Tuesday, October 10, 2006

All Aboard The Night Train!

This week's post is a brief introduction into a radio station, WLAC, and a TV show, Night Train, that helped to promote and sustain the r&b scene in Nashville, Tennessee during the 1960s. Then sit back to watch the show!...

courtesy of Billy Lockridge

Two Nashville radio stations played a huge role in establishing Nashville's reputation. With WSM broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry and WLAC's late night disc jockeys such as the legendary John Richbourg (better known as John R) and Hoss Allen catering to R&B fans, the two stations blasted 50,000-watt nighttime signals to music fans throughout the U.S. Micael Gray, curator at the Country Music hall Of Fame, comments:

"In a lot of ways, WLAC is to R&B music what WSM was to country music. WLAC started playing R&B at night in 1946. The deejays who were playing the music were white, so there's another example of how the race barriers were tested... Just about every R&B star came through Nashville. There's all kinds of stories about people like James Brown and Little Richard stopping by WLAC. Just like today, artists were wanting to know the deejays who were playing the records."

Night Train premiered in 1964 as one of the first music series to feature an all-black cast, presented by WVOL executive Noble Blackwell, and a house band led by musical director Bob Holmes. Produced in Nashville at WLAC-TV, Night Train predates the Chicago-based Soul Train by five years. Jimi Hendrix, swaggering in a backing band called the King Kasuals, is believed to have made his very first TV appearance. Noble Blackwell was particularly proud of the contribution he feels the show made reaching out to and working with local people:

"It was a period of the 60s, you had demonstrations going on in Nashville, but Night Train offered ... [more than] ... a good entertainment vehicle. We had very good artists, and of course it highlighted the local artists, who were very talented, and a lot of hard work went into it because we would practise at various community centers in Nashville. The Nashville Housing Authority allowed us to use the community centers where we would practise..."
Noble Blackwell - photo courtesy of Frank Howard

In 1966, Nashville's TV studios still didn't have the equipment needed to produce programs in color. As a result, Show Biz Inc., which syndicated the Wilburn Brothers and Porter Wagoner's country TV shows, took WLAC disc jockey Hoss Allen and an entire cast of Nashville musicians to Houston to produce The!!!! Beat, an all-too-brief series that featured all the national acts such as Otis Redding, Freddy King and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

Watch a clip of The Spidells performing Lookin' For Love (a hit for the Valentinos) on Night Train!

Watch The Spidells on Night Train!

Wait! The Train's not stoppin'!!!!

Watch Freddie North performing Good Times, introduced by host Noble Blackwell,
and Pamela Releford perform He's All Right With Me here on Night Train in 1966!

Information from an article from CMT.com, and the Night Train To Nashville booklet. Videos posted on youtube by innercalm. Photos from Frank Howard and Billy Lockridge.


The Stepfather of Soul said...

I have two episodes of this show and they are truly spectacular. Thanks for providing some background info about the show and the Noble Blackwell quote. Do you have the episode with Hendrix in the band?

Ben The Balladeer said...

Great Freddie North Clip, to bad it was removed just when I found a way to download it. Ever since I saw the clip I've been looking for the song or any information about it ( release date if ever released, label.... )An mp3 would be great.
Love your Blog's

Rob Whatman said...

Glad you enjoyed the clip while they were around. I'm sure innersource will be trying to repost them somewhere. Go on the soulsource forum (he's Pete S on there...) to see. I'll be looking for some Freddie North track for you, after I've done my British soul stuff! In the meanwhile, Stepfather of Soul Jason Stone (immediately above this comment!) is posting some Hal Hardy today - another regular on Night Train. Go listen!

Lois L. said...

I grew up with the TV show and have been search (specially since the internet) to find some film footage of the show. Actually I was to appear on the show at one point, that's another story. I am a collector of vintage. I have films from the 1930's on. I would really love to have Night Train as part of my collect to preserve and educate.

Angel H. said...


I know I'm late to the party, but thanks so much for this piece!

Noble Blackwell was my mother's uncle, and I was looking up information about "Night Train" to present for a Black History Month presentation.

Rob Whatman said...

Hi Angel H,
Thanks for dropping by to this post, I hope your presentation is a success. I found most of the information in this and the other posts from the liner notes and promotional booklet from the 'Night Train' LP and CD.

I would be very interested to find out more from you about your uncle's career, and I would be pleased to post your own recollections if you would like!

dr. j said...

my first post. Maybe you all know this. I have Night Train to Nashville Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970 CMF label volumes 1 & 2 in my collection. Each volume has 2 discs. Great music & diversity. Fine liner notes.

Anonymous said...

I recall this show so vividly when I was attending college in Murfreesboro. Both Ironing Board Sam and Noble Blackwell were legendary! Each week I eagerly looked forward to relaxing and seeing "Night Train." Thank you for providing this website!!

Judy said...

My two best friends and I watched Night Train every Friday night we could. We were 14 year old teenage white girls in Murray, KY~! Ironing Board Sam was our favorite~! I would love to see some videos of Noble Blackwell. He also did the commercials for local businesses.

tony paylor said...

is there a dvd to this show ?....A great dvd is available to the show "the!!! beat" which aired outta nashville for 26 shows in 1965-1966 that featured good r&b acts great...should be one of this...

Anonymous said...

Always glad to read and learn more black history facts! Especially if they are related to you....Noble was a cousin by marriage.

Bradley said...

This is almost 10 years later now, but for anyone who comes across this story in the future and wants a little bit of history regarding 'Night Train' and Hendrix:

The King Casuals were a band formed in 1962 by Jimi Hendrix and his friend/bassist Billy Cox. They became the backup band on "Night Train."

After Billy and Jimi left for bigger things around 1964, Johnny Jones assumed leadership of the band. At that point, they actually started recording for themselves.

Here's a Night Train video with Jimi in the band. You can't miss him. Btw, check out his slick little move around the 2:15 mark.

His playing here is NOTHING like what most people think of when Hendrix's name is mentioned, but it shows just how tight he and his band were. Good stuff. :D


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