HOT TALK: Looking for McGuinn, Historic Demos and Someone to Hug

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

Hey, Baby, Let’s Go to Vegas
We hear the Academy of Country Music may shift its annual awards show from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The organization is in the process of picking a new executive director now that Fran Boyd, who held the post from 1995, has retired.

Who’ll Buy Babs’ Castle?
Fontanel, the sylvan pleasure dome once mistressed by Barbara Mandrell , is on the market again. This time the asking price is $3.9 million. When Mandrell first set out to sell her mammoth log mansion, which sits on 136 wooded acres, she hoped it would unload in the $6 million to $7 million range. No such luck. This past May, talent manager Dale Morris and RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante snapped up the lush estate for a paltry $2.1 million. So why are they now asking almost twice their original purchase price? Well, we understand they’ve slapped a fresh coat of white paint on all the tires around the flower beds.

Looking for Mark McGuinn
“Mrs. Steven Rudy” made Mark McGuinn really hot last year (a metaphor we can end right there), but the lanky entertainer has been pretty much off the screen for the past several months. So we called his label, VFR Records, to see what was going on. They referred us to his manager, Sam Ramage. “He’s writing a lot,” Ramage says. “In fact, that’s what he’s been concentrating on.” Indeed, Lonestar’s current single, “Unusually Unusual,” which is still steaming up the charts, is a McGuinn composition. But what about his recording career? Is he still in the game? On this point, Ramage is coy, revealing only that McGuinn has recorded “the largest part” of a new album. Rumor is that he’ll be moving on to a major label. We’ll keep you posted.

Marty Raybon Now Grazing in Bluegrass
Following the path worn smooth by Ricky Skaggs , Dolly Parton and Patty Loveless , Shenandoah ’s former lead singer, Marty Raybon, has returned to his bluegrass upbringing. His album, Full Circle, is set to be released March 11 on Doobie Shea Records. Appearing with Raybon on the album will be his brother, Tim, and Lyric Street songstress Sonya Isaacs . Look for several bluegrass standards on the record, including “Down the Road,” “White House Blues” and “Rocky Road Blues,” plus acoustic versions of such Shenandoah hits as “Ghost in This House” and “Next to You, Next to Me.”

It All Begins With a Demo
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is collecting material for a new record series tentatively called “Scratch Tapes: The Songwriter Demo Project.” The aim of the project is to show country fans and scholars what hit songs and songs by hit songwriter/artists sounded like in their earliest recorded forms. Demos are being sought in four categories, according to the Hall of Fame’s solicitation letter: “significant songs,” “demos by songwriters who also are [or] were significant artists,” “early demos before writer/artist became successful” and “demos of well-known songs in a very different form than when commercially released.” Reaching back into the 1940s, the series will be issued on the Hall’s own label.

Although hearing it might still be painful to many of us, one demo we suggest for the project is of a song Keith Whitley wrote with John Jarrard and Don Cook shortly before his death in 1989 at the age of 33. It’s called “I’ve Done Everything Hank Did But Die.”

Hugging as a Second Language
There’s more hugging at Music Row parties than you’ll see at a mob funeral. And it’s every bit as heartfelt. These gestures of intimacy were particularly rampant throughout the recent Country Music Week when there were swank soirees every night. If you could enter a room during these festivities and cross straight to the bar without being entangled in a seaweed of arms, you were either carrying a tray or witnessing the end of your career.

More riveting, though, than the sheer ubiquity of Nashville hugging are the many forms it takes. There is, for example, the stooping hug, a genuflection lesser folk accord to those who are so powerful they can remain seated and still be the center of all action. The full-frontal, mutually conferred bear hug is a move reserved for professional equals, regardless of their social rank. The side hug, which is executed by draping one arm loosely about the waist of another, is a way of saying, “You bore me, but I still may find you useful.” The double-hand hug gets you past people you don’t really know or need to. It involves taking one of their hands in both of yours, holding it a firmly for a moment and then turning on your heel to search for someone really interesting.

The greatest social calamity in this milieu is falling into the vigorous embrace of an obvious inferior. It is not uncommon for an ambitious upstart to swoop in with arms widespread, hoping to achieve by effrontery the stature that breeding and connections have denied him. To avert this embarrassment, the seasoned partygoer will halt the incoming oaf by reaching out and placing a hand on each of his shoulders, keeping him thus at arm’s length and staring into his eyes as if to say, “It’s been years! Let me look at you!” This ploy so disorients the offender that he has no choice but to veer off and inflict himself on someone else. And you may be sure he will.

Redman in the Sky With Samplers
During Thanksgiving weekend, Southwest Airlines will offer its passengers a free three-cut sampler from Rodney Redman’s self-titled debut album on Audium Records. Included on the sampler are his current single, “(Talkin’ to God More) These Days,” “Hangovers and Heartaches” and “I’m Ready to Know Who You Are.” The offer will be available in several key markets, including Nashville, Little Rock, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The airline will announce the offer prior to boarding, and interested passengers will pick up their copies when they enter the plane.

Steve Goodman Bio In Progress
Clay Eals is writing a biography of the late Steve Goodman (1948-1984), the guy who enriched country music with such tenaciously memorable tunes as “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.”

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