culture, entertainment, life, music, pop culture, random thoughts, travel

The radio station that created Music City USA turns 87 today

Radio stations come and go. You’ll like a station, but you’ll tune in one morning, and instead of oldies, they’ll be talking sports.  

That’s what I like about WSM-650 AM in Nashville, which began broadcasting 87 years ago today. It’s always there, playing country music.

Its nickname is “The Air Castle of the South.” At night, its 50,000-watt signal can be picked up all across the South and Midwest, and it’s online (and there’s an app for that).

WSM has a neat history. It was founded by the National Life and Accident Insurance Co. as a way to advertise its insurance policies. Its motto was “We Shield Millions.”   

On Nov. 28, 1925, it launched the “WSM Barn Dance.”  Back in those days, radio stations played a little bit of everything, and before the “Barn Dance,” WSM played operatic music.  One Saturday night in 1927, the announcer, “Judge” George Hay, introduced the “Barn Dance” by saying, “For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from the grand opera, but from now on, we will present the grand ol’ opry.”  

It’s been the Grand Ole Opry ever since.  

Because of the Opry, a lot of musicians set up camp in Nashville, and because they wanted to make records close to home, the city got a bunch of recording studios, eventually, Nashville became Music City.

If you ever visit Nashville, you can visit WSM, or, at least, look through the window at the disc jockey. WSM’s studios are in the Magnolia Lobby of the massive Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, which is named after Opryland USA, which was a theme park that Gaylord Entertainment razed in the 1990s because it thought it would make more money with a shopping mall. The executives who thought that are no longer with the company.

The only recording studio that’s open for tours is the former RCA Studio B, which is down on Music Row, an area that’s home to record labels, recording studios, video production houses and other business who serve the music industry. RCA Studio B is known as “The Home of 1,000 Hits,” and that’s no exaggeration. It’s where Elvis recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” Roy Orbison recorded “Only the Lonely,” and Dolly Parton recorded “I Will Always Love You.” You should go. (The Jolie did when she passed through Nashville a couple of years ago.)

One of the things I like about Nashville is that there’s a lot going on here besides music. Nashville is known as “the Athens of the South,” because there are so many colleges and universities. It’s also the center of the nation’s for-profit healthcare industry.  

But country music is what makes Nashville unique, and without WSM, it wouldn’t be Music City USA.

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culture, entertainment, life, movies, music, news, pop culture

Elvis is still everywhere

One year ago today, I started a second blog. I was stuck for something to blog about here, and I hoped that starting from scratch would help me get past my writer’s block. One of the stories I posted the 1st day over at the other blog (which I’ve since taken down) was a piece commemorating the anniversary of Elvis’ death. It was Freshly Pressed, which really surprised me.

Here’s an updated and slightly edited version. 

Today is the 34th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. He died on Aug. 16, 1977, at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.

He was 42 then, so that means he would have been 76 today — the same age as the Dalai Lama and Woody Allen. That’s hard to imagine.

It’s easy to goof on Elvis, with his sequinned jumpsuits and big appetite, but I’m not talking about Fat Elvis.

I’m talking about Skinny Elvis, the good-looking kid from Tupelo who walked into Sun Records in Memphis and basically invented rock’n’roll.

Of course, some people say Elvis didn’t invent anything, that he basically took rhythm and blues and made it safe for White America, but I think that argument misses the point.

Somewhere in Peter Guralnick’s 2 volume biography of Elvis (if you haven’t, read it), Guralnick points out that Elvis was a sponge when it came to music.

Elvis listened to everything — R&B, bluegrass, country, gospel — and processed it, synthesized it. He took all these musical strands and wove them into something else, something new.

Sure, odds are someone else would have done that if Elvis hadn’t, but Elvis did, so let’s give him credit.

He was sexy and dangerous, too, and that’s something teenagers hadn’t really seen before, at least not in one package. Girls wanted him, and boys wanted to be him. You wouldn’t have had The Beatles if you hadn’t have had Elvis.

John Lennon (I think) said Elvis died when he went into the Army, and I agree. Elvis’ music was never as raw as before he was drafted.

In the 1960s, he made a string of bad movies and went Vegas, and in the ’70s, well, we all know about Elvis in the ’70s, but by then, he’d already changed the world by changing the music.

I think those early records — “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” — earned him a lifetime pass and more than made up for later songs like “Rock-a-Hula, Baby” and “The Wonder of You.”

“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” after all, was a bluegrass tune — a waltz, at that — until Elvis got hold of it and turned into a rocker in 4/4 time.

I’d argue that is something close to genius.

 

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culture, entertainment, life, movies, music, news, pop culture, random thoughts, television, writing

On his birthday, Elvis is still everywhere

Back in the summer, when I was stuck for something to blog about here, I started a second blog. I hoped that starting a blog from scratch might help me get past my writer’s block, and it did, but after a couple of posts, I abandoned it. It was a lot of working, keeping up with 2 blogs, and I didn’t want to waste a decent idea on a blog I didn’t think anyone would read.

One of the stories I posted over at the other blog (which I’ve since taken down) was a piece on Aug. 16 commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. Today is the King’s birthday. He would have been 76. Here’s a slightly edited version of the piece I posted last summer.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. He was 42 then, so that means he would have been 75 today — the same age as the Dalai Lama and Woody Allen. That’s hard to imagine.

Still, I think it’s fair to say that Elvis changed the world.

Yeah, it’s easy to goof on Fat Elvis, with his sequinned jumpsuits and voracious appetite, but I’m not talking about Fat Elvis.

I’m talking about Skinny Elvis, the good-looking kid from Tupelo who walked into Sun Records in Memphis and basically invented rock’n’roll.

Of course, some people say Elvis didn’t invent anything, that he basically took rhythm and blues and made it safe for White America, but that isn’t quite right.

Somewhere in Peter Guralnick’s 2 volume biography of Elvis (if you haven’t, read it), he points out that Elvis was a sponge when it came to music. Elvis listened to everything — R&B, bluegrass, country, gospel — and processed it, synthesized it. He took all these musical strands and wove them into something else, something new.

Sure, odds are someone else would have done that if Elvis hadn’t, but Elvis did, so let’s give him credit.

He was sexy and dangerous, too, and that’s something teenagers hadn’t really seen before, at least not in one package. Girls wanted him, and boys wanted to be him. You wouldn’t have had The Beatles if you hadn’t have had Elvis.

John Lennon (I think) said Elvis died when he went into the Army, and I agree. Elvis’ music was never as raw as before he was drafted.

In the 1960s, he made a string of dumb movies and went Vegas, and in the ’70s, well, we all know about Elvis in the ’70s, but by then, he’d already changed the world by changing the music.

I think those early records — “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train,” “Blue Moon of Kentucky” — earned him a lifetime pass and more than made up for later songs like “Rock-a-Hula, Baby” and “The Wonder of You.”

“Blue Moon of Kentucky,” after all, was a bluegrass tune — in waltz time, at that — until Elvis got hold of it and turned into a rocker in 4/4 time.

I’d argue that is something close to genius.

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