WLAC and the Night Train! have reentered the collective consciousness of soul fans around the world in the last two years thanks to the Night Train To Nashville phenomenon. However, for some Nashvillians, they found it a memory that endured.
Rodney Jones, a jazz guitarist who has performed with James Brown and now teaches music in a Manhattan conservatory, thinks back to his early childhood in the 60s:
"As a kid growing up in Nashville, TN you would probably think that I was exposed to a lot of country music and I do remember some, like Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”. My father used to really play a lot of Negro Spirituals in the house and I remember hearing them and really feeling something from that music. There was a heart and soul, a resonance that I really felt. My parents used to watch a TV show that came on late at night called, “Night Train”. It featured many of the southern Rhythm and Blues stars of the day like ”Dyke and the Blazers” and “Ironing Board Sam”. I used to sneak out of bed to watch and listen to them. "
Elaine Speed Neeley, a artist who grew up in Nashville, has created a comprehensive site of local histories and collective memories of the 50s and 60s in Nashville. Night Train! defined Friday nights for a teenager like her:
"Friday night with Night Train and host Noble Blackwell, featuring artists like: Ironing Board Sam, James Brown, The Van Trease Trio, Good Rockin' Hoppy and a very young Jimmy Hendrix. Friday night also featured Shock Theatre where the creepy organ intro music was usually more scary than the movie. Shock, Jr. came on Sunday afternoons."
And when she wasn't waiting for Noble's TV show, it seems Elaine was staying up late to listen to WLAC on the radio...:
"WLAC-AM had late night DJs "John R" (John Richbourg), Hoss Allen, Herman Grizzard and Gene Nobles who played rhythm & blues for an audience all over the Southeast, sponsored by Ernie's Record Mart or Randy's Records in Gallatin. "
Elaine isn't the only person to want to celebrate her memories of the music and DJs travelling the 50,000 watt signal beaming WLAC out across the continent to over 15 million listeners in 38 states and overseas. Independent screenwriter/director Nashvillian Don Boner and screenwriter Chera Federle have written a screenplay called WLAC Nashville, and have picked up the praise and endorsement of numerous local r&b artists and music historians.
WLAC NASHVILLE is said to be a fictional dramatization of the late night WLAC disc jockeys who played rhythm & blues during the 50’s through the early 1970’s. These deejays influenced a new generation of young men and women, black and white and launched the careers of many R & B legends, paving the way for Rock and Roll. Sounds like an interesting project.
It will never play even on TV in the UK, so if anyone sees it appear in the US, shout out!
Information and quotes found at Nashville Memories, a webpage run by Elaine Neeley, and from RodneyJones.com. Information about the screenplay WLAC Nashville from various sites including IndianapolisFilm.net.