March 27, 2015 - December 31, 2016
Bob Dylan’s decision to record in Nashville in 1966 provided a major catalyst for bringing many others to what must have seemed like a very unlikely destination in the politically polarized sixties. In spite of its reputation as a conservative town, removed from the main trends in popular music, Nashville was home to musicians who had a huge influence on other music scenes of the era.
Explore below to learn more about Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and session musicians known as the Nashville Cats.
The exhibit opens with a brief biographical section on Dylan’s career prior to his 1966 arrival in Nashville and on the events that drew him to Music City. To record his album Highway 61 Revisited, in 1965, Dylan was in New York working with producer Bob Johnston, a former Nashville resident. Johnston often had hired multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy to lead sessions in Nashville. At Johnston’s invitation, McCoy visited one of Dylan’s New York sessions and was asked to play guitar on “Desolation Row.”
McCoy impressed Dylan with his musicianship, and Johnston urged Dylan to record in Nashville, where there were many other skilled musicians. Dylan took Johnston’s advice; he came to Nashville in February 1966 to make the recordings that would become Blonde on Blonde. The album is considered one of the great achievements of Dylan’s career and a benchmark of American popular music.
The exhibit also looks at the subsequent albums Dylan recorded in Nashville—John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, and portions of Self Portrait.
Further, Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, presented by Citi highlights Dylan’s relationship with Cash. The two cemented their friendship at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and were reunited in Nashville, in February 1969. Dylan had recorded most of Nashville Skyline when he went into the studio with Cash. They cut more than a dozen duets in two days. One, “Girl from the North Country,” appeared on Nashville Skyline, and Cash wrote Grammy-winning liner notes for the album.
A portion of the exhibit focuses on how Cash bridged the cultural gap between Nashville’s old guard and the musical outsiders who came to town in Dylan’s wake. One means for doing so was Cash’s network TV show. The Johnny Cash Show was shot at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and became an outlet for country artists and for folk, pop and rock musicians trying to reach new audiences. Dylan and Joni Mitchell were guests on the first show, and Ronstadt, Young, Lightfoot and Eric Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos appeared on subsequent shows.
Artists who followed Dylan to Nashville to record or to appear on Cash’s show were rewarded with the opportunity to work with world-class musicians. In several cases, the visiting artists produced albums that ranked as career highlights, thanks to the accomplished Nashville players providing support. One portion of the exhibit takes a look at artists who came from music scenes in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto and London to record with the Nashville Cats.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a series of 16 listening booths, each devoted to a Nashville Cat of the era—David Briggs, Kenny Buttrey, Fred Carter Jr., Charlie Daniels, Pete Drake, Mac Gayden, Lloyd Green, Ben Keith, Grady Martin, Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Weldon Myrick, Norbert Putnam, Jerry Reed, Pig Robbins and Buddy Spicher. Each booth provides biographical information, archival photos and audio samples of the musicians’ signature licks on both rock and country recordings from the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Nashville became a new place. The influx of musicians, writers, and artists during this era enlivened the city. The political climate and the countercultural movement provided a supercharged atmosphere for creativity. Nashville songwriters like John Hartford, Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury approached their craft in new ways. Earl Scruggs ended his association with Lester Flatt and formed a band with his sons, to explore a new repertoire. New venues like the Exit/In emerged to showcase music in the new Music City. The exhibit explores this transition.
Co-curated by the museum’s curatorial team and guest curator Pete Finney, Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats, presented by Citi includes dozens of artifacts and a generous overlay of audiovisual treasures including hundreds of archival photos, audio and video clips and rare artifacts. Among them:
- Manuscript, in Dylan and Cash’s handwriting, for “Wanted Man,” a song that Dylan wrote for Cash in Nashville, for Cash’s 1969 album Johnny Cash at San Quentin
- Mahogany 1949 Martin 00-17 guitar and harmonica, used by Dylan in the early 1960s
- Vintage clips from The Johnny Cash Show and rare archival footage, running in two mini theaters
- On display for the first time anywhere, Lloyd Green’s Sho-Bud pedal steel guitar, used on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968) and other classic recordings (The instrument traveled to the museum from Texas on a private plane.)
- Acetates from Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde sessions.
- Charlie Daniels’s Fender Telecaster, used on Dylan’s 1969 album, Nashville Skyline.
- Mac Gayden’s Lincoln electric guitar and pedal, used to create the innovative wah-wah slide guitar on J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama”
- Norbert Putnam’s Fender Precision bass, used on recordings by Linda Ronstadt (“Long, Long Time”) Tony Joe White (“Polk Salad Annie”), Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Presley
- Instruments that Charlie McCoy and Fred Carter, Jr. used on Simon & Garfunkel’s classic hit “The Boxer”
- Cash’s outfit and guitar featured on The Johnny Cash Show
- Paul McCartney’s tape box for the master tapes and track sheets from his 1974 sessions in Nashville (“Junior’s Farm,” “Sally G”)
- Rare Dylan promotional ephemera from his early career, including the handbill from his first major New York booking
- Snare and other pieces from Kenny Buttrey’s first drum kit
- Ron Cornelius’s Gretsch Country Gentleman electric guitar, used on recordings and performances by Dylan and Leonard Cohen in the early 1970s
Visit the museum and experience the complete story.
Upcoming Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City Programs
Past Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City Programs
Album Featuring an Unreleased Bob Dylan Track Now Available
This exhibition companion double CD, produced by Legacy Recordings in association with CMF Records, includes an unreleased Dylan track and celebrates the compelling music made by the Nashville Cats in support of the artists drawn to Nashville by Dylan’s example and by the reputation of the city’s talented pickers.
Exclusive Spotify Playlist with Commentary from Charlie Daniels Available Now.
Get a sneak peek of new album Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats with commentary from Charlie Daniels at http://spoti.fi/1bKFgWJ.
Dylan, Cash, And The Nashville Cats Album Release Concert
July 7, 2015
To celebrate the release of Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, a two-disc audio companion to the exhibition of the same name, the Country Music Hall of Fame ® and Museum hosted a free concert on 5th Avenue South, between Demonbreun Street and Korean Veterans Boulevard.