In Paris, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville makes first sound recording. Barely publicized at the time and irreproducible until recently, de Martinville’s record of “Au Claire de Lune” is made on his patented Phonautograph.
German-American inventor Emile Berliner patents the flat disc. Berliner soon figures out how to mass-produce copies of rubber and then shellac discs from a zinc master, thereby giving birth to the record industry. At first, every company manufactures records that play at different speeds, but the industry eventually agrees on 78 revolutions per minute. Pop records are standardized to ten-inch diameter. In 1899, the British branch of Berliner’s Gramophone Company buys the famous portrait of Nipper and asks the artist to paint over the cylinder player with a phonograph.
The New York Phonograph Co. opens the first recording studio in the United States.
Louisiana Phonograph Company founded. First known record company in Louisiana, a subsidiary of Edison’s North American Phonograph Company. Just one known cylinder survives, a comic monolog by Louis Vasnier, “Adam and Eve and de Winter Apple.”
Victor Records incorporated in Camden, New Jersey. Victor uses Berliner’s flat-disc patents.
Edison begins making flat discs. He continues to manufacture cylinders until 1929, when his record label folds.
Commercial radio launched. KDKA, Pittsburgh is the first station allocated call letters by the Department of Commerce. Stations quickly proliferate. Record sales fall from $106 million in 1921 to $59 million in 1925. Record labels look for markets without electricity where radio cannot be picked up, but where records can be played on wind-up phonographs. They begin investigating Country and Blues.
First Country recordings. Two fiddlers, Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland, record “Arkansas Traveler”/”Sallie Gooden” for Victor in New York.
The radio barn-dance. In Fort Worth, WPAB programs 90 minutes of square-dance music, and it proves so popular that it becomes a regular feature. In 1924, WLS’s pioneering National Barn Dance in Chicago gathers Country acts for a Saturday night show carried live. WLS’s signal carries deep into the South. Its stars include Red Foley, Les Paul, and Rex Allen. Radio barn dances begin appearing on radio stations throughout the South. For many years, the goal of Country singers is to get on a major radio barn-dance, not to get on records because royalties are low or non-existent.
Ralph Peer pioneers on-location Southern recording. Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” on OKeh Records is recorded by Peer in Atlanta. Most early Country and Blues recordings made in the South are recorded with portable equipment in hotels and radio stations. There are no dedicated recording studios in the South before World War II.
First recordings made in New Orleans. Several sessions for OKeh are recorded with local Jazz acts. Victor, Brunswick, and Columbia record Jazz, Blues, Pop, Latin, Country, Gospel, and Cajun acts there, including Blind Willie Johnson and Jimmie Rodgers. Between 1924 and 1936, there are thirteen sessions in New Orleans, placing it third as a field location behind Atlanta and Dallas.
Electrical recording introduced. Prior to 1925, recordings were made acoustically with a limited dynamic range. Western Electric’s technology captures a much broader dynamic range.
Two Nashville insurance companies buy radio franchises. Birth of the Grand Ole Opry. National Life & Accident starts WSM and Life & Casualty starts WLAC. By year-end, WSM has launched the WSM Barn Dance, later renamed the Grand Ole Opry. WLAC later becomes a 50,000 powerhouse station broadcasting R&B from the Rockies to the east coast.
H.C. Speir starts a music store on North Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi. He discovers Charley Patton, Skip James, Tommy Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, and many others. He has an acetate recording machine and submits test sessions to Paramount, Victor, and other labels, acting as a talent broker. He also A&R’s sessions for OKeh and ARC Records in Mississippi in the 1930s, including early Country star Uncle Dave Macon. Robert Johnson also auditions for Speir.
First sessions in Memphis. Ralph Peer, now working for Victor, records the Memphis Jug Band and later many other seminal Blues artists, a few of them discovered by Speir in Jackson, Mississippi. Peer’s 1928 Memphis sessions feature Furry Lewis, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Tommy Johnson, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, the Memphis Jug Band, and many others.
