Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift

HOLLYWOOD - DECEMBER 06:  Grammy nominee Taylo...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I recently made a discovery. If I mention Taylor Swift in my blog, hits and page views go way up. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift.

I've heard from people that know, that Web sites such as and are highly attuned to any world wide web mention of Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. When they find a story or picture or mention of Taylor Swift, they go viral, baby. Big time.

My recent interview with Scott Borchetta included a question about Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift.

Here's a sample of the comments posted on my blog regarding my conversation with Scott (better known as the man who signed Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift.):

AHHHHHHHH I'M A SUPER FAN!!!!!!!!!! :) I'm so exciteddddddd ahhhhh :D

YESSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fearless re-release. I'm such a super fan that I went to Hendersonville, TN when Fearless was released to actually get a glimpse of Tayor!!!! I CANNOT wait for thi album to be re-released. PLEASE BIG MACHINE LET IT BE SOOOONNNN!!!!!

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?????? I AM THE BIGGEST TAYLOR SWIFT FAN EVER!! Please release more (brilliant!) songs!! I love you taylor (and scott too!!)

:) XOxxoXOxxo

If I had realized how rabid Taylor Nation is, I would have included Taylor Swift in a post months ago.

When I started this blog, it wasn't so that I could get rich. I was just looking for another outlet for my writing. That said, why can't I do both? I mean, Taylor Swift probably would agree, wouldn't she? In fact, I know she would. Taylor Swift endorses this blog fully and would love to have another outlet for Taylor Swift fans to keep up what's going on with Taylor Swift.

Did I mention that I spent close to 30 minutes on Taylor Swift's tour bus last Labor Day weekend talking to Taylor Swift about Taylor Swift's then-forthcoming "Fearless" album?

So Plain Speak About Taylor Swift is born. Unless, of course, Selena Gomez has more rabid fans. OMG, what if Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez became BFFs?

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Jack Talk

Jack IngramImage by lsala66 via Flickr

Jack Ingram is one of my new favorite interviewees. Again. I don't know why I forgot this after the last time I talked to him, but you couldn't ask for a more thoughtful subject if you, errrr, ummm, asked for one.

I got off the phone feeling like I'd just chatted with a friend about music, not conducted a formal interview. (I wish they were all that way, but then I guess conversations like the one I had with Jack wouldn't seem as special then, would they?)

His new record, "Big Dream & High Hopes," due Aug. 25 on Big Machine Records, is a fine piece of work that I find myself listening to over and over again.

We chatted about Radney Foster, Joe Ely and Willie Nelson, among others. We also talked about his remake of his own "Barbie Doll," a live show staple that first appeared on 1999's "Hey You." "For an artist who for a long long time knew what my hits were by what people wrote on napkins and dollar bills at the front of the stage, that was probably my biggest hit," he says of the song.

The new version features Dierks Bentley plus an all star chorus that includes James Otto, the Lost Trailers, Little Big Town, Jedd Hughes and Randy Houser. "It was just a ton of fun," Jack recalls. "I've always wanted to be able to say, 'hey man, c'mon over and be part of record. Let's just hang out for a little bit'."

We also talked about his new single, "Barefoot and Crazy," and how he knew when it was connecting with his audiences. "There are certain songs that play out immediately and when you go into them live you can feel the energy in the room change," he says. "It's fantastic."

"This last week people started throwing their shoes on stage," he adds. "Three weeks ago people started holding up their flip flops."

On the day his album comes out, Jack will attempt to break the Guiness World Record for "Most Radio Interviews In A 24-Hour Period." (Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump currently hold the record, having interviewed with 72 stations last year.) I hope the DJs Jack talks to enjoy the conversations as much as I did.

More on my conversation with Jack in an upcoming issue of Billboard.
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Scott Borchetta & The Remnants

LAS VEGAS - APRIL 05:  Album of the Year Award...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I recently did an interview with Big Machine/Valory Music/Republic Nashville CEO Scott Borchetta that landed in the pages of Billboard and on As is the case with many interviews I do, space limits what can actually be published. With that in mind, I offer you, dear reader, the best of the rest of my conversation with Scott—the remnants, if you will.

How has your role changed since you launched Big Machine in 2005 and what have you learned?

That’s a great question because it’s become so many different things. When we first started the label, I was really a glorified vice president of promotion. I always had had at least a voice in what acts were doing what, what singles came out, etc., but at the end of the day that was never really just my call.

