chet Atkins produced an album by him in 1969, before Breau disappeared into heroin addiction. He lived in Nashville from 1977 to 1982, at the home of the late Richard Cotton, who played bass with him and recorded dozens of his local club dates. (A CD is available at Cotton Guitars in Hillsboro Village; it was released by rock musician Randy Bachman, to whom Lenny gave lessons when they were teenagers in Canada.)
J. Austin's was a short-lived Green Hills club that had taken over the retail space previously used by the Circle Players community theater. Today, it's the Bluebird Café. In August 1983, Breau was found at the bottom of a swimming pool in a Los Angeles apartment complex.
I think mothers should be able to go out with their children no matter their…
Yeah, I guess we should expect all mothers — or fathers — who are out…
R Stephen Traywick Shows that he has NO argument against Tea Party ideas by his…
this mother sounds like a rude, elitist yuppie with extremely poor parenting skills. She sounds…
Nashville actually has three rugby teams, the Grizzlies (fielding a Division 3 side in the…