HOT TALK: Label Expanding, Polls Demanding, Polka Crowd Standing

(HOT TALK is a new weekly column by longtime contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)

More Signings Eyed for Universal South
Still exuberant over Universal South’s first No. 1 single, “The Impossible,” senior partner Tony Brown says the budding label will soon be expanding its roster, which now includes Joe Nichols, Holly Lamar, Bering Strait, Allison Moorer , Dean Miller and Cross Canadian Ragweed. While he won’t mention specific names, Brown does say, “We’ve got our eye on a couple of established artists and a couple of new ones who are just killers.”

Politically Collect
Generally speaking, country music folk would sooner put their political sentiments in songs than in cash. Even so, a few music biz notables have ponied up for Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Bob Clement in their race for the U. S. Senate seat now occupied by Fred Thompson.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Alexander’s Music Row backers include Drew Alexander, the candidate’s son, who is also creative director of Curb Records ($2,000); Mike Curb, owner of Curb Records ($2,000); celebrity restaurateur Randy Rayburn (Sunset Grill) ($1,000); and comedian Ray Stevens ($1,000). Songwriter
and novelist Alice Randall, whose credits include “XXX’s & OOO’s” and The Wind Done Gone, contributed $1,000.

Chipping in for Clement were Country Music Association executive director Ed Benson ($500); Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member Bobby Braddock ($2,000); comedian and impressionist Johnny Counterfit ($1,000); former National Endowment for the Arts chairman and former head of the Country Music Foundation Bill Ivey ($500); celebrity restaurateur Mario Ferrari (Mario’s) ($500); and talent manager Don Light ($500).

Pause for a Polka
It’s remarkable that an accordion player who sings such eye-poking songs as “That’s What I Like About the North” and “It Starts With a ‘B’” would find such favor in Nashville. But the Music Rowbots who turned out for LynnMarie’s album release party last week were tenaciously enthusiastic about her music. Guests jammed the back lot of the trendy Tin Roof restaurant to hear LynnMarie and her three-piece band perform selections from her new project, The Polka Record, as well as tunes from her Grammy-nominated Squeezebox and earlier collections. Among the highlights of the show were “Tennessee Waltz,” which she dedicated to her mentor, the late Chet Atkins , and “A Polka Day,” a bit of double-entendre from the pen of Grand Ole Opry star Hal Ketchum . Seen in the crowd were video director George Flanigen and talent manager Mike Robertson. Oh, yes, the Cleveland, Ohio, native says she knows all the accordionist jokes. She heard them when they were about banjo players.

“The Impossible”: Don’t Make Book on It
Although Rutledge Hill Press published a gift book on Kelley Lovelace and Brad Paisley ’s “He Didn’t Have To Be,” Lovelace says the publisher turned him down when he pitched “The Impossible.” This came in spite of the song’s upbeat message and documented popularity. “They said they were going [to key] books to songs that are still going up the chart,” Lovelace explains. That may be the case. Or it may be that these lavishly designed and printed books — which usually contain a CD copy of the single that inspired them — simply aren’t selling well enough to justify the substantial production costs.

Expect Some Licks Over These Single Picks
Quick! Send these boys a six-pack and a couple of hard hats. In Heartaches By the Number: Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles, authors David Cantwell and Bill Friskics-Warren have set the stage for years of genteel disputations, screaming matches, fist fights and, most terrifying of all, academic seminars. Listed among their greatest singles are Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (No. 1), Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” (No. 323) and Shania Twain ’s “Any Man Of Mine” (No. 358). See what I mean? The book will be out in February.

Country Contingent Flock to Writers Conference
Singer-songwriters Stella Parton , Doug Kershaw, Becky Hobbs and Gene Nelson will conduct classes at a writers conference novelist Cathie Pelletier is holding at her home in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., Nov. 8-10. Also on the faculty are other novelists, poets, screenwriters, cinematographers, film producers, etc. In addition to Pelletier’s successes as a novelist — The Bubble Reputation, A Marriage Made at Woodstock and Beaming Sonny Home — she also co-wrote the Texas Tornados’ 1990 single, “Who Were You Thinkin’ Of.”

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Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to