How Nashville Became Music City: 50 Years Of Music Row
Michael Kosser’s engaging and illuminating history of Music Row includes, immediately after the introduction, a cast of characters with a brief note about each. Explaining who Brenda Lee is seems unnecessary, but the list is a helpful guidepost in a book that brims with people instrumental in Music Row’s first half-century of growth.
More to the point, the cast of characters suggests a theater script. And that’s often how the book reads, its many long quotes unveiling the mostly memorable personalities of the speakers as much as they reveal the internal workings of country music’s nerve center.
As in any good drama, those quotes also keep Kosser’s narrative — with a few exceptions — bustling along, ensnaring the reader in the excitement of the serendipitous moments, horse trading, and occasional bloodletting that underpin Music Row’s intersection of art, business and human nature.
Kosser is a senior editor at American Songwriter magazine, a country songwriter himself, and the author of umpteen books. He knows how to tell a story; this is an easy-to-follow chronological tale, beginning with the 1955 opening of Owen and Harold Bradley’s 16th Avenue studio and its famous backyard Quonset Hut, and concluding with reflections on contemporary chart favorite Gretchen Wilson and last year’s decision by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau finally to include the term “Music City” in its official message.
Along the way, we learn why Elvis hated Chet Atkins, play fly-on-the-wall as Kentucky singer and songwriter Marty Brown mines success, and discover how execs from Jack Clement to Jimmy Bowen to Joe Galante helped rearrange country music’s face.
We meet a slew of musicians and music publishers, peek at the effect of radio consolidation on country music, and discover why writer Robert Oermann believes country is a mirror of U.S. politics.
We also revisit Billy Sherrill’s first meeting with Tammy Wynette and bump up once more against Patsy Cline’s hard drinking and cursing ways, but those stories will always merit retelling. Besides, Sherrill’s account is one that promises, yes, someday another Tammy will catch the ear of a bigwig, and we’ll all be the better for it.
Kosser’s book isn’t without problems. His story of record executive Jim Foglesong’s two-decade Nashville career bogs down in overly detailed quotes and the ins-and-outs of business takeovers. The section on producer and songwriter Ray Stevens leaves you wondering, “So what?” Owen Bradley, Music Row co-founder, is mysteriously absent from the cast of characters. And exactly why does Kosser twice recount the birth of fuzz tone during the recording of Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”, a record he calls simply “Don’t Worry” in his second telling?
Overall, though, it’s a solid read, benefiting from colorful anecdotes and personalities, tasty insights, and Kosser’s willingness to editorialize on corporate heartlessness in a business that’s supposed to be all about hearts. The CD of rarely heard tracks, including Boudleaux & Felice Bryant’s demo of “Bye Bye Love”, that comes with the book is pretty cool, too.