HOT TALK: Murphy Signs, Price Writes … and Mandrellmania

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

David Lee Murphy Signs to Koch/Audium
David Lee Murphy, known for such hits as “Party Crowd,” “Dust on the Bottle” and “The Road You Leave Behind,” has signed to Koch/Audium Records. Also joining the label are the Kerosene Brothers (the alter ego of Hayseed Dixie) and singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen. Upcoming releases from Audium include Dwight Yoakam’s Population Me, an album of patriotic songs by Charlie Daniels, a project from the Larkins and reissues of music by Wynn Stewart and Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Walker.

Ray Price to Pen Autobiography, Bow Duet CD With Willie Nelson
Hot Talk hears that Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price is preparing to write his autobiography. It should be gripping reading, particularly if the velvet-voiced, 77-year-old Texan gives us the inside scoop about having Hank Williams as a roommate and Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck as band members. Lost Highway Records will release Run That by Me One More Time, Price’s duet album with Nelson on July 1.

Nashville Star’s Miranda Lambert to Sony?
There’s a rumor that Nashville Star contestant Miranda Lambert has followed the lead of contest-winner Buddy Jewell and signed a recording deal with Sony Music. At deadline, no one was available at Sony to confirm or deny the story. If Lambert, who made her Grand Ole Opry debut this past Friday (June 20) does join Sony, she will be the first addition since John Grady took over the label and dropped nine acts from the previous administration, including Mark Chesnutt, Pam Tillis, Tammy Cochran and Billy Gilman.

Breakin’ Ground Tour Opens in Florida
The Breakin’ Ground Tour, which combines a day-long agricultural expo with an evening concert of country music, kicked off Saturday (June 21) at the Lakeland Center in Lakeland, Fla. Tanya Tucker, John Anderson and T. Graham Brown headlined the show, appearing with the new country artist and tour spokesman, Kolt Barber. Subsequent shows will draw from a talent pool that includes the previously mentioned acts, as well as Lee Greenwood, Billy Ray Cyrus and Kevin Sharp, among others. Designed to salute the American farmer, the entire tour is being sponsored by Raley Entertainment of Dothan, Ala.

These are the remaining venues and dates: Peoria, Ill., June 28; Little Rock, Ark., July 19; Asheville, N.C., July 26; Fort Wayne, Ind., Aug. 2; Jackson, Miss., Aug. 9; Topeka, Kan., Aug. 16; Huntsville, Ala., Aug. 23; Oklahoma City, Okla., Sept. 6; Dayton, Ohio, Sept. 13; Greensboro, N.C., Sept. 20; Tallahassee, Fla., Sept. 27; Omaha, Neb., Oct. 4; Louisville, Ky., Oct. 11; Charleston, W.Va., Oct. 18; Knoxville, Tenn., Oct. 25; Longview, Texas, Nov. 1; and Savannah, Ga., Nov. 8.

Rhonda Vincent, Marty Raybon, Many Others Sign for IBMA Fan Fest
Rhonda Vincent & the Rage, former Shenandoah frontman Marty Raybon and Robin & Linda Williams & Their Fine Group are among the acts that have agreed to perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Fan Fest Oct. 3-5 at the Galt House in Louisville, Ky. The Fan Fest is a part of the annual World of Bluegrass convention, the highlight of which will be the IBMA Awards Show, set for Oct. 2 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Other acts on the Fan Fest bill are IIIrd Tyme Out, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, J. D. Crowe & the New South, Jesse McReynolds & the Virginia Boys, Ronnie Bowman, Ronnie Reno & the Reno Tradition, Continental Divide, the James King Band, the Larry Stephenson Band, Wildfire, Hot Club of Nashville, Pine Mountain Railroad, Ryan Holladay, Honi Deaton & Dream, Ernie Thacker & Route 23, the Cherryholmes Family, Fragment, Echo Mountain, 2nd Edition and Groundspeed. Other acts will be added to the lineup.

