(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
So does Nashville really need another music hall of fame and museum? It does indeed need this particular one. The new Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum, scheduled to open the second week of June, will be the first ever such facility devoted to working musicians. Devoted to musicians across all musical genres.
They have been the bread and butter of Nashville and other such music recording centers as Memphis, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and Muscle Shoals, Ala. They’ve never really been honored or acknowledged in any official way, and they should be. Not everyone cares who played on historic Bob Dylan or Neil Young or Willie Nelson or Patsy Cline cuts but enough people do that it matters. The history should be preserved.
Joe Chambers, of the Chambers Guitars stores, has devoted himself to this project for years and put his money and his whole being on the line to bring this about and is finally succeeding. The recent press conference announcing the opening brought out an impressive array of musicians from across the musical spectrum, from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy to Elvis guitarists Scotty Moore and James Burton. The final museum will feature displays ranging from Jimi Hendrix’s original stage at the Jolly Roger club in Nashville’s Printer’s Alley to Ravi Shankar memorabilia to E Street Band instruments to instruments from Johnny Cash’s career.
Museums to me are sacred places. Good museums, I mean. I am convinced that the spirits attached to many of the artifacts live on and continue to inhabit the space that surrounds them. I defy anyone to visit the British Museum in London and view some of the Egyptian mummies there and not feel an awed sense of time and history and the arc of human destiny. Once, when I was walking through Vent Haven: The Ventriloquist Museum in Fort Mitchell, Ky., on a private tour by myself, I felt a strange aura and then one of the ventriloquist dummies started moving and chattering its teeth. Eerie.
And you can feel a similar — but benign and reassuring — aura at places like Graceland and the original Sun Studios in Memphis where history has been preserved in its natural state and not ripped up and stuck in a glass case somewhere. I’ve told you how Elvis once spoke to me when I was sitting one morning by his gravesite at Graceland. The musical roots are there. As a result, Memphis draws music tourists. So should Nashville.
I hear that Belmont University is planning to take over the now-empty Sony building on Music Row, which was vacated when Sony merged with BMG and moved into the BMG headquarters. I understand that Belmont intends to install a Songwriters Hall of Fame and a Johnny Cash museum on site, as well as to restore and exhibit the historic Quonset Hut recording studio in there, which was the pioneering recording studio built in the 1950s. That is a heartening move for Music Row.
A string of well-planned museums and halls of fame might do much to finally repair some of the damage resulting from Gaylord’s rape of Nashville’s tourism industry with its arbitrary closing of the Opryland amusement park. As it is, there is precious little in the way of attractions for tourists to visit. There’s absolutely nothing to see on Music Row, apart from a bronze statue of producer Owen Bradley, and with all due respect to Owen, who was a friend of mine, I don’t think anyone would drive 400 miles to Nashville just to view that. And there’s not all that much in town to attract music lovers to Nashville. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Ernest Tubb Record stores and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Station Inn and Willie’s museum out on Music Valley Drive may not be enough to lure an out-of-town family to drive to Nashville for their vacation. But a museum tour of a series of well-designed music facilities I think would be a great draw. None of them can be wildly successful individually. But as a package, it could work. Think about it.