New Label Signs Exile, Shenandoah, Highway 101

FreeFalls Entertainment, a new record label based in Cleveland, Ohio, has signed the groups Exile, Shenandoah and Highway 101. Lee Greenwood and Billy Burnette are on the company’s roster as well, and both have albums almost ready for release.

Although it has been in business for only a year this month, FreeFalls has already earned a Grammy nomination. The title track from Willie Nelson’s Night and Day, which is on the Pedernales/FreeFalls joint label, is in the running for best pop instrumental performance.

Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings collaborate on an upcoming release, Honky Tonk Heroes, featuring Shaver’s compositions. In the works since 1989, the disc marks the first-ever collaboration between the entire quartet of Texans.

Bob Freese, former vice president of sales and marketing for Liberty Records (now Capitol Nashville), heads the fledgling operation. He says he didn’t launch FreeFalls as a country label but concedes that it seems to be turning into one. “I first came out with a Jackie King jazz album,” he explains. He followed it with Nelson’s instrumental album in July.

One of Freese’s partners is Jerry Crutchfield, who heads the label’s artist and repertoire division. The producer of such acts as Tanya Tucker, Anne Murray, Glen Campbell, Larry Gatlin and Barbara Fairchild, Crutchfield also produced Greenwood’s first chart hits and is masterminding the singer’s upcoming (and still untitled) album.

Greenwood’s album will be released in May, as will Billy Burnette’s rockabilly collection, Are You With Me Baby?

While Exile, Shenandoah and Highway 101 have long been absent from the charts, they continue to tour with mixtures of old and replacement members. The newest edition of Exile features only two members of the one-time country powerhouse, J. P. Pennington and Les Taylor. Chrislynn Lee is the latest lead singer for Highway 101. She fills the slot earlier occupied by Paulette Carlson and Nikki Nelson. Brent Lamb has just been named the new lead singer for a revived Shenandoah.

FreeFalls’ first Highway 101 project will be Big Sky, a reissue of an album the group has been selling at concerts for the past several months.

Freese says it is difficult to specify the point at which album sales for his acts will become profitable. “They’re all different,” he notes, “but if we’re in the game where we’re selling around 40 or 50,000 [copies of each album], everyone’s going to start getting happy.”

FreeFalls is distributed in the U. S. and Canada by Navarre

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