Get Rhythm 1988

Ry Cooder

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Tennessee has a long music history. It's where country, bluegrass, rockabilly, gospel, soul and rock and roll all started, and it claims more musicians per capita than any other state in the nation. Tennessee has contributed a great fortune to what American music is today, and the music falls into categories that follow the geography of the state. The Gulf Coastal Plains in the west is where you'll hear rock, blues and soul. The Nashville Basin in central Tennessee is where you'll hear the evolution of country music. The Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee Valley and Unaka Mountains region in the east is where you'll hear bluegrass and string band music. We'll cover all of them in this article, working from west to east.But before we get to these topics, here are some of the best tribute songs to the state itself:Johnny Cash's "Tennessee"Jimmy Martin's "Tennessee"John Hiatt's "Tennessee Plates"Jessica Andrews' "James Dean In Tennessee"Alabama's "Dixieland Delight"Brad Paisley's "Southern Comfort Zone"Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road"Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel"Dolly Parton's "My Tennessee Mountain Home"Music of the Gulf Coastal Plains - The Elvis Presley Phenomenon Elvis Presley was rock and roll’s first big star, and his rise to fame marked a major change in American culture. He was a white man who sang country blues, r&b and rockabilly, all of it laced with a gospel sound. Perhaps even more than James Dean, he exuded a natural sexuality that shaped the thinking of American youth about what was cool. He was vilified by the older generation as vulgar and a bad influence on their children, but he was the beginning of a movement that changed our culture."Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail." - Bob DylanBorn on 8 January 1935 in East Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley was the son of Gladys and Vernon Presley, a seamstress and a truck driver. Elvis’ twin brother, Jesse Garon, was stillborn, and Elvis grew up an only child. When he was three, his father served an eight-month prison term for writing bad checks, and afterward Vernon Presley’s employment was erratic, keeping the family just above homelessness. In 1945, Presley won second prize at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Diary Show for his rendition of Red Foley’s “Old Shep”. In 1948 the family moved to Memphis, and while attending L.C. Humes High School there, Presley spent much of his time in the black section of town, and especially on Beale Street watching and listening to bluesmen like Furry Lewis and B.B. King. After high school graduation in 1953, he thought he'd become a truck driver like his father, but he couldn't let go of his love of music. He recorded several songs at the Memphis Recording Service, a sideline business Sam Phillips set up in his Sun Records studio that allowed anyone to record a 10-inch acetate for four dollars. The Sun Sessions Sam Phillips noticed Presley, and called him in the spring of 1954 to record a song for Sun Records. Although that session didn't go well, Phillips thought he'd found something in Presley: “a white man with the Negro sound and the Negro feel". Phillips worked with Presley to develop that style and brought guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black into the studio to rehearse with him for several months. On the 5th of July 1954, they recorded “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “That’s All Right, Mama". The Memphis response was huge and it became his first local hit. Presley even made an appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville on September 25th.Left to right: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and (seated) Elvis Presley, 1955. They all recorded for Sun Records at the same time. By October 1954, Presley had debuted on the Louisiana Hayride, a popular radio program. He made his television debut on the television version of Hayride in March 1955. Meanwhile, “Good Rockin’ Tonight” became a hit in Memphis. Colonel Tom Parker entered Presley’s life in 1955, helping Presley make some tour arrangements. Presley trusted Parker because Parker managed Hank Snow, and Presley's mother had great respect for Snow. On May 13th, his song, “Baby, Let’s Play House” was released and climbed to No. 10 on the Country and Western charts. Elvis Hits the Big Time In September 1955, Presley had his first No. 1 country hit, a version of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train”. By early 1956, he was becoming a national star. He and Parker went to Nashville and recorded his first songs for RCA (including “I Got a Woman” and “Heartbreak Hotel”. In January 1956, Presley made his national television