RCA experiments with vinyl. To this point, all flat discs have been pressed on a shellac-based compound. Also in 1929, RCA buys the Victor Talking Machine Co. to create RCA Victor, since 2008 a division of Sony Music.
H.C. Speir is offered Paramount Records. As sales fall with the onset of the Great Depression, Paramount Records in Wisconsin offers to sell the company, including the pressing plant to Speir for $25,000, but Speir cannot raise the funds to relocate Paramount to Jackson, Mississippi. On-location recording in the Triangle is curtailed as record sales fall during the Depression from $75 million in 1929 to $6 million in 1933.
Jukeboxes proliferate. The end of Prohibition creates a new market, and the number of jukeboxes jumps from 25,000 in 1929 to 300,000 in 1939. By the end of World War II, jukeboxes account for almost one half of records sold.
John Lomax travels the South with a recording machine on behalf of the American Council of Learned Societies. He takes a 315 pound acetate disc recorder. Recording in prisons, he discovers Huddlie Ledbetter aka Leadbelly. In 1939, he travels on behalf of the Library of Congress.
AEG in Germany patents the magnetic tape recorder. All recordings in the United States are made on wax or acetate discs, and the tape recorder isn’t used to record music in the United States before World War II because the quality is inferior to acetate.
Alan Lomax, son of John Lomax, begins Southern field trips. Between 1937 and 1942, he discovers and records Muddy Waters and Honeyboy Edwards, and rediscovers Son House. He also records groundbreaking musical biographies with Woody Guthrie and Jelly Roll Morton.
BMI formed. When ASCAP demands a rate increase for playing songs on the radio, the National Association of Broadcasters responds by forming its own copyright protection society, Broadcast Music Inc. As ASCAP collects on behalf of mostly Pop and Classical publishers, BMI aggressively courts minority interest music publishers, including those publishing Blues, Country, and Jazz. Ralph Peer, by this point a music publisher, starts a BMI affiliate and publishes Jimmie Davis’s “You Are My Sunshine”—the first big BMI-protected work.
The Grand Ole Opry goes coast to coast. Pop music also broadcast from Nashville. Thirty minutes of the Opry, hosted by Roy Acuff, is broadcast on the NBC radio network. The show reaches an estimated 9.5 million listeners. Meanwhile, Sunday Down South—a Pop and Big Band show broadcast nationally on NBC radio from WSM, features several musicians who later work in Country music, including Owen Bradley. Dinah Shore, born in Winchester, Tennessee and raised in Nashville, works the show.
Les Paul develops a solid-body electric guitar. To this point, all electric models have been hollow-bodied.
KFFA goes on-air in Helena, Arkansas. The station pioneers African American artists selling King Biscuit Flour. King Biscuit Time features Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Robert Jr. Lockwood, and Pinetop Perkins. Many other seminal Blues musicians guest on the show, and Levon Helm, later of The Band, is among the regular audience members. Show #10,000 is broadcast in June 2010, ranking it second to the Opry as longest-running radio show. The show also inspires the syndicated rock show, King Biscuit Flower Hour, which runs from 1973-1993, and in re-runs until 2007.
War production controls. The government limits record production and mandates that new records can only be pressed on reground old discs. Record companies shed all but the most profitable artists. Nearly all Appalachian-style string bands and brother duets are dropped as are many Blues artists. Only artists with a broader appeal, like Gene Autry, Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, and Louis Jordan, keep their contracts.
First music publisher in Nashville. Roy Acuff and Fred Rose found Acuff-Rose Publishing. There are still no recording studios or record companies in the city; only the Grand Ole Opry is there, but the Opry’s national airtime attracts all the top Country stars of the day. In 1946, Rose signs Hank Williams first as a songwriter then an artist.
Tennessee Barn Dance starts on WNOX, Knoxville, Tennessee. In the 1940s and early ‘50s, the show mounts a serious challenge to the Grand Ole Opry. Held at the Lyric Theater in the 800 block of South Gay Street, its cast includes Bill Carlisle, Archie Campbell, Carl Story, Carl Butler, Don Gibson, Carl Smith, Chet Atkins, Mother Maybelle & the Carter Family, and Homer & Jethro. WNOX also hosts a live daily show, Mid-Day Merry Go Round.
