HOT TALK: Clint Black to Start Label, Tony Brown Producing Again

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

Clint Black, Former Sony Exec to Launch Label
While neither will talk about it yet, Clint Black and former Sony/Nashville Records executive Mike Kraski are planning to start a record label. Black was the bright star at RCA Records during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when he took a long string of self-penned songs to No. 1. He left RCA last year. Kraski was with Sony for more than 27 years, ultimately rising to the post of vice president and general manager. In that job, he supervised sales, marketing, media, creative services and artist development. He was dislodged at Sony just before John Grady took over the label in May.

Tony Brown Ready to Produce Amanda Wilkinson
Tony Brown will commence production of Amanda Wilkinson’s solo album for Universal South Records Aug. 4 at Nashville’s Starstruck Studios. Wilkinson is a member of the Canadian family trio, the Wilkinsons. This will be Brown’s first producing since he suffered a head injury in April.

Sometimes a Lunch Is Just a Lunch
Jimmy Bowen, the former head of Warner Bros., MCA and Capitol Records, used to start rumors about himself and then sit back and watch as they furrowed brows and raised blood pressure all along Music Row. Universal South Records’ Tim DuBois achieved much the same effect recently just by meeting an old friend for lunch. The friend was Allen Butler, who was ousted from the presidency of Sony Music Nashville in May. Before he went to Sony, Butler worked for DuBois at Arista Records. So the buzz was that DuBois might be lining up another job for Butler. Not so, DuBois tells Hot Talk. But wait a minute, wasn’t Mike Dungan, the head of Capitol/Nashville, there, too? Maybe he’s … . “We thought when the three of us went to lunch it would be good for a rumor,” says DuBois with a wicked grin.

Shell Says “Murder on Music Row” Still a Killer
Larry Shell, co-writer of the pot-stirring “Murder on Music Row,” is one of Nashville’s great conversationalists — eager, opinionated and quick with a quip or trenchant observation about the health of his beloved country music. “There’s nobody walking around anymore on Music Row,” he tells me at a release party Thursday (July 10) for Blue Highway’s new album, Wondrous Love. “Used to be you’d see these kids with guitars. Now it’s ‘For Sale’ and ‘For Lease’ signs. We’ve got to get together and help each other.” He says he’s excited that publicist Pam Lewis has started holding block parties for the locals and that he’s going to thank her personally for it. Alarmed though he is, he remains philosophical about country’s future. Music Row was also in the doldrums, he recalls, when he first came to town in 1976.

Shell is at the party because he has a cut on the Blue Highway CD. Titled “Seven Sundays in a Row,” it’s the story of a good woman who turns a “fightin’, drinkin’ man” into a faithful churchgoer. He wrote it with Kim Williams and Wayne Taylor. I ask him if singers are still recording “Murder on Music Row,” which became a surprise hit for George Strait and Alan Jackson and, in 2001, won the Country Music Association’s song of the year award. He beams as though I’ve praised his child. “Time-Life has licensed it [for an album]. So it should be [advertised and sold] on TV. And a lot of artists on these little tiny labels are still recording it.”

Shell wrote “Murder” with his old buddy, Larry Cordle, who was the first to cut it. The two have paired up again, he says, to write a song for a gospel album Cordle is planning. “It’s called ‘The Devil’s Workshop,’” he says. “You know how your mama used to tell you that ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’? It’s about that.”

Conversation With an Angel
With its mangled cars, flashing emergency lights and nightmarish urban landscape, Diamond Rio’s “I Believe” is one of the most visually arresting music videos of the past year. Near the end of the video, a middle-age man in a dark suit and hat strides confidently into this sprawling chaos, kneels briefly at the side of the crash victim — and promptly steals the show. His calm, benign presence is the incarnation of the strong belief the song advocates. He is — in short — an angel. And his name is Thomas Cain. Acting isn’t Cain’s main gig. He’s a senior executive at Nashville’s BMI offices, as well as an accomplished composer, performer and record producer. But because his appearance in the video has attracted so much attention, I sat down with him the other day after Diamond Rio’s No. 1 party for “I Believe” to ask how he got the role and what it’s meant to him.

It turns out that this isn’t Cain’s first video. In 1989, he and his two sons were among the several father-and-son sets in Paul Overstreet’s clip for “Seein’ My Father in Me.” Cain says it was Diamond Rio’s manager, Ted Greene, who recommended him for the angel part. “As I understand it, Ted was on the phone with the director talking about the video when he noticed me in a picture that had been taken at a party for [Diamond Rio’s] ‘Beautiful Mess.’” Even with Greene’s recommendation, though, Cain still had to do a screen test. “It was at Loews Vanderbilt Plaza [hotel in Nashville],” he recalls. “There was this room with just a chair in it, and I had to kneel down and pretend I was rubbing [the crash victim’s] head.” The whole thing took about 15 or 20 minutes, he says. Late that afternoon, he got a call from the production company that he’d won the part.

Cain says the filming started on Wednesday, Dec. 11 at a viaduct on Nashville’s Eighth Avenue North. He was on the shoot from 5:30 that afternoon until 6 the next morning. “But I got into it,” he admits. “I want to do more.” While the party for “I Believe” was in progress, Cain stepped into another room to page through a thick book of e-mails that the song and video had generated from Diamond Rio fans. Periodically, he would lean forward to read a message about how the song had cushioned the loss or injury of a parent, a child or a friend. At times, he seemed near tears. “The beauty of this video,” he assures me later, “is that it has healing power.”

OK, now it’s your turn to wax eloquent or anything else that needs waxing. I’m waiting for your titillating tips and torrid tirades at Hottalk@cmt.com.