Monday, March 16, 2015

Breaking Country Music News

Glen Campbell's two oldest children want someone besides his wife to make medical and financial decisions for him. Debby Campbell-Coyd and Travis Campbell are asking a judge to appoint conservators and a guardian to protect Campbell's interests. They say in a petition filed in Nashville in January, that Campbell's wife Kim, is keeping their father secluded from the rest of the family and won't let them help with his care.  The petition was filed under seal but a copy was sent to the Associated Press.  Kim Cambpell's attorney refused to comment because of the seal.  Glen Campbell is in the late stags of Alzheimer's disease and lives at a long-term care facility.
Shania Twain, the least likely person to be labelled 'country' is going to quit the road and the country.  She will close it out with a concert at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, on August 6th.  Her final tour is far more accurate in title..."ROCK this Country Tour."
A concert with country music star Vince Gill in Owensboro, Kentucky, will benefit the International Bluegrass Music Museum.  It will be held April 7th at the Convention Center in Owensboro.  The event will feature food from more than fourteen themed food stations. Tickets are $75.
It has been said that the true sign of real talent is longevity.  In the case of Grand Ole Opry star, John Conlee, his 40-year career of number one hits speaks for itself.  When Conlee is not out singing those many hits, he's down on the farm taking care of business.  Actually he has two farms, one in Tennessee, and one in Kentucky.  "I grew up in Versailles, Kentucky, and I did everything anyone can do on a tobacco farm.  My dad did everything he could do to turn a profit.  We raised sheep, cattle, pigs, and of course tobacco," Conlee said.  He has a new single coming out at the end of March, "Walking Behind the Star" dedicated to America's police officers.  It will be on a new album.
The Grand Ole Opry House is now a landmark.  It's earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.  The current theater has hosted the Opry since 1974.  Its actually the sixth spot to host the Opry, but the only one built specifically for it.  I believe the Ryman Auditorium is also on the National Register.
Coming out exclusively on Record Store Day, April 18th, is Johnny Cash's 'Koncert v Praze' a limited edition 180-gram, red vinyl LP of the man in black's historic performance behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia in 1978. The vinyl has never been released anywhere in the world except for a limited time in Czechoslovakia.  It's on RSD 2015.
Here's something else to make you feel old.  Today's teens were in preschool when the world lost music-legend Johnny Cash in 2003, thus meaning a lot of teens have no idea who Cash was or the impact his music has on us all.  The Ensworth School is an exception however.  The school is presenting the first high school production of 'Ring of Fire' the Broadway musical based on Cash's songs.  And it just so happens Cash's granddaughter is in the cast too.  Eighth-grader Annabelle Cash has been invited to join the high schoolers to sing the lead on "Five Feet High and Rising" and "In the Sweet By and By."  Since "Ring of Fire" doesn't retell Cash's life story, but rather focuses on his music, many singers, male and female, get time in the spotlight.  Freshman, Chloe Abram is one of the show's eight principal leads and lends her voice to songs famously sung by Cash's wife, June Carter Cash.  She wasn't very familiar with the couple's music beforehand, but has been struck by 'just how much they were in love with each other."  It's clear that Cash's influence is still alive and well in Nashville and not just in this high school.  Just recently the city's new Johnny Cash Museum celebrated what would have been the musicians 83rd birthday with a sold-out party.
Please don't forget our first of the season mini-festival, April 17-18-19 at the Oak Tree Opry in Anita, Iowa.  Four great shows featuring some of the best talent in the upper Midwest.  It's called SpringFest, and we'd sure like to see you come spend a few hours with us.  It's getting harder and harder to keep the older style of country music alive, but we are not done yet, and we're determined to try to keep it going, but we can't without you.  YOU are the reason we do it anyway, so please come see us April 17-18-19 for SpringFest.  Mark your calendar so you won't forget.....please.