WROX begins broadcasting in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The station hires African American performers as on-air artists and later dee-jays, including Ike Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), and Dr. Ross.
First recording studio in New Orleans. Cosimo Matassa opens J&M Recording Studio at Rampart & Dumaine in New Orleans. For many years, J&M (later Cosimo’s) is the only pro-quality studio in New Orleans, and, for some time, the only one in Louisiana.
Eddie Shuler starts Goldband Records in Lake Charles, Louisiana. At first, he only records his own Country band, but in 1948 he begins recording Cajun and Zydeco music. He also produces Phil Phillips 1959 hit “Sea of Love” and Dolly Parton’s first records.
Music Sales opens in Memphis. Already open in New Orleans, Buster Williams’ Music Sales distributes independent labels, paving the way for companies like Sun, Atlantic, and others to flourish in the South.
Rhythm & Blues reaches the nation from Nashville. At a time when most music on radio is still “live,” DJ Gene Nobles begins all-night broadcasting on Nashville’s WLAC. Some students bring R&B records to him and they elicit so much mail, he continues with R&B. The following year, Ernie Young starts Ernie’s Record Mart in Nashville to sell records on Nobles’ show. Two years later, Randy Wood in nearby Gallatin, Tennessee begins advertising on Nobles’ show and ships packages of R&B records throughout the nation from Randy’s Record Shop. Gene Nobles, Randy Wood, Ernie Young, WLAC’s daytime R&B dee-jay, John. R. (Richbourg), and Hoss Allen are all white, as are many of their listeners and customers.
Nashville’s first-ever independent label, Bullet Records. Ray Price, Minnie Pearl, Pee Wee King, Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, and B.B. King all make their first records for Bullet. The label also issues one of the biggest Pop hits of all time, Nashville bandleader Francis Craig’s “Near You.” Bullet records several other classics, including Johnnie Lee Wills’ hit “Rag Mop,” Leon Payne’s original recording of “Lost Highway,” and Red Miller’s R&B standard “Bewildered.” Southern Gospel stalwarts such as the John Daniel Quartet and Black Gospel acts including the Fairfield Four also record for Bullet. The Bullet partners start a pressing plant, Southern Plastics, still in business as a vinyl plant, United Record Pressing.
Francis Craig’s “Near You.” Nashville big band leader Francis Craig records “Near You” for Bullet Records at the WSM studio and it becomes the biggest pop record of 1947 and the best-charting Pop record of all time. Milton Berle uses it as his theme song, and George Jones later revives it.
Professional recording comes to Nashville. Three WSM engineers build Castle Recording Laboratories. They convert a dining room in the now-demolished Tulane Hotel. When Decca records Ernest Tubb and Red Foley at Castle, the Nashville recording business is underway. At this point, more Country records are made in Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, and New York than Nashville, but Nashville is swiftly becoming the epicenter of the business.
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop becomes a Nashville landmark. Tubb opens his store, still based near the Ryman Auditorium. He pioneers mail-order service, supplying records to fans across the United States, cementing Nashville’s reputation as the home of country music. His Midnite Jamboree is broadcast from the store after the Opry goes off-air on Saturday night.
Ampex introduces the first American tape recorder. Based on technology developed from captured AEG recorders, Ampex begins manufacturing tape and tape recorders. The record industry quickly adopts tape because it is cheaper and easier to store than acetates and wax discs. In 1949, Ampex introduces stereo recording, but there are no stereo playback units. RCA begins selling stereo tapes for home playback in 1954.
Columbia introduces the LP. The oil industry develops a multi-purpose thermo plastic, polyvinylchloride (PVC) suitable for making recording records with very low surface noise. This enables the pressing of microgroove long playing records. Initially, LPs are 10 inches in diameter—like 78s, so record stores will not need to build new racks.
