Although known for country music, the Nashville music scene really began as a home to blues and R&B. Some would say that country music strangled the old jazz and blues that thrived here in the 20’s on up to the 60’s. Clubs like Club Baron, the Del Morocco, the New Era and many others along Jefferson Street and 4th Ave North hosted some future legends like Little Richard and Etta James, B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner and Ray Charles. But maybe more importantly some of the greatest musicians you never heard of like Gene Allison, Earl Gaines, Roscoe Shelton and Christine Kittrell played and romped in these haunts through the years. Small recording studios would also pop up giving many of these early performers in the clubs an opportunity to record. It was easier in those days to go from the stage to the studio.
The Elks Lodge at 2614 Jefferson Street was known as the Club Baron in the 1950’s and had many of these great musicians as regulars. One story has it that Jimi Hendrix, then a soldier at Fort Campbell, (nicknamed Marbles, as in lost his marbles), dragged his amp from the Del Morocco where he was a regular, to Club Baron to challenge Johnny Jones. Legend has it that Johnny promptly outplayed the future rock legend and sent him back to the Del Morocco, tail between his legs. Hendrix was known then for being a bit of an eccentric player, picking with his teeth (or other body parts I will not mention) and no one really took him seriously in those days.
The beginning of the end would start around the mid 1950’s when gambling (which financed many of these clubs and small recording studios in the area) would become the enemy to a new political era following the end of WWII, and country music would begin to become more mainstream and profitable. By the middle of the 1960’s, most of the jazz and blues clubs of north Nashville would be leveled to make way for interstates and progress. Many of these artists were lost to history as the country music era came and ran roughshod over the local musical landscape. Of course, in recent years, from the 1980’s or so going forward, the Nashville music industry has become more universal and hosts much of the music genre these days. Music City is truly that today and much of the music industry calls Nashville home. By the way, The Elks Lodge still hosts some great music from time to time. You can usually find out what’s going on there and throughout the city by picking up a copy of the Nashville Scene, a local entertainment magazine.