Ricky Racoon & the Choo Choos?

With elderly relatives with a partiality to Glenn Millar & the big band sound it would be impossible to not to have heard the song ‘Chattanooga.’

Whilst considered a big hit back in the 1940’s the lyrics may not be so well thought of today. However it did bring people’s attention to a place called Chattanooga & its rolling stock.

Trundling along we happened on Manchester which is nothing like its English namesake. Then dipped our nose into Georgia & out again ratcheting up the number of states we had visited or driven through bits of.

As it sort of was on our route we opted to stay on the famous Raccoon Mountain & indulge in a little underground exploration. Communing with our inner womble we opted for the quick & relatively easy tour as time & light was limited.

Lots of tall tales later. With anecdotes about the caves & it’s history. Most relating to the people who had been involved in the ‘discovery’ & subsequent ownership whiled away some time. Clearly the caves had been there for a very long time & likely had provided shelter to animals & humans alike for centuries.

Racoon Mountain Caves

Sadly we did not spot any salamander or spiders that inhabit the caves. The Crystal cave Spider it would seem is only found in the caves. Nor did we see any bats or raccoons ( called Ricky or otherwise) but the geology of the caves was interesting. Come to think of it we didn’t see any of the ghosts said to lurk about the caves either but never mind. Think it was Macca who crooned the Ricky the Racoon song which got played on a previous trip in honour of the racoon on a lead we met. Might start a band & call it Ricky Racoon & the Choo Choos although very debatable what genre the music a band with such a name might produce.

Modern “Chattanooga Choo Choo’s”

After a cool swim we had a bite to eat & got the van ready to depart the next day. High hopes of a tranquil nights sleep were dashed by the modern ‘choo choos’ that obviously still relentlessly haul freight & tooted their horns. Given the length of these trains & the miles they cover the drivers get to break the monotony by hooting the horns. I couldn’t decide whether this was a necessary safety precaution or just because they liked driving trains & wanted everyone to know regardless of the hour.

The dreary grey wet weather complemented our mood after such interrupted sleep. We didn’t have time to stop in Chattanooga itself or have a go as planned on the scenic railway . Seemed little point as it was so claggy we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the view.

So we pointed Van Morrison to Pigeon Forge & hit the road through the Nantahala Forest & through the Great Smoky Mountains.

Noisy In Nashville

Rolling in to KOA Nashville we really felt Van Morrison was the ‘minnow’ in amongst the huge RV’s & 5th Wheels. Still undeterred we set up camp & set off to explore.

Drawn by the sound of singing like moths to a flame we discovered that a duo had been booked to entertain guests by the pool. It was really a lovely welcome to the ‘Music City’ with music from Emberland.

Chilling By the Pool with Emberland

If New York holds the title as the ‘city that never sleeps’ then for me Nashville qualifies as the noisiest on the planet. It was crazy walking down the main street to the cacophony of music emanating from what seemed like every brick. Live music is the life blood of this city & we were ready to immerse ourselves.

We took the easy route to downtown via the inexpensive bus from the KOA thus eliminating the need to drive. This proved wise as even the bus driver made jokes about the driving skills (or lack of them) of the locals.

Dropped off by the Country Music Hall of Fame we opted first to wander about & then come back for a tour of the museum later.

The sun shone as we walked towards Riverfront Park & then in and out of the streets of downtown Nashville. Wending along the main street music seeped out of the brickwork & into your soul as you browsed.

From the peddle & drink bars to the souvenir shops you cannot escape the smorgasbord of sound. Whether punk rock or country you could almost guarantee to find someone playing it.

Personally my musical taste leans more to the rock / punk genres than country & western if I’m honest. The songs of Johnny Cash such ‘Walk the Line’ & ‘Ring of Fire’ are songs from childhood that were on the radio. Like those of Elvis I know of them & probably could sing along but they weren’t really ‘my music’ as it were. So it was with a tad of trepidation & maybe a soupçon of curiosity we went in to the Country Hall of Fame if I’m honest.

The Hall of Fame traced the history of county music from its roots to the present day. Featuring a galaxy of artists some of whom were more familiar than others. Most know of & have heard of Glen Campbell, Dolly Parton & Willy Nelson all of whom have left their mark on this genre.

