Nashville is one of those cities that gets to feeling like a “really big small town” from the moment you set foot into a bar, restaurant or show. No matter who’s on the stage, or how big it might be, everybody seems to know each other to some extent, especially the musicians. Most would probably argue that Nashville is the way it is because of the tight community of country music lovers, makers and rule breakers. Of all the best rule breakers out there, famous or not, Nashville has a knack for finding the prime spot to fit whoever wants to be a part of it all. From the likes of Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton to the street buskers and bar show performers, there is something about Country music that draws creators from all walks of life to the area. Of all the musicians that have taken a trip or two to Nashville, we here at Nashville Bar Bike were allowed the immense pleasure of an interview with a man who traveled here once with the dream to start a Rockabilly band.
Justin Curtis is a Rockabilly Cowboy from Canada who, in 1987 made the decision to trek over to Nashville and get his band together. This was before you could just connect with other creators over the internet, a hand shake was your first impression and best resource in this scene and Justin was intent on making the right connections. Upon arriving in the city, he set out to do just that and then did. When he first wandered into Ernest Tubb record shop (as any Honky Tonk fan would) to fill out a job application, Justin was completely unaware of having shaken hands with the shop’s owner, David McCormick. Hired on the spot and ready to explore everything that Ernest Tubb had to offer, he began to make brand new connections with not just other people within the community, but Country Music itself. According to Mr. Curtis, Ernest Tubb Record Shop was like “the library of congress, but of country music” in the sense that you just could not find these recordings anywhere else. To this very day and for what we can assume will be the rest of eternity as we know it, Ernest Tubb Record Shop has been running a mail order service that is unmatched by any of it’s kind. Since 1947, this haven for Western music lovers has been serving all ends of the musical spectrum, performers and audience members alike. Safe to say that the Ernest Tubb Record Shop has been, and always will be, a major participant in the making and upkeep of Nashville as we know it.
Now, if you’ve never been to Ernest Tubb Record Shop, you might not know that it is located right down the street from the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium. If you’ve been in recent years, you know that tours are available, allowing guests to even stand in the middle of that infamous stage who has housed everyone from Mae West to Johnny Cash at some point throughout history. Back in 1987, when Justin first arrived to the area, that section of Broadway Street was not what we know it to be now. Right at the end of a pretty dark era, the Ryman Auditorium was less than exciting to look at, generally falling apart and dangerous. After the opening of the official Grand Ole Opry House in Opryland in 1974, the Ryman Auditorium was almost put up for demolition, but managed to remain standing as a historic and religious landmark. According to Justin, and extensive research on the topic, people just don’t want to talk about those days in Nashville. Whether it be the adult stores lining lower Broadway, or businesses of the past that didn’t make it or buildings left to rot in an area that seemed destined for disaster. Searching for photos from Broadway Street’s past, specifically between 1987-1993 is not so easy, despite there being a vast amount of content available from years before and after what could easily be labeled as the “Dark Days” of Downtown Nashville.
Justin Curtis could not have picked a better time to be stuck (graciously) behind the counter, or in front of it playing a show, you never really could be sure of what was going on at Ernest Tubb back then, or even now. Along with being known for hosting the second longest running radio program in history (and of course, still producing the content regularly) the Ernest Tubb Record Shop has always done more than catalog the great records, they provide a stage for the not-so-well-knowns to find each other. Throughout the years that Justin worked for this hodge podge of Honky Tonk bliss, he claims to have been told all the best stories, even if they weren’t true, he got to hear them straight from the mouths of those who were happy to share. But what made his stance behind the window of Ernest Tubb’s truly incredible had less to do with the people he met, despite being able to put together his first band “Justin Curtis and 2Fast” and more to do with downtown Nashville and what was about to happen.
With the original Opry Stage being considered for demolition, Opryland in full swing with tourists and musicians visiting constantly, Broadway Street was closer to an end than could ever be thought of the area if you’re walking around now. Justin Curtis and 2Fast set out to make it big in Nashville, in spite the area being less than attractive to anyone who wasn’t actually from the area, working alongside the destruction. Country Music really appeared to be what was keeping this chunk of paradise from going under completely. Whether it be Robert’s Western World or Gruhn’s Guitars, the Country and Western Music Scene was not going to go down without a fight. Justin’s band played at hundreds of little bars in the area, some like Buddy’s Hobo, Buffy’s Tavern and Pan’s Starship Troopers, just to mention a few. Even Ace Of Clubs, which later become known as Bar Nashville was happy to host Justin Curtis and 2Fast at one time. If you can think of the bar, they probably graced a stage once or twice, despite never making it to play at the Grand Ole Opry.
