Road To Nashville
The low-budget film industry has periodically tried to exploit country music’s popularity, with modest success. Surviving examples make for kitsch period pieces, but also offer a rare chance to see live performances. Though Waylon Jennings would rise to superstardom in the 1970s, several film companies sought to capture his magic on the silver screen in the 1960s.
Road To Nashville (1967) barely qualifies as a narrative film. The scant plot has washed-up cowboy star Richard Arlen playing a movie producer who sends bumbling Colonel Beetlebomb (Doodles Weaver) to Nashville to scout talent for his upcoming feature on country music. You’ll soon find yourself wishing Weaver had been replaced by a trained monkey (“Beetlebomb” was Weaver’s pseudonym during his days with Spike Jones). After disregarding Doodles, you’re left with a great cross-section of what Nashville was like (or imagined to be like) circa l966, complete with spangled Nudie suits, tall hair and ultra-cheap sets.
Performers range from true stars Lefty Frizzell (doing “I Love You”), Webb Pierce (“You Ain’t No Better Than Me”), Bill Anderson (“Poor Folks”) and Faron Young (“Dreams”) to also-rans such as Bobby Sykes, Don Winters and Margie Singleton. The standouts are hard to miss: the Stonemans doing an instrumental that includes amazing kamikaze runs on the mandolin; the Osborne Brothers doing “Up This Hill”, a bluesy bluegrass number; the Carter Family doing a version of “I Walk The Line” that seems to change keys about a dozen times.
Next up is a frazzled Johnny Cash doing the sublimely goofy “The One On The Right”. Also, have a look at a young Waylon Jennings doing the ballad “Anita”; with their pompadours and matching dark suits, Waylon and band look like a bunch of greasy, somber truck drivers dressed for a funeral. Hank Snow and his band deliver “I’ve Been Everywhere” with Snow in a flashy Nudie suit and the band wearing matching red slacks and white Western shirts. It’s a wonderful snapshot of Nashville in transition, with Hank Williams long gone but Shania and Garth a long way off.