A Southern Music Hall of Fame in Jacksonville?

October 23, 2012 104 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A Metro Jacksonville forum debate about determining what to do with the old Duval County Armory building has energized discussion of a Southern Music Hall of Fame in Jacksonville. Today, Hugh Simpson, co-founder of the Southern Music Hall of Fame shares his executive summary of the concept for public discussion.

Jazz greats featured here include: Charles “Buddy” Bolden, “Papa” Jack Laine, John Robichaux, Freddie Keppard, the all white Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Clarence “Gatemouth” Williams, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, the Adderly Brothers, the Marsalis brothers, etc.

COUNTRY. Country’s origins are principally from our British heritage, however, other European and African influences are present.  Country began in the Deep South with fiddlers, banjoists, string bands, balladeers and gospel singers joining together in music and song at house parties, fish fries, corn shuckings, barn raisings, fiddle contests and vaudeville/medicine shows.

Like Blues, Country has been predominantly a working class music reflecting the real jobs of many performers: railroad men, coal miners, textile workers, carpenters, wagoners, sawmill workers, cowboys and even country lawyers, doctors and preachers. Before World War One, string bands with names like The Skillet Lickers, The Fruit Jar Drinkers, and the East Texas Serenaders were very popular playing ragtime, hoedown tunes, British dance tunes and even marching band numbers!

By the 1920s, Country caught the attention of radio and recording executives, booking agents and advertisers at stations like WSB, WSM, WBT and WBAP.  Soon stars like Vernon Dalhart, Uncle Dave Macon, the Carter Family and Jimmie Rogers were filling the airwaves and stages across the country.  Charlotte, North Carolina became the home of a RCA recording studio from 1927 – 1945 with over 1500 recordings taking place. During the Depression, two stations became the dominant ones for Country: WLS’s National Barn Dance and WSM’s Grand Ole Opry were the shows that launched greats like Roy Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Conway Twitty, Grandpa Jones, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl, Dolly Parton, etc.

The Southwest had its own form of Country.  The first was a cowboy that would win the hearts of all Americans – Gene Autry, a radio hillbilly singer from Texas.  Next came the “western swing” performed by Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies, The Light Crust Doughboys and Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys.

The 70s saw a revival in Country with the likes of Emmylou Harris, who was discovered by the Father of Country Rock – Gram Parsons.  Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Barbara Mandrell, Charley Pride and Waylon Jennings joined her. The decade of the 80s launched Country greats like Ricky Scaggs, Alabama, Reba McEntire, Dwight Yoakum, Randy Travis, Vince Gill and George Straitt.  The 90s continued the Country hit parade with Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Wynonna Judd, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood and Shania Twain.

BLUEGRASS. Bluegrass had its origins with the legendary Bill Monroe of Kentucky. Monroe played mandolin and his brother Charlie played guitar.  The Monroe Brothers performed became regulars on Charlotte’s WBT beginning in 1936.  This led to a RCA recording contract, however, by 1938 Charlie had left to form his own band called the Kentucky Pardners along with newcomer Lester Flatt of Overton, Tennessee.  Bill formed his legendary Blue Grass Boys and had landed a spot on the Grand Ole Opry by 1939, where he became a regular for the next 50 years.

Actually, the music we know as Bluegrass did not fully develop until 1945 when Bill signed with Columbia, recording his world famous “Kentucky Waltz.”  By 1946 his band included Flatt on guitar, Earl Scruggs on banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Howard Watts on bass.  

In 1948 Flatt and Scruggs left to form their own band.  Bill helped other bluegrass performers with their careers including Jimmy Martin, Vassar Clements, Buddy Spicher and banjoist Sonny Osborne. Bill also went on to record “Rawhide” and “Roanoke” in the 50s featuring his signature mandolin playing and “New Mule Skinner Blues” with his signature yodeling.

In the 1960s Bill became a star on the college campus folk singing tours.  In 1967 he began his famous bluegrass festival at Bean Blossom, Indiana.  In 1989 he celebrated his fiftieth anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Another famous bluegrass group was The Stanley Brothers of Virginia – Ralph and Carter.  The Stanley Brothers have become famous for their raw, emotional duet and trio vocal harmonies.  After Carter’s death in 1966, Ralph formed another band which later included well known performers Keith Whitley on guitar and Ricky Skaggs on the mandolin.  In 1980 Ralph performed with Emmylou Harris on his “The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn.”

Ricky Skaggs has returned to his roots and become one of the leading bluegrass performers and also, a spokesman for the music.  Skaggs of Cordell, Kentucky began playing the mandolin at age five and was featured on the Flatt & Scruggs TV show by age seven.  By age fifteen he was already a member of the Ralph Stanley band.  He then went to work with the Country Gentlemen and even J.D. Crowe’s New South.

In the late 70’s, Skaggs joined with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band.  Afterwards he recorded for Durham, North Carolina’s Sugar Hill label, his highly acclaimed album “Sweet Temptation.”  His real success came after signing with Epic.  His recording of Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Penn” became the first bluegrass number by a solo artist to reach #1 on Billboard’s country chart.  In 1982, Skaggs became the youngest member at the time to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

ROCK. The era of Rock-N-Roll lasted from 1955 to 1965 ending with the British invasion.  Rock was a mixture of white and black Folk and popular music.  The term Rock-N-Roll was fist used by disc jockey Alan Freed referring to Bill Haley and The

Comets’ hit “Rock Around the Clock.”  Soon a swivel-hipped teenager from Tupelo, Mississippi named Elvis Presley was causing teenager girls to swoon and parents to become alarmed.  Others soon joined The King of Rock-N-Roll: Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino and Little Richard.
Rockabilly was premiered in Memphis by its creator Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records.  His dynamite performers included Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Billy Riley, Sonny Burgess, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and Conway Twitty.  Other labels joined the bandwagon with their stars: Dale Hawkins, Gene Vincent and the Everly Brothers.

