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Volume MMVI • Number 2 • April-June 2006 - Nashville Musicians ...

Volume MMVI • Number 2 • April-June 2006 - Nashville Musicians ...

12 The

12 The Nashville Musician April-June 2006 History of Music Row unfolds in writer’s forthcoming publication By WALT TROTT Nothing bugs me more than to read some music writer’s background information on say Hank Williams or Boudleaux Bryant, dramatically describing their haunting Music Row, looking for a break - when no such neighborhood then existed. Now, candid author-songwriter Michael Kosser sets ’em straight with his book “How Nashville Became Music City USA: 50 Years of Music Row” (Hal Leonard Publishers, $22.95), due in bookstores in June 2006. We read an advance copy of this 368page panorama, Kosser’s focus on the rise of fabled Music Row, heart of the country music industry, where blessedly the beat still goes on. Literally it’s Country Music 101, a fitting text for a class by Belmont University Professor Don Cusic (among those cited in the book), not merely to inform music students about the industry’s inner sanctums, but enlighten them regarding potential heartbreak accompanying success on the Row. Mike Kosser came to town to be a songwriter in 1971, and enjoyed cuts by such stars-of-the-day as Freddie Hart (“Thank God She’s Mine”), Kitty Wells (“Full Grown Man”), Tommy Overstreet (“Don’t Go City Girl On Me”), T. G. Sheppard (“Daylight”), Joe Sun (“High and Dry”) and The Kendalls (“It Don’t Feel Like Sinnin’ To Me”). He went on to write books, among them “Those Bold & Beautiful Country Girls,” “How to Become a Successful Songwriter” and co-authored (with Wilbur Cross) “The Conway Twitty Story: An Authorized Biography.” Michael also wrote mystery novels (under a pen name) and, as Kosser, the books “Autumn Thunder,” “Walks On The Wind” and “Warriors’ Honor,” all about Native Americans. We have not seen his latest book’s illustrations, but we are assured there’s a rare picture of the early Bradley Film & Recording Studio & Quonset Hut which spurred the building of Music Row. When country music was in its doldrums, the first wave of 1950s’ country-derived rock and pop was helping to resuscitate the genre, as recorded by innovative producers a la Owen Bradley, Don Law, Steve Sholes, Ken Nelson and Chet Atkins. Then the migration started towards that neighborhood between Division street and Wedgewood avenue running down 16th and up 17th avenues, soon to be annointed Music Row. According to Kosser: “Music Row began in 1955 when two brothers (Owen and Harold Bradley) built a studio in one of the many little homes that lined 16th and 17th avenues south. Most of those homes are still there, but today they house recording studios, music publishing companies, record companies, management companies - all the supporting businesses that make a commercial music industry go . . . ” Kosser dedicates his book to Donna Hilley, who isn’t really cited much on the ensuing pages, though we suspect much of the information regarding giant Tree publishing was her doing. As Michael notes: “For 20 years I have dreamed of writing this book. A single phone call from her, made it happen. I am forever grateful.” The author includes a “Cast of Characters” which informs us Who’s Who among his knowledgeable sources. Inevitably one ponders why this dude, and not some character a little more illuminating? For instance, why singer-songwriter Marty Brown instead of maybe Tracy Lawrence, though admittedly both experienced colorful introductions to the Nashville music scene. Thankfully, there’s also a planned index, particularly helpful, especially with trade reference books. Woven into Kosser’s text are potted biographies of some leading lights on the Row, past and present, which prove both informative and interesting, although by their conciseness cannot claim to be comprehensive. Indeed Kosser’s one-stop information source calls on a variety of industry veterans to help propel the 50-year flight from a nostalgic Nashville Sound yesteryear, to the contemporary state-of-the-art scene now flourishing. Among these are publisher Bob Beckham, label honcho Mike Curb, artist Brenda Lee, songwriter Bobby Braddock, A Team musician Harold Bradley, producer Allen Reynolds, recording engineer Glenn Meadows, backing studio vocalist Gordon Stoker, former record promoter Bob Saporiti, one-time A&R chief Martha Sharp, and historian Ronnie Pugh. A 29-chapter table of contents assists the reader in knowing what section of the industry Kosser’s dissecting next. The writer offers facts, provocative thoughts and funny stories about the exciting business of making music, and doesn’t get bogged down with too many statistics. BOOK REVIEW As Kosser points