Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bowling For An Identity

Do you really care? Do I really care? Does anyone? Apparently someone does.

Every day on Facebook I'm assaulted with reminders that my friends have a deep desire to determine which Monkee, musical instrument or mass murderer they are most like. Not only that, but they also feel compelled to share the information with the rest of us. As my friend Brad used to say: "Why?"

I mostly ignore this behavior, but a question popped out at me this morning that was so insane that I'm still thinking about it 12 hours later: "Which PBA bowler are you?" Seriously? I can honestly say that I have never wondered which PBA bowler I am most like, or, for that matter, which one my friends are most like. 

I can't even name a current PBA bowler (a quick side trip to the organization's Web site reveals that someone named Wes Mallot is apparently the "King of Bowling." Who knew?).

What's behind this madness? Are we so desperate to find out who we are that we are driven to fill out these faux personality profiles and then gleefully share them with our pals? Do we really need to find out from Facebook what cocktail, carnival ride or Klingon we most resemble?

Or are we simply bored?

I don't claim to know the answer, but what I do know is that if I did a list of "The Five Things That Terrify Me" like my friend Chuck, inane lists would be at the top.

Now excuse me while I send virtual beverage to my fellow members in the "Pass A Drink" club. We have 5,829,701 monthly active users, you know.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Indie Indeed

For every independent label that shows promise, it seems there's one that is destined to fail before it starts.

James C. Lestorti, a one-time Elvis impersonator—you can't make this stuff up, folks—faces litigation from family members over the failure of the family's former business, LesCare Kitchens Inc., and a federal lawsuit by people who claim Lestorti swindled them in connection with two music businesses he set up in Nashville, WhiteStar Co-Op Entertainment Inc. and WhiteStar Co-Op Publishing Inc, according to the Hartford Courant.

WhiteStar was home to George Ducas and Nashville Star contestant Jason Meadows on the label side and Danielle Peck on the publishing side. Lestorti also convinced a number of music business veterans to join his ventures.

Employees claim, among other things, that Lestorti borrowed money from them to run the business but instead used it to fund a lavish lifestyle. In one claim, several of the plaintiffs reported that Lestorti used the credit card of his deceased mother to pay a hotel bill in Las Vegas and that when questioned about the name on the card, he told the clerk that his mother was upstairs and told him to use her card to pay the bill. But seriously, folks.

"I think that he's a crook," WhiteStar managing director and Music Row veteran Walt Wilson told WSMV-TV. "I think that he's a fraud."

"I'd say that they need to see a psychiatrist," said Lestorti in response to his former employees' perceptions of him. "We didn't abandon anybody," said Lestorti. He said his label hasn't folded; it's being reorganized in that country music mecca of Miami.

You may remember that it was the aforementioned Hartford Courant that kept Nashvillians up to date on a Connecticut state inquiry into alleged nursing home mismanagement by Raymond Termini, who was accused of  illegally using Medicaid funds to launch independent label Category 5. 

State officials allege the company let bills go unpaid while using company funds to launch the label, which folded in late 2007. Travis Tritt, who was signed to the label, sued Termini for $10 million in damages.

One of the first flags in the Termini debacle was when his label claimed George Jones was on its roster. Umm, no. The label was simply releasing a Jones tribute album of which the Possum had agreed to be a part.

Perhaps the fact that Lestorti was once an Elvis impersonator should have been the red flag that told everyone involved he was a great pretender.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Kid In Town

I just got back from an event that used to be commonplace in Music City: an over-the-top label launch party.

One Revolution Entertainment—not a country label, by the way—threw a big ol' party at ICON in the Gulch, a new, near-downtown Nashville condominium complex. The gala included multiple bars, young women circulating with hors d' oeuvres and live music. Oh, and goody bags!

A few of us that have spent some time on the Row reminisced about the old days when such parties were regular occurrences. We also marveled at how refreshing it was to be part of a proper launch. "This sure beats bag of stale Cheetos," one woman said to a group of us. We heartily agreed.