What makes Justin’s position as an independent Country musician working behind the counter of Ernest Tubb so special was that he managed to be right in the thick of it all when Broadway Street chose to come up. Though the Ryman Auditorium (the centerpiece of all the destruction, as seen through Justin’s eyes) had been included in the National Register of Historic Places since 1971, no one seemed to want to do anything about the state it was in, happy to see tourists stop by and snap a photo of the outside, while on their way to actual Opryland. Though you might be lucky to see a show or two throughout this time being hosted at the Ryman, for the most part, people just avoided the once church and performance venue, aside from the occasional tour. But in 1989, Justin Curtis looked out of the window at Ernest Tubb Record Shop and noticed construction workers coming around. Remaining hopeful that this iconic slice of Honky Tonk History would one day be restored to at least a bit more than a shadow of it’s former self, he watched as the Ryman Auditorium was given a new roof, windows and many other renovated outer layers. Even though the inside was not being focused on at the time, people started to look at the Ryman again with more than pity.
For the next couple of years, musicians and performers started to host at the Ryman again, regardless of how dangerous the inside actually was. These musicians and audiences who were willing to sit (no more than 200 guests at a time) in a building that was really not equipped to handle it all were the reason that this auditorium got another chance at greatness. In 1993, the Ryman was set to be fully restored from the inside, and was ready to host again by the next year. Justin Curtis was allowed the immense privilege of having the excuse to watch it all happen. Day after day, while slinging the most sought after, rare Country and Western Records, he saw the Ryman Auditorium transform into what it is today, a piece of history that is still relevant and always will be. No matter what stage you’re playing, or what chapter you’re on in your story as a musician in Nashville, you can always take a look at the Ryman, what that auditorium went through to become what it is today, and feel a sense of security. Nashville opens it’s doors to anyone who wants to visit, but has a soft spot for the musicians. Justin Curtis is another Cowboy who wandered that way looking to start a band, and found a place that he considers “home” even if he resides in Los Angeles now. He was one of the lucky ones, someone who got to spend time in Nashville, right when there seemed to be no hope left, and then watched a staple of Country and Western history become reborn right before his eyes. All the while, becoming an integral part of the history that keeps Nashville so tight by being an employee at Ernest Tubb Record Shop. Like we said before, Nashville can feel like a really big small town, and that vibe isn’t going anywhere, just like the Ryman Auditorium and Ernest Tubb Record Shop.
Here at the Nashville Bar Bike Blog, you know our intention is to be sure that anyone who comes through for a visit or to stay, ends up feeling like they are family. Nashville is home to everybody, no matter how down you might be or how far up you’re going. After speaking with Justin Curtis about his experiences as a musician who got to watch a bit of rebirth, the sense of “home” is even more prominent than before. Someone who has not actually resided in the city (other than many visits over the years) for the better part of twenty years, still gets excited to tell the story of his time here, and is still incredibly close to the friends that he made while in the area. This seems to be a running trend for all who grace our land here, nobody really wants to leave Nashville once they’ve called this place “home” for any amount of time and we here on the Blog are thrilled to be able to share that sense of community with you, our future visitors and new family members.
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See everything Nashville has to offer while drinking & driving… on the Nashville Bar Bike! The #1 way to tour Nashville. Private Tours Available, so book today before all the seat are gone!
If you’re ever in the area and are looking to experience Nashville in a way that is unmatched by any other gig, take a ride on the Nashville Bar Bike and ask your tour guide what they remember about Nashville. With everything growing and changing so fast, you won’t have to look hard to find someone willing to tell a story about what the “old days” felt like around here. Nashville Bar Bike is privileged to have gained some insight into what it felt like to be a part of Broadway Street before it became the spot that we are all ready to visit now.
To find out more about Justin Curtis, and maybe even check out his new single “Somebody Lied” you can find him on major social media outlets under JustinCurtisMusic, from Twitter to Instagram and back. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow because just like Nashville, Justin Curtis always has something new going on.
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