A few years ago I was taking part in a gig being filmed for a TV show. After camera rehearsals the director came over to me and said he’d like to show me what the plan was for the night. As he got about three minutes into the chat I stopped him short. ‘ You’re telling me how you’re going to film this aren’t you?’ I asked. As he nodded and returned to his lifting map I realised there was little point in taking it further. ‘The thing is,’ I went on, ‘you are going to tell me how it looks and frankly, I don’t really care much about that because I’m a musician and I really mainly care how it sounds.’ That aspect, he confessed, wasn’t really in his brief (or in reality in his thoughts.) The same is true of so much of music on TV -I suspect perhaps the Eurovision Contest just this weekend might well have fallen in to this category – if it’s a tussle between music and TV, the TV is always going to win.
When Pop Idol and all the other shows started around 15 years ago it was a constant question asked in interviews by anyone I met. What do you think? I always answered the same way: ‘I understand why the kids think it’s important but the TV will always win. What works for TV – sensational heartbreak, embarrassment, redemption on camera – is always going to beat the honest singer with the good song, and it has been thus so far.
Last Friday, apparently out of nowhere, the TV soap, ‘Nashville’ was cut adrift by the ABC network in the US. It was, and this seems true, a great boon to the songwriting community in the city and has added to the intrigue about Music City but that does not a successful show make and the execs eyes are looking elsewhere
A couple of months ago we caught up with Buddy Miller in his home studio in Nashville to talk about his own involvement in the drama and hear what how being the executive music producer of the show has affected his own work and the focus of the city’s songwriting community. Despite what we may think, country music is not immune to market variations and the mixed history of the city’s iconic studios gives you an idea of how fragile the genre is to the winds of change whistling around the city.
Dave Cobb is another brave soul who has taken over the stewardship of one of Nashville’s more famous sound emporiums, RCA Studio A. Bigger than the more famous Studio B it is a sprawling space which was used to record strings and bigger sessions the more compact Studio B could not contain. Dave’s own track record there includes his new compilation Southern Family album with contributions from Miranda Lambert, Anderson East, John Paul White, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark and many others. On Tuesday you’ll hear us in that hallowed space talking to Dave about that project and his recent success as producer of the moment to Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.
Finally we’ll broadcast one of the more remarkable conversations I’ve ever had in the city. We gathered three of the senior members of the Bradley family, Patsy, Jerry and Harold, to talk about their own musical life and that of Harold’s elder brother, producer, Owen Bradley. You’ll hear Harold – the most recorded guitarist of all time and now aged 90 – tell how he and his brother set up the famous Quonset Hut in Music Row so they could make some of the most famous records of all time. Hearing Harold talk about the morning he cut ‘Crazy’ with Patsy Cline was the most fascinating story I have been lucky enough to have heard.
One final thought: When Owen and Harold set up their studio they were really hoping it would become a centre for filming music for television and in the process they discovered they were making some of the most iconic country records in modern history. The records lasted and no one remembers the TV shows now. TV’s for now; music’s for ever.
You can hear all of this on Tuesday’s Another Country on BBC Radio Scotland from five past nine.
On Wednesday on BBC Radio Two I’ll be celebrating the new tradition and we’ll think a little about the anniversary of this record….
Join me from 10 p.m. if you can