Have a seat at Elvis’s piano at RCA Studio B
The historic places we visit connect us with the past. Ancient ruins, battlefields, museums, and landscapes unchanged over centuries. Art and music in particular can transport us back in time. And the emotional connections we feel with the artist is expressed through the medium they choose. Its a moving, inner connection that we feel deep inside.
Well, I actually had such a moment in Nashville Tennessee. And if you’ve ever been, in general, its a whole big hunk of fun, just join right in and get carried away. The party starts in the early afternoon and just keeps going till the neon on main street light up the night. So much great live music all in one place, a shot of whiskey and a cold beer and we’re all one big, happy family.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is a day-long experience, that takes you through the history of an American institution. They offer three tours: the Hall of Fame itself, Hatch Show Print (the working letterpress print shop that makes iconic show posters – highly recommended) and the Historic RCA Studio Studio B tour.
The tour leaves from the Hall of Fame, and drives through Nashville’s famed Music Row. The heart of Nashville’s entertainment industry, we passed the offices of numerous record labels, publishing houses, recording studios, video production houses, radio networks, and radio stations. Though really not much more than a neighborhood of office buildings, it was pretty cool to imagine what was going on behind those closed doors that eventually winds up on our playlists.
Our tour guide could not have been more charming. A petite southern belle with a story for everything, dropping names of country stars as we turned every corner. Upon arriving at the studio, we had to stop at a patched up cement wall where a young, and apparently quite nervous Dolly Parton smashed the front end of her car when she arrived for her first recording session decades ago.
Once we entered, the studio lobby was lined with photos of the starts whose recording careers began and flourished here. Over the past 60 years, more than 35,000 legendary songs and more than 1,000 popular hits have been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, Eddy Arnold, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Bare, Jim Reeves, Willie Nelson, Floyd Cramer, The Everly Brothers and even more recently, Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood. For many years, Chet Atkins managed RCA’s Nashville operation and produced hundreds of hits in Studio B. One of the most impressive displays is the grid of hit singles recorded by Elvis, right here in this facility.
Built in 1957, RCA Studio B made major contributions to Country Music, pumping out the hits and launching artists that helped to develop a more sophisticated sound, evolving from its roots. What became known as ‘The Nashville Sound’ featured a depth of background vocals and string arrangements that was needed to compete for record sales with the British Invasion and Motown.
The vintage equipment on display was fascinating to see. Looking completely antiquated by today’s digital studios, it reminds you that when music touches your soul its really all about the heart of the storytellers that put pen to paper, and the soul of the artists that step up to instruments and microphones.
There are countless stories of the artists that made their mark here, but as the stories went on it became clear that we were in the shrine of the King himself. The more we heard about the late Sunday night sessions that lasted into the wee hours of Monday morning, we could nearly feel his presence.
Elvis recorded the majority of his greatest hits at RCA’s Studio B, over 200 songs total, between the years 1956 and 1971. Elvis played the very same grand piano that sits in the studio today grand, and warmup with his back-up singers, ‘The Jordanaires’
As you finish the tour, you can actually sit down at the piano and play, but to me, it seemed a bit irreverent. To paraphrase and borrow the words of fellow blogger Scott Shelter (www.quirkytravelguy.com), ‘Elvis is still in the house. You can feel him. You can sense his presence… after all, you wouldn’t dare sit on a king’s throne if he was already sitting there.
Our host, who was well-versed in Elvis lore, shared a story of the night he recorded the haunting song, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” It was the last song scheduled for the session that was stretching well into the early Monday morning hours. Elvis was alone in the main studio and requested that the lights be turned out. At that moment, the studio lights went out and we sat in total darkness, listening to his voice surrounding us. Once the song finished and the lights went on, not many had a dry eye (yes, including me). There in that darkness, all those years ago, he recorded one of his greatest hits. He sang from his heart. He knew the pain of loneliness, and shared it with the world, making us all feel a little less alone.
Take a seat at Elvis Presley’s piano at RCA Studio B in Nashville