KWKH, Shreveport, launches The Louisiana Hayride. Broadcast from Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium, the show becomes known as the Cradle of the Stars for introducing Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Faron Young, Slim Whitman, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Jim Reeves, David Houston, and Johnny Horton, as well as nurturing back-up musicians such as James Burton and Jerry Kennedy.
Stan’s Record Shop, Shreveport, Louisiana. Stan Lewis starts a record store, selling over the air on KWKH. Very soon, he’s distributing R&B indie labels, and A&R’ing sessions for Chess. The first big hit he produces is Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” for Chess. He also produces a Rockabilly classic, Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q.”
RCA Victor introduces the 45 RPM single. At first, Columbia record players won’t play at 45 RPM and Victor players won’t play at 33 RPM, but by 1951 most record players will play at 33, 45, as well as 78 RPMs.
Beginning of Black Radio. In Memphis, a country and pop station, WDIA, becomes the first to exclusively program to the African American community. B.B. King signs on as an on-air musician and dee-jay. In response to WDIA’s success, WHBQ programs Dewey Phillips’ Red Hot and Blue show in the evening after WDIA goes off the air. Phillips becomes a pioneering disc jockey, playing Elvis Presley’s first record repeatedly.
Plastic Products. Memphis-based record distributor, Robert “Buster” Williams of Music Sales, sets up a pressing plant on Chelsea Avenue. He presses for nearly all the independent R&B labels, extending credit to them and distributing their product via Music Sales.
Trumpet Records opens in Jackson, Mississippi. The first half-way successful label to operate out of Mississippi, Trumpet is run by Lillian McMurry from her husband’s furniture store. In 1951, she makes the first records by Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and Elmore James, but both artists are soon poached by larger indie labels. Before folding in 1956, McMurry also records R&B, Country and Black Gospel.
Music City USA. WSM announcer David Cobb dubs Nashville “Music City USA,” and it sticks. In just five years, Nashville has become the center of the Country music business. A core of local musicians, some of whom had played with WSM’s pop orchestras, form the local A-Team, and vocalist Anita Kerr arrives from Memphis to lead a vocal backing group.
Dot Records launched. In Gallatin, Tennessee, Randy Wood starts a label as an offshoot of Randy’s Record Store. Although Wood records Country and R&B artists, his biggest successes come with Gallatin pianist Johnny Maddox and Nashville teenager Pat Boone. From southern Kentucky—near Gallatin, Wood hires a vocal group, The Hilltoppers, and arranger Billy Vaughan. In 1956, Wood moves the label to Hollywood, and sells to Paramount Pictures.
RCA begins holding Nashville sessions at Brown Radio Productions. Although the Brown studio had been around since 1945 to record radio shows, it isn’t used as a recording studio until 1950. All of RCA’s Country artists including Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold, and later Elvis Presley record there. When it folds in 1956, RCA builds its own studio.
Birth of Top 40. KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska becomes the first Top 40 station, playing only hits in rotation.
“Down Yonder.” A huge Pop and Country hit, “Down Yonder” is played by Opry pianist Del Wood on a new Nashville indie label, Tennessee Records. A couple of years later, Pat Boone makes his first records for Tennessee/Republic Records before moving to Dot.
Excello Records In Nashville, Ernie Young—proprietor of Ernie’s Record Mart, takes his cue from Randy Wood and starts his own record label. Ernie’s sells R&B records on WLAC, and Excello leans heavily toward R&B, while Young’s companion label, Nashboro, focuses on Black Gospel. One of the first hits on Excello is Nashville Blues man Arthur Gunter’s original “Baby, Let’s Play House,” covered by Elvis Presley for Sun.
Tree Music. WSM’s program manager Jack Stapp forms Tree Music and hires songwriter/musician Buddy Killen. Their first significant copyright is “Heartbreak Hotel.” Under Killen’s leadership, Tree signs Roger Miller, Bill Anderson, Curly Putman (“Green, Green Grass of Home,” etc), and many others, making Tree one of the most significant music publishers in Country music. It is now a division of Sony Music.
