Hi there, how are you doing? I hope you are well and have been enjoying the nice weather. I have just returned from an amazing holiday. To an area of America. That I have been wanting to visit for sometime. I am a massive fan of music in general. But I am also a person who very much enjoys Country and Western Music. Which is why the home of it, Nashville was the first main location on my American adventure.
It started at Heathrow Airport. From where I flew Delta Airlines to Atlanta. I think they were trying to prepare us for the States. As they just seemed to keep bringing out food. Almost constantly, it seemed. I think I must have had at least two meals plus the same number of snacks. It was that and the countless episodes of The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory that I watched. Which helped me through the eight and an half hour flight.
Atlanta is five hours behind the United Kingdom. Therefore despite leaving England at around Midday. We touched down at just gone four o’clock. I had hired a car to get around. I picked it up from one of the many hire companies at the airport. After I had signed the paper work. They gave me a whole row of vehicles to choose from. I chose a Ford Feista. As I have driven them a lot over the years, it is a car that I am familiar with. Which I thought might help.
Their motors are all left hand drive but thankfully I had ordered an automatic. So that took the confusion of having to change gear with my right hand out of the equation. We collected the GPS devise. We had sensibly requested. Then headed off for my first taste of driving in America. Remembering to stay on the right hand side of the road. We made our way to our first overnight stop. Which was a hotel two hours from the airport in Chattanooga.
I went on this trip with my friend Kayleigh. It had been a long day travelling. Therefore we were delighted just to get to the hotel and get some sleep. We got up fairly early in the morning. Ready to grab a bit of breakfast. Then head to our first proper stop, Nashville. We could see a Waffle House sign right near the hotel. The plan was to go there. But despite getting directions from the receptionist. We could not get to it and just ended up going round in circles.
In the end we spotted a burger bar called Krystal, so we decided to go in there. We later found out that it was actually Elvis Presley’s fast food chain of choice. They did a breakfast menu. I chose my meal and asked for a tea. That is my hot drink of choice for all occasions. So for me it was the obvious thing to request.
On ordering this the server gives me a paper cup. And I thought she said “you get your ice over there” and she pointed to the corner. But then I thought I do not need ice for a cuppa. I must of misheard. Then she says it again. But rather than question it or ask her about it. I just did the most British thing ever.
Not wanting to cause a fuss. I just put the ice in my cup. I then go back to her with it. She asks if I want sweet or unsweetened. I am thinking at last we are getting somewhere. I am back on track. I like my tea with sugar. It was not until she handed it over that I realised tea over there is in fact iced tea.
I drunk it and it was actually not to bad. The meal was nice. Although the breakfast roll came in what they call biscuit. Which is basically a sweet scone. Which gives your burger a slightly different taste. I got chatting to her and she told me at the last restaurant she worked at. An Englishman used to come in everyday for his breakfast. After a while she got talking to him and found out he was a famous singer back home in the UK. It was none other than Adam Ant.
We finally set off for Nashville. Which was about a two hour drive. We checked in to the hotel there. Then went straight back out to explore the place. This meant hopping in a taxi for a twenty minute ride across the city to the World Famous Grand Ole Opry.
It is a County and Western music concert venue. Where the weekly radio show of the same name comes from. It started in November 1925. It has been going ever since. Anybody who is anybody in the world of Country Music has appeared on the programme and on the stage there.
We took a tour of it. Which was fascinating. We were told about its history. We saw the artists entrance. The changing rooms. The TV studio there were the Nashville television series is filmed. Plus we got to walk out on to that iconic stage. The venue is not the original one. As its popularity started to grow and grow it moved to a couple of different places in and around the city. Before finding its current home at the Ryman Auditorium back in 1943.
On the stage right where the singers perform. There is a circular piece of wood, set in the stage. It has been taken and carefully preserved from the first theatre that the show was broadcast. Therefore every singer, who has ever performed throughout its entire history. Has stood on the same bit of special timber. I was happy to be able to get a picture stood on it. While holding a microphone, as part of the tour.
As a nod to regular guests and to Country Music greatness. There is an invited Grand Ole Opry Members list. Which reads like a who’s who of amazing singers. They normally induct only one or two new members a year. On the night they are inducted. They get a special “Welcome to the Family” dressing room and close the radio show with a twenty minute headline slot.
It is a beautiful venue. I really enjoyed looking round. You can feel the history and the aura of it. It was just a shame that on the nights we were there. That the radio show was not on. I would have loved to have watched that live from the audience. Never mind, may be next time.
A five minute taxi ride away from the Grand Ole Opry. There was a little museum. That I was desperate to visit, while I was there. It is called Cooter’s Place. Which was also the name of the garage in one of my favourite American televisions show’s. When I was a kid, The Dukes of Hazzard. This is not just a coincidence as this shrine to this brilliant programme is owned by Ben Jones. Who actually played the mechanic and friend of the “Dukes” Cooter.
It is filled with lots of memorabilia including signed photos, scripts, props, toys, card board cut outs of the stars and more. The best thing about it. Is that it has one of the Police Cars, Cooter’s Car and Truck, Daisy’s Jeep and one of the actual General Lee’s used in the show.
When I was about eight or nine me and my sister used to play in my parents car pretending we were the Dukes of Hazzard. Including climbing in and out of the windows. I think I once may have put a slight dent in my dad’s motor by trying to slide across the bonnet.
