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Lower Broadway: the place where dreams are sometimes made and often broken

By Ivey Lindsey, November 1998

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Roger Miller, while staring out the front window onto Broadway wrote the classic "King Of The Road" on a Tootsie's napkin.

More recently, John Michael Montgomery boasted he would pay $25 for every Hank Williams, Sr. song BR5-49 could play. $600 later, after Montgomery was out of money, the band decided to let him get out of it.

Probably the most famous Tootsie's story however has to be about Willie Nelson selling his first song to Faron Young. Just as he was contemplating quitting music and moving back to Texas, Willie successfully pitched "Hello Walls" to Young inside Tootsie's.

Apparently Willie, (who around this time was so broke that he not only had an unpaid bar tab at Tootsie's, but at some point even slept in the upstairs room) was so excited when he received his first royalty check for the number one song ($3,000), he rushed down to Tootsie's, found Faron, and in his words kissed him "flush on the mouth."

Lower Broad has seen some very striking changes throughout the years. After it's initial heyday prior to 1974, many thought the area was on the skids. Many of the 13 honky tonks closed down, as adult theaters and the like began to crop up along the once fan- and musician-oriented stretch.

But what has always kept things going are the artists, as Robert Moore can tell you. "It hasn't changed. It is and always has been just good country music."

This is probably why Lower Broad was able to rebound so successfully over the last decade, and re-establish itself as one of the liveliest parts of the city. In fact, having hit a low point in the '80's when only four music venues were open, the block has since re-established itself with nine full fledged honky tonks. (Two - The Turf and Music City Lounge - are currently under repair from the 1997 tornado which struck downtown Nashville.)

So in addition to scanning the autograph-covered walls of Tootsie's or hunting down your favorite classics at the Ernest Tubb Record Store, you can also visit small joints like Maggie Maggee's, where legends like Billy Joe Shaver have begun to make intimate appearances, or Wolfy's, which has been the surprise beneficiary of legends like Merle Haggard and the temporary home of visitors like new artist Mike Ireland & Holler.

In fact, the turnaround from the '80's has been so thorough, that now the antiquated stretch is bookended by the new Nashville Arena and a Planet Hollywood.

But the true grit and spirit of the people and musicians of Lower Broad promise to maintain against too much modernization just as they have against too little.

"I've fought many a person in the name of country music," says Moore.

Jack Hurst sees the sustenance of such a historic area as more metaphorical to the genre as a whole: "Lower Broad's current configuration shows that country music's spirit and grit can hopefully live and prosper in a world that keeps getting newer."

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