Music Row, in Nashville in the early 60’s was really just getting started good and consisted of mostly refurbished old houses on 16th and 17th Avenues that had been turned into offices and music hangouts.
In 1963, if you started at the corner of Demonbruen Street and 16th Avenue South, and started walking toward the South, you would first come to the Wilburn Brothers and Don Helms Wil-Helm Artists Agency building where Teddy and Doyle were busy developing the career of Loretta Lynn and where Johnny Russell was in the back room writing “Act Naturally” for Buck Owens to record, then next door to that was the most modern looking building, Decca Records and Champion Music, across the street was Faron Young’s office building, then down a half block was Bradley’s Studio (which was now Columbia Records), next door to that was Capitol Records office and a group of booking agencies and publishers, across the street was Cedarwood Publishing, Mercury Records and Bob Beckham at Raleigh Music Publishing Across the street and down a half block, they were just starting to build an office building that would be the home of Audrey Williams Enterprises (Hank’s widow, and Jr.’s Mom), Jimmy Key’s booking agency and publishing company (where Tom T, Hall was just starting) Al Gallico’s publishing company with Merle Kilgore and the ever beautiful Gail Talley in attendance and my record company, Epic Records.
Next door, an old house had been changed into a dark, smoky bar and hamburger joint, and bore the very descriptive name “The Professional Club”. It was the local hangout of the stars, songwriters, publishers reps, starving artists, con men, con women, drifters, settlers, pioneers, no-counts, somebodies, nobodies, snuff queens, snuff dippers, groupies, television evangelists (yes, I once saw Jimmie Swaggert there) session pickers, arrangers, dis-arrangers, straight-men, crooks, good ole boys, fine ole girls, and other folks that you might, or might not, want to hang out with.
It drew me like a magnet. You remember the bar in Star Wars, with all the weird characters and Aliens, well the Professional Club was kinda like that, only the characters were more weird. Oh, not really, of course, but I sure met some interesting people in the years that it was open, and they had a great hamburger. I guess, if I had to use one descriptive phrase to describe the Row during this period, it would be “hanging out”. There was an attitude of total openness, sharing, mixing and mingling of talents, personalities, songs, guitar licks, rhythm patterns, piano fills, recording techniques, which venues were good to pick in, which were hell holes and other good and valuable information that pickers the world over should share.
At the Professional Club you could sit at one of the old beat up tables with the oil cloth eat up with cigarette burns and listen to Hank Cochran talk up a song idea with Harlan Howard while Wayne Walker ordered one more round for Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson…having to shout over the noise that Faron Young was making in his argument with Webb Pierce…while Mel Tillis tried to get a word in…edgewise. It was a surreal experience, but it seemed perfectly normal at the time….I mean there was such an abundance of talent and genius that the spectacular was the norm. The place was one of the favorites of the Nashville Police Department Vice Squad to raid on a regular basis and one time when they started beating on the front door and getting ready to come in and clean out the hillbillies, Faron ran upstairs to the second story and burst into one of the private rooms where some musician had taken a girl for a bedtime music lesson. Faron burst into the room pulled the covers back and jumped into the bed with the couple just in front of the cops who were pounding up the stairs after him. It was so funny to the cops that they laughingly just left the trio there in bed and went on downstairs to harass the other pickers and left after having a few drinks on the house.
I remember in 1964 sitting at one of the tables with Red Lane, one of the great guitar pullers, singers and song writers, and Roger Miller came in and sit down with us. He had a brand new brief case that he sat on the table with a flourish……and then the darn thing started ringing! He opened it up and took out a phone and proceeded to astound everyone in the room…a cottonpickin’ phone in a brief case….who ever heard of such? Well, Roger was always ahead of the curve and he had bought the first mobile phone in Nashville, just like one he had seen in California…and the rest of us had never even heard of one, He couldn’t wait to show it off so he hurried to the sorry old club where he knew he would find a captive audience, and had someone call him, long distance, just as he walked in. There is no telling at the number of hit songs that came out of this place and others like it, but that was “Music Row” in the years before the guys in the “suits” and $100 dollar haircuts, who were a little embarrassed by the term “country,” took it over and changed it forever.