(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Two more vestiges of the old Nashville changed this week. Old-time carny and showbiz entrepreneur Ed Gregory died, and the Country Music Wax Museum went up for auction on eBay.
Gregory, who died at home on Easter Sunday (April 11) at age 66, was known as much for his controversial pardon by President Clinton as for his show business holdings over the years. He and his wife had been convicted of bank fraud in Alabama but were pardoned by Clinton in 2000. It was later revealed that Gregory had paid $240,000 to Clinton brother-in-law Tony Rodham for “consulting fees.”
Gregory owned much of the estates of the late Jim Reeves and the late Faron Young and periodically auctioned off pieces of their lives in the way of guitars and other memorabilia. His purchase of much of the Jim Reeves estate, song copyrights in particular, is still in dispute. He bought the holdings from Reeves’ widow Mary Reeves Davis in 1996 when relatives say she was mentally hampered by senile dementia. She has since died, and her second husband Terry Davis was recently in the news when he was arrested on 10 counts of animal cruelty after police removed 38 sick cats and discovered 114 dead cats, five snakes and a dog in freezers in his condo. Thirty-one of the sick cats were subsequently euthanized. Davis said he was saving the frozen animals for a pet cemetery he planned to establish when the Reeves estate legal messes are settled.
When Gregory and his businesses filed for bankruptcy, it was revealed that he still owed the Reeves estate $6.5 million of the $7.3 million purchase price for the holdings. The Reeves administrator has been seeking in court to have Gregory’s holdings returned to the Reeves estate. Although the records are murky, Gregory is also believed to have acquired the Jim Reeves Memorial Park in Texas, although it may not have been specifically listed in her assets. The park, near Carthage, Texas, where Reeves grew up, includes the singer’s grave and the nearby grave of his dog Cheyenne.
Gregory was a supreme example of the way old Nashville worked — carnival mentality, bank fraud, bankruptcies, money juggling and questionable holdings usually involving song royalties, which are the coin of the realm in Nashville. Jim Reeves, remember, is bigger in death than he was in life and still sells records worldwide. His royalties still amount to around $400,000 a year. Forty years after his untimely death in a plane crash, his legend remains untarnished even as those who scramble after his riches besmear their own reputations.
The Music Valley Wax Museum, on the other hand, has always been smaller than life. “Tawdry” is a word that springs to mind. If you want to sober up after a bender, go to eBay.com and check out the pictures of all these wax figures. “Creepy” is another word that comes to mind. None of the corpse-like dummies closely resemble the country stars they are supposed to look like. Many of them remind you of Burt Reynolds. A couple are just close enough to the original stars to give you a good case of the willies.
This collection of 55 zombie-like figures is available for an instant price of $750,000 or you can bid on the lot, with the auction ending May 7. The last bid offer I saw was just over $100,000.
Oddly enough, at one time Nashville had two country music wax museums.
Although the eBay site touts it as the “Country Music Wax Museum,” it’s actually the Music Valley Wax Museum whose holdings are up for auction. The Music Valley Wax Museum — which is still open — is located near Opryland or rather where the Opryland amusement park used to be. When the park was closed on New Year’s Eve of 1997, to be bulldozed to make way for the Opry Mills shopping mall, the tourist business in that part of town began to dry up, taking with it any significant tourist attendance for the wax museum.
The other wax museum was the Country Music Wax Museum, which was in a little strip of cheesy tourist traps at the top of Music Row, where you could buy things like a vial of Elvis’ sweat — “his perspiration is your inspiration.” It closed in 1997 when tourist trade noticeably dropped. The wax dummies were put away in the basement and forgotten until a New York Times reporter “discovered” them in 1999. They wound up in a front-page story in the Times as a sort of metaphor for changes in general in Nashville and on Music Row. While some lamented the disappearance of such Nashville institutions as wax dummies, local journalist Bob Cannon said that they all looked like Buddy Ebsen, whether they were male or female.
I for one bid a not-so-fond farewell to most of old Nashville where artists were bought and sold — even in death — and where cheesy tourist attractions were thought to represent country music. Good riddance to Nashville’s Night of the Living Dead era of wax mummies and treating artists like dummies.