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Tennessee

GOD'S GREATEST HITMAKERS

I absolutely LOVE the Chuck Wagon Gang!!

I first heard their recordings, I think, on Rev. Mull's Singing Convention on his flagship station WJBZ in Knoxville.  On this praise station, Rev. Mull and his wife hosted the show and taught Bible prophecy.  (My father was a Presbyterian minister in Knoxville at the time, but this program had music that was somewhat rawer--more heartfelt, it seemed--than what I was hearing at my father's church.)

The Chuck Wagon Gang sang everything, every sacred song you could name.  Formed in 1936 by founding member D.P. Carter with his son Jim and daughters Rose and Anna, the Chuck Wagon Gang eventually signed with Columbia Records and remained with the label for over 40 years.  At one time, the Chuck Wagon Gang were Columbia's NUMBER ONE selling group.  In my opinion, they are the greatest Southern Gospel musical group ever.

Growing up in Tennessee in the '50s and '60s, you could hear the Chuck Wagon Gang on the radio consistently every Sunday morning.  It just wasn't Sunday without 'em.

Here is one of their sacred songbooks, a true treasure from the folks downhome, which is always the place to be---if you can ever get there.



No: BRAD PAISLEY

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PUNK MEETS OLD-TIMEY IN THE RAW SPACE OF TENNESSEE

The Birchfield family of Carter, Tennessee learned old time mountain tunes and ballads that their father and uncles played as part of the local mountain culture. Joe and Creed were born in the early 1900s and raised on Roan Mountain in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Guitar-player Bill played the guitar upside down and backwards. Joe’s wife Ethel traveled with group telling Appalachian stories and singing ballads.

Roan Mountain Hilltoppers album cover

Creed and Ethel are gone now and Joe at 89 is no longer playing but, you can still see Bill and Janice. Bill is doing the fiddling now with Janice still on the washtub.

Janice remains nonplussed about the day the Sex Pistols spent at her family’s homestead in Roan Mountain, Tenn. She still feels that Johnny Rotten, the late Sid Vicious and company were just nice boys. (The same goes for Boy George, who, according to Birchfield, just showed up in the driveway one day.)

The above-mentioned flock of British bad boys became aware of the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers when punk icon Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ infamous producer, sampled some of the mountain band’s music on his own 1982 hit, “Buffalo Girls.” (The song held fast on Billboard’s Top 10 list for months, and was even re-sampled by Eminem on his 2002 recording “Without You.”)

“We had a pig roast and a dance,” Birchfield remembers of the Sex Pistols’ visit to Roan Mountain. “They loved it. They wanted us to teach them how to dress like mountain people, with coonskin caps and so on.”



VINYL JUNKIE MANIA: NOBODY CAN BEAT MY MEAT

By the time I was in the 4th grade, I had left the flat Oklahoma landscape behind and was living in East Tennessee in the suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee.  My father was a preacher and my mother was an English teacher, and there we sat at the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.  

Unlike in the Land of the Buffalo, folks actually sang in East Tennessee, and had some of the purtiest voices ever imaginable. My mother was from a small town in East Tennessee, and like Dolly Parton, mother's voice was crystal-clear, pure, unblemished by popular trends.

In Knoxville, I began learning to play the violin in a symphony orchestra funded by the public school system.  I sang regularly at church and was taught vocal discipline by mother as she accompanied me on show tunes, folk songs, and hymns.  And I even began to learn the acoustic guitar.

In short, I had entered Tennessee, the most musical state in America. (When I make this statement even today, nobody ever seems to argue or disagree with me, so it must be true.)

Needless to say, even though I was listening to pop, folk, and rock, I was not collecting music on record. I don't even remember buying any records the whole time I lived in Knoxville. Perhaps that was because I was creating, performing and learning the music itself rather than trying to keep some part of it as a plastic product.

Although I don't remember the experience of buying vinyl in Knoxville, Tennessee, I do remember the voice and presence of Cas Walker.

Cas Walker  Knoxville Tennessee grocery store chain



THE LAST JOURNEY TO TWITTY CITY

Brochure for Conway Twitty's Twitty City Nashville TN

Harold Lloyd Jenkins–or Conway Twitty, the name WE knew him by–was one of the America’s most successful country music performers. Until 2000, Twitty held the record for the most Number One singles of any country act, with 45 Number Ones on all the trade charts!

Twitty lived for many years in Hendersonville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, where he built a country music entertainment complex called Twitty City. It was famous for its lavish Christmas decorations and display of lights, and included the Conway Twitty Mansion and Memorial Garden. Conway and his wonderful tourist attraction were once even featured on the then-popular program “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Sadly, Twitty City is no more and now called Trinity Music City, USA. Since the great country singer’s death, it has been converted into a Christian music venue owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Perhaps you have seen their TV programs while channel-surfing.

Me, I went to Twitty City once on one of my many sojourns to Nashville (next to Memphis, the holiest of all cities). There the wind whipped through the cultural debris of the once mighty fortress of a country legend, and I stood in memory, waiting for the ghost of Conway.

Things happen. Heroes die and fade. But maybe you can still look at this great tourist brochure and dream of things gone by.