(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)
Cash’s Death Slows Carter Family Tribute
Johnny Cash’s death has temporarily halted production of the Carter Family tribute album. The project is being produced by John Carter Cash, who has lost both his parents since recording got underway earlier this year. (June Carter Cash died May 15.) A spokeswoman for Dualtone Records, the label on which the album will appear, tells Hot Talk that Emmylou Harris was scheduled to record her tribute track on Monday (Sept. 15) but instead found herself singing at Cash’s funeral. As reported here before, tracks have already been cut by Cash and June Carter Cash, Janette and Joe Carter (children of family founders A. P. and Sara Carter), Marty Stuart, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Ricky Skaggs, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Sheryl Crow. Dualtone says the musical memorial will be out “possibly next summer.”
Lonestar Won’t Be Drinking Alone
As a songplugger friend of mine laments, “Don’t believe it until you buy the record.” I told you a couple of weeks ago that Lonestar would feature on its upcoming album a song called “Nobody Drinks Alone,” a serious look at alcoholic demons. My source was none other than Lonestar’s lead singer, Richie McDonald, who singled out the song for comment at a recent press conference. Well, it’s not going to happen. “The more they listened to it,” a spokesman for their label says, “the more they decided it wasn’t for them.” Matraca Berg, who co-wrote the piece with Jim Collins and performed it as a “new song” last week at BMI’s Acoustic Luncheon series (see below), told Hot Talk she wasn’t disappointed by the decision since she didn’t hear it as a Lonestar song either.
Clay Walker Back in the Saddle
Clay Walker sang six songs from his new album at a media luncheon Thursday (Sept. 18) at the RCA Records building in Nashville. A Few Questions, his first collection for RCA, debuted last week at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, taking a backseat only to titles by Alan Jackson and Johnny Cash.
Dressed in worn jeans and a navy blue T-shirt — but without his usual cowboy hat — Walker was visibly delighted to be back at the top of his game again after so many months of virtual eclipse. He sat on a stool and sang through most of his set, accompanied by two guitarists. “This is probably my favorite song on [the album],” he said, as he opened with “Heaven Leave the Light On.” He followed with “This Is What Matters,” which, he explained, he was performing live for the first time. “So if we screw up,” he promised the crowd, “we’ll do another one.” Although he got off to a ragged start, he quickly smoothed his way into this meditation about things that are transitory and things that are really important. The song’s references to briefcases, cell phones and being online was a reminder of how far country music has moved into the cultural mainstream.
Warning his audience that his next song was going to be “a little bit of a rocker [with] a ZZ Top flavor to it,” Walker barreled into the lascivious “When She’s Good, She’s Good,” which carries the predictable payoff line, “When she’s bad, she’s better.” Generations hence may remember the lady who, despite her upright appearance, is “sitting on a blood-red rose tattoo.” “Don’t clap too loud,” Walker cautioned the cheering crowd. “Joe hates that one.” He referred to RCA Label Group chief Joe Galante, who sat at the back of the room, beaming paternally and tapping his foot.
Walker explained that he had gotten the idea for “I Can’t Sleep” while relaxing one morning at his beach house in Galveston, Texas. He said he was sitting on the deck in his underwear, thinking of lyrics, when a neighbor came out and instantly inflicted him with a writer’s block. Later at a show in Grand Junction, Colo., he continued, Chely Wright and Lonestar’s Richie McDonald came on his bus, and he played them the beginnings of the song. By the time he’d finished the fragment, Wright said she had the chorus for it. He concluded his set with “Jesus Was a Country Boy” and the seat-emptying, foot-stomping “Countrified.”
It’s great to have him back.
Riders in the Sky Packing Double Disc
For all you buckaroos and buckarettes out there on the prairie who think “country” is just an abbreviation for “country and western,” let me alert you to a truly cowbuoyant occasion. On Nov. 11, Acoustic Disc Records will release a two-CD set of Riders in the Sky music, some previously released material, much that is new. That precise date is the 26th anniversary of the Riders’ very first show together, which took place in 1977 at a Nashville hangout called Phranks ’N’ Stein. “It’s going to have a really nice booklet inside of it, with retrospective photographs, the history of the Riders and their timeline over the last 25 years,” asserts Brandon Taylor of New Frontier Management.” “Ranger Doug” Green, the Riders’ lead singer and a country music scholar, wrote the notes. “They have re-recorded some of their classics,” Taylor adds, “[including] ‘Cool Water’ and ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds.’”
