Video: Victor Black on the historic Ernest Tubb record shop
Tubb arrived in Nashville from his native Texas in 1943, two years after recording the classic hillbilly tune "I'm Walking The Floor Over You." What he would do for country music until his death in 1984 at age 70, the footprint he would leave on his industry, made him a legend unlike any other.
"Stubbs … are you related to Eddie Stubbs?" Victor Black says, shaking my hand in greeting.
A 66-year-old retired schoolteacher from California and lifelong country music aficionado, Black settled in Nashville in 2010, five years after his first visit. He's become an institution himself in this shop and beyond as a bluegrass and country-music historian.
On this day, with a database of facts, figures, anecdotes and dates spilling colorfully from him, he's giving me the guided tour of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.
Behind the cash register, Gloria Ellingson also asks about my link to Eddie Stubbs. In September, she'll mark her 49th year working at the shop,
"No relation," I tell them, learning that Eddie is an iconic Nashville disc jockey who's on the air weeknights from 7 p.m. to midnight, a man regarded as perhaps the greatest country-music historian who ever lived.
I ask Black for the call letters of Eddie's station and he playfully arches an eyebrow.
"WSM. There is no other station," he replies, my education underway.
A few strides from the front door is a towering statue of Ernest Tubb grinning beneath his cowboy hat, his trademark "THANKS" on the back of his guitar. There are photos on the shop's walls, hundreds of them. Vinyl records, sheet music and books are for sale on one wall, thousands of CDs, many of them rare, are filed alphabetically in an island that stretches more than half the length of the store. At one point, Black says, more than 1,200 different artists were represented here, that list dwindling as music sadly goes out of print.
Fans snap up souvenirs, from keychains to T-shirts, shot glasses to coffee mugs, postcards to DVDs, Ernest Tubb fly-swatters to Christmas ornaments.
Displayed are spectacular suits with lapels as wide as an airplane's wings that were worn by Tubb and fellow performers well more than a half-century ago.
I fell in love with Tubb's baritone the first time I heard "Thanks A Lot," recorded on the Decca label in 1964. I first visited this shop briefly a few years ago while on a trip to Nashville covering the Montreal Canadiens. Here now for the Stanley Cup Final, I needed to pay a leisurely return visit, and on Saturday morning, I was in Victor Black's good hands.
I'm told that Tubb arrived in Nashville in 1943, having put out feelers to be asked to play the Grand Ole Opry; much like golf's Augusta National, home of The Masters, you have to be invited to be a member of country music's greatest stage.
Fans went wild for his "I'm Walking The Floor Over You" and Tubb joined the Opry in 1943. With his band, the Texas Troubadours, he hit the road for 250 nights a year, an exhausting pace he maintained into his mid-60s.
On the road after World War II, with 78 rpm records again back in production, Tubb constantly heard from fans that his records were impossible to find. So he opened his first shop on Commerce Street on May 3, 1947, primarily as a mail-order business, selling everyone's records.
But then the light went on: With so many fans unable to afford a ticket or get into the sold-out Grand Ole Opry, why not bring live music to his shop? Beginning in March 1948, WSM would sign off at the Opry, housed from 1943-74 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, and sign back on at Tubb's store to broadcast his Midnite Jamboree, which continues to this day at a satellite location near the Opryland Hotel.
Admission was and still remains free. The stage for the original Jamboree is preserved at the back of the shop, slid back some from where it first stood.
The joint was packed on Saturday nights, and what a cavalcade of stars played first on Commerce Street and then at the current location, established in 1951 in what had been a grocery store. Every photo on the shop walls is of someone who played here. They are absolutely the greatest names in country, bluegrass and folk music, and even a little beyond.
At the time, there was no live music on Broadway in Nashville; today you hear it pouring from every bar and saloon on the strip.
Before the legendary Patsy Cline had her maiden No. 1 hit, she was playing live within these walls, the first time she ever performed live in Nashville. Tubb had Loretta Lynn play here 17 times before she finally was made a member of the Opry in 1962.
In 1980, a scene for the movie "Coal Miner's Daughter," was filmed here. Sissy Spacek, playing Lynn, sings Cline's iconic "I Fall To Pieces," with Tubb performing on stage beside her and his Texas Troubadours playing along.
Tubb literally revolutionized country music, putting Nashville on the map almost single-handedly.
"Everything changed when Ernest got here," Black tells me. "There wasn't one recording studio in Nashville, everyone went to L.A. or Chicago or New York to record."
And then there was Elvis Presley.
"Elvis played here Oct. 2, 1954, after his one and only Opry performance that didn't go well - too rockabilly, he nearly got booed off the stage," Black says. "The manager at the Opry told him, 'Son, you need to go back driving a truck.' But Ernest invited him to play the Midnite Jamboree that night and he said Elvis could not have been more gracious even after that experience.
"He wrote Ernest the most heartfelt handwritten note after he played. Ernest invited Elvis to play benefit performances for the Jimmy Rodgers Museum in Meridian, Mississippi, and Elvis agreed to do those. For the rest of Elvis's life, he sent Ernest a box of chocolates on his birthday."
Throughout my tour, Victor points to photos and sings a few bars from their greatest hits. He walks me to a favorite shot of "the three Hanks" -- Hall of Famers Hank Thompson, Hank Snow and Hank Williams, and across the store to a framed photo of the enshrined Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl with Ernest, considered the "Big Three" of the Opry from the 1940s into the 1970s.
Near the stage, there's a larger-than-life photo of the late Johnny Russell, who in the early 1960s wrote a song called "Act Naturally." It went to No. 1 on Billboard's country chart in 1963 for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.
"And then a little group called The Beatles recorded it in 1965 with Ringo singing the lead," Black says. "It was the B-side of 'Yesterday' on the 45 rpm."
Last June, following a weekend stand at the Ryman, Ringo Starr walked through the doors of the shop early on a Monday morning with a friend and a bodyguard the size of a bungalow, fulfilling a long-held wish to see the store.
"There was an elderly couple in their 80s in the shop and they had no idea who he was," Black says, laughing. "Johnny Russell would say that every house he bought after The Beatles recorded his song was paid for by the group. And I got to tell Ringo that."