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A record retailer comes back to town

A record retailer comes back to town; local heroes set to open shows for Bob Dylan

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Year of the Cat

Here’s a rumor with some substance: Cat’s Records, the Nashville record chain that disappeared from Middle Tennessee in the early 1990s, is planning a return to Nashville. Sources within the company say the chain’s first new Nashville store could be open as early as this fall.

The first Cat’s Records opened on 21st Avenue at Dixie Place underneath Oxford House in 1971. It was founded by Nashville’s Carlock family, which had operated Music City Record Distributors (MCRD) since 1953. By the early 1980s, the locally owned chain held satellite stores throughout Nashville and across the state. Its flagship store on West End became one of the anchors of the city’s fledgling rock and punk scene, due in large part to a renowned import section, which introduced Nashville teens to hard-to-find indie releases.

What’s more, the chain’s sponsorship of edgy rock ’n’ roll shows at local clubs—as well as in its own parking lots—helped establish Nashville as a stop for touring new wave acts in the early 1980s. The chain’s apogee was the legendary 1985 parking-lot concert by Jason & the Scorchers, which drew thousands and slowed traffic to a crawl on West End. It was no coincidence that two of Cat’s most visible employees, district manager Steve West and import buyer Bruce Fitzpatrick, went on to become fixtures in the local club scene—West as founder of 328 Performance Hall and Go West Productions, Fitzpatrick as proprietor of the Exit/In.

In 1991, the Carlocks sold the Cat’s stores in Middle Tennessee to Turtle’s, which instantly gutted the import sections. Turtle’s stipulated that Cat’s could not compete in the area for five years, but MCRD was allowed to keep its stores outside Middle Tennessee. Turtle’s was ultimately swallowed by Blockbuster Music; Cat’s still owns 20 stores outside Nashville, in towns ranging from Memphis to Charleston, S.C.

According to Hays Carlock, MCRD’s vice president of purchasing, the time is right for the chain’s return. He says that apart from Tower, giant chains haven’t fared well in Nashville. Cat’s new district manager, Mark Shenkel, formerly manager of corporate events for Gibson Guitars, says that music retailing in Nashville has been reduced to two basic alternatives: “a big huge Tower store, and generic short-hair-and-tie places.” There are no large record stores in town, he says, for people who want direct customer service, obscure platters, special orders.

Don’t get your hopes up for a return of the Cat’s import section. Carlock says that pressure from major manufacturers has made the chain cut back severely on imports. Nevertheless, he reports that the idea of Cat’s returning to Nashville is “generating a little bit of excitement.”

“[Record retailing] had gotten a little lackluster here,” Carlock says. “We didn’t want to be in town for a while, but it’s starting to look more viable.” No location has been announced yet, but it’s a safe bet they’ll stay away from West End for now. Don’t be surprised if you see a familiar yellow-and-black sign sprouting somewhere around town this fall—or by January at the latest. (JR)

BR5-49 has canceled two months of lucrative shows at state and county fairs to open for Bob Dylan during the month of August. According to Billboard magazine, Dylan invited BR5-49 and Ani DiFranco to open 20 concerts for him through the Northeast and Midwest from Aug. 4 to Sept. 1. Reportedly, Dylan loves the Nashville band’s self-titled debut album and personally expressed interest in having them join his tour.

Speaking of Dylan, the long-planned The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute, will be the first release on Dylan’s new boutique record label, Egyptian Records (distributed by Sony). Among the artists performing Rodgers’ songs will be Bono, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Dwight Yoakam, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Aaron Neville, and Steve Earle.

The Nashville Songwriters Association will host its 30th annual Songwriter Achievement Awards at the Ryman Auditorium July 23. Along with 40 award presentations in six categories—country, gospel, pop, rock, adult contemporary, and urban contemporary—the show will feature songs spanning three decades of popular music. Scheduled performers include Guy Clark, Maura O’Connell, Ronnie Milsap, Michael McDonald, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band. Music journalist Robert K. Oermann will host the event, and presenters will include Joe Allison, Bill Anderson, Bobby Braddock, Danny Dill, Mike E., Russ Taff, Don Wayne, Lari White, Marijohn Wilkin, and Norro Wilson. Tickets cost $25 through Ticketmaster; $60 Gold Circle tickets can be purchased at the NSAI office. Call 256-3354 for information. (MM)

Elliptical dispatches: The Society of Black Artists (SOBA) is accepting submissions until Monday for the SOBA Pack the Park Talent Search, to be held Sept. 14 at Hadley Park. Actors, poets, and playwrights, as well as musicians, singers, bands, and MCs, are encouraged to participate; the only criterion is that submissions must show creativity without profanity or obscenity. Bring tapes, photos, or other submissions to Alkebu-Lan Images at 2721 Jefferson St., or call 321-4111 and ask for Bam....

Nashville singer-songwriter Marc-Alan Barnett will celebrate his birthday by hosting a benefit for the downtown YMCA on July 19 at Douglas Corner. Kim Tribble, Jim McBride, Kim Williams, and Jimbeau Hinson will also perform...

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