Dylan, Cash and Nashville Cats Opens With Charlie Daniels, Charlie McCoy

Studio Musicians Spotlighted in New Exhibit at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville Cats have way more than nine lives. Now there’s an exhibit in Music City honoring their cultural longevity.

Around 650 invited guests braved a cold spring rain Thursday evening (March 26) in Nashville for a preview peek at the Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

They were also treated to brief performances by two of the most celebrated of these instrumental felines — Charlie Daniels and Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy.

The exhibit, which is set to remain open through Dec.31, 2016, documents through biographical panels, sound recordings and video clips the flow of rock, pop and folk artists into Nashville during the late 1960s and early ‘70s to record with the city’s legendarily versatile and inventive musicians.

Leading the way in this fusion were Bob Dylan, who first came to Nashville in 1966 to record his Blonde on Blonde album, and Johnny Cash, whose 1969-71 network television show, broadcast from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, featured guest artists from other musical genres, including Dylan.

One of the three albums Dylan recorded in Nashville was 1969’s Nashville Skyline — and it was that same much-altered skyline that guests viewed Thursday night through the soaring glass wall of the venue’s capacious sixth floor event center.

Prior to moving downstairs for the preview, the guests partook of a lavish buffet supper and free-flowing bars. Smartly uniformed waiters saw to it that no one was neglected.

Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, told the crowd the Dylan/Cash installation was “an important exhibit several years in the making” and that told “a hell of a story.”

Young’s first order of business was to bring Daniels to the stage. Daniels played on three of Dylan’s albums, as well as on projects for Leonard Cohen and Ringo Starr.

Backed by a guitarist and a harmonica player, Daniels strummed a mandolin and sang Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” a song he recorded on his 2014 tribute album, Off the Grid; Doin’ It Dylan.

Charlie Daniels Jason Davis/Getty Images

Daniels rushed from the stage as soon as he finished to head for a show the next day in Abilene, Texas.

Next up was McCoy, who first recorded with Dylan in New York in 1965 on the song “Desolation Row.”

Before he played “The Water Is Wide” on harmonica, backed by guitarist Jimmy Capps, McCoy spoke about the duty of session musicians to suppress their own artistic egos and play what they’re instructed to.

Charlie McCoy Jason Davis/Getty Images

Such a sense of duty can lead to anonymity, he conceded, “but at least the people in the room here know who we are.”

Several other musicians who are spotlighted in the exhibit attended the preview and party, including David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Wayne Moss, Lloyd Green and Mac Gayden. Also on hand was Deana Carter of “Strawberry Wine” fame. Her late father, guitarist Fred Carter Jr., recorded with Simon & Garfunkel, Joan Baez, Levon Helm and Muddy Waters.

Young returned to the stage to announce that the exhibit will be accompanied by a series of musical programs as well as a two-CD anthology album of non-country acts who recorded in Nashville with the “Cats.”

Although the full lineup for the Sony/Legacy album has yet to be revealed, Young said it will contain cuts by Dylan, Baez, Cohen and the Byrds.

A companion book to the exhibit is already on sale at the Hall of Fame gift shop.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.