HOT TALK: Lonestar Previews, Toby’s Buxom Bar Find

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

Lonestar Deep Into Next Album
Lonestar is back in the studio this week to resume work on its next album. Speaking to reporters at the recent No. 1 party for “My Front Porch Looking In,” lead singer Richie McDonald said the group has already settled on six songs, one of which has a “very heavy message” about alcoholism. It’s called “Nobody Drinks Alone.” McDonald ventured that this was the first time Lonestar had sung about the problem. But he was quickly corrected by fellow bandsmen Keech Rainwater, who reminded him of their 1995 hit, “Tequila Talkin’.” Balancing out the heaviosity of “Nobody Drinks Alone” will be “County Fair,” a lighthearted look at a place Lonestar spends much of its time.

McDonald said he was happy to see Lonestar in the running for the Country Music Association’s vocal group of the year award with its professional role model, Alabama. “To see them sticking together all these years gives us hope,” he noted. McDonald co-wrote “Front Porch Looking In” with Don Pfrimmer, whom he had not known before, and his frequent writing buddy, Frank Myers. The two also wrote Lonestar’s “I’m Already There.” McDonald said he first met Myers in Texas about five years before he moved to Nashville in the early ’90s. At the time, Myers was playing guitar in Eddy Raven’s band, and McDonald was singing in the opening act, a group called Showdown.

Womack Still Searching for Producer
Don’t look for another album from the luminous Lee Ann Womack any time soon. A spokeswoman for MCA Records tells Hot Talk that Womack is screening songs for the project but she has not yet settled on a new producer since the move of her former one, Mark Wright, earlier this summer to Sony Records. In the interim, Womack continues to tour.

CBS Sunday Morning Shooting Vince Gill Feature
A crew from CBS Sunday Morning has been in Nashville the past few days gathering footage for a feature on Vince Gill. The show has already filmed segments of the singer’s club tour on behalf of The Next Big Thing album. This past weekend, it covered his Mini-Vinny golf tournament for kids. No air date has been set for the piece.

I Love This Bar Scene
At the risk of confessing to severe cultural deprivation, I’ve got to tell you that I’ve never before seen the drinking technique that the buxom young lady exhibits so memorably in Toby Keith’s new video, “I Love This Bar.” It’s really quite remarkable. She inserts an open bottle of beer into her capacious bosom, then leans backward and swigs heartily from it. I suppose you’d call it “cleavage chugging.” Whatever its designation, I know two things: I’ve spotted the next Olympic sport, and I’m deeply in love.

Mark Kalbfeld, who produced the video, explains: “Radio station KZLA [in Los Angeles] did an open call. We went down there, and we were asking people if they did any bar gags, and [this woman] said, ’Yes, I put a bottle in my cleavage, and I drink from it.’ … She got the job.” And she did it so-o-o-o well.

Faith Hill Not Through Filming Movie
Faith Hill’s publicist asks Hot Talk to clarify that the singer is still filming The Stepford Wives movie and it was only the segments being shot in Connecticut he referred to in last week’s column as having been completed.

Hall of Fame Demo Project To Heat Up Next Year
Several months ago, Hot Talk reported that the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was planning to release a series of albums tentatively called Scratch Tapes: The Songwriter Demo Project. Its aim was to let fans hear what certain hit songs and songs by hit songwriter-artists sounded like in their earliest recorded forms. Well, although a couple of meetings were held on the project this year, a source at the Hall says the effort probably won’t come to a full boil until 2004 when an advisory committee will be appointed. This is a collection worth waiting for. I’ll keep you posted.

Country’s Mightiest Voices Grace Tillman Tribute
Heart of Texas Records has moved up the release date of Floyd Tillman: The Influence. Originally scheduled to be out in December, around Tillman’s 89th birthday, the album of duets (and one trio) will make its bow “the latter part of October,” according to its producer, Tracy Pitcox. Tillman, a member of the Country Music and Nashville Songwriters halls of fame, died Aug. 22.

“The album contains 14 songs,” Pitcox explains. “We actually went back and recorded 20 of [Floyd’s] songs that he wrote and recorded many years ago. Then we let some of the different artists select their favorite Floyd Tillman song to record [with his existing vocal tracks]. It came about at his 85th birthday party in Llano, Texas. Willie Nelson came, and I had mentioned to Willie that I wanted to take Floyd back into the studio. At that time, he said, ’I’d love to do a song with him.’ It was going to be just a Floyd Tillman album, but [beginning with Willie, other] people wanted to be a part of the project.”

Here’s a track listing of the songs and Tillman’s vocal partners: “Slippin’ Around,” Dolly Parton; “Let’s Make Memories,” Leona Williams: “This Cold War With You,” Merle Haggard; “I Love You So Much It Hurts,” Connie Smith; “I’ll Take What I Can Get,” Hank Thompson; “It Makes No Difference Now,” Mel Tillis; “I’ll Keep On Loving You,” Darrell McCall; “It Just Tears Me Up,” Lawton Williams, Big Bill Lister; “Just As Long As I Have You,” Frankie Miller; “Each Night at Nine,” Willie Nelson; “I’m Still in Love With Every Girl,” Justin Trevino; “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin,” George Jones; “They Took the Stars Out of Heaven,” Johnny Bush; and “Gotta Have My Baby Back,” Ray Price.

Denver’s “Sunshine” Brightens New Book
It’s been nearly six years since John Denver died in airplane accident and 14 since he was last on the country charts (with “And So It Goes”). But his albums still sell well — nearly 3,000 copies of The Best of John Denver were purchased last week, more than five years after its release — and such country titans as Travis Tritt, Vince Gill and Garth Brooks cite Denver as an influence. Now one of his most famous hits, “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” has been turned into a 32-page children’s picture book. (The song went No. 1 on the pop charts and to No. 42 on the country listings ion 1974.) Sunshine on My Shoulders, the book, was adapted and illustrated by Columbus, Ohio, artist Christopher Canyon and is published by Dawn Publications. The hardcover edition contains the score and a CD of Denver’s recording of the song; the softcover version does not. Canyon’s illustrations show a guitar-strumming dad taking his daughter on a walk and a boat ride through the sunlit wonders of nature.

By happy accident, Canyon, who had illustrated several other books for the publisher, was already a John Denver enthusiast (as well as a seasoned guitar picker) when Dawn approached him with the proposal. “They knew that I was a musician, but they had no idea what a huge influence John Denver was on me and just how big a fan I was,” he says. “When my editor brought this to my attention, I just couldn’t believe it. It was something I’d never even thought about at all. My publisher and I went through all of John’s songs. … We were trying to finds [ones] that would lend themselves to a picture-book format and to the audience. But [we] also [wanted to] find songs that would fit the standard 32-page format. Some of his very, very popular songs aren’t really adaptable to a children’s book. … But ’Sunshine on My Shoulders’ just stood out.” Canyon says it took him about nine months to do the illustrations. Dawn plans to issue more Denver-based picture books with Canyon’s paintings, including “Country Roads,” “Windsong” and “Ancient Rhymes.”

Now here’s my plan: you tell me everything, and I’ll tell everybody else. Fair enough? Reach me at

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