A couple of weeks ago, the CEO of Sony Nashville recording label, Gary Overton, made the claim that "If you're not on country radio, you don't exist."  Charlie Robison took to FACEBOOK to voice a hard-hitting response to Mr. Overton.  "I've spent so many years in Nashville watching you ignorant wastes of space sit behind your big desks.  You act like I, and all my fellow Texas artists don't exist.  Well Mr 'I have a job today' as soon as Florida-Georgia Line goes out of style, and believe me dumb ass, they will, YOU won't exist."  Pretty heavy words to describe the incredible situation in Nashville these days, but who didn't know this was coming.  Anytime their major no-talent so-called 'star' can tell anyone over the age of 35 they are old farts and jackasses because they don't buy his records, where exactly does the industry think those over 35'ers are going to go for their music.  Certainly not to the source of the name calling, done by none other than Blake Shelton.  Also on the radar, Richard Lloyd, Associate Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University.  "I don't think decision makers on Music Row in Nashville, in private, think that country radio is going to continue to matter in 10 years."
AND, from the BRIGHT LIGHTS OF BRANSON, "The State of Country Music" by Tommy Jackson.  "I don't care for it.  It's so perfect, and there are no surprises.  The electronic digital computer.... anyone can do a record nowadays.  You don't have to stay on  key.  They will put you on key.  You don't really know who can sing or can't until you see them in person.  Then you're like, Oh my gosh, what happened?'  That comment was made by the legendary Merle Haggard referring to today's contemporary 'country' music that dominates country radio.  I don't think I've heard anyone put it any better.  Haggard is only one of a growing number of older country music stars who are now conspicuously absent from the airwaves, except for those stations who play the legends.  The above comment was not the only thing Haggard had to say on the matter though.  In an interview with the News Observer, he said, "I've got to be honest, I don't really listen to the radio at all anymore.  Once in awhile, I'll scan it and I don't understand what they are doing.  I can't find the entertainment in it."  Haggard, who's been at it since 1966, is far from throwing in the towel however.  In the above interview,  Haggard also said, "We've got four different album projects in the works, and we'll bring them out in continuity.  We've got a brand-new studio, and we've been recording right along the way."  Sadly the matter seems to be mostly affecting the thousands of fans who helped propel country music to new levels of popularity dating back to the "Urban Cowboy" days and continuing to the beginning of 'new country.'  All of a sudden, gone from mainstream country radio are Mark Chestnut, Joe Diffie, the Oak Ridge Boys, Mickey Gilley, Charley Pride, Gene Watson, Alabama, Pam Tillis, Lonestar, Exile, Collin Raye, Tracy Lawrence, Lorrie Morgan, John Anderson, Diamond Rio, Sammy Kershaw, Bill Anderson, Aaron Tippin, Jim Ed Brown, and many many more sadly.  We 'joke' (even though it's not laughing matter) that 'it's too bad Collin Raye (or insert any of the other artists named above) can't sing anymore."  I know you get my drift and see the bitter irony in all of that.  In reality, Collin and the others mentioned above sound better than ever today.  Collin was, in fact, most outspoken about the subject in a recent appearance on our favorite television show, "Larry's Country Diner."  According to the singer who had a long string of hits in the 1990's and early 2000's, "Forgettable music has been the order of the day for quite a while now, and it's time for that to stop."  We found a piece on line written by Collin recently and it summed up our thoughts so perfectly we picked out a few excerpts for you that follow.  Please remember these are Collin Raye's words.... "I'd like to think that I am expressing what nearly every artist, musician and songwriter (with perhaps a few exceptions) is thinking when I contend that the Bro' Country mishap must cease.  It has had its run for better or worse, and it's time for Nashville to get back to producing, and more importantly promoting, good singers singing real songs.  It's time for country music to find its identity again before it is lost forever.  I know. I run the risk of being labeled as a 'has-been' carrying sour grapes by speaking out.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I had my run from 1991 until 2002 and I'm quite thankful for that.  But as someone who grew up loving and being forever affected by the true greats of country music, I simply have to offer up this plea to the Nashville country music industry to reclaim the identity and poetry greatness that once was our format.  The well-written poetic word of the country song has disappeared.  There appears to be not even the slightest attempt to 'say' anything other than to repeat the tired, overused mantra of redneck party boy in his truck, partying in said truck, hoping to get lucky in the cab of said truck, and his greatest possible achievement in life is to continue to be physically and emotionally attached to the aforementioned truck as all things in life should and must take place in his, you guessed it, his truck.  