out, Owen and Harold Bradley bought an old house at 804 16th Avenue South for the sum of $7,500, with the idea of building a permanent recording studio. Harold told Michael, “Owen had knocked out most of the middle floor, so that basement studio was a small studio, but it had a high ceiling. When we were recording, when you added to the basic rhythm section - Boots Randolph and the Anita Kerr Singers or the Jordanaires - you didn’t have the isolation and the music would start bleeding into the singer’s mic . . .” Musician Buddy Killen picks up the description: “The board was just a little console like you’d use at a radio station and I’m sure he added a little thing or two to it. He added that room out there where we all sat around and played. Wasn’t much separation, but it’s an amazing thing how good the sound was comin’ out of there. And he put in a little echo chamber . . .” The hits they cut there certainly would make country music history, among them “Gone,” “Singin’ the Blues” and “White Lightning.” Almost immediately after the Bradleys had transformed the house into a studio, they added a quonset hut to the back of the building, writes Kosser. They purchased a prefabricated metal building kit like those used for military units in World War II, and had it assembled out back. When it comes to sound, a nebulous, subjective quality, hard to define even for the experts, we can learn from pioneers like Owen Bradley. His common sense makedo method to suppress unwanted sounds inside their metal building was to build a square louvered piece, which was hung by chains, and then stuffed stage curtains up in there to keep the sound from reflecting. According to Jerry Bradley, Owen’s son, “When CBS bought it, Goddard Lieberson (head of Columbia) and a couple of pinstripe-suit guys . . . all came down. Owen and Harold decided to sell it to them. The executives wanted to know, ‘How do you get that sound? What’s up there? It doesn’t seem like it oughta work. How are you guys making it work? We wanna know what’s up there?’ They told them, ‘This is just an old curtain.’ “Anyhow, they did the closing, they wrote the checks and Daddy has left the property, but he left something back in the studio and he went back in. He saw these two executives, one was on a ladder and the other one was lookin’ up over the louvers there, and he told the other one, ‘Hey there ain’t nothin’ but curtains up here.’ Daddy said, ‘I told you.’” No doubt Bradley’s simple solution not only improved the process in a primitive but innovative way, while succeeding in cutting hours from session time. The “mom and pop” operations that once graced the Music Row landscape have since been mostly devoured by corporate Goliaths. Arguably, the scene today is more sophisticated and competitive, boasting greater resources to deal with the breadth and scope of the 21st century’s international marketplace. Insider stories include singer-songwriter Johnny Cash’s whimsical reply to producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement, prefacing a comment to Cash thusly, “In my humble opinion . . . ,” whereupon Cash retorted, “Cowboy, there’s nothin’ humble about your opinion!” Regarding studio suitability, producer Robert Johnston recalled revisions implemented for his Columbia collaboration with visiting artist Bob Dylan, causing consternation among Nashville studio executives: “CBS has the quonset hut down there. And then they had a big room (Studio A) with little doors to isolation rooms, where they put everybody, and the sound would be (crap). And I went in there with Ed Grizzard, and I got a saw. We stripped it, took everything outside and had the fire department burn it, and put the drums against the middle of the wall, and put everybody else around there, so they could walk around and see each other. I put Dylan behind glass so he wouldn’t leak, but so everybody could see him.” Less repercussive was singer Guy Clark’s disdain for couches in studios. Multi-instrumentalist Kyle Lehning, who had played in the studio for Waylon Jennings, remembered being invited on an Outlaws’ tour, supposedly to back Waylon’s wife Jessi Colter. “He and Tompall (Glaser) and Jessi went out on the road together. Tompall said, ‘Waylon wants you to play electric piano behind Jessi. So here’s the record, learn the tunes and do it.’ So I learned Jessi’s show. Waylon’s band backed her up, and I played a Rhodes (Fender electric piano) and an ARP (synthesized string ensemble). She finished her set and was walking off the stage, and I was walkin’ off behind her. The band stayed out there and Waylon was in the wings gettin’ ready to come on, ’cause there was not going to be a break. It was like, boom, Jessi’s done, here comes Waylon. “So I’m walkin’ off behind Jessi and Waylon says, ‘Hoss, where you goin’?