by Jeannie Naujeck, producer
Today’s slick-sounding country music is produced on expensive consoles in carefully engineered studios. But for nearly 30 years, some of America’s most iconic recordings were produced in the unlikeliest of places: a humble, military-issue Quonset Hut set up behind a boarding house on 16th Avenue in Nashville. That Quonset Hut would become the studio that launched Nashville’s recording industry, and the street would become the heart of Music Row. Down the block, RCA Victor opened a studio in 1957, where Chet Atkins produced hundreds of hits. Other studios followed but the Quonset Hut was the first. Brothers Owen and Harold Bradley set up the structure (which was designed as pre-fabricated military housing and would have cost about $1,000) in the early 1950s to accommodate a studio for filming Grand Ole Opry stars, but moved their burgeoning music recording business there when it outgrew the boardinghouse.
During its glory years, the Quonset Hut played host to country artists Brenda Lee, Charlie Rich, Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Ray Price, Roger Miller, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan as well as singers Bobby Vinton, Bobby Blue Bland and Dusty Springfield, among many others. Hits recorded there include Crazy, I’m Sorry, For the Good Times and King of the Road. And the session musicians who played on those records – Harold Bradley, Grady Martin, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Buddy Spicher, Bob Moore, and many more – formed Nashville’s “A Team,” a sort of house band akin to Memphis’ Booker T & the MGs, LA’s Wrecking Crew and Detroit’s Funk Brothers.
The A Team was kept so busy that members recall sleeping on the studio floor between gigs instead of going home. And the Quonset Hut was ground zero for the magic coming out of Nashville in the 1950s and 60s. In 1982, the Quonset Hut’s days as a recording studio came to an end, but it has since been restored, thanks to Nashville philanthropist and Curb Records owner Mike Curb. Today it serves as a classroom for engineering students at Belmont University.
And when BR549 frontman Chuck Mead decided to record an album of classic country, he wanted to go “Back to the Quonset Hut” … and bring some of the A Team with him. The result is an album recorded with a live band that includes Mead’s own fantastic Grassy Knoll Boys and members of the A Team who played so well in the Hut through the decades. As a music reporter in Nashville, I had written about the sale of the Quonset Hut, and when I saw Chuck and these fantastic musicians perform some of these songs live in concert at Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre in February, I knew we had to have him on to talk about this wonderful piece of standing history, and expose more people to his fabulous music.
Back at the Quonset Hut includes classics such as Hank Williams’ Settin’ the Woods on Fire, Del Reeves’ Girl on the Billboard and Roy Acuff’s Wabash Cannonball, and features guest vocalists including Bobby Bare, Elizabeth Cook (host of Elizabeth Cook’s Apron Strings on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country), Jamey Johnson and Old Crow Medicine Show. It also comes with a DVD documentary about the making of the record, the A Team and the Quonset Hut’s history, produced by music journalist Craig Havighurst, author of Air Castle of the South, who led us on a tour of WSM-AM when we visited Nashville two years ago. Aside from being an amazing frontman on stages from Robert’s Western World to the Ryman Auditorium to festivals worldwide, Chuck is a veritable encyclopedia of country music. We had a lot of fun talking to Chuck and Craig about Nashville’s recording history and hope you enjoy this throwback to its golden years. These tunes will have you tapping your tootsies as they warm your honky-tonk heart!
Here is a trailer for the documentary which is included as a DVD when you buy the album.
And this is video of their performance of Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor recorded in the Quonset Hut.