debut with six consecutive appearances on the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show. In March, Presley signed a management agreement with Parker giving Parker 25% of Presley’s gross earnings, a deal that got even sweeter for Parker over time. Things started to snowball in 1956, when Parker got Presley appearances on the Milton Berle, Steve Allen, and Ed Sullivan TV shows. By August, he began filming his first movie. Love Me Tender was a hit and that sparked a series of hit singles: “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Don’t Be Cruel” (with “Hound Dog” on the B-side) and “Love Me Tender”. In March 1957, Presley purchased Graceland, a former church that had been converted into a 23-room mansion. The next month, “All Shook Up” began an eight-week run at No. 1. He continued to make movies too, and they helped sell records like “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” and “Jailhouse Rock”. In December 1957, Presley received his draft notice, and entered the U.S. Army in March, 1958. He took leave just a few months later to be with his mother, who died the day after he arrived home in Memphis. Presley served the remainder of his two year obligation to the Army and was discharged in March, 1960. During the Christmas holiday of 1960, Priscilla Beaulie visited Presley at Graceland, and moved in soon after. She was 14 at the time. They were married in May 1967, after Priscilla turned 21. They had their first and only child nine months later."Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn't been an Elvis, there wouldn't have been a Beatles." - John LennonThe Big Comeback Music was changing fast by the mid 60s, and Presley started fading from the scene because of the "British Invasion" and the focus on live concerts by acts like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who and others. Although he continued to make movies, they were received with less and less interest. Presley was becoming uncool and was in danger of becoming irrelevant. The solution was a TV special, and it became his big come-back vehicle. It took the form of what later became the MTV Unplugged series. The idea started as a Christmas special, but people close to Presley argued against that, wanting something more engaging and personal. Director and producer Steve Binder noticed that Presley and his band members would blow-off steam during rehearsals by improvising blues and r&b throw aways. "And that's when I really got the idea: Wouldn't it be great if I had a camera in here and they didn't know I was here?".Presley was concerned about doing a live performance, but Binder built his confidence by doing several live audience rehearsals and using Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. He also put Priscilla and several of Presley's friends in the audience. On 27 June 1968, Presley took the stage for his first live perfor-mance in seven years. The result was four one-hour live shows, taped at NBC's Burbank studios. Presley sat and jammed with band mates for two shows, and the second two were done two nights later as small room stand-ups. Those sessions are often referred to as "The Burbank Sessions". But by the early 70s, Presley’s personal life had become fodder for tabloid headlines. Priscilla left Elvis in February 1972, and on his birthday in 1973, he filed for divorce. Professionally, he reached his peak after the 1968 comeback. Although new hits were few ("Suspicious Minds", "In the Ghetto" and "Promised Land" are three of only a handful), he was more popular than ever and his fan worship was turning into a personality cult. But he was plagued by self-doubt and poor management. Starting in 1974, he repeatedly threatened to quit show business. He turned to drugs and became a virtual recluse. His abuse of prescription drugs increased during the last years of his life. Ironically, he remained devoutly spiritual, never drank alcohol, and publicly denounced drug use. He even visited Richard Nixon at the White House to receive an honorary DEA badge.Towards the end, he gained weight, slept poorly, and his on-stage performances fell-off dramatically. Presley’s last live performance was on 25 June 1977, in Indianapolis. At the time, he was preoccupied by the impending publication of one of the tell-all books that would make public his drug abuse and obsession with firearms. The book came out on August 12th and on 16 August 1977, Presley was discovered dead in the bathroom of his home by girlfriend Ginger Alden. He was just 42 at the time. His death was blamed on congestive heart failure, but later investigation revealed that drug abuse was at least part of the cause of his death.Rockabilly MusicRockabilly blends country and bluegrass with western swing, boogie-woogie and jump blues to deliver a hard-driving rhythm that's meant for dancing. Rockabilly