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m done with the set,’ and Waylon says, ‘No, you’re gonna play with us now.’ And I said, ‘Waylon, I don’t know the tunes.’ He said, ‘Man, there’s only three chords!’ . . . and he was right, his songs only had three chords in ’em, but he put them in the most interesting places.” Second generation musician Jerry Bradley in essence attended the Owen Bradley-Chet Atkins’ School of Music a few years before finding his own producer’s niche at RCA in 1976, via his #1-ranked “The Outlaws,” considered country’s first platinum album (which actually doubled that achievement), charting a remarkable 253 weeks. It showcased Waylon & Willie, along with Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. Kosser wondered what prompted Nashville label head Bradley to produce the landmark album? “Hell, to keep my job! They were a bunch of outlaws and they were bookin’ out as outlaws . . .” On Jerry’s watch at RCA, he brought in major assets like Alabama, and was at the helm when Dolly Parton decided to make her professional break with Porter Wagoner, an RCA contract star-producer. Bradley also offers Kosser insight into how he stalled Chet’s departure from RCA, ’ Michael Kosser when he was new to Music Row. after learning Atkins was bowing out: “I was recording somebody in the studio and I call (RCA president) Rocco Laginestra and I left word with his secretary that when Rocco comes in, you tell him to call me before he calls Chet . . . About 2:30 Rocco called . . . I said, ‘Chet wants to quit and I think he’s serious.’ “Rocco said, ‘What do you think we oughta do?’ I said, ‘Well, he’s like our Nipper (RCA’s trademark dog), I don’t wanna let him go. I think he’s really serious, but he did tell me that he might stay on as a consultant if he had an office . . . and just a little bit of a salary, but he didn’t want to do the day-by-day anymore’ . . . Chet never knew the whole story to the day he died. I never did tell him.” When Jerry Bradley departed RCA, he went with Gaylord Entertainment to briefly head up their short-lived 16th Avenue Records label, and then primarily looked after their valuable Acuff-Rose song catalog. The author also interviewed Jimmy Bowen, controversial rocker-turned-record executive, who made his mark on the coast before making his way to Nashville. Bowen: “In order for Nashville to grow, the studios had to be in competition with each other, so that they would have to bring in all the new technology and get in on the cutting edge of the technical side of the business. You had to find people of a like mind. Glenn Meadows (of Masterfonics Studios) was. He believed that Nashville could catch up with everybody else technically . . . before we started to make the change, the dollars in country music were so small that the studios couldn’t buy all the latest gear, like the New York and L.A. studios. “They’d sell a hundred thousand albums, they’d throw a party. And where I came from in pop music, a hundred thousand albums, even then, was looked down on as a failure. So everything had to be changed to sell millions.” Label chief Jim Foglesong recalls when Stan Silver first brought him the music of unknown Donna Fargo: “Well, I heard the thing and I was determined not to let him out of the office until we had a deal. ‘Happiest Girl in the Whole USA’ sold over a million singles. We put out an album, sold over a million copies. The second single ‘Funny Face,’ actually outsold ‘Happiest Girl’ by a hundred thousand or so . . . and of course ‘Happiest Girl’ and ‘Funny Face’ were both crossovers, so we got the pop promotion people involved. Donna was the darling of the whole company (Dot).” Foglesong also signed the Oak Ridge Boys to ABC, the next label he worked at, and then while at MCA inked the likes of Reba McEntire and George Strait. Meanwhile, birddoggin’ the heels of Foglesong was Bowen, who replaced him there, and then did the same at Capitol, where Foglesong had breathed new life into the careers of Dan Seals and Tanya Tucker, and signed Sawyer Brown and Garth Brooks, before his contract ran out. As Kosser observes, “Music Row is a tough place for record executives. Foglesong spent nearly two full decades running record labels on Music Row, and he survived everything the business threw at him. Everything except Jimmy Bowen.” Absorbing, too, is Kosser’s chapter on