The (Potential) Hits Just Keep on Comin’
BMI, the performance rights society, hosted its second “acoustic lunch” Thursday (June 19) at its Nashville headquarters. The goal of these gustatory get-togethers is to introduce new songs to producers and A&R (artist and repertoire) reps from the record labels. Spotlighted at this latest soiree were Warner/Chappell writers D. Vincent Williams (“I’m Movin’ On”), Stephony Smith (“It’s Your Love,” “Big Star”) and Jim Collins (“She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”).

I’m covering these events for Hot Talk because it’s a particular joy to hear and tell you about songs that may soon become country hits. Of course, the food ain’t bad, either. Two of the songs from last month’s showcase were put on hold as a direct result of being heard there. (A song that’s put on hold for an artist isn’t made available to anyone else until the artist records it or decides not to.) Marcus Hummon’s “Times Like This” was put on hold for Reba McEntire, as was Bill Luther’s “When You Get to Me” for Mark Wills. Both these artists — or their producers — ultimately passed on the songs, however, and they are now being pitched elsewhere.

Reacting to the piano-driven drama of Williams’ first tune, “Why Can’t I,” Smith raised her hands in mock despair at having to follow it: “Thank you. Goodnight everybody. That’s a big one.” Her own “Down in Maury County” and “Sunshine Sue and Her All-Girl Band” were buoyant celebrations of young girls who propelled themselves to success through dreams and hard work. Collins reminisced about co-writing with his two fellow performers, noting that his first pairing with Williams produced “Hands of a Working Man,” a hit for Ty Herndon, and that collaborating with Smith yielded him his first No. 1, Chad Brock’s “Yes.”

Collins stilled the sometimes restless room with his wistful opening song, “Who Wants to be Here.” Later, he told how an overheard conversation about Williams’ divorce gave rise to “All at the Same Time,” a song portraying painfully conflicting emotions. “I love to get inspired on other people’s misery,” he confessed. At the end of Williams’ dark and ruminative “You’re the Kind of Gone,” Collins accused him of using “out of town chords.” The remaining songs presented were Williams’ “Till My Ship Sails Away,” Smith’s “I Won’t Be the One” and Collins’ “I’ve Never Been Anywhere.” Keep your ears open for these gems.

Crazy ‘Bout the ‘80s, Bonkers Over Babs
Hot Talk tapped into a hotbed of resentment and zealotry last week when it quoted reader Jamie Nelms’ complaint that record labels were neglecting country music from the early 1980s, especially Barbara Mandrell’s. “Nashville is doing such a poor job exploiting its catalog,” says Bradley Olson, “[that] it is taking labels such as Collector’s Choice Music, Koch International, Varese Sarabande, S&P Records, Razor & Tie [and] import labels to issue the product. … If any of you want to get anything reissued, write to [these] specialty labels as they do care more for the public than the majors [do].”

Adds Scotty B., “I agree with [the] assessment of the record companies and their refusal to reprise artists such as Crystal Gayle, Barbara Mandrell and Frizzell & West. Even Earl Thomas Conley got the short shrift with the collection they put out on him.” Says another Hot Talker, “Even though I’m only 21, I love the country music of the ‘80s. Eddie Rabbitt, the Oak Ridge Boys [and] Exile will hopefully get their due.” Darlene Smith is especially incensed about Mandrell, who, she charges, “has been overlooked by MCA and the country music industry as a whole. … True entertainment is hard to find, but not if you looked to Mandrell, who could pack such a variety of singing, dancing, picking and grinning into a two-hour show that [your] head would spin. During her reign, the only other performer in country music who matched her talents was Hank Williams Jr. Both showcased their musicianship by playing multiple instruments with fervor. I have never seen another artist who worked so hard and to such perfection as Barbara Mandrell.”

But Kendall D. Webb points out that a lot of Mandrell’s most popular songs have already been reissued. “The Ultimate Collection on the Hip-O label contains 23 of Barbara’s greatest hits, and another CD collection on Westside [The Columbia/Epic Singles 1969-75] pulls together her biggest hits from her early years. … Finally, another recent [release from] Razor & Tie [Greatest Hits] features two CDs that contained just about every Top 10 hit ever recorded by Barbara. It’s out of print now, but worth tracking down.”

You are not the first to deem me quite mad. But what does a mother know? Inundate me with affection — or else — at HotTalk@cmt.com.