Ernest Tubb’s…The Little Record Shop That Could

Andy Tucker fondly remembers his first time at the legendary Ernest Tubb Record Shop in downtown Nashville. “My mother and my grandmother came up here to downtown, and they let me walk over here by myself,” he recalled to Sounds Like Nashville. The 12-year-old child was mesmerized by the history lessons that he found at 417 Broadway. Now, the Alabama native is a few years older, but the feeling remains as powerful as ever – even with him being there every day as manager. “I’m in awe as much now as I was then,” he confesses. “If you think about it, the Ernest Tubb Record Shop is the last untouched historical bastion left in this town. The Opry has changed, but I don’t think it would still be around if it hadn’t changed,” he elaborated.

When Tubb opened his first store in 1947, he saw a need for fans of “Hillbilly Music,” as it was called then, Tucker related. “For starters, Country Music fans couldn’t buy Country Music records, for the most part – even in Nashville. So, you would have people coming up to Ernest on the road, asking him where they could get his records. So, he got the idea, and got with his accountant, whose name was Charles Mosely. He had relationships with a lot of Country artists, so they opened up at 720 Commerce Street. They opened the mail-order section, as well as the showroom.”

And, it was an instant success, right? Think again. “The first four or five years, we lost our tail,” said Tucker. “Everything we shipped ended up breaking. So, we backed it up and replaced it. Other artists had their own record shops spring up – Jimmie Skinner had one in Cincinnati, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper had one in Wheeling, and Mr. Tubb took a hit, but thing finally started to turn around – about the time we moved down to the Broadway location in 1951.”

Along with overseeing the store’s operation, Tucker also handles the legendary “Midnite Jamboree,” an institution on WSM-AM since 1947. “We’re the second longest-running radio show, and a couple of years ago, we decided to start taping at 10 instead of going live at midnight because it agreed more with the schedule at the Opry. It was really the farm league for a lot of people, and it was a place where a lot of people who were already established, they still came over out of respect for Mr. Tubb. In the 70s, when the Opry moved to Opryland, we moved out there, and then to Music Valley Drive, and eventually, the Texas Troubadour Theater. We’re still relevant. It’s still free, which people have a hard time understanding. But, that’s keeping with the intention from Mr. Tubb, to give people a free showcase every night.”

Still, the store is likely best known for being used in an integral scene of the 1980 Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miners’ Daughter. “That’s the bell ringer, what is the most familiar to people who aren’t students of the music, or have never been into the Record Shop. It’s something that really hits home with people,” he said.

Over the past few years, Tucker has seen many chains, Tower, Record Bar, and Camelot, among them disappear. He knows that the Record Store itself is a vanishing breed, though he intends that the Tubb name be one that bucks the trend. “The challenge we face now is keeping tradition alive, while we’re embracing the future and change. Let’s face it. There’s a huge contingent of people out there now who are downloading their music. Some people say that CD’s won’t be around in five years. I think they will, but the key is to stay relevant and to adapt. Instead of resisting change, you have to embrace it.”

There are more than a few artists that definitely want to see the store continue. Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, and Brandy Clark have been recent visitors, and Vince Gill and George Strait bought space in the store to promote their recent releases. “If, among the younger artists, I had to name one that is a huge cheerleader for the shop, it would be Charlie Worsham,” said Tucker, adding “He loves the place. These guys want to see the Record Shop continue. It’s as good for them as it is for us. Old Nashville and New Nashville can co-exist together in this record shop,” said Tucker, pointing out that Kacey Musgraves and Mark Collie are both set for in-store appearances in the next few weeks.

Photo courtesy Ernest Tubb Record Shop

Photo courtesy Ernest Tubb Record Shop

The store’s inventory runs the gamut – from Uncle Dave Macon in the 1920s to Sam Hunt today. And, Tucker allows that the clientele never ceases to amaze him with their purchases. “What intrigues me the most about it all is that you would think that an older shopper is going to buy older, or more traditional music. And, with the younger fans, you think they are going to buy strictly Dan + Shay or Sam Hunt, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. A lot of the senior fans are buying the new stuff, and the younger demographic is buying The Louvin Brothers or Jimmie Rodgers, or Ernest Tubb, even. I think once you’re a country fan, you’re always a country fan. I think there’s a tendency to want to put things in a box. Younger fans are curious, and I think the Americana movement has helped out a lot. People like what they like. They don’t pay attention to the industry.”

The store still sells a tremendous amount of vinyl, but at the same time, they are working on making downloads a part of the store’s website. Tucker says it’s the only way the store will survive. “Embracing things like that, and modifying what we do is the only way we’re going to be able to stay and have a physical location for people to walk into. That may sound contradictory, but it’s embracing trends like that that will keep us here. The city has done a great job at keeping more people coming into this town, and we’ve got to give them reason to come here. We’ve got to pay the bills. We have to make money. It’s just recognizing that changes happen and adapting to it. We need to be here. We’re too important to not be here until the early hours of the morning for customers, if we need to.”

Tucker says that he’s had a great roadmap to follow in David McCormick, the store’s owner. “David McCormick went to work for Mr. Tubb in 1968, and if it wasn’t for his vision, we wouldn’t be here. This downtown got a reprieve. Downtown Nashville is as vibrant as any downtown in this country, and it’s just fun. Then, they learn about the history,…the Ryman, Tootsies, or the Record Shop. They leave here, they come back, and they tell their friends about it. That’s a big deal. That’s what we want to see continue into the next generation.”

Ernest Tubb Record Shop is located at 417 Broadway in Downtown Nashville.