Discover The Horrifying True Story Behind “Murder On Music Row”

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30 years ago, an infamous murder took place on Nashville’s most popular street. As a story of fame and lies unravel, many residents have never heard what really took place on that fateful day. It wasn’t until ten years later that the story was put into a song with a completely different meaning.

Murder On Music Row

The 1999 song, “Murder on Music Row” was originally recorded by the bluegrass group Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time as the title track for their record. The song would later become a hit when country legends George Strait and Alan Jackson got ahold of it.

The pair performed the song at the 1999 CMA Awards as a protest against the rise of country pop music making its way into the genre. The performance made such an impression that “Murder on Music Row” became widely popular. At the following year’s CMA Awards, the duo won for Vocal Event of the Year – thanks to their powerful performance.

It didn’t end there though – Strait and Jackson even recorded a studio version of the song that surprisingly made its way onto country radio. Without ever being released as a single, “Murder on Music Row” still managed to peak on the charts. To this day, fans considered it a country music staple.

While the song tells the heartbreaking story of traditional country losing control in a once dominated industry, the events are merely fiction. But that doesn’t mean inspiration didn’t peak from a rather horrifying story that did occur on Music Row.

A Mysterious Murder

Rewind to the spring of 1989 when two young men got caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time – Music Row. A young Kevin Hughes and his buddy Sammy Sadler were exiting a recording studio on March 6 when an armed gunman wearing a ski mask and dark clothes opened fire on them.

As 23-year-old Hughes was shot three times, he attempted to flee the scene that ended with a fatal shot to the back of the head. 21-year-old Sadler was shot in the shoulder and while he was severely wounded, he managed to get to safety. The attacker quickly escaped the 16th Avenue crime scene without anyone getting a good enough description or evidence to find his whereabouts.

The attack on Hughes and Sadler became the mystery of the year. The police had trouble figuring out if it was an intentional attack, a robbery gone wrong, or even a suspect with a motive. It wasn’t until years later when investigators began unraveling a scandal of bribery and manipulation that was occurring in the music world.

Music Industry Secrets

It all began back in 1942 when one of the industry’s first trade periodicals, Cashbox Magazine, started publishing a specific edition geared toward country music. Cashbox quickly became known for their jukebox charts which monitored the spins of songs in jukebox consoles across the nation – including charts for radio play and record sales.

Hughes – who worked at Cashbox Magazine – alongside fellow employees Richard D’Antonio (Tony D.) and Chuck Dixon became involved in a dangerous scheme. Their creation allowed aspiring country stars to bribe the publisher as high as $2,000 for favorable placement in the influential Cashbox Magainze rankings. With high rankings came heavy recognition from managers and labels looking for new artists to get their hands on.

After some investigation, police began to piece the scheme together one detail at a time. Their discovery found that Hughes may have begun resisting D’Antonio and Dixon’s scheme or planning to expose it when the murder happened. With fear that Hughes carried powerful information, D’Antonio murdered him on Music Row.

Unfortunately for Sadler, he was just caught in the middle at the wrong time. As he recovered from his injuries, his career never did. Sadler was set to release his debut album, but the murder-attacks left people suspicious of his involvement. Instead, no evidence was ever found against the aspiring singer and he suffered PTSD following the event.

Finding Justice

While the police continued to build a case around D’Antonio and Dixon, they struggled to find sufficient amounts of evidence to charge them. Until finally in 2003 – they had a breakthrough.

D’Antonio was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Hughes and assault with intent to commit second-degree murder in the shooting of Sadler. Unfortunately, Dixon had already passed away in 2001 although police believe he was involved.

D’Antonio pleaded not guilty but was still convicted on both counts in September of 2003 and sentenced to life. He later died of natural causes in September of 2014.

Cashbox Magazine published its final print issue on November 16th, well before the full story was “Murder on Music Row” was ever discovered.

While the song “Murder on Music Row” was written before the story unfolded and charges were filed, it still resides as a frightening ending to the story.