HOT TALK: Newcomer Ashley Gearing Revs Up

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

Buzz Intensifies for Ashley Gearing
12-year-old phenom Ashley Gearing has sparked a media buzz with her debut single, “Can You Hear Me When I Talk to You?” It’s been a very fast track for the Springfield, Mass., artist since she signed with Lyric Street Records early this summer. Apart from the song’s intrinsic appeal, the big deal is that enabled Gearing to become the youngest solo artist ever to appear on Billboard’s country charts. Brenda Lee held that record for 46 years. She, too, was 12 when she charted in April 1957 with “One Step at a Time.” But Lee was a bit closer to 13 than Gearing was when she made her entry. (Tanya Tucker was 13-plus in 1972 when she made her bow with “Delta Dawn,” and LeAnn Rimes was three months shy of 14 when she first blew into the charts in 1996 with “Blue.”)

Gearing has just completed a music video for “Can You Hear Me,” which is still inching up the charts, and an album is on the near horizon. “She came to us with an almost finished [album],” says Lyric Street publicist Lisa Bell. “They’re putting the finishing touches on it now, and it should come out in October.” Although the singer has been touring radio stations, she’s not yet been seen much in Nashville. Her only public performance there, Bell says, was at ASCAP’s new artist showcase during Fan Fair.

It’s not surprising that the combination of a talented young artist and a sentimental song about talking to one’s departed father would make headlines. Gearing was spotlighted in USA Today in July and in In Touch in August. The day before the East Coast blackout, she did an interview for Ladies Home Journal at her home in Massachusetts. The story is scheduled for the magazine’s November issue, which will be on the stands in mid-October. More recently, the Sunday Boston Globe devoted half a page to Gearing’s meteoric rise. She will perform Sept. 2 at the U. S. Open tennis championships in Flushing, N.Y.

Messina Up for Boston Female Vocalist, Top Song Honors
Ashley Gearing is still such a new name that she doesn’t show up in the nominations for this year’s 16th annual Boston Music Awards. But hometowner Jo Dee Messina does. Messina is in contention for female vocalist of the year, running against Aimee Mann, Dar Williams, Kristin Hersh, Patti Griffin and Susan Tedeschi. “Bring on the Rain,” which Messina recorded with Tim McGraw is up for song of the year honors. Another Nashville entry in that category is “Nothing but the Wheel,” as recorded by Peter Wolf and Mick Jagger. As I noted here many months ago, that song was written by Music City’s John Scott Sherrill and first made a hit by Patty Loveless in 1993 (as “Nothin’ but the Wheel”). Competing nominees are Aerosmith’s “Girls of Summer,” Godsmack’s “I Stand Alone,” John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” Powerman 500’s “Fee,” Rubyhorse’s “Sparkle” and Staind’s “Price to Pay.” The awards will be handed out Sept. 4 at the Wang Theatre.

Waitin’ on Joe: Diffie’s Album Delayed
The Joe Diffie album Broken Bow Records planned to release this fall will probably not be out until next spring. That’s the word from Diffie’s manager, Bernard Porter. “The album is complete,” he says, “but we’re not going [to release a single] until the end of January. We’re not sure [what the single will be]. Depending on what day of the week it is, it changes.” As reported here, the album will contain the song, “What Would Waylon Do?” Originally, Diffie intended to record it with George Jones and Merle Haggard as his guest vocalists, but Jones was the only one who ended up singing on it.

