Separating Music City From Music Row

April 27, 2010 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  14 Comments

Nashville Skyline NightNashville was lucky. During the early 20th Century, many cities could have ended up with the “Music City” moniker. Tulsa had a bustling music scene, with Bob Wills playing weekly at Cain’s ballroom. Bakersfield, CA had the best recording studios west of the Mississippi and was a magnet for the Southern talent that had migrated during the Depression. Shreveport, LA had the Louisiana Hayride, where Elvis got his start, and so many others.

But Nashville had WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. And the Grand Ole Opry had Hank Williams.

We tend to trash Nashville so easily these days. I am as guilty as any. It’s hip, and it’s only fair because Nashville deserves it . . . or at least institutions that call Nashville home do.

A while back Chris Scruggs of BR549 and other projects said in a Nashville Scene interview:

“People say, “Oh, you know, country music went bad,” and they like to blame it on Nashville. People say, “I can’t stand Nashville for what it’s done to country music.” Nashville was the home of Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells. To blame Nashville for the state of country music is like blaming the house for being robbed. People came, cheapened it, and they took away a lot of the magic. That’s not Nashville’s fault, it’s the industry’s fault, and it’s the same industry that’s responsible for a lot of the mediocre rock music you get nowadays too. Country fans feel so betrayed by Nashville as a city and I’d like to champion Nashville and say that no, Nashville is still a good place.”

Yesterday it was revealed in The Tennessean that Dale Watson, performer of “Nashville Rash” and other anti-Nashville songs recorded his latest album at the Hilltop Recording Studio in Music City, and used Nashville players. Dale defended the decision by saying:

“People say, ‘What are you doing? You hate Nashville.’ But I don’t hate Nashville. I hate what has been done to the music that I love, the music that came from Nashville and that was invented in Nashville. I’m 100 percent inspired by what Nashville was.”

So should we separate the city from its seedy industry? Not so fast. Distinguishing the industry from the individuals that call Nashville home, or recognizing the history is one thing. However remember back in February, when the Nashville City Council voted to eminent domain the Musician’s Hall of Fame? They bulldozed a site dedicated to music to erect another tool of industry. The President of the Musicians Union at the time said:

“…all people are gonna remember is that the city of Nashville took a building that was honoring musicians in an eminent-domain court proceeding and that to me is a black mark on the city of Nashville…and that’s not gonna go away overnight.”

This year Nashville sent Janet Miller of the Nashville-area Chamber of Commerce to Austin’s SXSW Festival to “Defend the Music City Brand.” They passed out this survey to some 20,000 attendees to “find out how Nashville is perceived.”

Nashville on the surface seems to understand that it must preserve its “Music City” name, but their approach seems to be all symbolism and no substance. Billboards, commercials, and little music notes on manhole covers downtown will not replace actual notes of music being played in Nashville, or preserved in historical landmarks threatened by eminent domain. If the trend continues, those manhole covers will be like the tombstones of what Music City was.

There is a battle right now for the heart of country music, and as goes that battle, so does the city that country music calls home, for now.

“You can’t grow if you rip your roots out of the ground,
It looks like that Nashville Rash is gettin’ around

14 Comments to “Separating Music City From Music Row”

  • I like this article Triggerman. You have reminded us that we are forgetting about our history and roots. We have almost let the music industry stolen our music city’s name “Nashville” and are trying to steal “Country” from us as well. We have turned against “Nashville” even though it is our heritage in country music. We should not only fight to save country music, but also fight to make Nashville pure again; fight to call Nashville our music city. I’m glad we have Scruggs, Watson, and now you Triggerman to remind us of this.


  • nice job, triggerman. well thought out. things just ain’t what they used to be, a long time mantra of mine. honor and remember the past because there’s folks out there that will work to screw it up. count on it.


  • Thanks Arkansas,

    From that same Dale Watson article:

    “Texas-based singer-songwriter Dale Watson has renounced Nashville in his song “Nashville Rash.” Three years ago he also asked that people stop calling his deeply rooted honky-tonk music “country,” because contemporary acts had “stolen ‘country.’ ”

    Really Dale was the first to criticize Nashville outright. Waylon and Willie did, but in real subtle ways. Dale was first to put it right in his crosshairs and pull no punches. And he did it when it wasn’t necessarily the most popular thing to do. He deserves a lot of credit for that.


  • I can see what Scruggs is saying. But Nashville is the head of the beast so to speak, and I don’t feel it’s an inaccurate target. If Nashville wants to wear the Music City crown on its head then the crown has to be set with the jewels it’s offered in recent years. If they want to get the tarnish off the crown then they have some major scrubbing to do.


  • Nashville is my favorite city in the world. Hate the music being made, but Nashville is still magic to me, I go every year. Can’t beat a walk down Broadway or checking out the bars in East Nashville.