may have peaked in the mid 1950s, but it never really died. There are many artists who continue the tradition today, like Imelda May, Brian Setzer and The Reverend Horton Heat. Here's a short list of some great rockabilly, arranged in chronological order from 1954 - 2014:Elvis Presley's "Good Rockin' Tonight"Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin'"Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie"Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues"Wanda Jackson's "Let's Have a Party"The Del Lords' "Shame on You"Link Wray's "Good Good Lovin'"Willie Nile's "She's So Cold"John Melencamp's "Little Pink Houses"Keith Richards' "I Could Have Stood You Up"Steve Earle's "Guitar Town"Carl Perkins' "Give Me Back My Job"Imelda May's "Johnny Got a Boom-Boom"Devil's Daughters' "Pass That Bottle"Joshua Scott Jones' "Honk if You're Tonky"Brian Setzer's "Let's Shake"Memphis Blues and R&B MusicBeale Street in Memphis has lured Mississippi blues players for over a hundred years. The earliest arrivals included Gus Cannon, Furry Lewis, Tommy Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt and Memphis Minnie. But it was W.C. Handy who made blues a noticed genre with songs like "St. Louis Blues" and "Yellow Dog Blues". After WW2, Memphis became a hot spot for blues and soul recording with artists like Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley. The mix of rural and urban musical traditions led to the creation of new blues styles, including the revolutionary new sounds of rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Riley King arrived from Indianola and soon became known as the “Beale Street Blues Boy”, a name he later shortened to B.B. King. Rufus Thomas helped King come into his own by featuring him in his shows. Thomas and King were among the many Mississippi-born artists who recorded at Sam Phillips' Sun Records. The Memphis music scene went through some tough times in the late 1960s and 70s; the place became a virtual ghost town. But in 1966, Beale Street was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 70s, the City of Memphis bought nearly every property on a three block stretch of what had been the heart of the historic Beale Street blues district. In 1977, an act of the U.S. Congress declared Beale Street as the "Home of the Blues". The Beale Street Management Corporation rebuilt the entertainment district, and by the early 80s, a complete renovation was underway. New clubs, restaurants and shops opened throughout the 80s and 90s, and by the turn of the century, Beale Street's comeback was complete. Today, Beale Street is bigger and better than ever. The blues traditions are promoted today by theCenter for Southern Folklore, the Memphis Blues Society and the Memphis-based Blues Foundation and their annual International Blues Competition and Blues Music Awards. Here are some good examples of Memphis blues and r&b:B.B. King's "Everyday I Have the Blues", "Riding with the King" and "When Love Comes to Town"Ry Cooder's "Willie Brown Blues"Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" and "Killing Floor"Bobby King & Terry Evan's "Bald Head" and "Just a Little Bit"John Lee Hooker's "Mama, You Got a Daughter", "Crawlin' Kingsnake" and "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer"Little Milton's "I Can't Quit You Baby"Frank Stokes' "Downtown Blues"Junior Parker's "Mystery Train" and "Drivin' Wheel"Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and "Chain of Fools"Johnny Rivers' "Memphis, Tennessee"John Hiatt's "Memphis in the Meantime"Memphis Soul Music Soul music originated in Memphis. The roots of both blues and soul can be traced to the slave music of the 19th century, and both started a transformation with American urbanization after WW2. Soul became a separate genre by 1960, and was brought to mainstream radio largely by the records made at Stax Records, Hi Records and Goldwax Records. Stax Records was the most famous of the soul studios because of artists like Booker T. and the MG’s, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding. The soul genre declined in popularity during the disco era of the late 70s, but your can still hear its influence in other genres like motown, r&b, hip-hop, and even country. Here are some good examples of Memphis soul music:Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'"Bobby Bland's"(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right"Booker T & the MG's "Green Onions"Otis Redding's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" and "These Arms of Mine"Rufus Thomas' "Walkin' the Dog"Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)"James Carr's "The Dark End of the Street"This is page 1 of a 3 page article on the music of Tennessee. Use these navigation links to continue: | Go to Page 2 | Go to Page 3 | Go to top of this page |