I don't mind the first two or three hundred versions of these gems but I think we can all agree by now that everything's been said about a redneck and his truck that can possibly be said."  Happily, more and more fans seem to be jumping on this bandwagon that is beginning to pick up steam.  Many from the era that we speak of are reporting bookings are up, and they are seeing more sellout crowds.  Gene Watson told us recently that he has more bookings now than he did five years ago with most of those being capacity crowds.  I've seen several sellout audiences reported from Travis Tritt shows this winter.  The great Mickey Gilley who turns 79 this year, is traveling all over the country (to Le Mars, Iowa, for a Hall of Fame induction, and Canada too) playing to full houses.  The same can be said for many of the artists I mentioned above.  I firmly believe things are changing in country music and one person who deserves a great deal of credit for the change is the extremely likable host of "Larry's Country Diner," Larry Black.  This down-home variety show integrates entertainment, interviews and music in a weekly format, taped live in front of a studio audience in a country diner setting. The show features regular characters including Black, Keith Bilbrey, Sheriff Jimmy Capps, Waitress Renae, and an avid church lady, Nadine, along with special guest appearances by country music artists.  It's a great cast.  The show has continued to grow in popularity since its initial airing in 2009.  So, is country music 'reverting' back in 2015?  Seems like it might be, as we hinted at earlier, time will eventually tell of course.
AND WE HEARD FROM NASHVILLE TOO, Beverly Keel, a journalist for the Tennessean, and a professor, had this to say..... "While I was reeling from the news of the untimely death of longtime Billboard senior chart manager Wade Jessen, it occurred to me that the country music industry has found itself at a crossroads.  The crucial question: Where does it go from here?  As we have been reminded much too frequently lately, life is short and our time here is fleeting.  So what does the country music industry want its legacy to be?  By what music, lyrics and themes do those who dedicate their lives to the genre want to be remembered?  Is Nashville doing all it can to make, embrace and promote music that matters?  As importantly, are we doing all we can to take care of those who make the music, songwriters, musicians, artists and producers?  After all, they are Nashville's most precious resources and what separates us from every other city in America.  I wish we could hit a pause button and take a moment to reflect, regroup and then move on from here using the philosophies and purity of heart of those who got us to where we are today.  What would legendary producer Owen Bradley do?  The country world has recently lost several people who were cornerstones of Music Row, such as photographer Alan Mayor, who was so generous that his livelihood suffered, and Jessen, who served as the industry's conscience.  We've also recently lost artist Dawn Sears, guitarist/producer Chip Young and musical director Joe Guercio.  I still feel on a weekly basis the 2013 loss of CMT's Chet Flippo, who was the Johnny Cash of music journalists.  He was our humble north star who guided us, both in print and in person, and inspired us to strive for excellence.  Obviously, it is an entirely different musical world than in decades passed, both in terms of societal taste and trends and the industry's infrastructure.  We can't go back to the good old days, even if we wanted to.  Stress and pressure are at an all-time high for most in the industry.  But what the country industry of 2015 has in common with that of 1975, 1985, or 1995 is the people.  It remains populated by those who love country music.  Indeed, it is this passion that drives people to leave the safety of their hometowns and families for a chance to pursue their dreams of working in country music, whether it's as a musician, manager, or booking agent.  While there are debates about what is happening at labels, country radio and songwriting sessions, they all come from a place of love for the genre.  While it's certainly competitive, there is still a kindness and accountability in country music that isn't found in other genres.  Despite what you see on TV shows like "Nashville" and "Empire" the record labels are not the bad guys.  Thanks to corporate mergers and decreased album sales, staffers are doing the jobs of two and three people but still remain enthusiastic about the music.  Unfortunately, many in all aspects of the industry are so focused on just trying to make it through the day that they don't have time to reflect on the big picture.  Recently, I read that your priorities are what you spend most of your time doing (not what you think they are), and that had a profound impact on me.  So, if we learn anything from the life's work of Jessen, Mayor, Flippo, Sears, Young, Guercio, and others, it's that we should continue to strive for excellence, authenticity, and kindness.  Is the music we're making, signing and promoting the best that we can do?  Is today's country music what we want to be remembered for as individuals and as a city when we're gone?

Bob Everhart for Country Music News International Magazine 

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