Toe-tapping stuff in the footsteps of America's musical stars
Posted on the 16th Feb 2014 in the category travel

My fingers quivered over the keys of Elvis Presley's 1947 Steinway piano as my audience waited in anticipation.


The King recorded countless classics on the unassuming Joanna in the corner of RCA's Nashville studio and I'd barged past a few people to take a seat at the piano first. I looked up nervously at those expecting a tune and decided to bite the bullet.


I, err, can't play the piano,” I stuttered, admitting I was a fraud.


The emotion of being in the recording studio where Elvis spent so much of his life had got the better of me. Perhaps it was the famous faces looking down at me from the wall or maybe the recording being played of Elvis mucking around in the same room 40 years ago.


Whatever it was, I ended up lying that I could tickle the ivories just to sit on the same seat where the great man had all those years ago. RCA's Studio B is a must see for any music fan who goes to music city and I was not the only one in the room overwhelmed with emotion.


As well Elvis, the non-descript building generated hits for greats including Jim Reeves, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and countless other country music stars.


It might have been Elvis that strummed my heart strings but Nashville is certainly Johnny Cash's town. Images of the Man in Black are everywhere and in the Honky Tonk bars gnarled singers belt out his hits on the hour.


If I heard Fulsom Prison Blues once I must have heard it 100 times but I wasn't complaining. It was the backing track for a wonderful trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Music is the glue that keeps Nashville together and there is always somewhere significant in music history around the next corner.


The Country Hall of Fame is an amazing attraction full to bursting with tonnes of music memorabilia. You could spend days getting lost in the history, romance and heartbreak of Country and Western in its cavernous halls.


But the closeness and intimacy of the Ryman Auditorium, where the original Grand Ole Opry was held, really gave me an insight into the world of Country and Western. Standing in its tiny dressing rooms where country star worth their salt had prepared before performing on one of the most historic stages in the world was brilliant.


Ray Charles, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rodgers, Ella Fitzgerald and Patsy Kline are just a few of the stars who put up with the cramped quarters to play the Opry. And ever tourist is given the chance to stand on the spot where legends perform.It was another goose-pimple inducing and hair raising moment when I stood where Johnny Cash made his name.


And just a few hours later I was in the audience to witness the longest running radio show in the world – Live at the Grand Ole Opry. It was an All American experience to say the least, my favourite part was how the wig wearing presenters shamelessly shoe-horned in advertisements every five minutes.


The show is only at the Ryman Auditorium during the winter when the Radio City Rocketts take over the new Opry theatre for the season. The 1970s purpose built theatre is in the grounds of the biggest hotel complex outside Las Vegas – The Gaylord Opryland.


Gaylord owns the new Opry and the fantastic General Jackson steamboat which cruises from the complex into the middle of downtown Nashville. At Gaylord HQ there are nine acres of waterfalls, purpose built streets and over 2,000 rooms all under one roof.


Everywhere in the giant complex is the same temperature and everything is perfectly clean and safe. And you could even program your morning alarm to wake you up by your favourite Country and Western star.


Which was all very nice but I wanted to sample some sleaze, after all I was in Nashville, Tennessee. And all the songs I've heard never mentioned excellent customer service and an all you can eat buffet.


I was not disappointed, the main strip in Nashville is one of my favourite places on earth. Noisy, hustling, bustling and full of chancers and hicks all crammed into a mish mash of 19th Century warehouses and townhouses.


Downtown Nashville really is an attack on the senses.


Tennessee is my kind of place, the state's top three exports have traditionally been music, tobacco and Jack Daniels whisky, so you can imagine what the locals are like. You can stumble from one bar the next listening to fantastic music by local bands and singers who perform for tips.


On the strip, every singer has a broken heart and every fiddler claims to be the quickest in the West.


And the shops are great as well – independent traders selling some real top class tat including Elvis sink plugs, Johnny Cash tobacco and Hank Williams handkerchiefs.


At the high end of the market you can buy a beaver fur cowboy hat for £500 or lizard skin cowboy boots for even more at the Nashville Cowboy store. But alas, I needed to save some cash for piano lessons because when I return to Nashville I want to be able to play that magical piano.   


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