Visitors new to Nashville are invariably surprised at how small, compact and unassuming the area known as Music Row is. Roughly three streets wide and eight blocks long, it still looks more like a residential neighborhood than a multibillion-dollar entertainment capital. Housed within this deceptive geography are major record companies, music publishers, talent managers, booking agencies, entertainment lawyers, recording studios, trade organizations and kindred enterprises.

In How Nashville Became Music City, U.S.A., Michael Kosser, a veteran Nashville journalist and songwriter, set out to tell Music Row's story while there were still people around who remembered how it all got started. Although Nashville had been a country music stronghold since the launching of the Grand Ole Opry radio show there in 1925, it wasn't until the early 1940s that a cohesive music industry began to form. By the end of World War II, things started buzzing in Nashville. Then, in 1955, as Kosser relates, brothers Owen and Harold Bradley, both established musicians, built a tiny recording studio on 16th Avenue South. This was the seed from which Music Row grew. Owen went on to produce such enduring acts as Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn and K.D. Lang. Harold became one of the most recorded session guitarists of all time.

Instead of giving readers a dry linear history of The Row, Kosser provides a textured, anecdotal one, woven from his easygoing interviews of more than 60 seminal figures. (To keep them all clear in the reader's mind, he lists and identifies them at the start of his chronicle.) Among the people who recalled for him the old days are Harold Bradley, now the head of the local musician's union (Owen died in 1998); Buddy Killen, who toured with the great Hank Williams before becoming a publishing mogul; and Bob Doyle, who quit a good job to take his chances at managing a kid named Garth Brooks. A master storyteller himself, Kosser knows the power of a good yarn to bring history alive. As informal as it is, this book is a historical landmark. The accompanying CD includes 12 classic songs recorded on Music Row.

Edward Morris is a former country music editor of Billboard.

 

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