More Songs Served Fresh at BMI
Songwriters Kostas, Matraca Berg, Troy Verges and Stephanie Bentley performed some of their newest compositions for producers and record label reps Wednesday (Sept. 17) at the monthly Acoustic Luncheon at BMI’s Nashville offices. Kostas’ catalog of successes include “Timber I’m Falling in Love” and “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”; Berg numbers among her many chart-topping credits “Strawberry Wine,” “Wrong Side of Memphis” and “The Last One to Know”; Verges has scored with “Blessed,” “Who I Am” and “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus”; and Bentley is best known for “Breathe” and “Concrete Angel.” In addition, Berg and Bentley have both had brief runs as recording artists.
Of the 12 songs showcased, Kostas earned the loudest and longest applause with “Happiness,” a bleak assessment of the road one must travel to reach that elusive goal. As one listener observed, it is ideally suited to George Jones. “Could I have a hold on that please?” shouted Capitol Records Larry Willoughby as the song ended. Politely but less enthusiastically received were Kostas’ “Runaway Train,” a howl of animal attraction, and the whimsical complaint, “She Likes Me, But She Loves Merle.”
Berg’s songs were darker — but unfailingly illuminating. She began with the demon-stirring “Nobody Drinks Alone” (see above) and then proceeded to “You and Tequila Make Me Crazy,” a song she wrote with Deana Carter while the two “were severely hung over” following a memorial service for Harlan Howard. She said the legendary songwriter had bought her her first tequila. (The song appears on Carter’s Arista Records album I’m Just a Girl.) Berg concluded with “Dandelion,” a tribute to the spirit and promise of “a little raggedy girl.”
Verges traded drinking for domesticity in “My Seat at the Bar,” lamented the frantic pace of life and the things that endure in “What We’ll Remember” and celebrated the love-induced discovery of his true self in “Found.” Bentley, who should really be back making records, sang of sexual chemistry in “That’s Powerful Stuff.” She burst into tears when she reached the chorus of “Dream,” an exhortation she wrote for her infant daughter. “I shouldn’t have sung a song about my baby,” she murmured apologetically. “I’m not going to cry this time,” she said, before belting out the comically conflicted manifesto, “I Love You, I Hate You.” I’ll keep track of these songs and report back to you how they’re progressing.
There have been some nibbles at the songs Sony/ATV/Acuff-Rose writers showcased in July. Leslie Satcher’s “You Don’t Know That Yet” was put on hold for RCA’s Catherine Britt, then released, then put back on hold for Sony’s Gretchen Wilson. “Something Burning Out,” another Satcher tune, was considered briefly for Tim McGraw but is now back on the market. Casey Beathard’s “Jogging by the Bar” was a hold for Trace Adkins, who finally passed on it. It is now awaiting a decision from Darryl Worley.
Please, Mister, Please, Don’t Play B-130,000
It’s not as common these days as songs about pickup trucks and mamas, but the jukebox remains a country music staple. Remember Alabama’s “Jukebox in My Mind,” Doug Stone’s “A Jukebox With a Country Song,” Alan Jackson’s “Don’t Rock the Jukebox,” Ken Mellons’ “Jukebox Junkie,” Mark Chesnutt’s “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” Eddie Rabbitt’s “Two Dollars in the Jukebox” and Hank Williams Jr.’s “Stoned at the Jukebox”? Well, I do.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I read last week that Rock-Ola has introduced a jukebox that can play up to 130,000 songs. It’s true. Besides the 200 to 300 complete albums that the box holds on its hard drive for instant access, it is also hooked by modem to the Ecast Location Based Broadband Network that maintains the massive catalog of hits from all the major and many of the independent record labels. “The ones that are on the hard drive,” says an Ecast publicist, “you can actually see the album covers. It’s got a touch-screen monitor. You can touch-screen through this thing and [make your selections] that way — or you an access a touch-screen keyboard and type in the artist’s name or the song title and find it that way. If it’s a cable modem, it takes around 30 seconds to download a song. If it’s a DSL, it takes around 40 seconds, or something like that.” The system tells you if a song isn’t available. And get this: You can play this magical machine with your credit card. If this refinement doesn’t put an end to jukebox songs once and for all, then technology has failed us.
What a day this has been! What a rare mood I’m in! Why it’s almost like being online. Stun me with your tips and affection via Hottalk@cmt.com. You’ll feel so much better for it.