Big Plans for Birthplace of Country Music

February 28, 2007

I dropped into the headquarters of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance (BACA) in Bristol. The organization has as its mission “To tell the story of the musical and cultural heritage of the region, its role in the birth and development of country music, and its influence on music around the world.” Plans are underway to renovate an old building into a Cultural Heritage Center with exhbits and performing space.


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Cock Fighting in East Tennessee

February 28, 2007

Wallace News in Kingsport offers a wide range of magazines, some of which will never be displayed on a Southern Living coffee table. While some particularly lavicious magazine covers were partially covered, the only publication to be entirely concealed was Grit and Steel, a magazine for cockfighters. It comes in a manila envelope ready for mailing.


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Fossil Museum building complete

February 28, 2007

The new building sitting beside the increasingly famous Gray Fossil Site between Kingsport and Johnson City is now complete, and will be turned over to East Tennessee State University later this week. According to a story in the Johnson City Press, construction will then begin on exhibits and a laboratory. No date has been set for the official opening of the museum.

‘Black Snake Moan’ director on Memphis and the South

February 28, 2007

This is an excerpt from an interview in (Premium edition, subscription required, alas) with Craig Brewer, Memphis resident and director of Black Snake Moan. He is talking about Memphis:

“It’s a maverick town. It’s a town that doesn’t have professionals. Jerry Lee Lewis can’t really play the piano all that well. He plays it a certain way. You can’t really give him a Bach piece and expect it to sound like Bach. It’s going to sound like a Jerry Lee Lewis song, because the energy he uses to attack the keys is specific to himself.

“Also, in the South, you do a lot with not much. And that makes what you’re making more unique and more lasting and memorable. You look at Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line.” They couldn’t have drums on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and he really wanted that song to cross over to the country charts. So he just took a dollar bill and wove it through the strings of his guitar. And it created that chk-chikka-chik-chikka-chik. You look at Ike Turner coming up from Clarksdale, Mississippi, in a jalopy filled with his band, and he’s writing a song about a car that passed, called the Rocket 88. He gets pulled over by a cop, and the amplifier falls off his car and smashes on the pavement. He goes into Sun Studios, and there’s Sam Phillips, this crazy white man from Mississippi. And Phillips says, “Aw, don’t worry about that, Ike.” He starts shoving newspaper inside the amplifier. They plug in the guitar and it has this raw, distorted sound. And now all amplifiers try to duplicate that sound.

“There’s something about that spirit, where we know, when we listen to music, when we make music, when we worship, when we go to football games. And especially when we eat. We’re bound to each other more than people outside of the South give us credit for. I guess I respond to that kind of spirit. It makes me feel I can be creative and not be judged. I can be poor and not be ashamed.”

Personally, I’d like the hear the Killer play a little Bach sometime.


Did John Wilkes Booth Survive and live in Tennessee?

February 19, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press (alas, subscription required) trots out the latest John-Wilkes Booth-escaped-death theory, this time claiming that the assassin of Lincoln married a Sewanee woman and lived for a period of time in Tennessee.

Tales of Booth’s second act have been around for a while, as this Wikipedia entry explains.

As Dick Cook writes in the Times Free Press, “. . . there was one piece of physical evidence: the signature of “Jno. W. Booth” and his bride, Louisa J. Payne, recorded Feb. 24, 1872, in the marriage license records office of the Franklin County Courthouse.”

The rest of the story centers in a Flannery O’Connoresque tale. Seems that one Ken Hawkes, who was an autopsy technician for the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, heard accounts of “a mummy that was purported to be Mr. Booth being toted around the Midwest in carnivals during the 1930s.” If this mummy could be found, Mr. Hawkes believes, DNA tests would reveal if it is the remains of the notorious Booth.

And there’s the rub. The mummy has disappeared–nothing on eBay or in the National Enquirer. “I do believe the mummy still exists,” Hawkes said. “I think it’s in a private collection.”


Slave Descendant now on Plantation Board of Directors

February 18, 2007

Today’s Tennessean has an interesting story on one of the newer board members of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation. Like many board members of such properties, Luvenia Butler has longtime family ties to the state and the city. Unlike her colleagues on the board, however, Ms. Butler is the descendant of slaves who belonged to the owners of Belle Meade.

This is extraordinary. Plantations that depend on tourism revenue have been making progress in coming to terms with the fact that their fortunes were built on human bondage, first by acknowledging that slavery took place, second by discussing it on tours and in exhibits, and finally by identifying and restoring slave quarters. To my knowledge, however, this is a first.

You can read more on Belle Meade here.


Oak Ridge historic inn faces meltdown

February 17, 2007

Of all the hotels in Tennessee, the Alexander Inn in Oak Ridge can probably claim to have hosted the smartest collection of guests at any given time. Built during the Manhattan Project, its guests included Enrico Fermi, Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, and other luminaries who developed the atomic bomb.

The 78-room hotel has been closed for around ten years and has become so run down that neighbors want it demolished. The News Sentinel has an article describing the situation facing so many historic hotels: it is on the Historic Register. It needs work. “Someone” ought to buy it and fix it up.

More on the history of Oak Ridge can be found at the Atomic Heritage Foundation, from which the photo below was lifted.


Black Snake Moan: second in a Tennessee trilogy

February 11, 2007

An article article in today’s New York Times discusses the impending release of Black Snake Moan, the film starring Samuel L. Jackson. Writer Mark Olsen compares the working relationship between director Craig Brewster and Scott Bomar to that of Italian director Frederico Fellini and his composer, Nina Rota.

Brewster and Bomar previously created Hustle and Flow, which won an Oscar for “It’s Hard Out There for a Pimp.” Both, according the the article, live in Memphis.

The piece concludes with these two paragraphs:

“For Mr. Brewer ‘Black Snake Moan’ is another step in the overall project he hopes to bring to fruition.

“’I’m trying to do a music series for my state,’ he said. ‘It sort of starts from the music and begins to inspire me with images and stories. I really wanted ‘Hustle & Flow’ to be the rap movie. I tried to write a story that would use it as a soundtrack and capture what I felt was the essence of hip-hop in Memphis. Now I’m doing blues. My next one is outlaw country.'”

Wonder where it will be filmed?

Speaking the King’s English in Nashville

February 8, 2007

The Nashville Metro Council has passed an ordinance making English the official language of that fair city.  The mayor is asking the city attorneys to see how legal this anti-furriner measure is–and probably testing the political winds–before deciding whether to sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his approval.

This fuss reminds me of the tale of an Alabama legislator who, upon being asked his opinion of “English only” laws, replied by saying “If the Kings James English was good enough for our Lord and Savior, it’s good enough for me.”

One Whooping Crane survives storm

February 5, 2007

In one of the sadder wildlife stories of the new year, a flock of whooping cranes that passed through Tennessee en route to wintering grounds in Florida were all but wiped out in a fierce storm. Only one of 18 birds on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge survived.

Details and updates can be found at Operation Migration.