The Voices of Music Row

July 20, 2018 by Erica Stewart

Nashville’s Music Row, where the sounds of America have been created for more than 60 years, is unlike any place in the world. Its cluster of more than 200 music-related businesses and the ecosystem they create is truly one-of-a-kind. But this unique community has taken a huge hit in recent years. Places where the music was made that gave Nashville its international reputation as Music City have been lost to the wrecking ball, including the first record company office on Music Row, the first recording studio ever built in Nashville, and the city’s first commercial radio station. Since the year 2000, a total of 56 historic buildings have been lost and five more are currently threated on 16th Avenue South, in the heart of Music Row, to make way for an office building.

Yet despite these losses, National Trust research shows Music Row still exists as a tight-knit community. We have heard from a multitude of people in the music industry that Music Row’s built environment--the dense concentration of music-related businesses, many of which are located in 19th century houses and modest mid-century office buildings–is crucial to Music Row’s irreplaceable culture.

Below are some of those voices from across the music industry, speaking to the magic of Music Row.

Now add your voice! Share with us why Music Row matters to you. Send an email to estewart[at]savingplaces[dot]org and we’ll share your thoughts with Nashville’s elected officials. Together we can save #Music Row!

Why is Music Row Important?

Duane Allen – Oak Ridge Boys [excerpted from an interview with Sounds Like Nashville in the wake of their release of a new album, 17th Avenue Revival, recorded at RCA Studio A on Music Row]

“…we moved into the old RCA Studio A, on the old 17th Avenue South, right in the center of Music City USA. We found another depth of our musical soul. The vibes of that historic studio, with the Oaks all gathered around an old RCA 44 microphone, singing together, brought back a magic that is sometimes lost with some of the new technology.

The old historic studios just scream out to an artist to do it real, from your heart. There will always be a place for those historic places found on Music Row. There is a reason they are great. They were built to capture the magic of the artist's performance, as opposed to making it happen with technology.

Recording the old-fashioned way can happen anywhere, just as recording with all of the bells and whistles of modern technology. However, there is an appreciation that goes with recording in a historic place, like the old RCA Studio A on Music Row, that encourages excellence, because so much excellence has preceded.”

Robert Hicks -- New York Times best-selling author of “The Widow of the South”

“Music Row remains the thriving, beating heart of the very music that makes us Music City. Take it away or even dismiss its importance and you've ripped out the very heart of Nashville.”

Trey Bruce – vice president of Historic Nashville, Inc. and award-winning songwriter, musician and producer, owner of SongBird Tours [speaking about Bobby’s Idle Hour, the last watering hole on Music Row and now slated for demolition.]

“SongBird stops in at Bobby’s Idle Hour every day and the tourists are blown away that a real honky tonk still exists. There are old guys, in their 70s… STILL playing in the everyday… middle of the afternoon. Old cats that missed their chance.

There are still record release parties there and after all these years Belmont [University] kids have finally discovered that it’s cool to play Bobby’s Idle Hour. The place packs with students trying out their songs in a safe place where critics are discouraged. The last bar I know of where you can walk in at 2 p.m. and there will be a circle of old guys playing on a barstool or in the middle of the room… not even onstage.

I remember seeing that stuff as a young kid.

Bobby’s Idle Hour has to remain on the ground floor of what and whoever we are about to lose to.

Much more than a building is lost when this icon falls. I realize that this is a staged replica of the original that stood five lots down because some developer already tore it down once 15+ years ago... but everything in it that could be was salvaged and repositioned was. The memory, history and spirit were moved five lots--that’s why it’s more popular than ever.

Music Row is an accidental, by-chance location where The Nashville Sound and the music business grew from scratch. From this small neighborhood came one of the world’s largest musical footprints. We have to act now to save this place that is iconic and historically priceless.”

Claire Ratliff — owner, Laughing Penguin Publicity

“The destruction of historic structures is an unforgivable form of disrespect for our own history and culture. Historic architecture is a place to interact with our heritage. It gives the gift of experiencing and sharing the actual spaces where the musical soul of this city was crafted by some of the most legendary characters in American history.

Music Row is a national treasure that has earned preservation of its tangible identity.”

Mitchell Fox – Former manager of Led Zeppelin and the Kentucky Headhunters

“Nashville is known as ‘Music City’ as the result of a long-standing, mutually supportive/beneficial relationship between the music professional and artist/performer… the overall diversification of the music industry has only enhanced our reputation as one of the, if not, the place to go in the world with more opportunity to become involved and succeed in the music industry. Music Row always meant young people, with a guitar on their back, walking from door to door looking for a chance to get a foot in the door. I feel that that still exists if you’re willing to do the walk about…”

Chuck Whiting – owned a PR office on 17th Street

“Back in the '90s, Music Row was a friendly community that celebrated Nashville's heritage with historic homes and quaint studios. It was one-of-a-kind... where creativity came to life and dreams came true. Today, due to a lack of government leadership, Music Row has become a corporate mix of offices and condos... losing much of its charm. So many of us are heartsick, hoping we can stop or slow down the destruction of historic buildings before it's too late.”

Les Kerr – songwriter and 30+ year Nashville resident

“Not only was music that had a worldwide impact on culture created in the buildings on Music Row, it is still being pulled from the minds, pens, voices, instruments and equipment of so many who continue to create within those walls. I’m happy that I was here when they all still stood and I hope as many as possible will be preserved.”

Bob Doerschuk, -- former editor, Musician Magazine & CMA Close Up Magazine

“I've come to understand that our character depends on balancing growth with history. Sacrifice one or the other and you have surrendered some of your soul. It is horrifying to know that developers came close to demolishing the Ryman to build something -- doesn't matter what it would have been -- that could in no way compensate for loss of the Mother Church. So it is with Music Row, whose history is obscured further with each new edifice that might as easily been built somewhere else… it grows more important each year, with each new tower soaring downtown, in Green Hills and elsewhere, that the Row be honored and kept alive.”

Gary Morris – singer

“When I first arrived in Nashville in 1980, Music Row was just simply Music Row. Warner Brothers was in a quaint little house on Grand. Ray Stevens was across the street and Electra was next door. Those shops and the many others on Music Row were where it began. Music Row’s legacy should be saved... not become an area where people view it as ‘once upon a time.’”

Jim Hoobler – historian, Tennessee State Museum

“The wanton destruction of seminal structures that housed some of the most significant moments in our musical past from the last forty years is tearing the heart out of our body of music. We must resist this move to destroy, and instead save our heritage.”

Dan Brown -- Tennessee Historical Commission

“…[Music Row] has created a vibrant living museum that for generations has been, and continues to be, an engine of economic development and tourism for the city and state. Music Row is a dynamic cultural resource that is the brand of Nashville and Tennessee and with its scope and size is even more important than the Ryman Auditorium. It is now threatened by rampant development and lack of foresight just as the Ryman was once was threatened, and its survival, protection, and preservation for our economy and the very soul of our city is now required.”

Announcing the 2019 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List