Nashville: The Town With The “Fresh Sound”

It started with Grand Ole Opry

A FEW YEARS ago, Nashville, Tennessee, was a gentle Southern city of about 450,000 souls whose biggest industry was religious printing and publishing.

Today it’s Instant Hitsville, the star-spangled home of the fastest guitars in the country, a lively glittery town booming so fast that land values have tripled and even quadrupled in some sections.

Nashville was where Bob Dylan went to make his world hit ‘Rainy Day Women’…

Where Perry Como made his first hit in two years (‘Dream On, Little Dreamer’)…

Where Australian Frank Ifield has just flown, from London no less, for a recording…

Where Connie Francis, Burl Ives, Lesley Gore. Rosemary Clooney and scores of others went to get a new freshness to their sound.

Paul Anka flew there just to record two tracks. Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt does all his records there.

‘MUSIC CITY, U.S.A.’

England’s Peter and Gordon have visited it. Rita Pavone, from Italy, and Sylvie Vartan, from France, are recording albums there.

Frank Sinatra is planning to, and even the Beatles can’t wait to find time for a visit so they can see what happens when Beatle rock meets the Nashville sound.

It’s not hard to see, then, why Nashville now uses officially its long standing nickname “Music City U.S.A.” This influx of major talent is bringing some $U.S. 60-million a year to its sedate banks.

The search for the elusive Nashville sound (“half soft pop, half soul” is one definition) has also brought every major recording company in America to this quiet Southern town.

Some companies, like Columbia and R.C.A. Victor, have just put up multi-million-dollar studios unrivalled anywhere in the world.

The new R.C.A. Victor studio can accommodate comfortably 100 performers at a time. It takes a mile of colour coded wire to connect its 20 separate microphones to the control room.

Columbia’s studio is so modern that even the echo chambers have echo chambers and the floor floats on springs so as to intercept sound. Walls are multicoloured to give musicians a nightclub atmosphere.

Why Nashville? Because, say the experts, it has been for many years the home of country and western music and only recently have people realised that there is nothing like a simple country song to “show off” a voice.

If you think of the simple, direct messages in country songs like ‘You Are My Sunshine’, ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ and ‘The Tennessee Waltz’, you will understand why so many over-gimmicked sung-out singers come to Nashville’s 1,000 resident song writers for a fresh, new, uncomplicated song.

John Loudermilk, a 30-year-old Nashville composer who makes $100,000 a year says: “All great songs are simple. This is what country music has brought to to-day’s popular music.

“Good country music, like good jazz or good classical music, has soul.”

If Nashville’s music has soul, so have its musicians — as long as they stay in Nashville. Their sound travels badly.

“You can take these fellow’s up to New York to record and they freeze up,” explains R.C.A. Victor’s Nashville chief of operations, guitarist Chet Atkins. “It’s not like being home.”

POOL OF TALENT

Many of the Nashville musicians, like Atkins, are recording stars in their own right. Yet it is not unusual for them, also like Atkins, to provide anonymous backing for the recordings of others.

This pool of incredible talent is there for anyone to draw on. Locals still talk about the English group (not the Beatles) which came to Nashville to record but insisted on using its own musicians.

They did not get the Nashville sound. “They must have thought it was the air here,” chuckled Wesley Rose, president of the town’s biggest music publishing company.

The recording sessions have to be seen to be believed. Nashville musicians are famous for their ability to improvise arrangements at a moment’s notice.

“Give it a little more ching-ching-ching,” someone will say.

“Come on, punch it up,” says someone else and there’s the Nashville sound

WITHOUT WORDS

Asked if he could read music one musician said “Well, not enough to hurt my playin’.”

Most of the musicians have worked so long together they communicate without words. The resut has something of the jam session feeling — rarely perfect technically but always believable.

The musicians work well not just because everyone is encouraged to speak out and make suggestions as they go along but also because they take a pride it turning out a good product from Nashville.

Nashville started it multi-million dollar music city career in 1925 with a barn dance radio program featuring an 80-year-old bearded fiddler called Uncle Jimmy Thompson.

He had been scraping out old jigs and reels for just a few minutes when the station was flooded with requests.

Two years later the show was renamed Grand Ole Opry. It went on to become the oldest continuous broadcast in radio history.

Today it reaches 10 million people and even Japan has a Grand Ole Opry of its own, complete with 10-gallon hats and full western gear.

Country music, then just rural folk music, now includes syrupy ballads, bluegrass, western songs, fiddle tunes and even urbane love ballads.

The Opry is now a Nashville tourist attraction in its own right. Every Saturday night as many as 5000 tourists jam the Ryman Auditorium roaring and stomping at such country stars as Hank Snow, Cousin Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff and many others.

RECORDROW

It brought so much talent to Nashville that it was soon more convenient to record them there than in New York or Los Angeles.

Today not just New Yorkers and Los Angeleans but Londoners, Parisians and Romans come to record on Nashville’s Record Row, a gleaming street of studios, publishing companies and talent agencies.

Record Row’s 1200 professional musicians, 800 professional songwriters, 322 music publishers, 26 record companies, 11 talent agencies, and 15 sound studios make nearly one out of every two popular records in America.

A man who paid $39,000 for a corner lot on Record Row last year recently refused $160,000 for it.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Pearl’s Howdy Club and the Dew Drop Inn are filled with lanky young men in western hats and sideburns trying to sell their songs.

One of them, a lucky one called Harlan Howard, sold his first song ‘Heartaches by the Number’ five years ago. It sold four million records.

LAUNCHED ELVIS

An established country singer like Eddy Arnold has sold 38 million records. In total sales he ranks only behind Bing Crosby and Perry Como.

Another graduate of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry had five records making the top ten during the year he died, 1952.

Fans like to reminisce about the kid with long hair and sideburns who played bull fiddle in the Opry — a kid called Elvis Presley.

But Nashville’s glory is just beginning. Of the 1,200 or so American stations that play some country music the newest, in the heart of New York, plays country music 24 hours a day.

All the pop singers want the Nashville sound. A country music concert recently packed Carnegie Hall.

Now Nashville is talking of films. By August, eight Nashville-made country music films will be circulating in the United States.

One is called Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar. Another The Ghost of Tin Pan Valley. They sound as if they couldn’t go wrong.

© Lillian RoxonSydney Morning Herald, the, 19 June 1966

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