Rock In The Country: Nashville’s Secret History

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photos by Alan L. Mayor

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“Nashville was a very sophisticated town in the late ‘40s. The interesting thing about Nashville is that there was no country music. The people at the Belle Meade Country Club were dancing to the music of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Gershwin. If you go back and look at the beginning of the recording scene in Nashville, it was a combination of New York and L.A. pop music and the Grand Ole Opry.” – Norbert Putnam, Nashville record producer

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In the 1960s, Nashville was a flourishing music town. But country music, for which the city would soon be recognized, was but one aspect.

“Hendrix credits Nashville as the place that he really learned how to play guitar. That still freaks out most people who think of Nashville as just country music,” says Joe Chambers, the founder of the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville.

Chambers recounts how in 1962 Hendrix wound up at the army base at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and met fellow musician Billy Cox. They became fast friends and a short time after moved to Nashville, some 60 miles away, and lived together on Jefferson Street, above a beauty shop called Joyce’s House of Glamour.

“I actually saw Jimi Hendrix one night at Printer’s Alley. He was in his private’s uniform,” says Norbert Putnam, a musician, studio owner and producer with a long list of credits in Nashville.

Hendrix soaked up the style of the blues players in the bars along Jefferson Street. “You gotta be pretty good to get their attention,” Chambers recalls his friend Billy Cox saying. “Jimi went to sleep with his guitar on, woke up with it on, walked out the door with it, and went to the movie theater with it.”

Some of the first video footage ever shot of Hendrix was on Nashville’s WLAC Channel 5 television show Night Train. You can see him on a 1965 clip backing up Buddy & Stacy, looking freaky and sliding his hand over the front of his guitar’s neck. Chambers says Hendrix and Cox played the clubs on Jefferson as well as the club circuit from Murfreesboro to Tullahoma.

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While Hendrix joined a burgeoning R&B scene in mid-‘60s Nashville, the real Nashville history of rock started a good bit earlier, and a lot less secretly. In 1956, two landmark rock records were cut in Nashville: Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” That’s arguably what started it all.

“Be-Bop-A-Lulu” was recorded in the basement studio of Owen and his brother Harold Bradley’s house at 804 16th Avenue South (now 34 Music Square East). It was the first studio on Music Row, and a few years later the Bradley brothers built their famous Quonset Hut in the backyard. Owen Bradley even created the first de-facto isolation booth when, in order to avoid bleed from the other instruments, he put Vincent out in the basement’s hall to record vocals.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Kudos to Nashville. However, Jimi had developed his non stop practicing habits long before he moved to Nashville. Also, according to many biographers he had soaked up quite a bit of music growing up in Seattle. Don’t twist the facts to perpetuate the non- stop Nashville propaganda program.

  2. […] Perhaps the coolest thing of all about the festival is a unique clinic Breedlove and 2OH have organized with the legendary producer Bob Johnston, who worked as an staff producer at Columbia Records and made a significant impact in the early careers of Simon and Garfunkel, and, of course, Bob Dylan (“Is it rolling, Bob?”). (Read our feature article about the stories behind Bob Dylan’s Nashville recording sessions here.) […]

  3. ^^^What he said. Jimi already already listened to a lot of blues musicians growing up in seattle. What nashville did introduce him to was several artists that he would never hear of on the radio back home and he learnt a good deal from listening to local blues and Rn’B acts in Nashville and from his time on the ‘chitlin circuit’.
    Another aspect that he developed here was his songwriting, he was one of the few Black musicians that concentrated on listening to and incorporating elements of non black music into his lyrics and writing. His favorite being Bob Dylan. 🙂

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