Warmer temperatures and a less windy evening are the only things that would have made the roof top soiree any better. Still, hundreds of guests seemed to enjoy it just fine.

The label's first two acts are Rob Blackledge and Nathan Lee, two immensely talented performers. (Disclosure: I wrote Rob's bio.) While Rob is a singer/songwriter (in the best sense of the words), Nathan is an intense performer. Publicist Kissy Black warned me before his set for Nashville Film Festival VIPs that since I was in the front row, I should be prepared for a shower of sweat from the energetic Nathan. While that gave me momentary pause about my choice of seats, I stood (or sat) my ground and was glad I did, right up until he flipped his keyboard rig at the end of his set.

Rob meanwhile, offered his own well-received set, comfortably moving between keyboard and acoustic guitar. Both men's performances reminded me once again that there is more going on in Nashville than just country music.

If there's one thing that my current situation has afforded me, it's the opportunity to go out and hear some great music. What a concept! Over the last years I've worked so hard (and been worked so hard) that I rarely got to enjoy what brought me to Nashville 19 years ago: music.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It Was 22 Years Ago Today

At some point today, when I realized what the date was, I remembered that this is the day that Ken Tucker was born.

On April 19, 1987, a speech therapist by the name of Gerry Ackerman did his first radio airshift using the name Ken Tucker. It was a name he quickly forgot 10 minutes into his shift when he opened the microphone to say, "Kix 103, I'm . . . . . . . . uh . . . . . . Ken Tucker."

And now you know some of the story.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Loco, Not Local

I don't know why I'm surprised, but I am, at least to some extent. None of the radio industry trades have offered any analysis of yesterday's announcements by Clear Channel regarding "Premium Choice" programming (sounds like a satellite television menu offering) and increased attention to localism. Each and everyone of them pretty much reprinted the Clear Channel press releases intact.

I take that back. Tom Taylor on Radio-Info.com does seem to view the proceedings with more than a little skepticism. "Now it’s up to the local PDs (says Clear Channel) to select 'large portions, single pieces or none of the offered programming'," Taylor writes. "But if a particular daypart hasn’t measured up lately – do you really think the option would be 'none'?"

The gist of the story is this: local programmers can select from a menu of "premium choice" programming options to fill their local line-up. Morning guy not working out? Plug in Ryan Seacrest. Afternoon guy's ratings starting to fade? Plug in Seacrest (his show apparently fits almost anywhere).

Now, I'm not a Clear Channel hater. I never have been. I have friends that work for the company and there are things I admire about it. These initiatives are not among them. 

Call me old fashioned and out of touch, but when I was a teen I remember driving with a group of friends to downtown Cleveland to see the Sunday night jock on WGCL (G98) do his show through a window that faced the street. He wasn't particularly friendly, but he was there.

I also remember calling in a request to Dancin' Danny Wright, the morning man on that same station, and then listening for him to play it back on-air.

Not any more.

These days the country station in Cleveland, WGAR, only has two local dayparts, mornings and afternoons. Middays and nights are voice tracked out of Baltimore and overnights are syndicated. Cleveland, Ohio. Not Cleveland, Tenn.

CC is also increasing the number of PSAs stations do and making it easier for local officials to reach station management. Go figure.

Dan Miller, a longtime local television anchor here in Nashville, recently died suddenly. Thousands of viewers in the area are still mourning his loss because they saw him as a trusted friend—someone who came into their house every night. Competing stations ran stories about him, and two of those stations even covered news and answered the phones at his former station while his colleagues attended his funeral.

That's localism. A couple more PSAs on a radio station with a few, if any, local talent is not the same thing.

I just don't get how radio station owners can continue to fight calls for localism regulation from Capitol Hill and turn stations into satellite operations.

Gerry House on WSIX has built a large and loyal following and when the day comes that he dies (hopefully no time soon), he will be remembered in the same way as Miller: a trusted friend who was a part of our lives.

Then what? The country version of Seacrest syndicated from Tampa or somewhere else? 

