Depending on your age, you may not recognize the name Ernest Tubb, but you’d probably recognize the sign outside his downtown Nashville record shop. The giant neon guitar is a standout staple in the landscape of Music City’s Broadway strip. It shows up on postcards, posters, and Nashville souvenirs of all sorts. But what’s the story behind it?
We should probably start at the beginning, with who Earl Tubb was. Having passed away more than thirty years ago, in 1984, the general public is seemingly getting less and less familiar with the name and his story as the years go on. A fellow native of the Lone Star state, Ernest was a country music artist, born in Ellis County, Texas in 1914. In his mid-20s, he ventured to Fort Worth to pursue his career, and then on to Nashville a couple of years later, where his career really began. While he recorded dozens of songs over the years, these days probably the most widely recognized from his repertoire are “Waltz Across Texas” and “Walking the Floor Over You”. Ernest became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Music City Hall of Fame. His legacy lives on in his historic record shop.
The first Ernest Tubb Record Shop was opened in 1947 in Nashville and still stands in its original location at 417 Broadway. He subsequently opened locations in Music Valley (which is now closed), Pigeon Forge, TN, and Fort Worth, Texas. The Pigeon Forge store is still operating, and while the record store in Fort Worth still exists, after a couple of buyouts, it no longer bears the Ernest Tubb name.
Within the store itself, you’ll find exactly what you’d expect: records, CDs, books, and all kinds of souvenirs – of both the record shop and of the city of Nashville. You’ll also find something you might not have expected: greeting you at the entrance of the Broadway location is a metal statue of Ernest Tubbs. It’s a neat little tribute and a fabulous photo op.
But it’s not what you’ll see inside those four walls that makes Ernest Tubb Record Shop a must-see Nashville bucket list destination. It’s what you won’t see. It’s the history it holds. It’s all the budding musicians who played their songs there on Saturday nights, who cut their teeth and made their radio debuts via the Midnight Jamboree jam sessions that aired out of the shop. It’s hosted many celebrations in the country music world, including the 40th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry. It’s been a part of many stories in the lives of some of the most famed names in the business. (Rumor has it that Tanya Tucker and her now-beau Craig Dillingham met for the first time at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop back when they were merely teenagers!)
This little, unassuming record shop has a story, and it’s one you can feel when you walk in. It’s something you really ought to experience for yourself. Just follow the neon guitar.
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