While you are there they offer you the chance to have your picture taken in the General Lee. This was one opportunity I was not going to miss. I think you can see from my smile in the picture. How much I was enjoying it.
I absolutely loved it. I had to treat myself to A Good Ol Boy’s T-shirt. Which I will regularly be wearing with pride. Three days before I was there Catherine Bach who played Daisy was there. I must confess I am a little gutted to have missed that.
An activity I had already booked in advance was a combined trip to The County and Western Music Hall of Fame and the famous Studio B in Nashville. This is how we spent day two there. First up it was the Hall a Fame.
They had a special Loretta Lynn exhibition. Which was fascinating. It told her life story with lots of artefacts from both her life and career. Including guitars, outfits and awards. Every country music singer or musician that you can think of has something of theirs on display there. It is a huge place spread over three massive floors.
There is so much to see. That after two hours we were only about half way round. We had to take a break to go on our scheduled tour of Studio B. There is a tour bus that takes you there and back from outside the Hall of Fame. You are accompanied by a guide. Studio B was owned by RCA. They were the record company that signed Elvis from his first label Sun records.
This studio was built very much with him in mind. In fact he recorded many of his albums in this famous studio. He used to stay at an hotel just around the corner. That had a guitar shaped swimming pool. You may have seen pictures before of him in that pool.
At first the studio had stripped lighting. Elvis said it made the place feel like at office and not a creative space. He requested lights were put in that could be changed to several different colours. For every song that he recorded. He would try to find the right vibe and feel by changing the colour of the room with the lights.
He was an insomniac, so he used to often record during the night and normally on a Sunday. Typically everybody would already be there. He would then arrive about six in the evening. He would order some food for everybody from Krystal. Then they would spend a few hours around the piano singing Gospel songs. After which he would be ready to start recording. Setting the mood with the lights for each song. The sessions were known to last all night.
There is a blue cross on the floor. Which marks where the singers would stand or sit. It is the premier acoustic spot in the room. We could see exactly where the King would have been positioned. When laying down the vocals for those huge iconic tracks of his. When he was recording “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. He just could not get the ambience to feel right with the lights. So he could not capture the mood he wanted. In the end he just ended up recording it in the dark with no lights on at all.
At the end of the first take. He gets up to walk over and speak to the Jordanaires. He hits his head on their mic. When the recording is still going. At first thinking he had ruined the take. The studio engineer assured him. He could virtually remove the thud and no one would notice it. He did a great job but if you do listen closely and loudly to the original album version. You can hear a slight click, right at the very end. Which you now know is Elvis’s head connecting with a microphone.
Some of the other stars who have recorded at Studio B include The Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Jim Reeves to mention but a few. Your could really feel the history of the place. It had a special magic to it. Especially when they were playing you some of the actual recordings, that were done there. While we were standing right there. It was quite emotional at times.
After Studio B it was back to finish off looking around the Hall of Fame. After finally seeing all the exhibits and witnessing the world’s biggest wall of Gold Discs. We arrived at the actual Hall of Fame bit itself. It is in a special circular room. That looks as spectacular from the outside as it does from the inside. You have to have achieved a certain status to be inducted. Once you are accepted by the board. Then you get your own plaque put up on the wall.
Everyone of the people up on that wall is an absolute Country Legend. I made sure I looked at every single person. Who was represented. If you ever visit Nashville. This is somewhere you have to visit to get a feel of the place. And how important music is to it. They call it music city. And you can really see why.
The main strip in the centre of Nashville is called Broadway. It is a road filled with bright neon lights and lots of bars and restaurants. We spent two nights enjoying its hospitality. In pretty much every place, they have live country music from full bands to singers with guitars.
The music goes on all day from about midday to closing time. With several different acts performing in each venue. The bands earn their money through tips. If you like them drop some cash in their bucket or you can pay them to play any songs that you request.
The first place we went on the first night was a place called Whiskey Row. They had a band on who were fantastic. Plus they did possibly the best steak and chips I have ever tasted. It was lovely. The food we had in America was on the whole absolutely brilliant.
That night we sampled a few other bars and acts. It is so warm in Tennessee even at night. Most of the pubs have roof tops bars. To enjoy the views of the street down below and the night sky from. We finished the night at one of those. Before returning to the roof top bar at our hotel for a quick night cap.
On our final night we went to an Italian place. Which was so popular. That we had to wait twenty minutes to get a seat there. We ordered just a pasta dish each. But did not realise they offered a three course meal with every main. A massive plate of salad comes out first. Then the food we ordered. Followed by some ice-cream. I was not even that hungry before we started. Portions in the States are definitely bigger than in England. That said I did manage to eat it all.
We then visited Coyote Ugly, so Kayleigh could have a quick dance on the bar. Lastly we checked out some of Nashville’s most famous bars including Nudies, (it is not what you think, it is just a music bar, get your mind out of the gutter). And Tootsies, which had two great bands playing at the same time at opposite ends of the place. All to soon it was time to head back to the hotel to get some sleep. Before heading off to our next stop the following morning.
Nashville was a wonderful experience. Next it was Memphis and the home of Elvis Graceland. Something I was really looking forward to. I will tell you all about that in the next instalment. Cheers Neil.