It won't be the same.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tornado Time In Tennessee

If it seems as if I'm overly fascinated with how almost real time conversations take place on Facebook, it's because I am. And, yes, I'm familiar with instant messaging and this modern convenience called e-mail, but Facebook is different. Where else can so many people share so much information so quickly, with pictures to illustrate no less, than on FB? (I haven't tried Twitter yet, so I can't compare the two services.)

I say all that to say this: yesterday's severe weather that swept through Middle Tennessee included a tornado that touched down near Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville. Two people were killed and dozens more were injured. Houses were flattened and buildings were torn apart. Thousands are without power.

And I watched it all on Facebook.

It started in the morning after a line of thunderstorms woke up citizens across the area. One friend wrote that she was "annoyed by these storms and the shaking house" at 4:42 am.

Just after 12 noon the same friend said she was "tired of these tornado sirens."

Late came reports that people were in their "safe" places, waiting out the storms, which swept through in the noon hour. (That in itself is another topic, perhaps for some future blog. People I know by and large take tornado warnings way more seriously than they used or so it seems to me. Perhaps the tornado that passed through the downtown Nashville area in 1998 has something to do with that.)

"I am thankful for our basement," one friend wrote. "Listening to tornado sirens."

"I'm at my parents and have no basement!" another wrote. "I pray that God will spare us all from any harm."

When the storms passed, pictures started rolling in. The photos on this page are from my friend Mickie Howell and some of her co-workers and friends. They were all posted on FB and there are many, many more on the site.

Today friends used Facebook to share updates about, and prayers for, those affected by the devastating tornado. While I have my misgivings sometimes about the use of the word "friend" on FB for people one barely knows, today and yesterday gave me a better feeling about the term as I watched folks share genuine concern for those affected by the storms. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

J, We Hardly Knew Ya

Apparently the love affair is over. Jessica Simpson is no longer on the roster of Columbia Records Nashville. She came to town last year amidst of flurry of promotion by her country label and with promises that she was committed to the format.

She'd found a home in country, she told me. "I did a lot in the pop world and I had a great time doing it, but this just feels so much easier. There's a lot of soul in country and while I was making this album I discovered that. I can't imagine myself anywhere else, to be honest with you.

"I look in the mirror and I know I'm doing the right thing with my career and my life," she added. "It's a great place of comfort."

"What if your first country album isn't a success?" we asked. "I'll make another," she quickly replied.

I even remember one of her label reps smugly assuring me that Simpson was in it for the long haul while fellow reverse crossover artists Jewel and Darius Rucker were short timers. Huh. Really?

Now Simpson's publicist is telling media outlets that Simpson was simply "on loan" to Columbia Nashville "for her country album."

Rucker meanwhile has scored two country No. 1s and worked his butt off to connect with country fans. Jewel is reportedly working on her second country album. 

Short timers, indeed.

It's Not Just The Music Or Radio Business

I know this may seem obvious given the current state of the economy and the mega-mergers of the last few years, but music business and radio folks are not alone in their frustrations with the current state of corporate life.

Yesterday afternoon I attended an introductory seminar at the local office of Lee Hecht Harrison, a national "career transition" firm. In my class were former employees of Sprint and AIG, among others. Amidst the bitterness and head-scratching of my fellow unemployees (is that a word? Probably not), I found an almost universal shared experience when it comes to the lack of creativity, fun and inspired leadership in their respective businesses.

"The two cultures never meshed," I heard from one classmate describing the few-years-old merger of Sprint and Nextel. 

"No red flag was raised with management when a seven person department overseas accounted for 42% of our division's revenue," another executive said of the eventual fallout that occurred when financial markets fell considerably.

Another classmate shared frustration about the revolving door of management one level above her.

Suffice it to say that the refrain sounded in the room sounded eerily familiar, which was both comforting and disconcerting.

