The Nashville Teens were not from Nashville, or even from the United States. They only managed to put one record in the US top forty, but it was a memorable one.
In 1962 they were formed as a beat group in Weybridge, Surrey, England: Arthur Sharp on lead vocals, John Hawken on keyboards, Barry Jenkins on drums, Ray Phillips on bass and vocals, and guitarists John Allen and Pete Shannon. They went to Hamburg and played the clubs there in 1962 and 1963, as did other British rock groups such as the Beatles and the Searchers. They played backup for established rock star Jerry Lee Lewis at the Star Club, and an album of this association was recorded. They went on tour backing Bo Diddley, which brought them back to England where they were seen by British rock producer Mickie Most.
Most was a pop entrepreneur whose formula for making money was to find good songs and have them recorded in a studio by good bands. He would have success with such notable British artists as the Animals, Herman's Hermits, Donovan and Lulu. In 1964 Most handed a composition by American songwriter John D. Loudermilk, Tobacco Road, to the Nashville Teens. The result was a rousing version of the song that featured Hawken's piano and some great vocals by Sharp and Phillips. The song was a hit, rising to number 6 on the British pop chart and number 14 in the US. It was followed by Google Eye, another top ten entry in the UK. Tobacco Road was eventually covered by dozens of other artists, but it is the version by the Nashville Teens that remains as the most popular.
The rock sextet developed into a very good live act, performing a lot of American R&B songs. What set them apart was that they had two lead singers. They recorded two more records that made the UK top forty, This Little Bird and Find My Way Back Home, but received little support from Decca, their record label.
Although they would never again reach the top forty, the Nashville Teens had acquired a reputation as a good back-up band. They worked in this capacity for some of the bands from the United States that toured England. In 1973, they split up. Drummer Jenkins joined the Animals in 1966, and keyboard player Hawken eventually went to Renaissance, then the Strawbs.
The group reformed in 1980. Personnel changes were made up until Ray Phillips was the only original member left in the group. Others who played with the Nashville Teens at one time or another include guitar players Mick Dunford and Peter Agate, drummer Adrian Metcalf, and Len Surtes on bass.
The group's legacy in the United States is most closely identified with the driving, rocking Tobacco Road from the Fall of 1964. The Nashville Teens comprised a somewhat underrated band but they certainly made their mark on the 1960's pop music scene.
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