The Lost History of Nashville Rhythm & Blues
By DANIEL COOPER
One night in mid-November, I ventured across the Cumber-land River from East Nashville and up to the Elks Lodge at 2614 Jefferson St. Denise LaSalle was booked into the Elks that night, and she was ready to sling her Southern contempo-blues and raunchy jokes across tables filled with mostly middle-aged fans looking to have a big time. Decked out and eager, waiting for LaSalle, they murmured approval when the pre-concert deejay played Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” then shouted out loud for Z.Z. Hill and his ever popular “Down Home Blues.”
Seated at the bar in back, I looked out over the setups and paper sacks and tried to conjure some sense of the history buried there at the Elks. One of the few R&B nightclubs extant from 1950s Nashville—back when the building was known as the Club Baron—the Elks had been among the slew of Nashville hot spots that catered to a crowd more readily moved by Little Willie John than Little Jimmy Dickens. It was into the Baron, one story goes, that young Jimi Hendrix dragged his amp to duel axes with Johnny Jones, only to leave as a whipped guitar pup, taken to school by the great Nashville bluesman.
The Baron wasn’t Jimi’s turf, you see. He and Billy Cox led a combo down the street at the Del Morocco. A plush dinner club, the Del Morocco was owned by Theodore “Uncle Teddy” Acklen, a remarkable self-made man who scrambled up from the streets to one day play host to Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. His son, Theodore Acklen Jr. (“Little Teddy” to his friends), has got the photos to prove it. There they sit, Robinson and Campanella, the two giants of summer in street clothes leaning over dinner at the Del Morocco.
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