Which floats your boat?
I’ve been asked a few times now what the rationale was for selecting the particular artists and recordings in House of Broken Hearts. The purpose of the book was not to be a panacea of Nashville soul history; more a deep dig into the stories of artists and recordings from my world (an underground scene on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic). Even at that though, my immediate guess is that fans of Charlie Romans’ “24 Hour Service” are a different breed - and likely a generation apart – from collectors who would be seeking a copy of the Paramount Four. Of course, there are subgenres-within-subgenres in soul music, some more subtle than others. And then, Nashville itself gives us true diversity; whether pop-soul blue eyed from Hickory, earthy swamp blues and early R&B of Excello, or even the Motown and big production sound that Ted Jarrett and Bob Holmes sometimes tried to emulate with their acts.
It’s all about perspective. As an actual or potential purchaser of this book perhaps the reason you are drawn to this project is, like me, you have some innate sense of curiosity and desire to make a tangible connection to these artists who are “stuff of legend” (as it says on the blurb) - whichever part of the soul scene you relate to. I wanted to convey the extent of Nashville’s output in influencing our underground scene across the decades and through the scene’s evolution, beyond just the part I associate with. But also more broadly, I wanted to capture how the city contributed to the national, even global, popularisation of R&B. In retrospect, I should probably should have written HOBH before the projects I undertook which focussed on the Carolinas and Virginia. The power of Nashville’s WLAC radio station with its 50,000 watt broadcasting capability was undeniable in spreading the good word of soul music in the 1960s to every corner of the US. I first learned of the influence WLAC had on young white teenagers from the eastern seaboard when researching beach music origins and soul influenced garage bands. John Richbourg and his pals provided not only easy access R&B for the first time, but also inspired many to start their own bands in high school or college.
I say that one purpose of the book was to make the artists ‘real’. In truth though, a connection between Nashville and fans of our insular northern soul scene was there all the time. Maybe it was just a lack of formal realisation and acknowledgement. Since HOBH was published, a number of readers have commented how they remembered buying Monument releases of Sound Stage 7 45s on the European continent in the late 60s, and UK soul fans who bought from Ernie Young and Randy Woods’ Nashville based mail order set-ups as teenagers. The professional relationship and activities between Garry Cape from Yorkshire and John Richbourg’s label interests would satisfy the continued demand for Nashville soul from within the British northern soul scene, Holland, Japan and elsewhere well into the 70s.
Regarding a writer’s USP, it is also a story of the convergence of talent from two distinct musical genres. On the one hand, the rich cultural heritage from the black community which originated from the early Fisk University days; and also that of Nashville’s talented white country musicians, song writers and producers. Part open mindedness to experiment with the soul phenomenon, part industry looking for the next opportunity. There are many examples of collaboration. Much of the Sound Stage 7 catalogue was arranged and produced by the cream of Memphis and Nashville based musicians. Music Row’s Pete Drake, later associated more with Bob Dylan and Tammy Wynnette, decided a few years earlier to take a risk with some white boys from Georgia (OK, so fame eluded those particular guys but their efforts would be embraced decades later by the northern soul scene). Transferable skills left us with some masterpieces on both ends of the soul spectrum, between the gritty side of R&B and sophisticated, well-orchestrated beat balladry like “Way of the Crowd”.
At the end of the day though, House of Broken Hearts is a celebration of Nashville’s black music history. And there’s still plenty left to be explored and documented. The soul story is be no means finished (a book could be written on the Richbourg / SS7 catalogue alone). But there’s a wider yarn to be spun. Whether referencing spirituals, jazz, gospel or blues, the black community was thriving musically way before the arrival of soul music, and to an extent continues to do so today. Maybe that’s a job for an obsessive fan of those specific genres; one which I and I’m sure others will be eagerly anticipating.
"House of Broken Hearts" by E. Mark Windle is available to order exclusively from A Nickel And A Nail, in the new book section.