HOT TALK: Waiting For Garth, Remembering Cash, Teaming With Terri

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

Is Garth Coming Back?
Is Garth Brooks aiming to record again? His label and his manager say they know of no such ambition. But it’s no secret that the Garthman continues to invite songwriters to his home in Oklahoma for work sessions. Surely there’s more to this than just building his song catalog. Jerrod Niemann, who started co-writing with Brooks in Nashville, recently journeyed with a friend to Brooks’ place for some joint lyricizing. “We hadn’t seen him in a long time,” Niemann tells Hot Talk. “We just happened to call each other, and he was going to have some spare time. So my buddy and I flew to Oklahoma for a day or two and wrote a little bit, and he showed us around. It was pretty laid back. … We worked on a couple [of songs], but we didn’t get anything finished.” Says manager Bob Doyle, “I think he’s just writing.” However, publishing company sources tell me that Brooks has put songs on hold during the past few months — which is usually the first step of the recording routine. Of course, he could be helping Trisha Yearwood pick songs for her album-in-progress, or he might be planning to produce another artist, as he did Ty England. Whatever the situation is, country music could certainly use some of the Garthian magic these days.

Shawn Colvin Joins Carter Family Tribute

Shawn Colvin is the latest addition to the Carter Family tribute album, a publicist for Dualtone Records confirms. There’s been a slowdown in the project, which is targeted for a mid-2004 release, while producer John Carter Cash tours in Europe. Nearly a dozen other artists have already recorded their tracks. “There are more pending,” the publicist promises. “It’s gonna just keep growing.” (Last week, Ralph Stanley began recording an album of Carter Family songs for DMZ/Columbia.)

New Book Captures Cash’s Personality, Appeal

Ring of Fire: A Tribute to Johnny Cash is being rushed to bookstores. Published by Rutledge Hill Press, the 96-page text consists of black-and-white photos of Cash taken by former Grand Ole Opry photographer Les Leverett and quotations about the entertainer collected by USA Today reporter Brian Mansfield. The photos cover Cash from his rockabilly youth to his elder-statesman-like middle age. As usual, phrasemaker Marty Stuart comes up with the best observation: “There’s two kinds of people. There’s those who like Johnny Cash and those that will.” Others who weigh in on what Cash has meant to them and the world are his brother Tommy Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Brenda Lee, John Mellencamp, Trent Reznor, Charlie Louvin (who remembers the singer as an eager 12- or 13-year-old), Wanda Jackson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Rodney Crowell (to whom an irate, daughter-protecting Cash seethed, “Son, I don’t know you well enough to miss you if you were to leave.”), Trisha Yearwood, Dwight Yoakam and Merle Haggard. Marshall Grant, the singer’s former bass player, tells about the footlight-smashing incident that got Cash booted off the Opry. And Merle Kilgore offers a revealing anecdote about the way Cash prepared to go on stage. This is a keeper.

Terri Clark Teams to Please
No, you’re not going crazy. Well, maybe you are, but don’t use this as evidence. Terri Clark really does mention different sports teams in that line from “I Wanna Do It All,” that originally went, “I wanna do it all/visit Paris in the fall/watch the Yankees play ball.” John Zarling, coordinator of promotion for Mercury Records, says Clark customized the line for more than 100 different teams. “She definitely busted her butt and tried to make every possible person happy,” he says. “Originally, [the customizing] was in response [to requests]. She was doing it in her road shows. In the different cities, she would just throw in the [name of the] local team. We got to thinking and sent a few out. Originally, we just did like the Top 20 [teams], and that was about it. But we got such great response that she went back in and cut a bunch of other ones. It’s worked really well. I think Buddy Jewell’s doing the exact same thing for his new single [’Sweet Southern Comfort’], and we did some form of that for Mark Wills’ single, ’And the Crowd Goes Wild.’ We would customize certain sports teams in the announcer portion of the song. Whatever it takes to get some airplay, I guess.” This tailoring-to-market approach is not new, although digital recording and editing probably makes it a lot easier and quicker than it was in the ancient days of analog. In 1978, Tommy Overstreet played to the vanity of individual radio stations by putting their call letters into different editions of his single, “Fadin’ In, Fadin’ Out.”

Fair Date: Country Stars Grace Vanity Fair
You may not see Willie Nelson as a Vanity Fair kind of guy, but there he is on the November cover, seated amongst Queen Latifah, Norah Jones, Dr. Dre and seven other musical luminaries. Although Nelson is famous for his amiability, he doesn’t look all that happy here. Inside the magazine’s annual music issue are Annie Leibovitz’s photos of the Dixie Chicks (a two-page opening spread), Hank Williams III, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Emmylou Harris (also two pages) and another character study of Nelson. The pictures are from Leibovitz’s book, American Music, which will be released in November.

Nashville Star a Promotional Plum for Sony Label, Publisher
The talent show Nashville Star, which lately yielded us Buddy Jewell, isn’t just an opportunity for would-be recording artists. It’s also a massive promotional vehicle for Sony Records and its sister publishing company, Sony/ATV Music. Most of the cover songs contestants are required to choose from and perform on national television are Sony/ATV tunes. The winning contestants, who will have built up national recognition by the time each contest is over, must agree in advance to sign to a Sony label. And Sony/ATV has the first right of refusal to sign all of the contestants to music publishing contracts.

BlackHawk Circling for Record Deal
Producer Mark Bright (Rascal Flatts, the Wilkinsons) is working with BlackHawk to help get the trio another record deal. Recently, founding members Henry Paul and Dave Robbins added singer-songwriter Anthony Crawford to the BlackHawk lineup. “They’ve got about six songs they’ve collaborated on together,” the group’s publicist tells Hot Talk. “And they have a few of Anthony’s songs that have never been recorded that they’re probably going to use.”

Pull: Jeff Foxworthy Gets His Own Slot Machine
Don’t look for one of these on e-Bay any time soon, but there’s a new video slot machine out with Jeff Foxworthy’s picture and voice on it. Manufactured by Aristocrat Technologies of Las Vegas, the device made its official debut last Thursday (Oct. 16) at Spirit Mountain Casino in Grande Ronde, Ore. Foxworthy was there for the ceremonies. According to a company news release, the machine features an “array of fun symbols, including an outhouse, moonshine jug, beer can and a vintage pickup truck.” Ah, there’s nothing like getting screwed and demeaned at the same time.

The way you share your chats, the way you vent your pique, the mummery of all that — well, they CAN take that away from me. So keep in touch via And do write often.

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