There are outstanding music-themed museums across the country. Here is a sampling:
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The towering, glass-ceilinged lobby looks more like a train station, and the large indoor waterfall doesn't seem to have much to do with country music. Some people find the lavish features of the five-year-old, $37 -million Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to be unnecessary, but there's no question of the quality of the contents inside.
This big-budget site comes alive through extensive video clips, listening booths, and irresistible lifestyle items such as Elvis Presley's customized Cadillac limousine (with a gold-plated TV) and Webb Pierce's Bonneville convertible with a pistol on the hood, steer horns on the front grill, and silver dollars inlaid on a saddle mount in the front seat.
And where else can you find a Gram Parsons Nudie suit with marijuana leaves embroidered on it? Or a nurse's cap worn by Naomi Judd when she worked at a Tennessee hospital? And of special interest is the Hall of Fame's inclusion of Don Law Sr., who recorded Marty Robbins and others while also raising his son, Don Law Jr., the Boston concert promoter.
There's a standout exhibit on Ray Charles, the r&b legend who shared his love of country on a two-album series, ``Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music." His Wurlitzer electric piano is here, ditto with the Selmer Super Action alto sax he played at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. Many interview clips highlight this exhibit (which shows until the end of the year), as Charles proves his sincerity with the form. And next up is a Ray Price exhibit opening on Aug. 4.
222 First Ave. South, Nashville. 615-416-2001. www.countrymusichalloffame.com. Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $16.95; seniors 50 and older, college students, and military $14.95; children 6-17 $8.95; 5 and under free.
Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum . Only a few weeks old, the Musicians Hall of Fame pays homage to the sidemen you may have heard thousand s of times on hit records, but may not know by name. They are often clustered under group monikers such as the ``A Team" in Nashville, the Funk Brothers in Detroit, the Memphis Boys, and the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles.
This is a fascinating place that fleshes out key components of music history. See the piano that Hargus ``Pig" Robbins played with the A Team, the pedal steel that Pete Drake used on George Harrison's ``All Things Must Pass," and the Ludwig drum kit that Hal Blaine played on hits by the Beach Boys and Frank Sinatra.
There's some amazing stuff here, from the bass that Marshall Grant used on Johnny Cash's ``I Walk the Line," to the guitar that Reggie Young stroked on Elvis Presley's ``In the Ghetto." Museum CEO Joe Chambers, a songwriter who has written for Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton, explained: ``I've had musicians crying in here. It's very emotional." Indeed, it is. Located right around the corner from the Country Music Hall of Fame, it just opened with a jam session that featured country artist Vince Gill, Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals, and Garry Tallent of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. That says a lot right there.
301 6th Ave. South, Nashville. 615-244-3263. www.musicianshalloffame.com. Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 10-5. Adults $14.95, children 7-12 $9.95, 6 and under free.
Memphis Rock `n' Soul Museum. Nestled near bluesy watering holes such as the Rum Boogie Cafe (``Eat, drink, boogie, repeat," is its slogan) and B.B. King's Blues Club, sits one of the most educational music museums anywhere. Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the Memphis Rock `n' Soul Museum offers more than cool curio items. It provides a vital social history starting with the film, ``Social Crossroads," that each guest sees upon entering.
The film establishes how sharecroppers came to Memphis in droves -- the farming population in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas fell by almost 3 million from 1930- 69 -- and how this affected the explosion of rock `n' roll, blues, and soul. To underscore the point, you walk through a room that holds an old farm plow and a cotton weighing machine. You also spot the primitive, reel-to-reel recorder and mixing board used by Sun Records founder Sam Phillips to tape music in sharecropper s' houses, country stores, and Southern juke joints.
Then come some knockout items such as a B.B. King ``Lucille" guitar, a dulcimer given by June Carter Cash to Elvis Presley, and Ike Turner's piano that he used in studio sessions for Howlin' Wolf. You want more? You got it with four well-stocked jukeboxes playing everything from ``That's All Right" by Arthur Crudup to ``Mr. Crump Don't Like It" by the Beale Street Sheiks. A treasure trove.
191 Beale St., Memphis. 901-205-2533. www.memphisrocknsoul.org. Daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Adults $9, children 5-17 $6, discounts for AARP, AAA,and military members. STEVE MORSE