History is not supposed to be this much fun!! ROAD TO NASHVILLE (1967) was one of the last of about two dozen low-budget country music "musicals" made during the 1960's which played mainly in drive-ins and in the South. These movies seem to have existed for a chance for fans to see their favorites in color - few people had color TV during the early and mid 60's, certainly very few among the middle-class and poor that made up country music's prime audience during these years. When the prices for color sets went down and more country music programs began being broadcast in color during the late 60's, these movies all but disappeared, I believe only two were released after this movie. ROAD TO NASHVILLE is a very honorable swan song for the genre, unlike most of the other movies which had very lame and long storylines usually involving "D" level actors and plots that took up half the screen time that should have gone to the singers, the "story" here is very slight (mercifully) and thus this movie packs in 38 performances by a far larger cast of singers than any of the other country films.
Marty Robbins co-produced this film (he apparently very much wanted to be a movie star producing and starring in several low-budget films including a dragstrip melodrama and a western) and I guess he can be forgiven for giving himself sole above the title billing and a full five numbers, more than twice as many as most of the superstars on display here, after all it is his movie! The Stonemans (also known as the Stoneman Family, amusingly billed each way here on different chapters) come in second with three numbers. One of the true comets of the country music industry, The Stoneman Family seemed on the brink of bigtime superstardom when this movie came out with their unique mix of bluegrass, folk, and old-timey country with a pop sensibility (note Donna Stoneman gives a go-go girl swing to her rhythm movements and their avante-garde bluegrass/rock indstrumental). They were a huge concert act and had even crossed over to the then flourishing folk market and in 1967 won the CMA's first Top Country Vocal Group award but as early as 1970 their major career was over probably due to the quick death of the folk scene at the end of the sixties and the limited audience for bluegrass. (You'll probably recognize the other Stoneman girl, Roni, who a decade later became a regular on HEE HAW playing the harridan housewife in comic skits.)
Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Connie Smith, Bill Anderson, Dottie West, Hank Snow, the Osborne Brothers, and Porter Wagoner each have two songs, Kitty Wells has a solo and a number with husband Johnny Wright, Johnny Cash and the Carter Family each have single numbers and then do the gospel song "Were You There" together. Waylon Jennings, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Phillips, Norma Jean, and Margie Singleton each have solo numbers as do the very obscure acts Don Winters, Bobby Sykes, and the comic team Quinine Gumstump & Buck none of whom I had ever heard of before (I suspect they were all part of Marty Robbins' road show at the time.)
As others have mentioned, this DVD has a lackluster sound, you will undoubtably play your television at full blast to enjoy it as much as possible and still wish the volume could be higher. The packaging is less than desirable with Rhino failing to give any real indication on the front and back cover of all the music gems on this DVD (a full list of the 38 tracks is on the inside cover). At least one can be grateful for a very generous chapter index for each number making it very easy to play one's favorite performances again and again.
The singing is of course sensational and at least half of the performances were recorded for the movie are not just lip-synching to records. My favorite two tracks are two suprises to me, the Stoneman Family's sensational rocking remake of "Tupelo County Jail" (often called "Write Me A Letter" and strangely called "Send Me A Letter" on the DVD); with their yellow sweaters, black ties, and 60's haircuts, the Stoneman men totally bring back the era as do the girls with their Shindigish swinging to the beat. The other showstopper is Bill Phillips singing his hit "Put it Off Until Tomorrow". Phillips had a rather short career at the top although he had several top tens; this song was the very first Nashville success of 20-year-old Dolly Parton who wrote the song and sang distinctive chorus harmony on the record. I was hoping maybe this DVD would give a surprise and have the then unknown Dolly appearing along with Bill uncredited recreating the performance. Instead, the harmony is sung by Kitty Wells' daughter Ruby Wright, who never really went after a solo career herself. Ruby proves to be a sensational harmony singer, blending better with Bill's voice than even Dolly did on the record!! Mama Kitty performs one of her late career gems herself, a blunt stunner called "A Woman Half My Age" that was a top 15 hit in 1966. This kind of honest, outspoken country song you are not going to hear on the radio today that's for sure although it's as timely as ever. It's great to see Webb Pierce and Lefty Frizzell and the still quite young Faron Young still in there pitching and scoring on the country scene a good decade after the apexs of their careers (a Faron would remain a top level country star well into the 1970's) and it's easy to see why gorgeous, big-voiced Connie Smith was pretty much the top female singer in country music at this time. Also singing magificiently is Dottie West, who appears quite modest and conservative here, scarcely resembling the sexed-up glamour girl image she rode to the top of the charts in the early 1980's when she was deep into middle age. The Carter Family do a lovely feminine spin on "I Walk the Line".
Despite it's lacklustre sound, this is one DVD you will play over and over and get your money's worth (even if it weren't so cheap in the first place!) Marty, Webb, Faron, Dottie, Lefty, Hank, and all of the Carter ladies are now all gone and only a few of the surviving cast are still in there pitching at the Grand Ole Opry now so this little cheapie film is one to be cherished.