Owen and Harold Bradley start a recording studio in Nashville. The Bradley studio becomes known as the Quonset Hut.
“The Things I Used to Do.” This epic R&B hit by Guitar Slim is produced in New Orleans for Specialty Records by Johnny Vincent, who later starts Ace Records in Jackson, Mississippi. The arrangement, drawing heavily on Gospel voicings, is by Ray Charles, who has yet to score his first major hit. The distorted sound of Slim’s guitar later becomes a hallmark of Rock music.
First portable transistor radio. The Regency TR-1 makes music portable.
Owen and Harold Bradley move their studio to 16th Avenue South. It’s the first on what is now Nashville’s Music Row. Although once an upscale residential neighborhood, it has fallen into decline and is rezoned for commercial use.
Nashville’s first indie label, Bullet, enters bankruptcy. Although revived periodically, it doesn’t score another hit.
Hickory Records. Fred Rose of Acuff-Rose starts Hickory Records, but dies a few months after its launch. Initially, Hickory’s releases are all Country, but the label later expands into Pop, signing Sue Thompson and the Newbeats and licensing Donovan from Pye U.K. Hickory remains in business until 1979.
“Ozark Jubilee,” hosted by Red Foley in Springfield, Missouri, is the first nationwide Country music TV show when it is picked up by ABC-TV. When Rock ‘n’ Roll erupts, the Jubilee tries to stay current by bringing Rockabillies on-air. A Grand Ole Opry television show airs briefly in 1955-’56.
Ace Records starts in Jackson, Mississippi. Around the time that Trumpet folds, Johnny Vincent starts Ace Records and scores with Huey Piano Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise,” and a slew of hits by Baton Rouge teenager Jimmy Clanton. Most Ace recordings are made at Cosimo’s in New Orleans. Vincent also releases early records by Dr. John, Joe Tex, and Lee Dorsey.
Excello partners with Jay Miller from Crowley, Louisiana. Miller, who’d pioneered the post-War revival of Cajun recordings in the 1940s and had written the Country hit “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” begins recording Swamp Blues artists including Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim, and Lazy Lester. He leases these recordings to Nashville’s Excello Records.
Castle Studio closed. Nashville’s first pro-quality studio closes when the engineers are forced to choose between a steady career at WSM and continuing their moonlight business.
Hi Records founded in Memphis. The label’s earliest success comes in 1960 with the Bill Black Combo’s R&B instrumentals. The label owners convert an abandoned movie theater on South Lauderdale Avenue into a recording studio.
RCA becomes the first major record label to open a studio in Nashville. Chet Atkins is hired to run it. Before it closes, approximately 35,000 sessions are held in Studio B, resulting in one thousand hits. In addition to Country artists, many Pop acts, including Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, and Perry Como record there.
Starday Records moves from Houston to Nashville. The label’s mainstay, George Jones, soon leaves, but Starday remains in business as a Bluegrass label. Now part of Gusto-IMG, it is headquartered on Elm Hill Pike in Nashville.
Stereo standardized. Stereo LPs are introduced immediately. Experiments with stereo 45s are discontinued because 45s are mostly bought by kids who own portable mono players. 78s are largely discontinued. The last 78s are manufactured in 1960, but are made in India and South Africa until the mid-1960s (early Beatles records are on 78).
Gold records. The Recording industry Association of America begins auditing sales, issuing Gold Records when sales top one million. The first certified Gold Record is Elvis Presley’s “Hard Headed Woman.”
Nashville Sound. The phrase is coined by journalist Charlie Lamb in his Music Reporter magazine. A&R men come from the coasts to get what Lamb calls “that Nashville sound, which has proved so refreshingly different as compared with the stylized sound versions of the older music centers of the north, mid-west and west coast.”
