Ah, it’s good to know a real ‘insider’ when you visit a popular tourist destination. ‘Twang Town’ – better known as Nashville, Tennessee – is the home of country music. (More on that insider stuff later.)
The best known attraction in Nashville is the Grand Ole Opry. One of the featured performers the night we attended was Charlie Daniels – who brought the house dow with his hit tune “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. (Charlie has been wearing his hat down over his face for so long…we haven’t seen his eyes in decades.)
Little Jimmy Dickens has had many hit tunes over the years including “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose”. And, yes, he is distantly related to Charles Dickens. Little Jimmy is a very spry 93 years of age and still performing!
Other performers included Connie Smith, George Hamilton IV and the Del McCoury Band (see image below). All put on an excellent show.
Another wonderful Nashville attraction – especially for guitar, banjo and mandolin pickers – is Gruhn Guitars. (The homepage feature image for this article was taken inside the Gruhn store.) Gruhn is known worldwide as THE source for vintage instruments. Go to their website and you will see quotes from customers such as…”George Gruhn knows more about guitars than anyone on earth!”
(This is where the ‘insider’ part begins.) In 1969 – I kicked off a year long tour of Europe with my pickin’ buddy, Marty Lanham. Upon returning from Europe, I joined Marty and a rat pack of other musicians living in an old hotel on the Russian River in Northern California.
In 1972, Marty and his wife Charmaine left California for Nashville, TN. Marty took a job in the Gruhn instrument repair department and Charmaine starting taking pictures – check out her work at Dancing Noodle Magazine.
Around the same time – together with another couple – they opened the Station Inn, which quickly became a downtown-small-club mecca for country stars (and their fans) for off-night jam sessions – especially Bluegrass players. Even the inventor of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, was a regular.
The Station Inn continues to be the “in” spot for late night jam sessions that frequently include surprise visits by well known country music luminaries. Marty & I dropped by on a Monday night during this recent visit and…sure enough…there was Vince Gill on stage, sitting in with the house band.
After a few years of night club ownership, Marty & Charmaine discovered that – for health reasons – one does need to get to bed before 2am once in a while – so they sold their interest in the Station Inn.
Having earned the title of “master luthier” after nearly a decade at Gruhn, Marty began building instruments on his own in 1980. The quality and craftsmanship of his custom, made-to-order guitars and banjos is legend. His skill at restoration of vintage instruments became apparent as well, when Marty accompanied me on a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Marty had a story to tell for just about every acoustic instrument on display – insights that could only come from someone with long time, hands-on involvement in the behind-the-scenes process. I was impressed – but not surprised – that Marty had personally restored many of them. The Jimmie Rogers guitar on display is a good example of Marty’s restoration talents.
One of the first country music superstars, Jimmie Rogers (variously known as the Singing Brakeman, the Blue Yodeler and the Father of Country Music) had four custom designed Martin 00045’s built for him in the 1920’s – with “THANKS” inlaid on the back.
Marty also restored two other Martins on display at the Hall of Fame – both D-28s – one played by Johnny Cash and the other by Lester Flatt (shown).
Tour Marty’s ‘Nashville Guitar Company’ shop and you will see several restorations in progress – as well as a couple of special order new builds underway. One restoration – a badly beat up vintage Martin D-18 – was rescued at the last second by a sharp eyed musician – as it was about to be pushed into a burning landfill by a bulldozer (see photo). When restoration is complete, that guitar will be worth about $15,000!
With a moderate climate, Nashville is a great place to visit any time of year. It is the capital of the state of Tennessee with a colorful history that goes well beyond the music scene. The people are friendly. The food is great. Accommodations are plentiful and inexpensive – with something to suit any budget (see ‘hotels in Nashville’ link below). What are you waiting for?
Speaking of being Nashville connected, click on these –
Link to the Station Inn website
Link to the best hotels in Nashville
Link to the Country Music Hall of Fame
Link to Grand Ole Opry website
Learn more about Marty Lanham & the Nashville Guitar Company
Learn more about Gruhn Guitars