April-June 2006 The Nashville Musician 13 Tim DuBois, who won his spurs as a songwriter, then went on to head up Arista, one of the most successful country labels of the ’90s. That came with the blessing of legendary pop disc boss Clive Davis, of whom DuBois recalls, “With all of the explosion of rap and metal, he felt like there was going to be a turning back toward the song and the songwriter. He had been in charge of CBS when Billy Sherrill was running their Nashville office, and he felt like the South was getting ready to have their own explosion, so he tapped me to start a division here. “As it turned out, he was dead on. We opened the doors in ’89, and by 1990, when we put our first albums out, Garth had exploded. The first album we put out was Alan Jackson, and that was a great way to start a record label. We had a platinum album. We had Alan, Brooks & Dunn, Pam Tillis and Diamond Rio, all within an 18-month period. It was a magical time.” DuBois departed when Arista was absorbed by the RCA Label Group, and he went on to launch Universal South with MCA expatriate Tony Brown. The jury’s still out on this relatively new label operation. It’s been a long journey for those on Music Row, progressing from Hi-fi, monaural, stereophonic, to computer-generated music. Meanwhile, country radio stations proliferated from being rarities to more than 2,000 (both AM and FM), most now under the umbrella of a few conglomerates, whose tentacles snatched up all within financial range following FCC’s deregulation ruling. Long gone, too, are 45rpm singles, eight-track cassettes, LPs (Long-Play albums), as in their wake came cassettes, DATs, the revolutionary encased compact disc (CD), digital downloads, and music videos - produced primarily for cable TV - carrying the beat into more homes and on to distant shores. The author touches on the developments and more, presenting them in a readable style to appeal to those in the trade, as well as inquiring minds of music-loving consumers. Michael Kosser’s “How Nashville Be- came Music City USA: 50 Years of Music Row” is a great primer on the country genre, a reliable reference book, and one’s bookshelf will be decidedly richer for its inclusion. Nashville session player Tom Robb dies Bassist Thomas James (Tom) Robb, 57, died March 6 in Nashville, following a fight with cancer. Robb’s performed with such diverse acts as Leslie West, Ricky Skaggs, Shirley Eikhard, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and the Marshall Tucker Band. For Nashville recordings, he has backed numerous artists, among them Dolly Parton, B. J. Thomas, Deborah Allen, Ricky Van Shelton, Aaron Tippin, Tammy Wynette, Vern Gosdin, Eddie Rabbitt, Shirley Caesar and The Winans. Born in Passaic, N.J., he grew up in foster homes and children’s homes. During his high school years, Tom lived at Bonnie Brae Farm for Boys near Basking Ridge, N.J. Tom taught himself to play drums and then guitar. During the late 1960s, he moved to New York’s Greenwich Village, where he began playing bass in various venues and studios in New York City. In the early 1970s, Robb moved to Atlanta, hooking up initially with rocker Mylon LeFevre. His highly professional pickin’ style soon created a demand for him to play on sessions for the likes of Dionne Warwick, Melissa Manchester, Alicia Bridges and Frankie Miller. In 1980, seeking greener pastures, Robb relocated to Nashville. Subsequently, he played on hundreds of sessions in Music City, where his obituary stated, “He contributed his skills to movie projects, TV shows and publishing projects for many songwriters and publishers.” Known for organizational savvy and professional integrity, he delivered bass parts with feeling and Winners at CMT awards gala The 2006 Country Music Television awards in Nashville, April 10, resulted in the following winners, during ceremonies at the Belmont University Curb Event Center: Video of the Year: Keith Urban, “Better Life”; Male Video, Kenny Chesney, “Who You’d Be Today”; Female Video, Carrie Underwood, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”; Group/Duo Video: Rascal Flatts, “Skin (Sarabeth)”; Collaborative Video: Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home”; Hottest Video: Billy Currington, “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right”; Breakthrough Video, Carrie Underwood, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”; Most Inspiring Video, Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton, “When I Get Where I’m Going”; and Video Director Of the Year, Sophie Muller & Faith Hill (Hill with Tim McGraw) for “Like We Never Loved At All.” Hank Williams, Jr., also accepted the Johnny Cash Visionary Award during the program, hosted by comic Jeff Foxworthy. He said that his daughter Hilary Williams, who went through seven operations in Memphis, following a car crash some 40 miles south of the city, was a survivor: “She’s turned the corner. She’s coming back home soon.” Sister Holly, who also suffered injuries in the accident had been treated and released, and accompanied her dad to the CMT awards gala. Urban