Tennessee is the Soundtrack of America. Seven music genres call it home, and many more have direct connections to the people and places of Tennessee. If you were one of the lucky ones to score free tickets to the Six Degrees to Tennessee Roots Jam, you got to experience firsthand the global reach of music made in our great state.
On Sept. 15, 2018, an eclectic mix of talented guests kicked off the Tennessee Music Pathways project at the legendary New Daisy Theatre on historic Beale Street. Each artist took the stage for two songs — one of their own and one from a native Tennessee artist who influenced their music. Or, in the case of Memphis legend Booker T. Jones, his own hit “Green Onions,” which has influenced generations of musicians around the world. The diverse lineup included Dustin Lynch, Elle King, Estelle, the Isley Brothers, JJ Julius Son from Kaleo, and Project Pat. The Roots were at the center of it, backing all the artists and rolling out their own high-energy jams throughout the night.
“Tennessee is probably one of the most musically connected places in the United States,” said Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson, the Roots’ drummer and musical director, before the show. He added that he was personally connected to Tennessee’s musical roots by three degrees, through Def Jam Records. “Def Jam was founded by one Rick Rubin, who produced records for Johnny Cash. I’m connected to Johnny Cash by three steps.”
Elle King joined the Roots on stage to sing her hit “Shame,” a soul-packed song from her recently released Shake the Spirit album (RCA). King then sang a seductive rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” King attributes her greatest musical influence to the Memphis native, who was born the same year the New Daisy Theatre opened its doors.
The Isley Brothers:
Before joining the Roots to play Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” and their own “It’s Your Thing,” brothers Ronald and Ernie Isley, of the Isley Brothers, reminisced about the amazing artists who had recorded in Tennessee, listing Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. “They’ve made some great records here,” Ronald said.
Midway through the show, singer-songwriter Dustin Lynch walked onto the stage in his signature white cowboy hat and worn jean jacket to treat the crowd to his country hit “Good Girl,” and then Garth Brooks’ signature “Friends in Low Places.” Lynch’s own musical roots are deeply intertwined with Tennessee. He was born in Nashville and played the legendary Bluebird Cafe at just 16 years old. We spoke to Lynch before the show about Tennessee’s influence on musicians far and wide. “So you’ve got blues and rock ’n’ roll here, and a few hours east we’ve got Nashville, which is the homeland of country music,” Lynch said. “There’s just this origination of sound and songwriting that happened here. If you think of Tennessee, there’s music in the water.”
“To me, The Soundtrack of America starts with black music — Tennessee being one of the starting points,” UK-born artist Estelle told us before the concert. “And it’s there, just on the street, that the energy just pops out.” Estelle sang Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sing a Song,” and then finished her set with her Grammy-nominated hit “American Boy.”
JJ Julius Son:
“Tennessee has always been one of the best places probably in the world for musicians to be,” said JJ Julius Son of Icelandic rock band Kaleo. “It has to do with the history of music and the kind of records they used to make here. There are just so many good musicians, so many good studios. It’s definitely a dream place to go.” JJ Julius Son performed Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right” and one of his band’s biggest hits, “Way Down We Go.”
Hip-hop legend and Memphis native Patrick “Project Pat” Houston performed his own “Raised in the Projects.”
Booker T. Jones:
The Roots closed the concert with Memphis native Booker T. Jones on the organ, playing his iconic instrumental “Green Onions.”
Check out the history of your favorite artist or pick one you don’t know much about. Explore a musical genre deeper, and journey off the beaten path to discover music history’s hidden gems. Tennessee Music Pathways has been created to guide you. Explore the Pathways.