There's no moral to this story, at least not from me, but it does make me wonder about re-entering the corporate world that has been home for pretty much all of my adult life.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

I've Got A New Attitude

A reporter from the Press of Atlantic City asked me the other day which awards show was more important, the Academy of Country Music or Country Music Association Awards. I told him that in my mind the CMAs were No. 1 and the ACMs were 1a. Both are important, especially if you win an award. A win is a win, particularly for newer artists, who are looking for an industry vote of confidence.

This year the ACM, which has fiddled with the formula the last few years by letting fans vote for awards that were once the sole responsibility of industry insiders, has spiced up its new artist award categories. Fans voted the winners in three categories (new male, female and duo or group) and now those winners will square off for the new divisional title of top new artist in another fan-voted competition.

Julianne Hough, Zac Brown Band and Jake Owen are the three acts hoping to wear the new artist crown. How it will shake out is anyone's guess, but Hough has the advantage—not because of her musical success thus far, but because of her exposure on Dancing With The Stars. While I believe Zac Brown Band is the breakthrough act of the last year and has the best album of the three nominated acts, I wouldn't be surprised if Hough wins.

But "new artists" are also competing in some of the major categories. Former Trick Pony lead singer Heidi Newfield is up for five awards, including top female, single and song. Likewise, modern outlaw Jamey Johnson is up album, single and song. 

Meanwhile, Joey + Rory is up for top vocal duo and Lady Antebellum (last year's top new duo or group), Randy Rogers Band and Lost Trailers are nominated in the top group division.

Will any of these new artists take home major hardware on Sunday? My money is on Johnson, who is proving to be a fan and industry favorite.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It's That Time Of Year

Yesterday's round of severe weather in Nashville, while nowhere near as devastating, reminded me of the Great Nashville Tornado Outbreak of April 16, 1998.

The fun started early that morning 11 years ago when the first wave of rough weather swept through the area. I distinctly remember huddling with my four dogs in the bathroom (an interior room, which seemed to be my best option in a basement-less house) at 5:30 in the morning while I monitored the situation on my Sony Watchman. 

Later that morning I hopped a flight to Atlanta then Myrtle Beach for a Travis Tritt concert that night (I was working at Warner Bros., Tritt's label at the time). The morning's weather mostly forgotten, I walked into the backstage area at the venue to find crew and band members huddled around televisions watching the devastation caused by the three tornadoes that had touched down in the Nashville area just minutes before. (The photo above was taken by television station WTVF's SkyCam as one of the tornadoes approached downtown Nashville.)

I immediately began calling the phone numbers of friends and colleagues to no avail. Like others, I quickly found out that calls weren't going through.

It wasn't until hours later, after the show and during a visit to a local bar with Bill Young and Holly Hart (not a stripper, a local radio programmer), that I finally made contact and found out that everything was OK with those that I cared about.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What A Difference A Dozen Years Makes

Last night was an interesting one for sports in Nashville—especially when you consider how drastically the landscape has changed in the last dozen years or so.

On the evening of April 1, viewers from across the country (and probably from a few foreign countries as well) watched the U.S. national soccer team on ESPN2 trouncing Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup qualifying match at Nashville's LP Field, which is also the home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

Meanwhile on Spike, others saw Ultimate Fighting Championship matches from Nashville's Sommet Center, home of the NHL's Nashville Predators.

Fifteen years ago neither venue existed. The Nashville Arena, later known as the Gaylord Entertainment Center and now Sommet, opened in 1996 with the promise of an NHL team, which wouldn't show up for another two years. LP Field, at times known as Adelphia Coliseum and The Coliseum, opened three years later in 1999.

When I moved to Nashville in 1990 there were two pro sports teams: the triple A baseball Nashville Sounds and the minor league hockey Nashville Knights. The Sounds are still around and doing fairly well, thank you, but the Knights left Nashville when the Preds arrived and became the Pensacola Pilots (now defunct).

While the debate continues about whether the public funding used for the construction of both facilities was fiscally responsible, there's no arguing that Nashville's sports cred has risen significantly since the facilities opened.

Twenty-eight thousand fans watched the U.S. beat T&T 3-0 last night, and that's something I never imagined I would see in Nashville when I moved here 19 years ago.