HOT TALK: Cyndi’s Exit, Lee Ann’s Hair, Rhonda’s Discovery

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

When Cyndi Left Capitol
Capitol/Nashville Records chief Mike Dungan says he “cried several times” when rising star Cyndi Thomson told him she was quitting her recording career. He even spent “a couple of hours” on the phone with Thomson’s mother, trying to fathom the implications of that decision. “In addition to being a great artist and a big part of my business plan,” Dungan explains, “she was almost like the daughter I never had.”

Thomson had been showing signs of discontent, Dungan says, well before she walked away. “She was giving us every indication that she was unhappy,” he concedes. “Cyndi’s never been nasty — she’s always wonderful. She just didn’t like the gig. She liked singing and meeting fans, and that’s about it. … There’s no question that it’s hard to be a new artist — a lot harder than anybody ever realizes. I’ve never worked with a successful new artist who didn’t hit the wall three or four times in the first couple of years — I mean literally got up and hit the wall and said, ’This is not worth it.’ But I never had one who said, ’That’s it! I’m not doing this any more.’ Every other one — even though they would complain and cry and melt down — would scratch your eyes out if you even hinted at taking their career away from them.”

What with financing radio tours, music videos, press parties, elaborate media kits and an eye-popping calendar, Capitol spent a bundle launching Thomson. It’s an investment that’s far from being recouped by the fact that her debut album, My World, went gold (meaning that record stores ordered 500,000 units). Without continuing activity to support it, the album is effectively dead.

“I miss her,” Dungan declares. “I think she’s made a terrible mistake, and I think she’s going to regret it. I just hope it’s not something that can’t be reversed.” If she does decide to re-enlist in the recording wars, she will still be under contract to Capitol.

Skaggs, Vincent, Krauss, Moorer, Dad Also on Kendall’s Album
Here’s more news on the Jeannie Kendall album we mentioned last week. Brien Fisher, the studio wizard behind all the Kendalls ’ big hits, is producing it for Rounder Records. In addition to Jeannie’s duet with Alan Jackson (“Timeless And True Love”), she will also have cuts with Rhonda and Darren Vincent, Alison Krauss , Ricky Skaggs , Allison Moorer and others. There are even a couple of duets with her late father and longtime singing partner, Royce.

A Songwriter, a Truck, a Terribly Convoluted Story
Luck isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you mention songwriters. But Amber Dotson, who pens songs for HoriPro, says she’s always been pretty lucky. It was only natural, then, that she decided to put her good fortune to the test this past week when a Nashville radio station unveiled its win-a-truck contest. Listeners were invited to call in the morning after the CMA Awards show (on which the contest was incessantly promoted) and guess what was in the truck’s glove compartment. After numerous failed attempts to get through, Dotson finally connected and guessed — correctly — that the mystery item was a spatula. Her prize: a 2003 extended cab GMC Sierra. “I was about to have to buy tires for my car — a 1991 Oldsmobile,” Dotson tells Hot Talk. She’s still going to have to wait a few days to claim her vehicle. A bonus prize was having the CMA’s entertainer of the year, Alan Jackson, sign the glove box door. And he still has it. We’ll no doubt be hearing more from Dotson. She’s shopping for a record deal, and you know how lucky she is.

Oh, The Pain
Didn’t you just love Lee Ann Womack’s vampy across-the-cheek hairstyle when she sang on the CMA Awards show Wednesday? Well, it wasn’t intended as a fashion statement. During final rehearsals, the MCA Records songstress was hit hard in the face by a microphone. A quick application of ice reduced the swelling but failed to obscure it entirely. Thus the “Veronica Lake” hairdo. Womack is still nursing a bruise.

The Next Little Thing
Bluegrass queen Rhonda Vincent says she’s hasn’t been so excited by a “tot” fiddler since she first saw “little Alison Krauss” wielding her bow ages ago. The current object of Vincent’s zeal is 10-year-old Molly Cherry Holmes, who performs on the bluegrass circuit with her family. Not only does the youngster fiddle gloriously, she also writes songs. Vincent has recorded Molly’s “Frankie Belle” for her next album, which, she tells Hot Talk, is due out in April.

Sifting Through Silverstein
Mitch Myers, a Chicago-based psychologist, music critic and nephew of the late Shel Silverstein, was in town a few days back to see his uncle inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He says he is now archiving the treasury of “songs, poems, drawings, plays, cartoons, films etc.” Silverstein left behind. In time, all this material will be made available to scholars and researchers but, Myers cautions, “that is still a while off in the future.” He promises a few “pleasant surprises for Shel fans of all ages” and adds that Bobby Bare , Jerry Reed and Dr. Hook’s Dennis Locorriere are working on a tribute album to this master of all trades. Besides authoring many cherished children’s books, Silverstein wrote such hits as “A Boy Named Sue,” “Sylvia’s Mother” and “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.” He died in 1999.

Hey, Mr. Mandolin Man
Bill Monroe ’s prized and once-pulverized Gibson F-5 Lloyd Loar mandolin is on the block again after a Kentucky foundation failed to pay Monroe’s son, James, the $1,125,000 it promised. Plans were to use the instrument as the centerpiece of a Bill Monroe Museum in his hometown of Rosine, Ky. In a statement sent to the press, James Monroe said, “I had wanted to see Daddy’s mandolin go back to Rosine, to the site of bluegrass music’s birthplace and to my Dad’s final resting place. …” This seems to be a wish easily enough fulfilled. Just donate it to the town.

Vince Gill on Streisand Collection
“If You Ever Leave Me,” the duet Vince Gill sang with Barbara Streisand in 1999, is being reissued on Streisand’s forthcoming 19-cut album, Duets. The project reaches all the way back to Streisand’s 1963 pairing with Judy Garland. Others duet partners on the album are Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles , Don Johnson, Frank Sinatra and Celine Dion.

Spring Book Spotlights The Browns
August House, of Little Rock, Ark., will publish Maxine Brown’s memoir, Looking Back To See, this coming spring. She is the senior member of the singing group, The Browns , whose recording of “The Three Bells” dominated the country and pop charts in 1959. Jim Ed Brown later became a successful solo artist and remains a popular member of the Grand Ole Opry. Early in their career, The Browns, befriended young Elvis Presley , who toured with them and regularly visited their home. Brown is amazingly candid in chronicling the sleazy side of show business — especially for women — as well as citing such triumphs as performing on American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. It’s a savvy look at country music as it’s being buffeted by the first waves of rock ’n’ roll.

Country Capsules
Producer Keith Stegall is working on Jamie O’Neal ’s second album and another greatest hits package for Alan Jackson. … ’90s faves Doug Stone , John Berry and Rhett Akins showed up for photos and flesh-pressing at the recent T. J. Martell Celebrity Bowling Bash in Nashville. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the richest nation in the world should resort to such bizarre shenanigans to fund medical research? … Songwriter Red Lane apologized to celebrants at the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner for being unable to read his notes. He explained that he had just flushed his glasses. … Nashville’s First Amendment Center has asked the Country Music Foundation to compile for it a CD of “controversial” songs that illustrate the principle of free speech. Any suggestions? … New Warner Bros. artist Dusty Drake will see his first single, “Too Wet To Plow,” make its debut in January or February. Drake, who is being produced by Paul Worley, played about 30 dates on Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus Tour this year.

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