The Studio B tour is more than a lot of stats and memorabilia — although both of those are interesting, especially as they relate to Elvis, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers. Dolly and Dylan, The Stones and Fleetwood Mac. It also includes sound bites of the subject matter and music lovin’ tour guides that share its history. As the owner of presleycollectibles.com let me tell you it’s nearly awe inspiring, a collectors dream, and oh so many artefacts we would love in our collection!
The corner location became synonymous with Nashville Sound that often used background singers, even full orchestras. It is credited with establishing Nashville as a leading recording center for all musical genres. In 2012 the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Of the songs created at Studio B, 50 sold more than a million, including the original of “I Will Always Love You,” as sung by Dolly Parton long before Whitney Houston made it her own. There are remarkably similar voice challenges in the first version too.
Portraits of the talented line the walls in the reception area. In the early days, the space used as an office by Chet Atkins. Everyone who was someone recorded at one time at Studio B.
“Wanted! The Outlaws” album from Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser was recorded there and it was the first No. 1 platinum album in country music. To achieve a “live audience” effect, Waylon and Willie spliced the recording to add hollerin’ and whistling to make it appear as if it were recorded live. It worked. A lot of big thinking went on in this small space.
All of this became more relevant when we sat down in the actual studio. A studio guitarist who played with Chet Atkins was introduced. He was the silver-haired, mustachioed guy in the baseball cap who sat two rows in front of me on the bus. He was with a couple of friends — one was Jennifer Scott of Vancouver, Canada. That didn’t seem to be important until she sat at the Steinway — the same one Elvis played when he recorded.
So the tour guide was saying something like there’s a Nashville legend with us today. Mr. John Knowles. Frankly, I was so engaged by the overhead lights used by Elvis to reflect the mood of song lyrics — that would be green gels for holiday music, red for rock ‘n’ roll and blue for gospel — that my head didn’t wrap around what he was saying. Until he announced that Knowles “played with Chet Atkins.” Atkins was “the” guy at Studio B.
With a little prompting and a flurry to find an acoustic guitar, Mr. Knowles agreed to play. All within a few feet from the 25 people on a standard Studio B tour that leaves the Country Music Hall of Fame every day, It was an “Only in Nashville” moment that only got better.
When Mr. Knowles finished, he talked a bit about his days as a studio musician, exemplifying the information that our guide had told us earlier.
Artists did not record with their touring bands but with salaried studio musicians like him or maybe Velma Smith, one of the few female studio guitarists. She played for Dotti West’s recording, “Touch Me,” written by Willie Nelson.
Studio musicians knew the ins and outs of recording — like hanging towels on the backs of chairs to soften a sound or when to climb to the second floor to create an echo effect.
Mr. Knowles gave us a tip about a honky tonk named 3rd and Lindsley, where a group of former studio musicians called The Time Jumpers would be playing that night. Most likely with a walk-on from Vince Gill. Another “Only in Nashville” moment was in the making.
Going to Nashville any time soon? Make sure you visit Studio B, tell them presleycollectibles.com sent you!