Pages and Stages
Publishers Weekly has just released its list of fall and winter books. Here are some music titles worth checking out. One that caught my eye — it was too long not to — is The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music: From Rock, Pop, Jazz, Blues and Hip Hop to Classical, Country, Folk, World and More. Edited by Paul Du Noyer, this leviathan will be out in October from Billboard Books. Of particular interest to readers are Colin Escott’s Lost Highway: The True Story of Country Music (September, Smithsonian Books) and The Country Music Pop-Up Book, compiled by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (October, Universe). Fashionistas will drool over Elvis Fashion: From Memphis to Vegas (November, Universe). The unstoppable music chronicler Don Cusic is offering It’s the Cowboy Way! The Amazing True Adventures of Riders in the Sky (November, University Press of Kentucky). Cited earlier in Hot Talk were Saturday Nights With Daddy at the Opry by Libby Leverett-Crew, daughter of Grand Old Opry photographer, Les Leverett (November, Rutledge Hill) and Cowboy Princess: Life With My Parents Roy Rogers and Dale Evans by Cheryl Rogers-Bennett and Frank Thompson (October, Taylor Trade).

For the picker in your life, there’s Martin Guitar Masterpieces: A Showcase of Artists’ Editions, Limited Editions and Custom Guitars by Dick Boak (September, Bulfinch Press). Two music figures closely associated with Nashville are publishing autobiographies. Walter Yetnikoff, a frequent visitor to Music City during his days at head of Columbia Records during the 1980s, has written Howling at the Moon: Confessions of a Music Mogul in an Age of Excess (February, Broadway Books). Singer Donna Summer, a Nashville-area resident the past several years, calls her life story Ordinary Girl (October, Villard). She co-wrote it with Marc Eliot. Finally, from gospel music maestro Bill Gaither and co-writer Ken Abraham comes It’s More Than the Music: Life Lessons for Loving God, Loving Each Other (October, Warner Faith). I’ll alert you to other must-have titles as they emerge.

Dreaming Up Dream Duets
When I saw Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett topping the charts with “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and Toby Keith and Willie Nelson doing the same with “Beer for My Horses,” it brought to mind other “dream duets” and the songs they might sing to greatness once again. For example, I’d love to hear Vince Gill and Alison Krauss cover George Jones and Melba Montgomery’s 1963 classic, “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds.” It would make the angels weep with envy — and probably fire their managers and publicists. And how about Kenny Chesney and Wynonna remaking Johnny Cash’s brooding masterpiece, “I Still Miss Someone”? Or George Strait and LeAnn Rimes gilding the 1944 pop chestnut, “Don’t Fence Me In”? Brad Paisley and Phil Vassar are naturals to reprise Ernest Tubb and Red Foley’s 1953 comic romp, “You’re a Real Good Friend.” And I’d stand in mud overnight to hear Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood sing Carl and Pearl Butler’s 1962 hit, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over.” Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Mayberry Joins Commission as Music Specialist
Jami Mayberry has signed on as the music liaison officer for the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission. This means that, among other duties, she’ll be helping songwriters get their music into movies. A 24-year veteran of radio, Mayberry worked most recently on the XM Satellite Radio show, Hank’s Place. Before that, she was a staffer for eight years at Nashville station WSIX. Mayberry’s first duties include setting up a Web site and compiling a music industry directory.

How About A Help-Ourselves Christmas?
Since country music is still in a well-publicized slump — despite Alan Jackson’s current barnburner — then maybe those who make their living with this music should set an example for fans. That’s what this reader suggests: “My name is Bonnie Baker, and I am a writer at Universal Music Group. I write with Roxie Dean, Amy Dalley and many more wonderful Music Row boys and girls. … I want to challenge my co-writers, co-workers and all Music Row personnel. This fall and Christmas, what if each of us would buy –[actually] go to the record store and purchase — 10 albums each [to give] to our family, friends or ourselves as presents? I know that is not a huge number, but what if we led the way for others to buy records again? I don’t want to hear how there’s not any albums that are worth the money. That is simply not true. It would be nice if they all were [country albums], but there are many great records out right now that we should be grateful to own. This sounds like a pebble in the ocean. I know. I also sound very naïve. I know. But I love this music and I will fight to the end for its health and well-being. Ten records. We can each do that [and not settle for] the free ones that the labels send us. Buy 10 records.” Baker, by the way, co-wrote the hits “Ordinary Life” for Chad Brock and “This Woman Needs” for SHeDAISY. Well, she’s convinced me. What do you other slackers think?

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