"We're the 'Antiques Roadshow' of rock and roll," says Robert Reynolds, "only we don't wait for people to bring us their stuff. We actually go on the road to find our antiques."
Reynolds, the bass player for GRAMMY-winning country rock band the Mavericks and a self-described fanatical collector of rock and country music memorabilia, is one-half of the team featured on "Raiders Of Rock," the CMT show that's become a runaway hit since premiering in April.
A camera crew follows Reynolds and his friend and business partner, Stephen Shutts, as they travel the country looking for posters, backstage passes, T-shirts, press kits, band gear, instruments, and other memorabilia that may someday find their way into a proper museum. The banter between Reynolds and Shutts as they travel the country looking for artifacts keeps things lively, as do their interactions with the other collectors they meet, including a man who owned a gold and diamond medallion worn by Elvis Presley.
"We checked it out, because I'd never seen it, or heard about it, but it was genuine," says Shutts. "He wanted a million dollars for it, which we couldn't afford. I think he's put it up for auction, but he never sold it."
To make sure people are home when they come knocking on the door, or go walking into a garage full of rock T-shirts and old LPs, the duo sets up stops with the help of their assistant Kevin Smith, another collector. During their adventures, Reynolds and Shutts are just as likely to find a $300 box of promotional record label items as an Elvis medallion.
"That's the theme of the show," Reynolds says. "We're searching for long-lost treasure in a basement or an attic, things stored with little care or regard for their preservation. At any moment, you can uncover something that's a significant part of music history.
"Before I met him, Stephen found a cache of letters Patsy Cline wrote that filled in huge gaps in her story. She talked about 'Walkin' After Midnight' before she recorded it, her fear of being in the studio, stories about her marriage: good, bad and otherwise. Stephen is the Indiana Jones of [tracking down] rock memorabilia. He does it well and I enjoy doing it with him."
"I started with records when I was younger and slowly got into the collector's market," adds Shutts. "Robert and I started putting together traveling exhibits and memorabilia sales about 15 years ago."
The duo's first endeavor was a miniature rock and country music museum they put together for the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour in 2001. The venture, dubbed the Honky Tonk Hall of Fame, became so successful that they did it for three years.
"It was a free exhibit to expose [Brooks & Dunn] fans to the history of country music that younger people might not know," Shutts explains. "We took it to state fairs, casinos and concert halls. Robert and I put it together, but I did most of the touring with it, so he could play with the Mavericks."
Reynolds says he enjoyed the light that came on in a young fan's eyes when they made the connection between Cline, Johnny Cash, Presley, and the music at a Brooks & Dunn show.
"There's a gulf between the early days of the music and what most people know today," says Reynolds. "We love exposing them to the lives of the artists that paved the way for today's country. It reminds me of my early days. My mom took me scavenging for records when I was 10 or 11. Everly Brothers albums informed my guitar playing and Buddy Holly got me interested in songwriting. I was collecting memorabilia for years before I met Stephen, or started the Mavericks. We were in business for 15 years before we got the idea for the TV show."
Reynolds and Shutts opened their next venture, The Rock 'n Roll Pit Stop at Nashville's historic Loveless Cafe, in 2011. The memorabilia retailer offered everything from Presley's baby shoes to posters of current rock and country tours. The duo moved to a location near Nashville's Music Row three years ago and renamed it Rockology.
Reynolds believed a wider audience might be interested in the machinations they go through tracking down rare, and not-so-rare, artifacts.
"Stephen found an old Hank Williams notebook at a yard sale," Reynolds says. "We got into a legal battle about who owned the 'intellectual property' contained in the book. It had 20 songs in it and I can't tell you everything that happened because of the confidentiality agreement we had to sign, but it's alive and will be preserved, thanks to Stephen.
"We knew that we had an interesting story to tell, but we didn't know exactly how to format it, so we take some pride in the fact that making the show was a guerrilla process. We got a young camera guy to come down and shoot our exploits and worried about editing and distribution later."
Reynolds and Shutts personally funded the pilot for "Raiders Of Rock" and felt validated when CMT picked it up for 10 episodes. The series continues June 1 with "Distinctive Discoveries," an episode chronicling the duo's encounter with a storage unit packed full of rare collectibles.
"We just wanted to document what we were doing," says Reynolds. "We weren't sure finding a good artifact would translate into good TV. Nothing is planned or staged, so we risk having disappointing moments, but even finding a bogus artifact or coming to a dead end can make good TV."
(J. Poet lives in San Francisco and writes about Native, folk, country, Americana, and world music for many national and international publications and websites.)
These are the most read, shared and discussed articles on GRAMMY.com right now.