Road to Nashville

Road to Nashville is a wonderful snapshot of what Nashville was like in the years before all the Shania Twains and Tim McGraws of the world took things over.

ROAD TO NASHVILLE

D: Will Zens (1967); with Richard Arlen, Doodles Weaver, Lefty Frizzell, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, the Carter Family.

First off, be clear on the fact that Road to Nashville barely qualifies as a narrative film. The scant plot, such as it is, has washed-up cowboy star Richard Arlen playing a movie producer who sends bumbling Colonel Beetlebomb (Weaver) to Nashville to scout out talent for his upcoming feature on country music. The red-headed Weaver shows up in between performances by various honky-tonk stars, tells jokes that were incredibly stale even for the 1960s, and generally flaps his arms and acts like a fool. You'll find yourself wishing that a trained monkey could have been substituted for the Doodles Weaver role ("Beetlebomb" was Weaver's pseudonym during his days with Spike Jones' band). After disregarding Doodles, you're left with a great cross-section of what Nashville talent was like circa 1966, complete with spangled Nudie suits, tall hair, and ultra-cheap sets. The talent on hand ranges from true stars like Lefty Frizzell (doing "I Love You"), Webb Pierce ("You Ain't No Better Than Me"), Bill Anderson ("Poor Folks"), and Faron Young ("Dreams") to also-rans such as Bobby Sykes, Don Winters, and Margie Singleton. The true standouts are hard to miss, though; the Stonemans' unnamed instrumental that includes amazing kamikaze runs on the mandolin, the Osborne Brothers' "Up This Hill" and the Carter Family's version of "I Walk the Line" that seems to change keys at least 11 times or so. The Carter family is then followed by a frazzled-looking Johnny Cash doing the sublimely goofy "The One on the Right." Also, have a look at a very young-looking Waylon Jennings doing the ballad "Anita." With their pompadours and matching dark suits, Waylon and band look for all the world like a bunch of greasy, somber truck drivers dressed up for a funeral. Hank Snow and his band pull off a version of "I've Been Everywhere" (of course), with the rooster-ish Snow dressed in a flashy Tony Alamo suit and the band wearing matching bright-red-and-white cowboy outfits. This stuff is highly recommended to all fans of country music and Americana in general -- a wonderful snapshot of what Nashville was like in the years before all the Shania Twains and Tim McGraws of the world took things over.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Road to Nashville, Will Zens, Marty Robbins, Richard Arlen, Johnny Cash, Lefty Frizzell, Waylon Jennings, Doodles Weaver

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