Having been in Nashville over 50 years now, I have seen a complete change in the country music business and in country music itself. The business of playing steel guitar is also totally different. When I first came to Nashville in the 60’s you could walk into any office anywhere and see anybody. You could work with any star simply by talking to him in his office or backstage at the Opry.
Traveling was almost entirely in a four door sedan and a trailer. Six guys in a car with a trailer was not an interesting way to travel, not to mention it was not very comfortable. At least, the price of gasoline was only 25 cents a gallon or less. Hotel rooms were $4 pr $5. I’ll never forget the first $25 a night hotel room. It was in Washington, D.C. Nowadays, you wouldn’t be caught dead in a room that cheap.
I remember what a beautiful city Detroit was and Newark, New Jersey too. Things sure are different today. Being a musician working on the road was a wonderful to keep your finger on the pulse of the nation. I still know people that I met during this time period. Getting to know the musicians themselves in Nashville, road and studio, was very good also. However, most of them now are gone. I remember them all and think of them often.
This kind of covers what went on in the old days. What’s happening today is totally different, in some ways better and in some ways not. The traffic in all big cities is much heavier, however the roads are much better to get around it.
When I first came to town I subbed on a TV show for Stu Basore and Curly Chalker. As I remember driving to north Madison to the TV station going right through the middle of town. Nowadays, there are three interstates and I can get to the station in less than half the time and less than half the stress. But gasoline being $3.50 a gallon sure is an unpleasant reminder of the way things are.
I think the main differences in Nashville are the music itself, what it takes to get a job and the way business it run, like recording sessions. Recording used to be a fun thing. Sessions used to be four 3 hour sessions a day with an hour in between to get to the next one. The union used to have power and enforce this ruling. Today that just isn’t true.
Automation in the control room in the studio is a substitute for talent in some cases. If the singer sounds a note slightly flat while the steel player played a note slightly sharp, the engineer can fix it faster with auto-tune than the artist or musician can redo it.
Another thing are the malls in Nashville. There must be ten or twelve big ones but there was only one when I came to town. The town has grown faster than the music business, but I’m sure this is the same all over the United States.Club work that used to keep so many musicians busy has now been replaced with karaoke, deejays standing with two turn tables in front of them and sometimes even internet streaming of playlists. Yes sir, friends and neighbors, things were different.
I spent a good part of my youth in Dallas, Texas. Work was never hard to get there, however over $15 a night was. I remember the big western swing bands working monster clubs. Sometimes you could make as much as $80 a week. This was good pay at the time. This is what made me want to come to Nashville. I’m still glad I did, but it’s not easy for a new musician to come to this town and support a house and a wife full of kids. To quote, this is a quote that Gene O’Neal used to say.
Our Christmas sale is in full swing. Be sure to check it and have your family check it for things you may need for Christmas. Since you used to be able to hear steel guitar on radio 24 hours a day and see it on TV much more often than today, it might be a good time to start a good collection of CDs and DVDs.
There is still a lot of steel guitar available from retailers like me, artists like Doug Jernigan and finding CDs at steel guitar shows. There are several of you that have been playing steel guitar all your life and it’s not something you’re going to put down. You can still enjoy your lifelong passion and know that there are new players starting to learn. We are seeing them come to Nashville all the time and most of them are great players.
Let us help you maintain your love for steel guitar and keeping your needs met. And remember, please get by and see me anytime you’re in this town.
Don’t forget to check our Christmas Sale. It’s all over the front page at Steel Guitar Nashville.
Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Open 9AM – 2Pm every Saturday until Christmas