RCA Studio B and The Nashville Sound

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I recently returned from 5 days in Music City – Nashville Tennessee. Great trip – lots and lots of music heard! Artists at the 20 or so Honky Tonks on Broadway start playing live music at 10 am, no cover charge, and in some cases, there is a different artist on each of 3 floors, all playing at the same time. The music doesn’t stop until after 2 am. This means that there are close to 100 artists playing mostly country music each day, on 5 blocks of clubs in the city!

While in Nashville, I toured the famous RCA Studio B. It’s the location where thousands of songs were recorded over a 20 year period from the late 50s to the late 70s. Notable artists who recorded there were Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, and many many more. Speaking of Elvis – 47 of his charting hits were recorded at the studio. Coincidentally, the studio closed in August 1977 – one day after the death of Elvis.

Another legacy of RCA Studio B is The Nashville Sound. Prior to the mid 50s, country music had a honky tonk sound, emphasizing rhythm and lyrics focused on lost love, loneliness, self pity and alcohol. It didn’t have much production, and it featured banjo, fiddle and steel guitar, along with acoustic guitar, for the main instrumentation.

With the rise of rock & roll, country music was floundering. Led by RCA manager and producer Chet Atkins (who also was one of the greatest guitarists of all time), a new style of country music evolved at Studio B. Atkins and others took elements of 50s popular music and incorporated them into a new, slickly-produced sound. Gone were the banjos, fiddles and steel guitars – they were replaced by string sections. Vocals were enhanced with backing vocalists and lots of harmony, and the lead vocals were performed by crooners. By 1958, the sound was given a name – The Nashville Sound.

Some of the classic songs that exemplify The Nashville Sound include Four Walls by Jim Reeves, I’m Sorry by Brenda Lee, I Fall To Pieces by Patsy Cline, The End of the World by Skeeter Davis, and King of the Road by Roger Miller.

Of course, The Nashville Sound evolved into other other sub-genres over the years. But it was cool to see where it was invented and to learn about the talented artists, producers and sound engineers who brought it to life.

Listen and watch Brenda Lee perform I’m Sorry, one of those Nashville Sound classics.


1 thought on “RCA Studio B and The Nashville Sound”

  1. What a great time in Nashville! Studio B was a big highlight for me…. total music teacher geek out session. Being in the place where Elvis and all the other greats recorded was a treat. I can’t wait to share the experience with my students in a few weeks when we study music of the 50’s. A must see for any music geek while in Nashville!

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