Now that we’ve traveled around the Cleveland metro and taken in its five officially designated RRHOF landmarks, it’s time to hit the road and check out the rest of the list.
- Austin City Limits, 310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd, Austin, TX
(Designated 2009 at Studio 6A, Jesse H. Jones Communications Building B, University of Texas at Austin)
This designation for the longest-running televised music program in the world is an anomaly as the only cultural landmark as opposed to a physical location. Since a separate recognition for non-physical entities would likely be rarely awarded, and the Hall is inconsistent about the nonperformer categories anyway, it seems that this is the best solution, but it’s still kind of awkward. It does make you think that the definition of “landmark” hadn’t really been thought through, or that the program was taken over by other parties and the definition changed. Or something.
From 1974-2010, Studio 6A at UT Austin was the home of ACL. It’s still in use by KLRU-TV, who has maintained the original stage and the iconic skyline backdrop that for years made overseas viewers wonder why it never rained in Austin. If you want to have an ACL-themed party with up to 299 of your closest friends and check out the first HOF plaque presented to the show, it’s available for special event rentals. A second plaque was created in 2011 when the show moved downtown to the 2750-seat Austin City Limits Live at Moody Theater in the W Hotel complex—a straight two-mile shot down Guadalupe St. but light years removed from the show’s low-key origins.
- Devil’s Crossroads, 599 N. State St. (Highway 61 at 49), Clarksdale, MS (Designation year unknown)
According to legend, this is the spot where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a master of the blues. Of course, your theology may hold that there is no Devil who would bargain for a man’s soul in Clarksdale, MS, and so recognizes Highway 1 and 8 in Rosedale, MS instead. At any rate, the crossroads aren’t all that foreboding nowadays. There’s a weathered-looking plaque there but I haven’t found any close up views of it so I’m not sure if it’s from the Hall or something else.
Rosedale’s a little more low-key about its demonic apparitions:
- J&M Studios, 840 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, LA (designated 2010; National Register: 1999)
Way down in New Orleans
Down on Rampart and Dumaine
Yes down in New Orleans
On Rampart and Dumaine
Gonna make it my standin’ place
Until I see the Zulu Queen
-Professor Longhair, “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” 1949
Now a laundry, this building was once the home of John Matassa’s J&M Appliance Store and Record Shop. From 1945-1956, it also housed J&M Studios, a 15×16 space that his son Cosimo used to carve out space to make records. (Cosimo’s moved to larger digs over on Governor Nicholles St. from 1956-1966). At least three of the those records have been dubbed “the first rock and roll record”: Fats Domino’s “Fat Man,” Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and Roy Brown’s “Good Rocking Tonight.” That’s in addition to records like “Lawdy Miss Clawdy, “Tipitina,” “I Hear You Knocking” and “Long Tall Sally.” Dave Bartholomew’s original—and bawdier—version of “My Ding a Ling” was recorded here in 1952; Chuck Berry’s version wouldn’t appear until 20 years later. Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Dr. John, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lloyd Price, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, and Allan Toussaint were just some of the artists who recorded sides for $15 per hour in the tiny space on the corner of Rampart and Dumaine.
- King Records, 1540 Brewster Ave., Cincinnati, OH (designated 2008)
King Records doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Sun, Chess, Stax or Motown, but its legacy is real: at one time it was one of the top ten labels in the country with literally hundreds of hits and home to James Brown and Bootsy Collins, among others. It’s also a touchstone in civil rights history; King was a color-blind operation, from its talent roster to the workforce that physically produced every aspect of the product in a renovated ice production facility on a dead end street in Cincy’s Evanston neighborhood.
The building now sits bricked up and empty, and it’s likely been a few moons since anyone drove by to look at the RRHOF plaque. The city very much wants to preserve the property; it’s currently involved in an ongoing legal battle with the owners and is taking steps towards the use of imminent domain. It’s getting down to the wire, and the building is deteriorating: something needs to happen, and soon.
At the RRHOF Landmark dedication ceremony in 2008, then-president Terry Stewart said, “There’s not a more important piece of real estate in musical history than the building over there on Brewster. If you folks don’t remember and preserve it, shame on you” (Kind of an odd thing to say as a guest). There’s no indication I can find of the Hall being involved in the effort to save this building. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, but you’d think it could get some money together and/or raise its voice to save this landmark, for its state and for rock and roll history.
- Surf Ballroom, 460 N. Shore Drive, Clear Lake, IA (designated 2009; National Register 2011)
The Surf Ballroom has the unfortunate distinction of claiming its place in history through association with tragedy: it was here that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played their final show before climbing into that ill-fated Beechcraft.
Still an active music venue, the Surf was recognized as a landmark by the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (in a separate ballroom category) and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot tour plays there this June; it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to see it.
- Whisky A Go Go, 8901 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA (designated 2006)
Rock’s L.A. address; the launching pad for Johnny Rivers, Frank Zappa, Janis, Neil Young, the Doors, Jimi, the Four Tops, Vanilla Fudge, Blondie, Soundgarden, Fleetwood Mac, Motley Crue, The Tempations, Van Morrison and Them, X, Zeppelin, Cream, the Motels, Guns N’ Roses, Martha and the Vandellas. And more.
That’s the list; now for the “Why this and not that?” game. In Cleveland alone there’s the Agora and Cleveland Arena. As Charles Crossley suggested, there’s the Yasgur farm and Big Pink, and then Graceland, CBGC’s, the Ed Sullivan Theater, the American Bandstand studio at WFIL, Sun Records, Hitsville USA, Chess Records…. And going abroad, the Marquee Club, the Cavern Club, the BBC studios for “Top of the Pops” and “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for starters.
You get the feeling this may have been a pet project for someone at the Hall and that person or the interest isn’t there anymore. The last designation was in 2010, so it’s uncertain but likely doubtful that they plan to keep up with it. When I thanked the social media team for their response to my query about the Corner Tavern, I said it was an interesting topic and suggested they expand on the Landmarks page on their site. The page has been deleted.