Hall of Fame

It was a fascinating insight into musical history & for me filled in some ‘jig saw’ like gaps in my understanding of how this style of music has underpinned so many others. It might also explain how someone who loves rock & punk finds she can only write & play songs with a country feel! Either that or it’s that sort of song is slower & kinder to the older stiffer fingers that have yet to master the nimbleness required for throbbing rock.

Someone asked me yesterday how the ‘wtfimu2n’ challenges are doing. I confess the ones that featured writing & performing a song in public are still works in progress. Although I have written some lyrics & music marrying the two together have been challenging. Also I have zero recording skills so some of my time has been spent trying teach myself how to build a song via GarageBand. I have laid down some recordings but they are not quite ready for unleashing to an unsuspecting world.

From a roof top restaurant we scoffed pizza & drank nice IPA then caught the bus back to camp. I liked Nashville & maybe I will get back there as there was lots more to see that we didn’t get time to.

Whilst the country stars of the past may not have totally captivated me. I will admit I do now listen to Margo Price a country singer who I am fortunate enough to have heard play live. A talented musician whose lyrics seem to tackle some tricky issues & for me has opened my ears to that genre.

Back on the road we wound up the speakers to listen to some more tracks for the long drive to Chattanooga.

Trying To Get to You?

The weekend over it was time to load the wagon & hit the trail once more mainly via the Interstate 40 but at least we got a chance to play our playlist game again. One of the resulting song choices gave us one of the funniest experiences of the trip & even the memory brings back tears of laughter.

So to Memphis a place I had not revisited since the 1980’s when hubby & I stopped by on a greyhound journey up the Eastern side of the USA. Florida to Boston on a coach was certainly a cheap & efficient way of travelling back then so we got to see some places. One of which was Graceland’s former home of the legendary Elvis Presley.

‘Trying to get to you’ was a song sung by Elvis in 1954. The opening lines “I’ve been travelling over mountains Even through through valleys too” seemed to apply describe out sojourn to Memphis on this trip.

Whilst I have never been what you would call a fan of Elvis, growing up with his songs on the radio I can recognise most songs from only a few beats in. Visiting as an adult was really out of curiosity & revisiting nearly 30 odd years later was certainly an interesting experience.

For starters while the house essentially remains more or less how I recall it did the huge complex the other side of the road was new to me. Staying at the RV park adjacent to the venue made life simple. A quick workout followed by breakfast & we were ready to nip through the fence & get to the entrance in less than 5 mins. Unfortunately we had to then wait a bit before the tour started.

Apologies for some of the poor quality of some of the images. However they were taken a long time ago on a cheap analogue camera & recently converted to digital format. I have put the ones taken in the 1980’s near to their modern day counterparts for comparison. I was in someways surprised how little the interior of the house had changed. Yet there were some areas that really had become different. Essentially there was no large visitor centre or exhibition halls on the first visit.

Additionally all the vehicles which had formerly been just outside now seemed to be displayed on stands in a dedicated hall.

It was interesting to wander around the outside & then revisit the aeroplanes as similarly not much had been altered save for maybe the location.

The quick amongst you will have spotted the younger me in the photo by the dining table so guess some things may have changed a bit!

I certainly enjoyed the second visit as the exhibition halls revealed much more about the man & I certainly discovered many facts I had not been aware of. One things for sure he made a significant contribution to music. Its possible to see how that fusion of blues, gospel & rock music still influences musicians today.

I felt sad that such a talented man had so many daemons to fight & that his life ended so prematurely. I really hadn’t appreciated how much he had helped to challenge the issues connected with segregation at the time either.

As a partial artist I was also surprised to learn that he practised a martial art & was very proficient it would seem.

The taste in decoration was definitely a little odd in places. To a degree it was probably of its time but the grass like carpet which acted as some sort of sound proofing was definitely an acquired taste.

Like wise the striking blue & yellow design in the tv room was for me, not particularly conducive to relaxation but each to their own I guess. However the audio visual equipment would have been the state of the art & really bizarre to have more than a single screen in one room.

All in all a long busy but interesting day. We made our way back to the RV park for a good nights sleep before hitting the road again. Keeping to the musical theme we set the sat nav for Nashville.

Getting older but not giving up fight against agism in its many forms

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