News broke in March that the Nashville-based Ernest Tubb Record Shop will close its doors this spring after 75 years as a go-to source for traditional country music and memorabilia.
Country great Ernest Tubb founded the business in 1947. It moved to its current location on Lower Broadway in 1951, where it has survived everything from the Grand Ole Opry moving in 1974 from the nearby Ryman Auditorium to changes over time in how country music is consumed by listeners. The Lower Broad flagship outlasted satellite locations as well, including ones in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. and Fort Worth, Texas.
By most indications, Lower Broadway's 21st century transformation from a run-down stretch of adult video stores and pawn shops to a tourist-friendly district ultimately priced the resilient record store out of its home.
Talking to artists with fond memories of the shop paints a more vivid picture of what's being lost: a launching pad for rising stars as well as a place that frequently made dreams come true by stocking the music and books of fans who'd first visited the store at an impressionable age.
The Midnite Jamboree
The Midnite Jamboree radio show's 1947 debut helped put the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on the country music map. It aired at midnight after the Saturday night Opry broadcast on WSM and opened its stage to rising talents.
Students of country music history still learn about the show through the 1980 Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner's Daughter and other retellings of how Lynn first connected with close friend and peer Patsy Cline.
"In 1961 I sang 'I Fall to Pieces' for the first time at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop's Midnite Jamboree," Lynn told CMT (as quoted by Variety). "Patsy was in a car wreck and was in really bad shape in the Madison Hospital. Patsy heard me dedicate the song to her on the radio and sent her husband Charlie to fetch me. I couldn't believe Patsy wanted to meet me. You know from that first meeting we just clicked and became friends. I couldn't think of another song I wanted to sing for our fans, it was the beginning for us."
The long-running program, which moved back to Lower Broadway in 2021 after 47 years across town at the Texas Troubadour Theatre, positioned such talents as teenage bluegrass musician and future Shenandoah lead singer Marty Raybon for greater success.
"The very first show I ever played in Nashville was July 31, 1976," Raybon told Wide Open Country. "The place was the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. At the time, they were broadcasting on Demonbreun Street. The excitement and the honor of performing there was unforgettable. The Midnite Jamboree at Ernest Tubb Record Shop was right after the Grand Ole Opry went off. What a great way to bring in that August 1 Sunday morning."
Members of the Gatlin Brothers hold the shop in similar regard for hosting what amounted to an Opry after party.
"One of my first memories of being in Nashville was singing at the Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, and then going to do the Midnite Jamboree show from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop," Steve Gatlin shared. "My eyes were wide open and I'm now grateful for that opportunity."
"Along with Tootsie's and the Ryman, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop is Nashville," Rudy Gatlin added. "It will be missed but will forever remain in the country music family's memories as the iconic place it has been for many years."
A Longterm Home For Traditional Country Music
In the 1980s, more stars born since the Lower Broadway location first opened its doors experienced the honor of performing on the Midnite Jamboree stage --then located across the street from the Opry House-- and seeing their albums, singles and other merchandise for sale in one of the world's most reputable record stores.
"Every time I crossed the threshold of Ernest Tubb Record Shop I felt transported," T. Graham Brown said. "The place was dripping with history and ringing with echoes of the past and the icing on the cake was that all of my records were stocked."
Country hitmaker and songwriter Deborah Allen summed up the devotion of the store's country-crazed customers and the hospitality associated with its staff.
"Looking back at the times I've performed onstage at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, it still remains a highlight in my career and an important part of my history here in Nashville," Allen said. "The audiences there come to hear country music and that's the one thing they can always count on. As an artist, it was a great honor and huge endorsement to be invited to sing there. It was live music, raw and real.
"Over the years, my great friends at Ernest Tubb Record Shop made me feel like family every time I walked through the door," Allen continued. "They had my pictures and records in the bins and always greeted me with a smile and a hug. They always made me feel at home and very loved. I can't imagine Music City without the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. If that day ever comes, it will leave a big hole in my heart."
The shop remained a destination over the past 25 years for contemporary artists.
"Ernest Tubb Record Shop has been such a cool spot for me over the years," shared Darryl Worley. "Always entertaining and a place where the music I love is truly championed. Seems like it's all going away these days, if it finds its roots in traditional country music."
Bluegrass act Darin & Brooke Aldridge intertwined its legacy in recent years with the Ernest Tubb Record Shop through multiple Midnite Jamboree appearances and footage shot in the store for the 2020 music video for "Emmylou."
"There have been so many full circle moments in our music career over the years, each one so surreal and emotional," the duo shared in a statement. "On two very memorable occasions, we've gone from standing on the Opry stage to being escorted swiftly over to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop nearby. There, we've been given the opportunity to share our music through those WSM radio airwaves to their worldwide audience. We will always treasure the moments we stood on that stage for the Midnite Jamboree, channeling Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn and so many other incredible artists that walked through those wooden doors on Broadway with stars in their eyes.
"We'll miss the times we got to spend the day in downtown Nashville searching through the bins for our music and other favorite music artists at ET's Record Shop," the statement continued. "Thanks, thanks a lot Ernest Tubb...we know Nashville will never be the same without you."
Historic Preservation Plans
Since March, fans have started multiple petitions to save a crucial link to Nashville's musical past. One asks the city, Ryman Hospitality Properties (owners of the Opry) or the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum to preserve the store in its current location. Another was covered by Nashville ABC affiliate WKRN after getting signed by Tubb's great-great nephew, Colton Gibson.
Veteran songwriter and former Midnite Jamboree performer Jerry Salley hopes the business' famous sign, which dates back to the early 1960s, and the bronze statue of Tubb near its entrance become part of the Hall of Fame or a comparable institution's collection.
"Between the political leaders in Nashville and the music leaders, I can't imagine them allowing anything to happen to that stuff," Salley said. "It needs to be preserved and be taken care of. And that story needs to be told and kept alive so that those who didn't get to personally experience it will at least get to know about it and see and touch part of that history."
Though Ernest Tubb Record Shop seems gone for good, don't expect its legacy to be lost for future generations. The March 11 statement that confirmed the store's imminent demise --credited to Honky Tonk Circus, LLC; ETRS, LLC; and David McCormick Company, Inc.-- partially focused on historic preservation.
"Preserving the history and tradition of country music remains at the forefront of everything we do," the statement read. "We remain committed to preservation work and look forward to new projects that will allow us to continue to protect and nurture the invaluable history and tradition of country music."
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