Floyd Soileau starts Jin and Swallow Records in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Soileau’s labels capture the cream of local Cajun artists as well as Swamp-Pop hits such as Rod Bernard’s “This Should Go on Forever,” Joe Barry’s “I’m a Fool to Care,” and later Count Sidney’s “My Toot Toot.” All of Soileau’s hits are leased to bigger labels.
Muscle Shoals-Florence, Alabama. James Joyner and Tom Stafford start a studio and a music publishing company, Spar, above a drugstore owned by Stafford’s father. Joyner soon exits and is replaced by Rick Hall and Billy Sherrill.
Payola scandal. Paying for airplay was more or less unnoticed when it was prevalent in R&B radio in the early 1950s, but the major labels pressure Congress because the R&B indies are using the same tactics to promote Rock ‘n’ Roll. Alan Freed is dismissed from his television and radio shows in New York, but Dick Clark emerges unscathed, although he owns record labels and promotes his own product on Bandstand.
Radio Barn Dance format folds. As radio increasingly favors pre-recorded music, the radio barn dances that had proliferated in the 1930s and ‘40s close. The Grand Ole Opry loses its spot on NBC radio nationwide in 1956, but continues on WSM. The original radio barn-dance, WLS’s National Barn Dance, ceases live performances in 1957 but continues as a radio show until 1959, while the Renfro Valley Barn Dance loses its radio slot in 1957 but continues as a live show. The Louisiana Hayride goes off KWKH’s regular schedule in 1960. WNOX’s Mid-Day Merry-go-Round and Tennessee Barn Dance in Knoxville closes in 1961 when the station changes format to Rock ‘n’ Roll. By the early 1970s, the only surviving high-profile barn dances are the Opry and the WWVA Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia. The latter closes in 2008.
Monument Records relocates to Nashville. Although launched in D.C., label owner Fred Foster moves to Nashville because his biggest-selling artist, Roy Orbison, is based there and he prefers the Nashville studios. After Orbison leaves, Foster remakes Monument as a Country label, signing Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, the Gatlins, Tony Joe White, and Boots Randolph. Monument goes bankrupt in 1990.
New Orleans: All for One. After Allen Toussaint’s production of Ernie K. Doe’s “Mother-in-Law” becomes a Pop and R&B hit, Toussaint forms a cooperative in which the session musicians produce records for their own label, AFO (All for One). They score one hit, Barbara George’s “I Know,” before running out of financing. In the aftermath, some of the city’s stellar backing musicians move to Los Angeles. Toussaint stays, but begins working with out-of-town artists, including The Band.
Dial Records An off-shoot of Nashville music publisher Tree Music, Dial is launched to promote R&B singer Joe Tex. Later, the label records an early Allman Brothers band, Allman Joys, who are discovered by Nashville songwriter John D. Loudermilk (“Tobacco Road,” “Talk Back Trembling Lips,” etc.)
The Nashville music industry booms. Starting with nothing but the Grand Ole Opry and Acuff-Rose in 1945, the Nashville industry has grown to include 1100 professional musicians, 95 BMI-affiliated music publishers, 16 ASCAP-affiliated publishers, 199 full-time songwriters, 15 recording studios…two of which operate around-the-clock, and 12 booking agencies.
The birth of the Muscle Shoals sound. Billy Sherrill exits Spar Studio to go to Nashville where he becomes an architect of the 1970s Nashville Sound. Tom Stafford sells his share of Spar to Rick Hall, who opens a new studio, FAME (Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises) in a tobacco warehouse on Wilson Dam Highway. The first hit is Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On.”
Columbia Records buys the Bradley studio in Nashville. Owen Bradley later starts a new studio, Bradley’s Barn, in nearby Mount Juliet. In addition to Country artists, the Barn is used by The Beau Brummels, Joan Baez, Gordon Lightfoot, and many Pop artists.
Stan Lewis of Stan’s Record Shop in Shreveport starts Jewel and Paula Records. His hits include John Fred’s “Judy in Disguise,” Toussaint McCall’s “Nothing Takes the Place of You,” and Nat Stuckey’s “Sweet Thing.”