Local rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd (above), Allman Brothers, 38 Special, and Molly Hatchet made Jacksonville the epicenter of the 1970s Southern Rock movement. http://www.personal.psu.edu/users/n/w/nws5017/

Not to be out done, New Orleans Rock-N-Roll was infused with the Blues and launched greats like Fats Domino, who became New Orleans’ King of Rock, Lloyd Price, Smiley Lewis, Huey Smith, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Frankie Ford, Bobby Charles and Jimmy Clanton.  

In the 70’s, Rock made a new revival in the form of Southern Rock with performers like The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Wet Willie, Sea Level and ZZ Top.

R&B.  Several of the musicologists that we consulted suggested that R&B or rhythm and blues should be a separate form of music.  This music was created by in the 1950s by such greats as The Clovers, Bo Diddley, Ruth Brown and Muddy Waters.  One of the first supporters of the Hall and also on the Board of Advisors, Harry Turner, has written a very informative book telling about his life-long love for R&B entitled This Magic Moment.  Over the years Harry has been become friends with hundreds of the artists that have made what he calls America’s Golden Music.
Here’s what Harry had to say about the beginning of R&B: “And with the advent of R&B music, music traditionalists were repulsed by this unsophisticated music form.  To them, music should only have been performed and recorded by trained students of music. Imagine how offended they must have been by this upstart music, performed largely by less educated blacks and aimed at black audiences!”

Besides The Clovers and Ruth Brown, Harry states that Joe Turner, Chuck Willis, Ray Charles, Lavern Baker, the Drifters, Clyde McPhatter and Ivory Joe Hunter were also pioneers in R&B music.  

While living in Jacksonville during the mid-1940s, a young Ray Charles played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Image courtesy of http://thebluegrassspecial.com/archive/2010/august10/ray-charles-genius-soul-jazz.php

As R&B became more popular, the music world began to see what has been been called by the music industry: cross over and “cover” records.  Here’s what Harry Turner has to say: “Sales of records by black artists increased ‘crossover’ appeal to white kids.  And seeing the popularity of the music among us teenagers, record companies (even major labels) realized there was a simple way to appeal to more kids.  Using popular mainstream artists, they re-recorded songs that were already moving up the record charts. Radio stations that never would have aired the original black or country versions quickly played the homogenized versions.”

“This was the birth of the infamous “cover” record.  The covers were tamer that the originals, and parents’ fears were eased sufficiently to allow their kids to buy more records.”

Here are some of the records that were “covered”:

Song                               Cover Version                     Original Version

Ain’t That A Shame            Pat Boone                          Fats Domino
Tutti Fruitti                      Pat Boone                           Little Richard
Sincerely                         The McGuire Sisters              The Monglows
Earth Angel                      The Crew Cuts                     The Penquins
Only You                          The Hilltoppers                     The Platters
Bo Weevil                         Teresa Brewer                      Fats Domino
Shake Rattle & Roll             Bill Haley                            Joe Turner

“With all this going against it, how did R&B get even as far as it did?  The jukebox certainly played a part.  Millions of kids were greatly influenced by what they heard on the jukeboxes in establishments throughout the country.  Places that featured jukeboxes often had areas for dancing, so it was natural that jukebox operators provide as much danceable music as possible.  R&B was the first danceable music of all, and there was no juke box censorship.”

R&B producer Ralph Bass has stated that early rock n roll did as much to break down America’s racial barriers as the civil rights acts and marches.  

Harry concludes his book saying that r&b has certainly not died.  Just witness the movies that have capitalized on this form of music: American Graffiti, The Big Chill, American Hot Wax, Pretty Woman, Sister Act, etc.  Also the sales of CDs by such greats as Fats Domino, James Brown and Elvis have skyrocketed.  

Then there is Madison Avenue’s use of the great r&b songs for commercials like:

Chevrolet                         Personality
Chevrolet                         Kansas City
Oldsmobile                        The Wanderer
AT&T                              Dedicated To The One I Love
American Express               Stand By Me
British Airways                   Up On The Roof
Budweiser                         I Love Beach Music

Events Planned Around The Southern Music Hall of Fame

Each year we will have our induction ceremonies into the Southern Music Hall of Fame Legacy and Achievement Awards.  The Legacy Awards are for those performers thathave passed on. The potential inductees must have been born in the South.  The categories will include performer, composer, songwriter, producer, etc.

The first Legacy Awards will honor the Founder of Country Rock, Gram Parsons.  We have been told that this event will attract worldwide attention especially of the media and performers that have been influenced by Parsons possibly including legendary star Keith Richards.  We are hoping to have Emmylou Harris, who was the performer that Parsons discovered and promoted before his tragic death in 1973.

Gram Parsons, the "father of country rock," graduated from Jacksonville's Bolles School in 1965. Image courtesy of http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/03/14/gram-parsons-rock

Another event will be the Southern Music Achievement Awards honoring living legends of Southern Music born in the South.  Also the potential inductees must have been contributors to their communities in other areas besides music.  Again this event should attract media attention and TV producers looking for a new product.

The biggest event will be the annual Southern Music Festival patterned after the highly successful New Orleans’ Jazz & blues Festival. We see this seven-day event drawing over 250,000 attendees by the fifth year. We feel that this is a very realistic figure based on the population to draw from within a six-hour drive to Jacksonville. This event is where we plan to showcase young Southern talent performing Southern Music as it was performed before the days of synthesizers and electronic instruments.

Guest article by Hugh Simpson

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