HOT TALK: Gill Gratified, Lawrence Looking at Dream Team

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

Vince Gill’s Perfect Game
I won’t lie to you. I was invited to the ceremonies in Rochester, N.Y., last Wednesday (Aug. 13) at which the PGA honored Vince Gill for his distinguished service to the game of golf. But I have such a historic aversion to physical exercise and direct sunlight that it would have been a sham for me to go. So I scalped the tickets and bought health insurance. (Just kidding!) Anyway, someone who was there tells me the event was thoroughly heartwarming. Held at the Eastman Theater, it drew a crowd of about 800 golf and Vinny enthusiasts, including the guest of honor’s wife, Amy Grant, his extended family and several Nashville friends, among them Belmont University basketball coach Rick Byrd and local TV sportscaster Bob Mueller.

The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra opened the affair by performing two John Williams pieces. No George Jones for these swells. Later on, there was a brief video presentation during which some of Gill’s close and famous buddies lauded his love of the game and his Olympic-size heart. Among those attesting were Clyde Russell, who oversees the Vince Gill Pro-Celebrity Invitational (the “Vinny”); Larry Fitgerald, Gill’s manager; Grant; and golfing greats Bob Walcott, Jack Nicklaus and Nancy Lopez. Following this, PGA president M.G. Orender read letters congratulating Gill from Elton John, President George W. Bush and Arnold Palmer.

Gill told the well-wishers that he at first considered turning down the honor, suggesting instead that it be given to Bruce Edwards, pro golfer Tom Watson’s caddy of 30 years, who’s been stricken with Lou Gerhig’s disease. But he was persuaded to accept the award, he said, in deference to all the friends who had supported him and his golf-related charities these past many years.

So how about a round of applause?

Tracy Lawrence May Sign to DreamWorks
Tracy Lawrence, whose recording career has been in the doldrums, appears to be heading to DreamWorks Record, where his current producer, James Stroud, presides. A source at the label says Lawrence has met with DreamWorks execs but that he’s not yet signed a contract. Lawrence flourished during his years with Atlantic Records, but things have slowed down for him since Atlantic’s country division closed its doors and moved its roster to Warner Bros.

Alan Jackson Boosted in New York Times Ad
How does a record label show an artist love? Buy him some space in the Sunday New York Times. That’s what Arista Records did on Aug. 10 for Alan Jackson’s new album, Greatest Hits Volume II. The lanky singer stares out from a full-page ad in the intensely read Arts & Leisure section. Naturally enough, the ad spotlights the still hot Jackson-Jimmy Buffett duet, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere,” a ditty that’s no doubt sparking a rum and tequila resurgence.

No TV for This Year’s IBMA Awards
In spite of high hopes that it would happen this year, the International Bluegrass Music Association will not be televising its Oct. 2 awards show. “But we’re optimistic about future years,” says IBMA executive director Dan Hays. “We’ve had quite a bit of interest.” Fortunately, the ceremonies — and the always glorious performances that ornament them — will continue to be broadcast on radio.

Billy Dean Co-Writes With Richie McDonald
A spokesman for Billy Dean’s label, H2E Records, tells Hot Talk that Dean’s upcoming album will feature a song he co-wrote with Lonestar’s Richie McDonald. It’s called “Let Them Be Little.” There’s no title or specific release date for the album, but it’s expected to be out some time this fall. Dean’s current and first single from H2E is “I’m in Love With You.”

Billy Gilman Nears End of Vocal Vacation
Teen star Billy Gilman was among several country acts sent packing following the recent regime change at Sony Music Nashille. His exile came at a particularly awkward time since he had just released a new album and was undergoing a puberty-driven voice transformation that kept him out of the spotlight. But things are looking sunnier now for the 15-year-old. “His voice is almost fully changed,” says Gilman’s manager, Scott Siman. “It’s really, really, really close, but he’s not quite settled in. He’s going to start touring a little bit this fall. We’ve got some casino dates he’s going to do up in the northeast just to test it out. He’s been rehearsing, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll do from five to 15 shows. And we’re shopping a new record deal. We’ve been talking to a couple of folks who’ve expressed interest in Billy. We’ll see where it leads.”

In April, not long before the axe fell, Sony released Gilman’s album, Music Through Heartsongs, a collection of songs made from the poems of young Mattie Stepanek, the victim of a particularly perilous form of muscular dystrophy. “We’ve not given up on the project,” says Siman. “We’d like to take that album and go somewhere else with it because it just got released to retail, and that’s about all that happened — that and the video we did. … Billy’s going to be on the [Muscular Dystrophy] telethon this year. And he’s the national youth spokesperson for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.”

Gilman is eager to return to performing, Siman stresses. “Right now, he’s just rehearsing and catching up on his school work. He’s dying to go back on the road.”

Moe Bandy Package Out Soon
Remember Moe Bandy, the great country stylist of the ’70s and ’80s? Well, Koch/Audium Records does. The label will reissue a 2-CD package of Bandy’s best-known works on Aug. 26. No title for the album yet. Also coming from Koch/Audium that same day are reissues of Charlie Walker and Wynn Stewart records.

More Yule Fuel
Riviera Records will release Ty Herndon’s new Christmas collection, Not So Silent Night on Sept. 2.

I Had To Ask . . .
Last week, I asked if radio chains might be sued for age discrimination if they systematically excluded older artists from their playlists. A couple of you embraced that prospect with alarming zeal. “Hell, yeah,” wrote Michael Matzkevich, “radio station chains should be sued, outlawed, destroyed. There are more people out there than just pre-teen girls and soccer moms. … Revive all of the songs that made people such as Johnny, George, Hank Jr., Reba, George Strait and Clay famous and not just repeat one song that the [music directors] think will make little Kaitie’s mommy happy. … As a 21-year-old college student, I’m getting sick of radio being like a Top 40 station and ignoring 99 percent of the songs from the past.”

But then came the dissenting voices. “In fact,” Mike F. pointed out, “there are plenty of ‘older’ artists being played on country radio. You just don’t think of them as old. George Strait is now 51; Brooks & Dunn are 48 and 50, respectively; Patty Loveless is 46; Alan Jackson is 44; Toby Keith is 42; and Garth Brooks is 41. And, of course, Willie Nelson, who just had a No. 1 hit [with Keith], is 70.” Radio consultant Joel Raab opined sagely, “Entertainment has always cycled in the new at the expense of the old. Change is what keeps music formats vibrant. Frankly, country music is one of the genres of music that I feel treats older artists with respect. Long-time artists always have a home on the [Grand Ole] Opry, playing with new artists. Many radio stations (owned by large and small companies) are switching to classic country formats which honor the older artists. . . . Would CMT (owned by Viacom) be sued for not showing old videos? Would a TV network be sued for not showing old movies or programs that don’t get ratings? [I] doubt it. Those in charge of distributing entertainment must decide, based upon what they perceive their audience wants to see and hear.”

Thanks for your thoughts.

Your love amazes me. Well, not really. You always were a pushover for anyone who uses big words imprecisely. But I’m still in your corner. Inundate me at Hottalk@cmt.com.