Revitalizing Lower Broadway – The Abominable Frontman
As we’ve talked about before, it was punk rockers with a country edge and neo-traditional country artists that revitalized lower Broadway in the mid 1990’s from a run down part of town. One problem though was the bars on lower Broadway like Robert’s and The Bluegrass Inn did not pay their performers, and still don’t; they worked strictly on a tip-only basis. And work they did, sometimes having to play 4 or 5 hours, sometimes more to meet their obligations.
And to make it worse for the performers, as lower Broadway became a hoping place in the mid 90’s drawing talent from all around the country, competition for choice time slots at the best bars became fierce, and if you didn’t keep the patrons entertained, there was no money in the tip jar. With so much talent and so few bars and dollars to go around, competition became hyper. In this environment, talent and originality were pushed to their limits and it created some of the most dynamic frontmen in any genre of music at any time.
The mold for the lower Broadway frontman, as well as the high energy punk approach to country, was set by Jason Rigenberg of the revolutionary cowpunk band Jason and The Scorchers. The band was based in Nashville and would mainly make their name playing at Nashville’s Exit In, but they haunted lower Broadway as well, which in the early 80’s was hanging on by a hair. Below is a video for their semi-hit, Bob Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie” in which landmarks of lower Broadway make appearances, including Hatch Show Print (legendary poster print shop) in the opening scene, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, and then the band is seen walking into the alley behind Tootsies to the mother church, The Ryman Auditorium where the final concert is shot, almost a decade after The Grand Ole Opry abandoned the building.
Here’s a more contemporary video that illustrates Jason & The Scorcher’s ridiculous energy and the unbelievable antics that would set the standard for lower Broadway bands wanting to make the scene:
A great example of one of lower Broadway’s abominable frontmen is Nic Roulette of the wild rockabilly outfit Hillbilly Casino. Bred and brought up in the pressure cooker environment of lower Broadway, Nic brings the showmanship like few others, and is backed by a great band. Here they are playing at lower Broadway’s legendary Bluegrass Inn:
But you can’t mention dynamic frontmen without getting to the man both Robert Plant and Jello Biafra feel is the best frontman of our time; that being the Colonel, Mr. JD Wilkes of Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. Below is about a 4 1/2 minute clip of JD Wilkes and I talking about his role in the lower Broadway scene, and the rigors the bands there endured:
JD Wilkes on lower Broadway
JD takes the frontman role to another level, where you could watch with the sound off, and still be mesmerized.
Here he is playing with Joe Buck, the focus of Part 1 of the lower Broadway revitalization, in the place that served as home away from home for the stars of lower Broadway, The Continental Club on south Congress in Austin, TX circa 2003:
The heart and energy of the abominable frontmen is what helped jumpstart the heart of lower Broadway once again. Their passion made downtown Nashville a home for music once again.
October 14, 2010 @ 1:18 pm
Diggin these articles about Lower Broadway and the beginnings of this music scene. Keep em comin brother!
October 14, 2010 @ 6:37 pm
Don’t flatter me. I know this is self-indulgent geek out stuff that few have interest in, and ever fewer have time to read.
October 15, 2010 @ 4:37 am
“self-indulgent geek out stuff” – maybe…. but I for one would disagree with the “few have interest in” part… I’m loving this historical recap of the music, the scene and the forgotten heroes…far too many local scenes have neglected the folks that poured their heart and soul into the music we all know and love (and there is no denying the influence on the music and performers we do know and follow even if some of the names and other humble beginnings have given way to time)… so KEEP it up, please!!
October 15, 2010 @ 12:16 pm
October 15, 2010 @ 4:06 pm
Speaking as someone who first found the music and is only now learning the history I have got to beg for these articles to keep coming. The contribution these guys have made to this music just blows me away. Who would have thought that punk rockers would be the ones to save country music.
October 15, 2010 @ 4:30 pm
Well, save lower Broadway at least. Country music still needs to be saved in my opinion. The neo-traditionalists had a big part too, but I think the reason the punks had so much to do with it is because the heart of country music lied within them more than it did the mainstream, major label pop country crowd.
April 7, 2012 @ 3:07 pm
I try to read you all the time. I am sick and tired of the mainstream country music that I need to hear of new bands and all the bands that you recommend are great.
October 14, 2010 @ 2:25 pm
These are some great articles will we get one about BR5-49
October 14, 2010 @ 3:06 pm
Oh yeah, without a doubt. I just need to catch up with all those guys and get the full story. I did an article about them about a year and a half ago. Maybe this will tide you over:
October 15, 2010 @ 3:07 pm
Thanks and Gary Bennet Chuck Mead & Chris Scruggs all have great solo albums
October 23, 2010 @ 12:16 am
What has Donnie Herron been up to lately?
October 23, 2010 @ 9:15 am
He’s been playing in Bob Dylan’s touring band for the last few years.
