HOT TALK: Worley Scores, Gill Guests, Sons Sue

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

Darryl Worley Scores Charley Pride Cut
Darryl Worley , the “Have You Forgotten?” man, has something else to brag about these days — a new Charley Pride cut. The great crooner and Country Music Hall of Fame member has just released as a single “Comfort of Her Wings,” a song Worley co-wrote with Vip Vipperman and J.B. Rudd. The song also serves as the title cut of Pride’s new album. There’s a real homecoming quality to the project. Jack Clement, who produced Pride’s first albums, returns as co-producer (with the artist). Janie Fricke , the two-time CMA female vocalist of the year and Pride’s former touring partner, makes a guest appearance on the song “Field of Dreams.” Ben Peters, who wrote such chart-toppers for Pride as “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and “Burgers and Fries,” supplies two songs to the project on Music City Records.

Wynn Some, Lose Some
It was a great afternoon for singer-songwriter Wynn Varble — but not for political correctness or record-label diplomacy. Varble was the guest of honor at a party BMI, the performance rights society, threw last week to celebrate his co-writing the Worley megahit, “Have You Forgotten?” Clearly in the grip of emotion, Varble told the crowd, “I want to thank my dad for raising me up with a strong sense of patriotism. He was in the South Pacific [in World War II], and he still ain’t overly fond of Japs.” Varble records for Sony Music.

Vince Gill Pairs With Keb’ Mo’
Vince Gill , who’s probably guested on more albums than Willie Nelson , was in the studio a few days back recording a track with blues artist Keb’ Mo’.

Sons of the Desert Sue MCA for Breach of Contract
The Sons of the Desert — brothers Drew and Tim Womack — have sued MCA Records for breach of contract, alleging that the label prevented them from recording and releasing a second album as specified in their agreement. In addition to their string of singles, the Sons provided the celestial harmonies on Lee Ann Womack ’s 2000 hit, “I Hope You Dance.” The suit was filed April 25 in Chancery Court in Nashville.

The Sons were originally signed to Epic Records. At that time, the act consisted of the Womacks and three others. Their debut single, “Whatever Comes First,” went Top 10 in 1997. That same year, Epic also released an album of the same title. After the Sons left Epic, the complaint says, Tony Brown, then head of MCA, offered them a seven-album deal, which they signed in October 1999. By this time, the group had dwindled to three members — the Womacks and Doug Virden. The contract called for the Sons to record two albums during the first stage of the agreement and gave MCA the option to renew their contract for five more terms, during each of which the Sons would be obligated to record one album.

MCA’s promise to release at least two albums was a major factor in inducing the Sons to sign with that label, the complaint continues. It explains that the publicity surrounding the release of two albums would heighten the Sons’ visibility and make it easier for them to book shows. Moreover, the fact that the albums would be conduits for songs the Sons wrote themselves ensured them a songwriting and publishing income. MCA released their first album, Change, in the summer of 2000. Virden left the group at the end of 2001.

In January 2002, the suit alleges, MCA told the Sons to interrupt their tour to begin recording the second album. “Although the Sons were ready and willing to record in an efficient manner and therefore be able to return to live touring performances,” the complaint says, “MCA caused many delays in the Sons’ recording schedule.” By late summer of that year, the group had completed six recordings and were close to finishing three more, all of which they turned over to the label. The suit says that Mark Wright, who was both co-producer of the album and a top executive at MCA, told the Sons that their recordings had been accepted. The Sons say they agreed to do additional recordings if the label deemed the ones they had already turned in as incomplete. “MCA, however, still refuses to release or complete the Sons’ second album,” the complaint concludes. It asserts that the label does not intend to do any more with the album.

Because the album will not be completed and released, the suit argues, the Sons have suffered a loss of stature and live performance income and have also lost their songwriting and publishing deals and the income that went with them. The Sons ask that a jury hear their case and that the court award them unspecified damages.

Since You Asked: Ricky Van Shelton, Ronnie McDowell, David Kersh
For the several of you who’ve inquired about Ricky Van Shelton , Ronnie McDowell and David Kersh, here’s an update. Shelton’s wife, Betty, tells me that her husband is recording an album of his own songs and co-producing it with his fiddle player, Tigar Bell. “They’ve just about got it finished,” she reports. “I’m not sure if we’re going to try [releasing it on] a major label, or if we’re just going to market it ourselves under Ricky’s label.” She says the album contains “some great country ballads, great up-tempo stuff and one superhot bluegrass song.” Shelton continues to tour, racking up about 70 shows a year. “It’s not so much,” she says, “that I can’t get him to mow the lawn.”

McDowell is touring with two separate shows. One’s called “The Elvis Presley Story,” in which he works with Presley’s old backup troupe, including the Jordanaires , guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D. J. Fontana. In the other configuration, he sings with Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters. Kersh is still on Curb Records, “writing a lot” and putting together an album.

Porter Wagoner Remembers Boyhood Slight
Porter Wagoner must have felt a special kinship with Toby Keith the first time he heard him sing “How Do You Like Me Now?!” Speaking recently to family members, friends and fellow artists who had gathered at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to celebrate his induction into the Hall, the lanky Grand Ole Opry star lamented that Kenneth Chapin, a boyhood pal from Missouri wasn’t in the audience. “One time I was plowing this team of mules of my dad’s,” Wagoner explained. “It was dirty and dusty in the field, and I was pretending I was at the Grand Ole Opry. I’d ’introduce’ Roy Acuff , and then I’d sing ’The Wabash Cannonball. Then I’d ’introduce’ Ernest Tubb and sing one of his songs. I didn’t know there was anybody within two or three miles of me. But this old boy I went to school with was at the end of the row, and he said, ’Who are you talking to out there?’ I said, ’Well, I was just playing like I was at the Grand Ole Opry.’ He said, ’You’re as close to the Grand Ole Opry as you’ll ever be. You’ll be looking these mules in the rear end when you’re 75.’ I wish he could see me tonight.”

Bluegrass Legend Urges America to Straighten Up
Mandolin master Jesse McReynolds, the surviving partner of the Jim & Jesse bluegrass duo, has released a cautionary single, “America on Bended Knees.” In it he urges the nation to return to its religious roots. Fans of old-time country music may hear in the song echoes of Jimmie Osborne’s 1950 hit, “God Please Protect America.” McReynolds is also touring to promote the final Jim & Jesse album, ’Tis Sweet to Be Remembered, which came out earlier this year. Jim McReynolds died this past December.

Former Foundation Editor, Australian Writer Win Journalist Honor
The International Country Music Conference, which will meet May 29-31 at Belmont University in Nashville, has revealed the recipients of its annual Charlie Lamb journalist awards. Chrissie Dickinson, former editor of the Journal of Country Music, takes the career achievement trophy, while Australian John Elliott wins the contemporary prize, primarily on the strength of his recent book, On the Road With Slim, a chronicle of the fabled Aussie country singer, Slim Dusty.

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