HOT TALK: Praising the Carters, Puzzling Over Scotty

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

Carter Family Tribute Album Set for 2004
Next year — “possibly next summer,” a label spokesman says — Dualtone Records will roll out a tribute album to the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Carter Family. Artists who’ve already recorded tracks or agreed to participate in the project are Johnny Cash, the late June Carter Cash, Joe and Janette Carter (children of A. P. and Sara Carter, who jointly founded the pioneering act, with Sara’s cousin, Maybelle) Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Sheryl Crow. The album is being produced by John Carter Cash, the son of June and Johnny Cash and grandson of Maybelle. He also produced his mother’s final album, Wildwood Flower, which Dualtone will release Sept. 9.

Watching Scotty Grow
Usually a guy will shuck the diminutive form of his name as soon as he reaches puberty — which is why almost every Timmy grows up to be a Tim. Not so with Scott Emerick. He’s now recording for DreamWorks Records as Scotty Emerick, and no one seems to know why. Emerick first gained attention as Toby Keith’s co-writer and sometimes band member. But the name was always Scott — just check out your Toby Keith liner notes and the roster of artists DreamWorks published earlier this year. Consumed by curiosity and vast stretches of free time, I called Emerick’s publicist at DreamWorks to inquire about this puzzling transformation. “It was a directive from management,” the publicist replied, adopting that distinctively weary tone reserved for idiots. Good enough. So I called Emerick’s management company. No one there could explain the switch or even venture a guess as to the motive that lay behind it. Was it the creation of a focus group? The bureaucratic enshrinement of a typographical error? Ah ha! Maybe it was Emerick’s self-leveling response to being on a label with people named Toby and Jimmy (Wayne). I confess I am at a loss and perilously close to a sick headache. OK, readers, send me your best guess as to why Scott became Scotty. Together, we can crack this.

Sheryl Crow Seeking Music City Nest
Pop princess Sheryl Crow is shopping for something homey but palatial in the Nashville area. One big requirement: It’s gotta have a built-in recording studio.

Hank Jr.’s Daughter Rockin’ Like Dad
Holly Williams, Hank Jr.’s guitar-slinging daughter, was at Town Hall in New York Thursday (July 31) to open a show for John Mellencamp. She’s also been touring England lately with Ron Sexsmith. Williams’ manager is Scott Siman, the mastermind behind Tim McGraw, Jessica Andrews and Billy Gilman.

Bering Strait Writing Next Album
Kudos to CBS-TV for rebroadcasting Bering Strait’s intriguing story on a recent edition of 60 Minutes. In updating the piece on the Russian-born country-bluegrass act, host Morley Safer reported that Bering Strait is working on its second album. Well, don’t plan on buying it for a Christmas gift — at least not for this Christmas. A publicist for Universal South Records tells me that the album is still in the writing stage and that no producer has been selected for it. Sad news, indeed. This band rocks.

Kathy Mattea, Suzy Bogguss Also Yuletiding
Alert readers (of which we have legions) tipped us to two more new-this-year Christmas albums: Kathy Mattea’s Joy for Christmas Day (due out Sept. 30 on Narada Records) and Suzy Bogguss’ Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Sept. 9, Compadre Records). You find ’em, we’ll list ’em.

Charlie Louvin’s Ready for the Road
As announced last week, Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Louvin will be opening a tour for the rock group Cake throughout September. “I was just screwing around on the computer one day,” Louvin says, “and I got this message from [Cake’s manager] asking if I wanted to open some or all of their dates. I didn’t let him wait too long for an answer.” He admits to being only “slightly” familiar with Cake’s music. “I’m told their music is similar to BR549’s,” he observes. The Country Music Hall of Famer is looking forward to the Sept. 30 release of Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers, a collection that spotlights the enormous contributions he and his brother, Ira, made to country music. “We were cutting 40 years ago with today’s sounds,” he asserts. He was in the recording studio, he continues, when James Taylor and Alison Krauss recorded “How’s the World Treating You,” a 1961 chart record for the Louvins. “They just knocked my hat in the creek,” he says. I believe that’s a ruralism for being delighted.

Picking for Bob Hope
When the news broke last week that Bob Hope had died, I rummaged through my Everest-high stack of promotional videos and pulled out one from 1990. It showed the then-87-year-old comedian and newcomer Aaron Tippin entertaining American troops in the Saudi Arabian desert. Tippin was there on the strength of his first single, “You’ve Got to Stand for Something.” In one particularly cherishable segment, Tippin strums a guitar as the dapper, camouflage-clad comic sings a parody of “Buttons and Bows” that pokes fun at his own spectacular nose. Never mind that the song was a hit in 1948, long before Tippin and the soldiers were born. For Hope, it was still fertile ground. And it got a big laugh. With a Humvee at his back and a 42-year-old song on his lips, he seemed as timeless as the sands he stood on.

Pure Love: Milsap Sings for His Friends
I didn’t realize how much I missed Ronnie Milsap until I heard him sing at a party a few days ago. Held at BMI’s Nashville digs, the event celebrated the fact that Milsap’s 40 #1 Hits had reached “gold album” status. After all the gold records were passed out and all the pictures taken, Milsap took his seat at a grand piano and, with guitarist Jamie Brantley backing him, breezed through a medley of nine standards, including “What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life,” “Pure Love,” “It Was Almost Like a Song” and “Smoky Mountain Rain.”

Joe Galante, who worked with Milsap during his nearly 20 years at RCA Records, praised the singer’s musical adventurousness. “He’s never been afraid to try anything,” Galante said. “It was never, ’Oh, here comes another Milsap single.’ He was a record company president’s dream.” Producer and former label president Scott Hendricks saw the same musical excellence. He said that when he started as a producer, he kept a checklist. “I would always check [the quality of] my mix against a Ronnie Milsap record. I can’t tell you all the names I called you when I couldn’t match it.” Milsap could be a nitpicker, Galante noted. “We put out a single on him in the early ’80s, and it debuted [on the chart] somewhere in the 20s, I think. Milsap heard it and called me from the road. He said, ’I’ve been listening to the mix, and I think we ought to change it. I think I can make it better.'” Tony Conway, Milsap’s booking agent, summarized the sentiments of the adoring crowd when he proclaimed, “This man needs to be in the Country Music Hall of Fame.”

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