HOT TALK: New TV Music Series, Trace Elements, Searching for Steve

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

A Fist in the Air for Faith
Thanksgiving seems so long ago, but it’s never too late to applaud Faith Hill for her splendid Thanksgiving eve TV special. Like Shania Twain , she represents country music with such grace, strength and honesty it doesn’t really matter whether you love her songs or not. (I do.) Seventy-five years after the famed Bristol sessions that brought us the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, country music is still viewed by many as a yokel art. Nobody reinforced that stereotype more than country artists themselves.
Even such career-savvy types as Loretta Lynn , Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton tended to present themselves as hicker-than-thou in public.

But starting with Reba McEntire (who slowly but consciously smoothed over her rustic outcroppings), women in country music have led the drive toward cultural assimilation. And why not? Adaptability is evolution — is survival. So thanks to such class acts as Rosanne Cash , Mary Chapin Carpenter , K. T. Oslin , Kathy Mattea and Trisha Yearwood . And thanks to Faith and Shania for continuing to ignore the drones and the ankle-biters. Elegance need never apologize.

Trace Adkins Prepping Greatest Hits Package
Trace Adkins is back in the studio with producers Scott Hendricks and Trey Bruce to record extra tracks for his upcoming greatest hits album. His first single from the new project is due out next March.

Blake Shelton Lifts Jug Again
It’s mostly new songs for Blake Shelton in his forthcoming album, The Dreamer. But he does tip his black hat to the old days with his cut of “Georgia in a Jug.” Written by Shelton’s producer, Bobby Braddock, the song became a Top 20 hit for Johnny Paycheck in 1978. As a disappear-in-your-beer song, it’s right up there with “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinking Doubles),” “Two Pina Coladas” and “Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo.”

Dixie Chicks … and Jerry Lee
The Dixie Chicks and Jerry Lee Lewis are the only country acts listed as contributors to the People for the American Way auction, which is running on e-Bay through Dec. 15. The event is offering music, film, art and literary memorabilia to raise funds for the politically liberal advocacy group. According to a list posted by PFAW, the Chicks have donated costumes for the auction, while Lewis has handed over handwritten lyrics to “It Was the Whiskey Talkin’, Not Me.” Other donors include Ken Burns, Jimmy Buffett, the Rolling Stones, U2, Madonna, Eric Clapton, Pearl Jam, Ice-T and Peter, Paul & Mary.

Bryan White Writing, Looking for Label
Some readers have inquired about Bryan White , who carpet-bombed the charts in the late ‘90s with such No. 1 singles as “Someone Else’s Star,” “Rebecca Lynn,” “So Much for Pretending” and “Sittin’ on Go.” His publicist tells Hot Talk that White is now signed to Fitzgerald Hartley, the artist management agency that handles Vince Gill , Dwight Yoakam and others. Nowadays, White is spending a lot of time writing songs and keeping an eye out for a record label. He and his wife, Erika, live in Nashville.

Revived Soundstage Series Plans Country Special
WTTW-TV, the Chicago PBS affiliate, is reviving the Soundstage music series and is already recruiting country acts for it. The hour-long, 13-part series generally will feature two acts per segment and will not be confined to any one specific type of music. “We have actually started filming new Soundstage [shows],” a station spokesman tells Hot Talk, “and those will air some time very soon.”

Currently, WTTW is planning a two-hour country music special which stations will use as part of their pledge drives. It will be filmed in January and February. Travis Tritt has signed to do the special, his manager confirms. Raul Malo, former lead singer for the Mavericks , will appear in a regular segment.

The shows will be filmed in Chicago in front of a live audience. A separate half-hour lead-in show, featuring artist interviews and behind-the-scene footage, will be a part of the overall Soundstage package.

Tim McGraw’s Former Stage Manager Files Injury Suit
A former stage manager for Tim McGraw has sued several of the singer’s companies in a Nashville circuit court for payment to cover injuries he says he suffered two years ago at a concert in Greensboro, N. C. The suit charges no wrongdoing against McGraw personally. Glenn Wesley Boster alleges that a 1,500-pound lift fell on him when he was helping set up the Greensboro show, inflicting “severe injury to his left knee.” Boster says he has undergone two operations and asks the court to rule on the degree of his disability. He also seeks back disability payments, coverage of all his medical expenses, plus unspecified costs and damages. Named as defendants in the suit are TMR II, TMR II Inc., Tim McGraw Inc., Road Dog Tourings Inc. and Gulf Insurance Co.

Pepin to Compendia?
Rumors are that former BNA Records chief Ric Pepin may join the Compendia Records staff. But a label rep says Pepin’s only link to Compendia “to date” has been working with it on the new Joan Osborne album, How Sweet It Is.

Desperately Seeking Steve Wariner
Somewhere out there in the darkness, Steve Wariner was waiting for me — and somewhere was a damn big territory. To tell the truth, Steve wasn’t waiting for me specifically. He had invited a flock of buffet buzzards from the media to come to his studio outside Nashville and listen to his new album, Steal Another Day. Therein lay my problem: he was outside of Nashville. Music City presents it own array of navigational perplexities. But to venture beyond the urban sprawl is to lose oneself in a terra incognito of pastures, subdivisions and road construction projects so vast they can be seen from the international space station. With the naked eye.

Strapping a carafe of brandy around my neck in case of a freak snowstorm, I set out for the Wariner lair just as the sun was pulling its disappearing act. The set of directions Steve’s publicist had sent me specified five simple turns on the 20-mile route between my place and his. I made three of them. Then the night closed in. It was at this point I discovered that all the street signs were cast in inch-high type and hung well above headlight level. Did that sign say “Clovercroft” or “Hovercraft” or “Oblivion”? I couldn’t tell. Nudged on by impatient SUVs the size of steam locomotives, I crept deeper into the accursed terrain. Suddenly, the real horror struck. Not only couldn’t I find Steve’s place, I hadn’t a clue where Nashville was. At last I knew how someone feels who has lost his record deal.

By now the listening party was underway. I visualized my fellow reporters swilling gin, nibbling at asparagus tips and making merry at my expense. The bastards! Fuming, I pulled off the road and placed a call to the emergency number affixed to the directions. Steve answered. I froze. There is no way for one man to tell another that he is lost without feeling hormonally diminished. Nonetheless, I blubbered out my dilemma, as my red face became the only source of light between the horizons. Polite as always, Steve said he would come get me if I could give him any sort of landmark. I resisted the urge to tell him to just drive around until he saw the blackest hole in the universe.

Reluctantly, we decided I was pretty much lost at sea and ended the call. Looking from side to side, I saw neither firefly nor cigarette glow to illuminate my way. I was on my own. I turned off the engine and stepped outside, hoping that the sound of distant guitars or the baying of entertainment attorneys might point me home. But there was nothing. Shorn of other options, I started driving again, frantically crisscrossing the featureless landscape for hours as the gas gauge dipped toward “Doom.” Finally, I spotted a line of moving vehicles and followed them back to the charted world. At the first 7-Eleven sign, I felt a euphoria like that of dying people who see the bright white light. Given my sense of direction, I’ll probably miss that one, too.

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