Saturday, April 27, 2013

US road trip: Nashville to Muscle Shoals

Things have been looking up since the problems at the start of our trip. On our second full day in Nashville we drove out to the Grand Ole Opry and had a look round, as well as popping into Willie Nelson's store and the Dukes of Hazzard museum nearby. From there we went to the historic town of Franklin looking for records. Lots of sunshine but as cold as England had been before we left.
In the evening we went to the Ryman Auditorium for the weekly Opry Country Classics concert which is broadcast live on radio. It's a quaint and rather archaic show, with regular adverts for the various sponsors spoken at regular intervals. The host Larry Gatlin was quite amusing but performed some corny gospel as well as a few country numbers. First act was a young singer Craig Campbell who sang a couple of songs, followed by Jan Howard, who has been appearing on the show since 1960 and sang one number. Things livened up somewhat with Mark Collie, who was more in the rockabilly mould and did a couple of Johnny Cash numbers. After the break it was the turn of an attractive young artist called Sarah Garland who sang a couple of Patsy Cline songs and duetted rather uncertainly with Larry Gatlin on one song. Finishing off the show with his nine piece Western Swing band was 81 year old Mel Tillis, the man who wrote Detroit City, whose set included Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, an instrumental Orange Blossom Special and finally I Believe In You. The news had come through during the day that George Jones had died: we had been considering going to see him in Huntsville where he was scheduled to appear two days later. After the show we went to Legends again where an energetic female singer was fronting a band called the Beckkettes.
Next morning it was south from Nashville to Muscle Shoals which has produced some of the greatest records of the last 50 years at three separate studios. We headed to Fame, which has been owned and run by Rick Hall throughout that time and where artists such as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Hughes and Percy Sledge made many of their classic tracks.We arrived just in time to join a studio tour hosted by studio manager John Gifford, who gave an illuminating and interesting talk about the studio's colourful history and the many artists who have recorded there. From there we went to the Muscle Shoals studio on Jackson Highway, which was closed, and to the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame, who was also closed due to lack of funding. In the evening we had a Southern fried chicken dinner at Champy's, where a blues band was playing, and finished off with drinks in the Swampers Bar at the plush Marriott Shoals hotel, where there are many photos of musicians from the sixties and seventies.
Today we've made our way to Bessemer, near Birmingham, stopping off for a delicious southern style meal in a restaurant on the way and at a thrift store where I picked up 16 excellent 45s for 59 cents each. More soon!
Nick Cobban.


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