closed the show with an inspiring performance of “Better Life,” featuring choir members, who were victims of last year’s Hurricane Katrina. “I’ve been in New Orleans and I was struck by a combination of things. How much has been done, and how little has been done,” explained Urban. “We wanted to bring some awareness to the cause.” Thomas J. Robb “in the pocket.” Robb also liked sports, playing softball, and was a lifelong New York Yankees’ fan. In recent years, he was involved in sports collectibles, and also had a great affinity for animals, canines in particular. Besides Melanie Dyer Robb, his wife of 19 years, he’s survived by brothers Doug Robb, Monroe, Conn., and Ken Robb, Belleville, N.J. Funeral services were handled by Woodlawn-Roesch-Patton Funeral Home, Nashville. A service on March 25, in the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame, celebrated Tom Robb’s life. See page 2 for details on how to update your contact information kept on file at AFM Local 257. OUR READERS WRITE . . . Dear Walt: I wanted to thank you for the absolutely wonderful write-up you did in The Nashville Musician regarding “Looking Back To See” (the letter-writer’s biography, as reviewed in the last issue). I feel so proud and honored to have a two-page story written by you, the editor. It’s great and I appreciate it so much. I apologize to my friends for misspelled names, dates, etc. I paid the University of Arkansas Press a lot of money to do this (copy-editing) for me. I did most of the country artists, and in looking over my original manuscript, I had it correct, so I have no idea how this happened. I will see if I can get it corrected on the third printing; however, I should have checked this more closely and I am so sorry. I enjoyed reading the entire magazine. It’s always nice to keep up with my “old” friends and what they’re doing - and if they’re doing? Thanks once again. - Maxine Brown Little Rock Ark. (Editor’s note: The few errors certainly did not distract from the star’s biography, which was both enlightening and entertaining. Since it’s already in a second printing, readers are apparently in agreement with us. It’s currently available at most bookstores.) Dear Walt: I really appreciate you taking the time to look over my “Nashville Number System” book. You did a very thorough review and pointed out some excellent parts, especially the charts contributed by all the great players and producers here in Nashville. - Chas Williams Brentwood, Tenn. (Editor’s note: This valuable aid to artists and musicians is available via the online website, which is as follows: www.nashvillenumbersystem.com) Hey Walt: I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the most recent issue of the Musician. The pieces on Jerry Kroon, Jerry Douglas and the female guitarist (Velma Williams Smith) were all great. Keep up the good work. - John England www.westernswingers.com Nashville Howdy Kathy (Shepard): And a big Western thanks for the wonderful pic of Alice and George and me backstage at the Opry. It has proven refrigerator worthy, and I can think of no higher praise. - Patricia Presley photo Reader England enjoyed features on Nashville’s first female session guitarist Velma Williams Smith, above at home with husband Hal Smith. We especially liked the caption which identifies 7-year-old George as my grandson. I know it’s easy to think he is my grandson. He certainly looks like my grandson, and as the years and mileage pile up on me, he looks more and more like my grandson every day. The fact remains, however, that he’s not my grandson. He’s my son. Hard to believe, I know, but there it is, in all its accidental and eventually splendid glory. I know it’s a small thing, a ridiculously small thing, but I felt I had to draw a line in the sand here; if not for me, then for the Geezer Dads yet to come. Best wishes, - Too Slim (Fred LaBour) Nashville (Editor’s note: The Nashville Musician regrets the error and is happy to set the record straight.) Here’s Too Slim, of Riders in the Sky fame, again with children Alice and George. Need members help to locate AFM Local 257 Secretary-Treasurer Billy Linneman reports, “Our Local sued Dewayne Mills for a total of $49,860.26, and we obtained a judgment against him. Unfortunately, at this time we do not know how to get in contact with him. If any one has any information about how to get in touch with him, please contact the Secretary- Treasurer’s office (615) 244-9514, Ext. 224, so that we may put a lien against any monies due.” Melody Writers!! Clever titles, lucrative lyrics await matching music. ASCAP writer will give you 75-25 split if you do leg-work. Expenses 50-50. (757) 481-7792. eric.stevens8@verizon.net

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