The reputations of Nashville’s top players were built on more than musicianship. The music created by the Nashville Cats and their guests would influence pop music for years to come.
The Nashville Cats
Play Clean as Country Water
“Nashville Cats,” a 1966 pop hit by The Lovin’ Spoonful, humorously extolled the talent of the city’s musicians. The title has become a widely accepted catchphrase for Nashville studio professionals, from the early A-team players who dominated recording sessions beginning in the late 1940s, to the wave of younger musicians who expanded the city’s studio scene in the 1960s.
Many excellent musicians made important contributions to the recording sessions highlighted in this exhibit. While most of the original A-team maintained long careers, more often than not it was the next generation of players who were called when folk and rock artists booked sessions in Nashville.
Pledging My Time
After Bob Dylan’s first recording trip to Nashville, to begin work on Blonde on Blonde, he praised the city’s musicians to guitarist Robbie Robertson of the Hawks. “(Bob) was really impressed by the Nashville music machine,” Robertson recalled. “He said, ‘I just went in there, these guys didn’t know me, they didn’t know this music … They just all got in a huddle and they figured it out so quickly, coming up with an arrangement, a whole idea for the song.’”
To show his gratitude for their inspired work, Dylan included the names of the musicians on the gatefold cover of the Blonde on Blonde double LP. He was among the first to credit the Nashville pickers in that way. The music Dylan created with the Nashville Cats between 1966 and 1970 continues to rank among his most vibrant and influential work.