But working with [former DreamWorks principal James] Stroud gave me the opportunity to really be involved with all aspects of a label. James really allowed me to learn how to run a record company. Obviously I had to learn a lot more about marketing, learn a lot more about distribution, learn contracts from zero to putting a record out, and that knowledge base has expanded greatly.

Being involved in the negotiations, being involved in global marketing with all the Universal companies that we work with is fantastic. Obviously we’re involved in different parts of management with different artists. We’re not day-to-day managers of anybody, but we have different strategic consulting management responsibilities.

We’ve always felt that we always wanted that open door policy. If you can save a new artist heartache, [you should]. It’s about saying, “You shouldn’t do this and this is why. We’ve been here before. This is 20-plus years of experience saying, 'You can try that. Here are two or three things that could happen if you go down that road'.”

And when you have new families come in—because it’s very rare when it’s just an artist, especially as we’re delving more and more into younger artists—there’s a lot family involvement. And they don’t know anything coming in.

Until you’re on the job, there’s no on the job training. And so, whether it’s everything that we’ve gone through with the Swift family or if it’s just a new act that we want to sign that’s a family act that we’re hoping to land literally today. There’s a lot of family involved then. It’s three siblings, and their parents are very involved, and we invite that. Nobody knows their kids better than their parents. So why not use that knowledge base? They’re experts on their kids. So we welcome all that. With Kate & Kacey, their dad, Frank [Coppola], is a very smart man, and so why shouldn’t we have him in the circle of the knowledge base?

The first act you’ve signed to your new Republic Nashville label is Fast Ryde. What’s the story behind their signing?

I had just gotten back from Australia. I was there for the second week that Taylor was over there. I was in the office Monday, and Harry, my assistant, says, “Hey, Allison,” our VP of A&R “wants you to hear this CD.” I’m like, “Alright, when’s our A&R meeting?” He says, “Thursday.” I’m like, “Alright I got a couple days, right?” So Monday goes by, Tuesday. Thursday I said, “Let me play this. Get ready for Allison. See what she’s got.” And I’m like, “Oh my god.” I played the first song, it’s amazing. Play the second one, “Are you kidding me?” I call her before the meeting, “Why didn’t you break into my office?” She goes, “I tried.” I’m said, “You’re right. Harry told me. You know what, if they can breathe, they’re signed. Get them in here.”

And they ended up being these two young, cool guys [James Harrison and Jody Stevens] who have this whole thing going on. It was one of those beautiful situations where something fantastic happened right under your nose.

We told them “You want to be here. We want you to be here. Let’s go.” We told them about the Republic opportunity. They kind of scratched their head and looked at each other, and then met with [label president] Jimmy [Harnen] and myself together and they said, “Alright. Let’s go.”

You had several different releases between Taylor’s first album and her second—there was a Christmas record, a Wal-Mart exclusive, a deluxe edition—do you foresee doing different variations again between the second album and her third?

Yeah, we will do a “Fearless” deluxe re-release. There will only be one more version of the album, but she has so much music that comes out of her. There are some great songs sitting, and she and I were just talking about this last week. Like, “You know what? ‘Sparks Fly’ is a great song, and if we don’t get to that song, you’ll leave it behind and your fans won’t ever get to own it.” So that’s a song that she’s seriously considering for a deluxe re-release.

There are three or four or five things sitting that, with as quickly as she’s growing up, if we don’t get ‘em now, they won’t get out. And she acknowledges that. It goes back to the first album conversation. She didn’t really want to put “The Outside” and “A Place In This World” on the first record. I said, “They’re so important and they’re such great songs, if you don’t put them on the first record, we’ll never get to ‘em.” And she was nice enough to go along with me on that and there’s been a couple times where she’s high-fived me. She said, “You know what? I’m glad we put these songs on this record because they made the record so real.”

So that’s where she is right now. We’ve had a couple things that have happened musically during the “Fearless” campaign that will be part of a “Fearless” deluxe edition and that’s for the fans. We’re not going to shove a million copies of a re-release out there. We’re pretty knowledgeable about what the super fan wants, and so we’re going to make just enough to fulfill that need and desire. Also we very specifically, from day one, established her as a fourth-quarter artist. So there will be people going into the stores in the fourth-quarter saying, “I want to buy a Taylor Swift gift for my daughter/sister/girlfriend/whoever it is.” We’re not going to disappoint.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Run, Run Rodney

Rodney CarringtonRodney Carrington via

Comedian Rodney Carrington is ending his nine-year relationship with Capitol Records Nashville in an interesting way: with a Christmas album.

