THE AMERICANA MUSIC TRIANGLE
Today’s feature in The Tennessean on the efforts of Aubrey Preston and Jed Hilley of the Americana Music Association to solidify The Triangle as a bona fide tourist destination took me back forty years to when I arrived in the States as a true rock ‘n’roll and r’n’b disciple, determined to put down roots in the birthplace of the music which had irrevocably changed my life … the very triangle of which we now speak.
The music had already offered me some success in my native England, where I’d been part of the rock ‘n’ roll boom, then the Soul boom, but with the bloom going off the swingin’ sixties, and waning interest in the gritty, great music to which I was forever committed, I determined that I had to go where that music had emerged and continued to thrive. So, with my young American wife and three-year-old daughter in tow, I set my sights on my personal Land Of Dreams.
With my in-laws’ home in Sarasota, Florida, serving as our staging area, we arrived at Christmas-time 1972 to begin our great adventure. We bought a used Toyota station wagon with the idea of working our way by road to who knew where. But I already had my pilgrimage planned: from New Orleans, Congo Square and the Quarter, to the Greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia, where Little Richard had been a dish washer (that town also being the birthplace of James Brown and my beloved Otis Redding); to Beale Street in Memphis and Highway 61, with all that those legendary roads implied; then on to West Memphis Arkansas, following the footsteps of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins up Highway 70 via Jackson, to Nashville- just starting to stake it’s international claim as Music City, U.S.A.
Once we arrived in Davidson County, I realized that Nashville was the geographic hub of it all, in easy reach of all the key areas that embodied the roots and branches of the music that had transformed me. In 1973, Jefferson Street was still one of the great thoroughfares of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues, Soul, and Rock ‘n’Roll, and they welcomed this white boy (with the funny Beatles accent ) with open arms. I felt like I was home where I belonged, and even though the racial situation was still tense, especially to the sensibilities of a liberal Northern European and his Yankee wife, it just felt likethe place we were meant to be.
I had the advantage of an already-established friendship and working relationship with Buzz Cason, the pioneering producer, writer and studio owner, already a great success in the pop, soul and r’n’b genres, so I wasn’t limited to trying to make it in “straight country,” with which I couldn’t claim as much affinity as other genres thatsprang from the fertile lands of the Deep South. But Brenda Lee, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, to name just a few, were classic rock ‘n’rollers in my book anyway, and if Charlie Rich was classified as a country singer, then I was O.K. with country, too.
It was a time of a growing influx of out-of-towners … the Muscle Shoals and Memphis boys, the early transplants from L.A. and N.Y.C., and very soon fellow Brits such as Roger Cook, Ray Flacke, Ralph Murphy, Pat McInerney and Tony Newman, who took care of any pangs of home-sickness I might have felt, although those pangs were always few and far between!
It was inevitable that what is now being labeled as Americana should crystallize as a movement in and around the Nashville area, because all the strains that weave into Americana are from around these parts, as they’ve always been.
The resurgence of the “Americana Triangle” bodes well for the future of music in general, as our region opens its arms once more to those that play it and sing it from the heart. I feel blessed to still be around to see it happen in my beloved adopted home.