  • Old Nashville sound is alive and well. You just need to know where to go. Yes, we are over ran with pop country music but the fight is on for music of substance. The problem is that the average person on the street doesn’t have that much substance to them.


  • Hey, Triggerman:

    This is a great summary of what has happened to country music over the course of many years. And much of the criticism of Nashville could be levelled at Austin, Texas as well. It seems that when the corporate interests take over and start promoting a city for the money its music brings in, things take a turn for the worse.

    But all is not lost. The fact that Dale Watson chose to record in Nashville is evidence that there are folks who care enough to work towards restoring the country music we love.

    We had the same thing in mind when we began recording Shelli Coe’s latest record here in Austin. We wanted to make a record that was fresh, but that reminded folks of the sounds and words and feelings that made country what it was in the good old days. I hope we succeeded, and I hope Shelli’s next album will continue in that vein. (And it will, if ihave anything to say about it!)

    Keep up the good work!

    John Duer
    Big Beard Records


  • John,

    Good point. Austin is going through some of the same troubles Nashville is. I’ve heard some even declare Austin dead. I wouldn’t go that far. Yes there’s a lot of unsavory things going on right now, but I think the foundation of real music is still there. There’s a lot of lessons that can be learned from watching what has happened to Nashville, to how Austin should try to resist certain elements and try to keep the music and the scene pure.


  • There are many reasons, and no clear answer as to the death of real country on music row, but I have long believed that the ball started rolling when Jimmy Bowen translanted to Nashville from Los Angeles. This in essence brought LA to music row and Bowen was a ruthless tyrant who caused many a head to roll and the end result of his wheelings and dealings was the signing of Garth Brooks, the boisterous blowhard from Oklahoma who I blame single handedly for destroying virtually onernight all that was once pure and good about real country music. The final blow was Nashville’s biggest lap dancer, Shanai Twain, who did more than any artist to make country music unrecognizable by smothering it with syrupy and bombastic pop sounds, and whom we can now thank for the creature Taylor Swift.
    Nashville in a sense is no different than anytown USA as far as it’s music scene. Yes, there are numerous artists and songwriters doing great things. But the only venues for them to be seen are usually the writers nights, which don’t pay and offer only the chance to get up and sing two or three songs. If you want to make money in Nashville as a musician your best bet is to put together a cover band, wear a cowboy hat and learn all the top 40 country hits.
    There is an old guy who has been singing at Tootsies for years. Everytime I have gone in there he is great, a human jukebox that can pull off any request from the long and grand history of country music. You won’t hear him sing any Kenny Chesney, but if your looking for an old Ernest Tubb song he is the man. And what is this talented musician earning? Well, he told me he plays for tips and beer.
    Now wander down lower broad and up 2nd ave and into The Wildhorse saloon, and on any given night you will find said cover band as I mentioned before, showcasing the latest taylor shit song to the legions of tourists who think they are seeing the real Nashville. And these musicians, blessed with serious chops no doubt, yes, are making the real money.
    It’s no different in Chicago and the burbs where I reside. There are countless inovative and diverse artists, and many hip clubs in the city are more than glad to give them a booking, but usually for free or tips or the door, which amounts to not much on a weeknight or even a weekend.
    The bands bringing in the real loot are the top 40 and tribute bands.
    We are currently in what I feel is the lowest of all American pop cultures. Young people no longer listen to rock. They listen to hip hop and rap.
    So the same goes for country. Young people disdain the sounds of old country, and the market knows this, so they give them Disney and put the country title on it.
    Nashville is a great place to live for an artist.
    But so is Key West.
    After living and being pissed on in Nashville in the 90’s,
    (it was hard to get the time of day on music row once
    the Garth monster exploded) I think I would choose Key West.


  • Yes, this is true. Its just too bad the majority is tryin to make good “money”, and not good “music”. On that note might I mention how I saw Deirks Bently on Leno last night tryin to be all “downhome and dirty” soundin, give me a fuckin break, with his 6 or 7 musicians lined up in the front of the stage. Banjo, Mandolin, and Dobro, included. Thats funny how different this is from the last few songs of his, that I gladly changed the station on. GET A FUCKIN CLUE, Your one of many puppets standin in the fucking shadows of what you will never be!


  • I like Key West. A little expensive though.


  • Nashville wears a crown that was built by The Grand Ole Opry… but it was pawned for an easy buck by Gaylord Enterprises! Until somebody with musical taste buys that pawned ticket…were gonna keep hearing the same old commercialized crap!20 kudos to Hank III, Wayne The Train Hancock, Dale Watson AND the ones he can’t remember, Kudos to you too Triggerman, Great Post! Hope to meet you at the Nelsonville Music Fetival this year!!!


  • […] out of defying convention, but he defies his own convention with this new album. As discussed in Separating Music City From Music Row, the writer of “Nashville Rash” recorded the album at Nashville’s Hilltop […]


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