There is a little record studio, off the beaten path in Nashville, in a neighbourhood famously known as Music Row, where music made history, again and again.
It’s Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” It’s Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” It’s Jim Reeves’s “Blue Canadian Rockies.” It’s Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” It’s called RCA Studio B, or the “Home of 1,000 Hits.”
Studio B, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017, was built in 1957, at the height of Presley’s popularity. He recorded here from 1958 to 1971, producing over 200 hits, including “Kiss Me Quick” and “Ain’t That Loving You Baby.”
Tours of the studio, which is now operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, give visitors a backstage pass to what was a glorious time in music recording. “Your tour guide, bell boy, or waiter is probably a musician,” says Studio B guide George Daeger, who indeed is a musician, and in fact plays in a band with Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. That is the beautiful and enigmatic essence of Nashville: almost everyone is someone else, too, doing what they can to get by but all the while working on their music. This is a town of dreamers, and Studio B encompasses many a dream realized.
“There’s a lot of history and a lot of mystery,” Daeger says of the building, which lets tourists right into the recording room, where a taped blue X marks the spot that countless musicians stood on to sing. It also houses the 1942 Steinway & Sons piano that has never left the room, not even to be cleaned. It’s where Presley played to record “How Great Thou Art,” which won him a Grammy. “This is the real place,” Daeger says, and while it’s clear he is mostly just trying to drum up excitement among his guests, there is also the sense that he is really that jazzed to be here, breathing in this air again—the air of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Of The Everly Brothers’s “All I Have to do is Dream.”
Much has been kept the way it was in its heyday, including a broken shelf that Presley apparently kicked in frustration one day, and a hole around the back of the building that Parton made with her car. The red lights in the recording studio were put there by Presley—they put him in the mood for Christmas songs when he was recording during one summer. Alternatively, the blue lights were for his gospel music; as for ballads? He liked to sing those in the dark. He sometimes hit his head on the microphone doing that. Tours may even get to listen to a few Presley outtakes, and it is really something to hear him fumble, apologize, and begin again. A metaphor for life, really.
This place is crawling with memories and secrets, both told and untold. It is a pleasure to hear some of them, and a comfort, somehow, to know that others are likely locked away forever in the walls, with just the songs to shed some light.
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