Friday, October 12, 2007

(35) Nashville Tennessee

The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson (7th president)

The Parthenon, Athena

The Grand Ole Opry

Country Music Hall of Fame/Studio B

Well I’ve settled into my new home, Nashville and it really does feel like home. As a full time traveler, you’d think I’d feel like I was always having to adjust to new surroundings. But sometimes, a place just feels right. Not really sure what it is. Perhaps it’s my love of music that makes me feel home. The people are friendly of course, the roads are a congested mass of circles and loops surrounding the city center, but once you get on the side streets, it all feels like normal town and city traffic. The hectic pace slowing down and it’s a bit easier to adjust to these new surroundings.

Nashville is called the Athens of the South for a couple of reasons. One, it has a number of buildings in the Greek style of architecture but also because it became an education center of the south early on. Having built Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities, a medical college and an Academy. Oh and the Parthenon! Can you believe, a full size replica of the original Parthenon in Greece! Including a huge statue of Athena. I was able to go in for free during their weekend “Multi-Cultural Event”. Lot’s of music from around the country, small vendors providing small samples of food from around the world and just good people watching. How neat to be able to see up close a Greek building without even having to leave the states. And isn't that the sweetest little girl taking a rest on a picnic table bench.

I started out my touring and exploring by going to the Hermitage (twice). Actually the first time I got caught between a couple large school groups and decided to leave and come back the next day which was a Saturday and little chance of getting stuck between those “darling” little urchins. The Hermitage is President Andrew Jackson’s estate and it looks much like it did when he built it, except the original 1,000+ acres of fields and grounds don’t have the cotton and other crops growing on them. It’s more a park setting today.

I didn’t learn all that much about Jackson as our 7th president, as the very extensive tour with head phones, tour guides in the main house etc. all concentrated on his life on the plantation or his career as a General in the Army. He served as the first territorial governor of Florida in 1821. Something I wasn’t aware of. The current tours are concentrating on the 150 slaves that ran the estate and their eventual freedom. Providing moving descriptions of the people and their lives.

In the evening, I went to the Grand Ole Opry. I took one of the Grey-line tour pkg. deals which saved on having to drive downtown at night. Well worth the small added expense. For anyone into country music, attending a show at the Grand Ole Opry is like finding the holy grail. Two of the top singers, Porter Wagoner and Tanya Tucker were no shows, but the show was still well worth it.

The show wouldn’t have been the Ole Opry without a few of the old timers like Little Jimmy Dickens with his collection of jokes and a song or two. Bobby Bare another old timer still has a voice that rings true. Having heard the small group at the campground the other night, one really appreciates the level of accomplishment it takes to get to perform on the grand Ole Opry. Like night and day.

Hearing performers like The White’s a family folk group (one of the daughters is married to Ricky Skaggs) I was just blown away by the beautiful harmony and rich sounds this family band made. A shame their music isn’t on the radio except for the small town country stations. But I’ve come to the Grand Ole Opry to hear groups like this and learn more about the really talented musicians that I just wouldn’t learn about any other way. They introduced a couple of new artists as well, but I didn’t catch their names and they weren’t on the play bill, having been added at the last minute.

And last but not least, the Country Music Hall of Fame. It’s more than a museum, it’s where all the country music is stored and re-stored along with vintage movies and interviews. You can actually watch the technicians taking old vinyl records and tapes and storing them onto Cd’s after restoration.

It’s a pretty big place but my favorite part was going on the guided tour of RCA’s Studio B, where Elvis recorded tons of hits along with all the other country greats. But the best part was when our tour guide recognized Gordon Stoker of the Jordonaire‘s. That was the back up group that sang on so many of Elvis’s hits and many other country artists. He told us about his experiences singing until 3am with Elvis, how Elvis was able to sing “Are you Lonely tonight” with all the lights down real low, barely on, and his singing the entire song all the way through the first time without a single error. Well actually, the Jordonaire’s made a mistake on the last note, and that’s all they had to re-record and splice in, one note. He talked about how Patsy Cline had a quick temper and had no problem telling a D.J. off if he asked the wrong question. He and one other living member of the Jordonaire’s still sing back-up and have even sung backup for Ricky Martin. What a career. By the way, I believe he said he’s 87!
Our tour guide told us about song writers. This town is equally interested in writing songs as it is singing them. And this is probably part of the reason why. He told us how Dolly Parton wrote the song “I’ll Always Love You” as a thank you to Porter Wagoner for all his help in getting her career started. Remember when he took her under his wing and did all the duets with her? Then she broke away and started her solo career. Well that song alone has been done many times over with the biggest one being when Whitney Huston did the song for the movie. Well Dolly has made over $20 million dollars in royalties on that one song along. Elvis Presley approached her about singing the song as well, but he wanted part ownership of the song. She hated to turn Elvis down but as a smart business woman, decided to hold onto the songs rights. Smart business woman and $20 million dollars richer.

Oh, and the story about Patsy Cline, who had quite a temper. When Chet Atkins insisted she sing the song, “I fall to pieces” (not sure if I have the songe correct) with a slow beat. Patsy really enjoyed more upbeat songs and wanted to do the song with a faster tempo, well Chet won out and she was so mad, she channeled it to sing the song and now we have that awesome country song sung with so much passion.

Our guide also told us that Elvis loved using the grand piano in Studio B and asked to buy it. Chet Atkins the head of the studio wouldn’t sell it. We of course got to sit at the same piano that Elvis and all the other great musicians used to produce the Nashville sound. How cool. Lot’s of stories, I wish I could share all of them with you.

While touring around Nashville, I got a tip to eat at Sylvan Park Restaurant. A good Ol home town eatery. The place was packed, but I was able to get in and had a real good meal, including fried corn. Have you ever heard of it? It’s corn done in a basic rue of butter (or bacon grease) and flour with salt and pepper and a touch of sugar. Best corn I’ve ever had, yum!

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