Carrington recorded "Make It Christmas" earlier this year in Los Angeles with producer and composer Steve Dorff, who also handled the music for Carrington's sitcom "Rodney," which ran a few years back on ABC. The album is due in August.

But don't expect songs about Santa getting caught in a compromising cuddle with Cupid or Rudolph's nose lighting up a Tulsa tap house. "It ain't got a funny song on it," Carrington told me. "It's a big-band, Frank Sinatra-type Christmas record; something I've always wanted to do." Huh. Who knew?

"Make It Christmas" includes the holiday classics "Mary, Did You Know?," "O Holy Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," among others. And while Carrington knows people might be surprised when they hear it, he says he's "never pigeonholed what I've thought about doing. I've just said, 'I'll try that.'"

Still, Carrington admits that a straight singing career isn't in his future. "The Christmas record is as serious as I'm going to get," he told me. "I'm still touring, still telling jokes, still doing my thing."

So why is Carrington, who has sold 2.2 million records and whose "El Nino Loco" is near the top of the Billboard comedy charts, leaving Capitol, his home since 2000? "You're never going to own your own stuff unless you hang on to it," says Carrington, who told me he is appreciative to label president Mike Dungan for letting him finish his obligations with a Christmas record. "I'm going to do a stand-up record again but not until I can own it myself. I own the first record I ever did, and it's very valuable to me."

I like Carrington's philosophy on making a buck. "I have a simple plan," he told me. "I want a million people who really like what I do to give me $10 a year for the rest of their lives. I'm not greedy."

Amen, brother. And Merry Christmas!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

George Strait Will Blow Your Mind

Cover of "Strait Country"Cover of Strait Country

Before listening to George Strait's new album,"Twang," yesterday I couldn't ever imagine stringing these words together, but now I can: "George Strait will blow your mind."

When you’ve been making music as long as Strait has—his first album, “Strait Country,” came out in 1981—it has to be tough to come up with new twists and still maintain the level of success King George has had for 28 years.

I have long appreciated Strait's music and ear for a song. Who else has done what he's done so consistently for so long in any genre of music? I'll answer my own question. No one.

But here's the thing: on Strait's new album he takes a few musical detours that deserve our attention.

Tony Brown, who has co-produced every Strait album since “Pure Country” in 1992, agrees that “Twang,” due Aug. 11, will surprise more than a few people. “When I work with artists like George and Reba McEntire, I’m always careful not to take them where they shouldn’t go, but this is going to blow your mind,” he recently told me.

Recorded at Jimmy Buffett’s Shrimp Boat Studios in Key West, Fla., the album includes a song that Strait sings entirely in Spanish, “El Rey,” which is a Mexican standard and was a giant mariachi hit for Vincente Fernandez. ("El Rey" means "the king.") “After he played the song for me, George said, ‘Can we do this?’” Brown remembers. “'Hell, yeah,' I said. 'You’re George Strait. Everybody’s wondering what we’re going to do anyway'."

Brown was so taken with the track that he suggested Strait call the album "El Rey." Strait disagreed. "I can call myself a troubadour," he told Brown, "but I can't call myself 'the King'."

The song also includes horns—a first. “I’ve never put horns on a George Strait record,” Brown says with a chuckle.

The album includes three songs that Strait co-wrote, which is another first for the man who has made a living singing songs others wrote. (He wrote one song on his 1981 debut.) First single “Living For The Night” was co-written by Strait, son Bubba and longtime contributor Dean Dillon. The trio also wrote “He’s Got That Something Special.” Meanwhile, Strait and his son wrote “Out Of Sight Out Of Mind” and Bubba wrote “Arkansas Dave” solo.

“[Johnny] Cash down the middle,” is how Brown describes the latter song and he's right. “Usually George never does a track for arts sake, but this is a piece of art.”

Meanwhile, "Hot Grease And Zydeco" is a greasy and fun as the title suggests.

“If everybody expected us to step it up a bit, by God we did,” Brown says. “This is a side of George I’ve never heard before.”

Amen to that and God bless George Strait.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Can You Duet?