In Memphis, Chips Moman launches American Studio. The all-white session band, comprising Reggie Young on guitar, Bobby Emmons on keyboard, Gene Chrisman on drums, and Tommy Cogbill on bass, becomes a major draw for artists recording in Memphis. Unlike Stax, Sun, and Hi, there’s no label predominantly associated with American. Hits from the studio include Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” The Boxtops’ “The Letter,” Sandy Posey’s “Born a Woman,” and King Curtis’s “Memphis Soul Stew.” American places 120 records on the Billboard charts between 1967 and 1971.
Ardent Studio, Memphis. John Fry moves his home studio to a building on National Street. Fry produces Big Star for Ardent’s own label, and records Sam & Dave, Led Zeppelin, Isaac Hayes, Leon Russell, The Staple Singers, ZZ Top, The Allmans, Bob Dylan, the White Stripes, and many more. In 1971, Ardent moves to its current location on Madison Avenue.
The!!! Beat syndicated out of Nashville. Filmed in color in Dallas, its 26 episodes feature the cream of Southern Soul and R&B. WLAC R&B dee-jay Hoss Allen hosts the show and books talent out of Nashville. The backing musicians include Jimi Hendrix, who had been stationed near Nashville at Fort Campbell.
Woodland Sound Studio opens in Nashville. Engineer Glen Snoddy reconfigures the old Woodland movie theater in east Nashville. Bobby Goldsboro, Jimmy Buffett, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Soul star Joe Simon, and many others record there. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s epochal Will the Circle Be Unbroken is recorded there as is Kansas’ giant 1977 Pop hit, “Dust in the Wind.” After closing in 2001, it’s bought by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
The FAME house band departs to start Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The first year’s sessions include R.B. Greaves’ R&B hit “Take a Letter, Maria” and the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.” The studio ambience and house band attract Bob Dylan, Traffic, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Paul Simon, and many others. After the Stax house band breaks up, Stax holds sessions at MSSS, including The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.”
“Hee-Haw” debuts on television. It joins several other television shows that feature Country music, including The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour and The Johnny Cash Show (filmed at the Ryman auditorium). Other shows espouse rural values, such as The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry RFD, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. President Richard Nixon coins the phrase “silent majority” for those who share the values of those shows. The cultural divide between the Silent Majority and the counter-culture seems irreconcilable, and is exacerbated by the escalation of the Vietnam War.
Stax Records forced into bankruptcy. Union Planters Bank seizes the assets, selling them to a holding company which in turn sells them to Fantasy Records in Berkeley, California. In 1981, Union Planters deeds the Stax studio on McLemore Avenue to Southside Church of God in Christ for ten dollars, and the church tears it down in 1989.
RCA Nashville studio closes. The Country Music Hall of Fame over Studio B as a tourist attraction until 2002 when it begins doubling as a learning lab for students in Belmont University’s Music and Entertainment Business programs. As of 2003, Studio A is operated as a studio by Ben Folds.
Columbia’s Nashville studio closed. The famous Quonset Hut is converted into office space for Columbia Nashville. It has since been reopened as a classroom for Belmont University, restored by Mike Curb.
Recorded music sales peak. From $28.6b, U.S. sales decline steadily to $16.5b in 2012. Sales in 2013 post a tiny increase.
Napster launched. A program that allows file-sharing of music, it begins decimating music sales. A lawsuit in 2001 halts Napster, although it resurfaces as a legal file-sharing service.
iTunes Launched. Apple’s legal download service begins operation. Eight months later, in October 2001, Apple launches its first iPod music player.
Streaming services become popular. This follows a decade of legislation and lawsuits designed to codify royalty payments for streamed internet radio. In 2014, streaming revenue overtakes CD sales for the first time. Download “stores,” like Amazon and iTunes, see their revenues drop.
Vinyl resurgence. Although still less than three percent of total music revenue, vinyl stages a strong comeback, spurred by the increasing popularity of Record Store Day, following its launch in 2007. In the UK, vinyl sales for 2014 top one million units for the first time since 1996.