September 17, 2021 @ 4:20 pm
I went to lower Broadway back in the early 80s there were a lot of street people and a restaurant that you could eat a meal for 3.00 they only served 1 item per day it was not bad tasting and really clean there was a liquor store just 1 . There were several beer joints shafers beer was 2 cans for 1.25 .The music would drift up and down Broadway like the wind the same wind that blew old newspapers and other debris off the street it was not anything fancy or particularly crowded because it was only Nashville’s music outlet no mixed drinks unless you went to liquor store and bought a bottle and hid it in the bathroom wall I met a few singer/songwriters like skip graves excellent showmanship very humble man that came to Nashville for the dream of music it was people like skip that made lower Broadway a lively place to be then progress came and the beer joints were devide into 2 or 3 bars from 1 building the powers to be wanted to clean out all the street people out I believe the only place that remained the same was ernest tubb records well I believe that progress is a double edged sword the music stars that have there name on the restaurant’s and bars on lower Broadway today are having the music continue but in my opinion it is still the same old lower Broadway streets are dirty it still smell like a a 100 years of urine the bottles of liquor have nats floating in them the police have to be there 24/7 if you buy a permit you can do whatever you want where did the music go this is just my opinion
October 14, 2010 @ 5:09 pm
I love the energy Nic Roulette brings to Hillbilly Casino. Gotta love the Hoosiers !!! Still haven’t seen a Legendary show, would love to check the Shakers out. Great blog Triggerman.
October 14, 2010 @ 6:38 pm
If you like Hillbilly Casino, you will LOVE the Shack Shakers.
October 14, 2010 @ 5:42 pm
Timely Triggerman, as I get to see the Shackshakers for the first time next week, along with Bob Wayne & the Outlaw Carnies! Needless to say, I’m pretty jacked about that show!
This is a great series of articles man. It’s like the Howard Zinn of country music, you’re telling the history that gets skipped by the bigwigs. Fascinating.
October 14, 2010 @ 6:43 pm
The Shack Shakers will blow your mind. I’ve already seen them twice this year, but that is not nearly enough.
October 14, 2010 @ 6:05 pm
Revitalizing Lower Broadway = Saving Country Music
Saving Country Music = Revitalizing Lower Broadway
October 15, 2010 @ 12:17 pm
That’s where all this started.
October 14, 2010 @ 11:51 pm
I can see the attraction to the show because they are all performers…but damn I really appreciate audible lyrics! I kinda feel like ya gotta know the song before they perform…ya know? Great Shows but…
October 15, 2010 @ 12:18 pm
That Shack Shakers example is the extreme. I can’t say that their lyrics are especially audible in real life either, but I was emphasizing the antics, and the audio on that video is not the best either.
October 15, 2010 @ 4:03 pm
I have to agree with Robert Plant and Jello Biafra. I personally have seen The Col. climb the rafters of the club and riverdance in the span of two songs.
October 16, 2010 @ 7:08 am
I just love to read this stuff, Triggerman. There’s not much that I can do to revitalize Lower Broadway, since I live in Holland. I just buy the cds and hope that I get the opportunity to see the artists when they come over to Europe.
When I really started to listen to music, about 30 years ago, Nashville stood for mainstream popcountry, the real stuff came from Austin, Texas. I loved blues and punkrock at that time, but then I first heard Jason & the Scorchers, and that changed my life. Jason Ringenberg really blew me away when he took his punked-up cover-version of Hank Williams’ Lost Highway back to its original an national radio. And I count myself very lucky to have seen Jason & the Scorchers live on stage in their prime years, late 80s. Still in my top 5 of best live-acts I’ve ever seen, along with the Legendary Shackshakers, and like you said, Triggerman, one should take every opportunity to see the LSS. It’s one of those shows where you never gonna know what you get, but it’s going to be loud, and you’re going to remember it. But it’s in no way your traditional country-music. Or blues.
For me it’s not just about country-music, it’s about music that’s created out of passion. And for me it’s not really a surprise that the appreciation for Johnny Cash, being one of the true heroes of country, came from punkers to rappers, mainsttreamers and DJs/mixers. It came from Nashville (Webb Wilder), and I believe it will come frome Nashville for a long time coming. I hope it will.
October 16, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
I’ll never get to say that I saw Jason & The Scorchers in their heyday. At that time, I was in elementary school and listening to Def Leppard.
October 19, 2010 @ 8:55 am
The mid-90’s on Lower Broad was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen…Big twang,cold PBR, friendly scene. Robert’s and Jim & Layla’s (circa ’95) are what I dream about when I dream about good music. It was hillbilly critical mass. I’m damn glad I was there(as much as I could be).
October 21, 2010 @ 9:39 pm
Awesome, awesome articles. Really puts things into perspective for someone like myself from Maryland, who listens to all of these bands. It wasn’t until recently I discovered how fucked Nashville really was, but the fact that things started turning around 10 years ago and people are starting to care about the music and not the money is more than extraordinary. I have most of these bands to thank for getting me into playing double bass, and love seeing them live. Keep the articles coming, you got me subscribed.
Hillbilly Royalty Returns to Lower Broadway « Saving Country Music
October 22, 2010 @ 11:04 am
[…] (This is part four in a continuing series about the revitalization of lower Broadway in downtown Nashville. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3) […]