HOT TALK: Stars Shine for Paisley, Krauss Covers Dolly

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

Celebrities Light Up Brad Paisley’s New CD
When you’re a ce-leb-ri-ty … everyone’s eager to be on your record. Brad Paisley has rounded up a bunch of glittery show biz folks for his upcoming album, Mud on the Tires, due out July 22. Alison Krauss duets with the affable young West Virginian on a tune called “Whiskey Lullaby.” The Blues Brothers (Dan Ackroyd and Jim Belushi) back him on “That’s Love.” Dan Tyminski (of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” fame) and Vince Gill help out on background vocals in a couple of places. Access Hollywood’s Nancy O’Dell lends her voice to “Celebrity,” the album’s first single. Fellow Grand Ole Opryites George Jones, Bill Anderson and Little Jimmy Dickens provide commentary on yet another cut. While most of the material is new, Paisley does cover Vern Gosdin’s somber 1990 hit, “Is It Raining at Your House.” Frank Rogers produced the album.

Alison Krauss Reprises Dolly’s “9 to 5”
Alison Krauss, who has just cut duets with Brad Paisley (see above) and James Taylor, has also found time to sing on Sugar Hill Records’ upcoming tribute to Dolly Parton. The album — which is still to be titled and scheduled — will be made up of songs Parton wrote and/or made famous. Krauss’ contribution to the mix is “9 to 5,” Parton’s No. 1 hit from 1980 and title song to the movie she starred in with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.

Chesney’s Troops Deliver the Margaritas
I heard a rumor that Kenny Chesney’s road crew travels from show to show with a “margarita machine” and sometimes zooms out into the parking lot before the concert to treat tailgating folks to free drinks. So I checked it out. “They don’t have a machine,” his publicist says. “They have a production guy with a killer recipe who is known to whip up huge batches of margaritas that the boys put in pitchers, jump on a Gator and head to the parking lot with them. So that’s margaritas distribution, Kenny Chesney style.”

New Sony/Nashville Chief Vows to Cherish the Music
Several hundred well-wishers — including artists Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell, Wynn Varble and Nashville Star winner Buddy Jewell — flocked to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Thursday night (May 29) to welcome new Sony Music Nashville president John Grady. Before taking the new job, Grady headed DMZ Records, a company he formed with T Bone Burnett, producer of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album. Also on hand for the celebration was Donnie Ienner, head of Sony Music USA, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell and other high-ranking Sony record execs.

“We are the curators of [country] music,” Grady told the crowd. “I don’t want to be a member of the generation that battled technology and forgot the music.” He said he hopes to use Sony’s great size and diversity in the service of better and more widely appreciated country music. “We can’t be insular any longer in Nashville,” he continued. “I don’t want to sign an artist I can’t take out and show to the world.”

On a lighter note, Grady introduced dapper producer Mark Wright as his new “executive vice president of A&R and fashion.” Wright moves to Sony from a similar post at Universal Music Group (which umbrellas MCA and Mercury). Wright told Hot Talk that he’s not sure yet whether his new job will permit him to continue to produce longtime client Lee Ann Womack.

Following the ceremony, guests adjourned to the Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater to hear a brief set by Loveless and her band.

Loveless’ Guitarist Signs With MCA
And while we’re on the subject of Loveless, her 21-year-old, Australian-born guitarist, Jedd Hughes, has signed with her former label, MCA Records. He tells Hot Talk that Terry McBride — of McBride & the Ride — will serve as his producer. While Hughes is getting his record under way, he’ll continue to tour with Loveless.

Kris Kristofferson, Alice Randall Strike Book Deals
Publishers Weekly reports that Kris Kristofferson and Alice Randall have signed book-publishing deals. Songwriter and actor Kristofferson will write his memoirs for Hyperion, which hopes to have the book out by the fall of 2005. Randall — whose lyrical high-water mark on Music Row was co-writing the Trisha Yearwood hit, “XXX’s & OOO’s (An American Girl)” — will write another novel for Houghton Mifflin. Her first, a parody of Gone With the Wind called The Wind Done Gone, landed her in court for copyright infringement. But she won the suit, and the book became a bestseller. Her next novel is entitled Pushkin and the Queen of Spades. “It’s described,” says Publishers Weekly, “as the story of a noted African-American authority on the Russian author [Pushkin] whose football player son becomes involved with a Russian lap dancer.” Try putting that plot in a country song!

Fired Program Director Sues Gaylord, Cumulus
Kevin O’Neal, the former program director of Nashville’s WSM-FM, has sued the radio station’s former and current owners, Gaylord Entertainment and Cumulus Broadcasting, alleging that they conspired to breach his contract. He maintains that the contract guaranteed his job through Dec. 31, 2005. O’Neal, whose real name is Ray Frazier, filed his suit May 15 in the Davidson County Circuit Court in Nashville. In his complaint, O’Neal says the reason Gaylord gave for firing him was “failure … to perform adequately his responsibilities.” O’Neal charges that the real reason he was discharged was that he became seriously ill in February 2003 and discovered he had diabetes. He contends that Cumulus, which was in the process of buying the station from Gaylord, “regarded [him] as having a handicap what would substantially impair or limit [his] activity” and thus pressured Gaylord to fire him. He is asking for a jury trial, compensatory damages of $500,000, punitive damages of $500,000 and various other penalties and compensations.

Do you find show business gossip too tawdry to bear? Then put the load right on me. I’m listening at

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