Thursday, June 27, 2013

Summer Reading, Listening: Nashville '80s Rock Archive

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 at 2:41 PM

You have to watch your back on the Internet — your English teacher told you, and Dave Chapelle did, too. For serious research, you want to go to a scholarly resource. Popular music can be a difficult thing to dig into; compared to other disciplines, it's not old enough to have a long history of scholars, and it often isn't thought of as something to be preserved for posterity. Hell, it's history that we're making right now.

Currently, the Nashville Public Library touches a little on popular music in its Special Collections holdings, and MTSU's Center for Popular Music has a massive collection of recordings, the cataloging of which is an ongoing project. The Country Music Hall of Fame has acres of archives on the country music that established our mainstream success from the middle of the 20th century forward, and even shone a critical spotlight on our historic R&B scene with the acclaimed Night Train to Nashville exhibit.

The more I dig, the more I find that the upsurge of underground music that swept through Nashville in the 1980s helped lay the groundwork for the all-of-the-above scene we have today. Coinciding with the launch of this here blog, the Scene's then-music-editor Tracy Moore put together a cover story that whetted my appetite. But apart from hunting down all of Tracy's sources for that piece, how was I going to learn more?

Enter Allen Sullivant's brother, Scott, had a pretty kicking New Wave-y band called Practical Stylists. As their manager, Allen kept copies of all of their work; even better, he kept other bands' recordings (or in touch with bands or fans who did), as well as fanzines and other print articles. Best of all, he's digitized them all and made them available to the public. N80s serves as the most complete resource I know of to get a picture of what went down off Music Row from 1980 to 1990.

Here's a quick rundown of the goodies:

- Never in Nashville, Local Heroes and City Without a Subway: three important compilation albums, available as individual tracks or in their entirety (so you can listen like the cassette or LP they came on)
- hard-to-find tracks, from college-rock precursors The Questionnaires and Raging Fire to home-grown dark industrial from Dessau and Jet Black Factory
- decent-quality bootlegs of live material from Jason and the [Nashville] Scorchers and others

- the entire output of Nashville Intelligence Report, a hand-mimeographed zine that served as the scene's central news outlet, 1982-1985
- a couple of key articles from Vanderbilt arts magazine Versus, including a thorough overview compiled by Pete Wilson, and a look inside WKDA's programming, penned by the captain of the Scene ship himself, Jim Ridley.

- live footage from Exit/In, Cantrell's (long before it became Springwater Chuy's), and Elliston Square (known today as The End)
- promo videos
- documentaries on the goings-on from Vanderbilt students (audio track muted by copyright holder, bummer) and local TV
- more on the N80s YouTube channel

Posters and Flyers
- Yep, most shows really have been $5 for over 30 years.

And there's even more stuff to discover. I'll leave you with this Channel 5 tidbit on the first WRVU benefit (guest appearance at 0:51 by Dale Brown, MTSU Recording Industry prof and master fixer of broken shit, as well as a fine low-notesman).

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