Duet album coverImage via Wikipedia

It's early—we're only three episodes into the season—but so far I'm digging CMT's latest edition of "Can You Duet." While I liked last season's judge/mentors, Naomi Judd, songwriter Aimee Mayo and vocal coach-to-the-stars Brett Manning, this year's line-up of experts is even better. The colorful Judd returns and brings opinionated record exec Scott Borchetta and quirky and extremely watchable Big Kenny with her. Their chemistry is great and each judge has a unique personality and perspective. (First year host Rossi Morreale is also gone, replaced by CMT's Lance Smith, but that's pretty much a wash as far as I can tell.)

I'm not going to weigh in on this year's contestants because I feel like I'm still getting to know them, but I will say that Ryan & Avalon have my attention.

The winner of this year's show will release a record on Borchetta's Big Machine Records. When I recently asked Borchetta why his label was involved in this year's show, he countered, "What you wanna ask me is, 'Why the hell did you do this?'" OK, fair interpretation.

"I’ve wanted to work with CMT, but I didn’t expect it to be this," Borchetta told me. "They said, 'We’re interested in you being a judge.' I said, 'I don’t act. I don’t make TV shows. So, I’m not going to worry about that part. I can’t promise you that I make good TV. I can be myself, and I’ll give you my opinion. If we’re going to do this, I’m going to treat this like an A&R opportunity. If you’re going to screen hundreds of artists, then I’m going to have my A&R crew with me at every stop.'

"It’s a great opportunity," Borchetta added. "Hopefully when the show closes, I’ll feel as good about it as I do now."

Borchetta was right when he sensed my un-asked question about the sanity of getting involved with a reality show.

Outside of "American Idol," which has spawned the country careers of Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington, reality shows (read: Nashville-based reality shows) don't have a great track record of launching country careers. "Nashville Star," which spent four years on cable's USA Network before spending a season on NBC, can claim Miranda Lambert, Buddy Jewell and Chris Young among its alumni, but that's about it when it comes to folks you've heard on the radio. Warner Bros., Universal South and Sony BMG all took turns as the host label for the winning acts.

I won't even mention last year's "Next GAC Star." Oh wait, I did. Move on. Nothing to see here.

Last year's inaugural edition of "Can You Duet," which like "American Idol" is produced by FremantleMedia North America, boasts Joey + Rory (Vanguard/Sugar Hill), Kate & Kacey (Big Machine) and Caitlin & Will (Sony) as finalists that have been heard on the radio in 2009.

So will "Can You Duet" produce a bonafide star duo or will it simply provide entertainment for the masses? I'm betting it will do both.

More later.
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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gone But Not Completely Forgotten

Lila McCannLila McCann via

Reading Patsi Bale Cox's new book, The Garth Factor, reminded me of many things about the country music industry in the '90s that I thought I had forgotten, not the least of which was the parade of new artists that 30 labels tried to introduce to a somewhat open-minded public.

In her book Patsi mentions John Bunzow, a Northwest artist who was signed to Jimmy Bowen's Liberty Records in the mid-90s. For a variety of reasons, which are chronicled by Patsi, Bunzow never found the stardom that he and others that make the trek to Nashville hope for.

As many people who work in the music industry do, I tend to emphasize the positive when talking about the artists I've worked with over the years. Faith Hill always gets mentioned, but Greg Holland does not, even though he was a very talented guy. (WSIX Nashville morning man Gerry House co-wrote Greg's first single, "Let Me Drive," with mega hit songwriter Bob DiPiero. One day I ran into Gerry on the street. When he asked me about how I thought the single would do, I predicted a top 10. I was way wrong.)

With that in mind, here are five acts you may or may not remember and that were pretty much never heard from again. I worked with all of them. Draw your own conclusions.

  • Chris Ward
  • Lace
  • Crawford West
  • Regina Regina
  • James Prosser

Here's another list. Folks I worked with that had some level of success and may still be around in some way, shape or form. Or in they are in Canada.

  • Anita Cochran
  • Chris Cummings
  • Paul Brandt
  • Brady Seals
  • Chalee Tennison
  • Michael Peterson
And finally here's the group of artists that had success before I worked with them, but not after. Go figure.
  • Lila McCann
  • Mark Collie
I cast no dispersions on any of these folk's talent. I can't sing a lick and have never written a song in my life. I'm just saying that when it came to country stardom, it didn't happen for them.

I also worked with Victoria Shaw. While she didn't achieve the solo stardom I know she wanted, she's had major success as a songwriter ("The River," which Garth Brooks recorded) and more recently as the co-producer of one of my favorite acts, Lady Antebellum.

So there.
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