HOT TALK: Country for Kids, Precautionary Pre-nups

And a Legends Show and New Year's Eve Bashes

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

Many Stars Plan New Year’s Eve Shows
They’ll be home for Christmas. But a lot of country artists will hardly have time to unwrap their gifts before they begin gearing up for their New Year’s Eve shows. Here’s a partial list of who’ll be singing where as 2003 turns into 2004: Mark Chesnutt, Billy Bob’s, Fort Worth, Texas; Earl Thomas Conley, Lac Vieux Resort Casino, Watersmeet, Mich.; Joe Diffie, Roundup, Davie, Fla.; the Honky Tonk Tailgate Party (Rhett Akins, Daryle Singletary, Chad Brock, David Kersh), Backstretch Downs, Sallisaw, Okla.; Tracy Lawrence, Cowboy’s Far West, San Antonio, Texas; Marty Stuart, Gold Country Casino, Oroville, Calif.; Aaron Tippin, Northern Lights Casino, Walker, Minn.; Joe Nichols, Cowboy’s Concert Hall, Atlanta, Ga.; and John Anderson, Plantation House, Plant City, Fla. The big year-end show for us Music Row folks, of course, will be Toby Keith’s blowout at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. He’ll headline a slate that includes Willie Nelson, Blake Shelton and Scotty Emerick.

Legends of Country Special in Works for PBS
Former Hee Haw producer Sam Lovullo will create a “legends of country music” special for PBS next year. Performers for this event have not yet been confirmed. Still in the very early planning stages, the show is tentatively set to be shot next June, possibly in Las Vegas. I’ll keep you posted.

Capitol Takes Country to the Kids
“I think most kids’ music is [recorded] basically in somebody’s living room with one guy, and you can tell it,” says Darrell Brown, producer of the new Capitol Records album, Kids’ Country Hits. Released in early November, the album features 20 hits of the past 10 or so years. In recording it, Brown used many of the studio musicians and singers who performed on the original records. “We wanted to raise the bar for kids’ music,” Brown continues, “because the moms and the dads have to drive in the car with the kids [who are listening to music] anyway. . . . I thought, ’Hey, let’s make it almost like a duet. Let’s make it good between them.'”

Best known as a songwriter, Brown co-wrote Keith’s Urban’s “Rainin’ on Sunday,” as well as Urban’s single that comes out this week, “You’ll Think of Me.” He also produced Radney Foster’s last album for Arista Records, See What You Want to See. He says the children’s album grew out of a conversation he had back in September with Capitol/Nashville president, Mike Dungan. “He said, ’I have this idea. There’s something missing out there in kids’ music.’. . . I said, ’I love kids. Let’s do it.’ Within about 30 minutes, [we’d decided on it.].” Dungan said he wanted the record done “as soon as possible.” Brown finished it in two-and-a-half weeks.” Everybody just has so much fun,” he says. “I think that’s why we got through it so quick.”

To select material for the album, Brown and Dungan asked all the Capitol employees to submit a list of their favorite country songs that kids might also like. “Then we made a master list, and Mike and I went through it,” he explains, “and picked the songs we could hear kids singing. . . . What was great was that [the list] was very much song-driven. It wasn’t artist-driven. . . . It wasn’t like, ’Oh, it’s a Toby Keith song’ or ’a Shania song.'” Still, songs by both these artists made the final cut. Keith is represented by covers of “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “Who’s Your Daddy?” while Shania Twain shines through via “Up!” and “Forever and for Always.” Among the other familiars are “Wide Open Spaces,” “Check Yes or No,” “She’s in Love With the Boy,” “My Town” and “My Front Porch Looking In.”

Capitol has sent a Web page on the album to radio stations and consumers, which enables them to hear samples of all the songs and play games. The label is also targeting parenting magazines and other family-oriented media outlets with promotional material and will be donating copies of the album to NBC’s Today show toy drive.

When Only a Song Can Say It
Awards and big record sales are what keep the music business going, but it is the impact of the songs that make the business worthwhile. A recent Google news alert led me to a story in the Richmond (VA) Times Dispatch about how a parent copes emotionally when his or her child dies at an adult age. While there is usually an outpouring of support for those who lose a young child, it tends to be cursory and short-lived, the story says, if the child has grown up. One of the parents interviewed for the story lost her son in a truck accident when he was 21 years old. She said someone told her she should count herself “lucky” that her son hadn’t died as an infant. “I know what he meant,” she said, “that I had 21 years with my child. But putting that word ’lucky’ in the same sentence with a child’s death is devastating.” To keep her son’s memory alive, this mother has been passing out “acts of kindness” cards to strangers she encounters in the course of her normal activities — such as meeting them in a supermarket line. The cards bear her son’s name, nickname, birthday and the date of his death. Below all this matter-of-fact information is a quotation from songwriter Tony Arata’s “The Dance,” which Garth Brooks made timeless. It says, “For a moment, all the world was right/How could I have known that you’d ever say goodbye.” Some things are more precious than platinum.

Readers Name Their Own Top Albums
A few of you have already responded to last week’s item about Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time list and the paucity of country titles on it. “I think one of the best albums left out was The Pilgrim by Marty Stuart,” says one unsigned nominator. “But then it has not gotten the recognition it deserves from the country community either. And what about Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. III by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Johnny Cash, et al.? Maybe CMT should put out [its] own list . . . .” Adds Jackie Lollar, “How about Alan Jackson’s Here in the Real World or Don’t Rock the Juke Box or [his] Greatest Hits [collections]? Guess Alan doesn’t have enough ’bad’ in his past to register with the rock powers that be — thank heavens.” So what do the rest of you think?

Soap Box: True Love Waits
As I read through the court papers surrounding Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw’s impending divorce, it occurred to me that stars who marry each other should sign a prenuptial agreement that would enable them to save face when and if their marriage falls apart. It would go something like this: “Until they have been married — and happily so — for at least five years, the two parties undersigned agree not to (1) record and release a song together, (2) appear in a music video together, (3) be shown on a talk show holding hands, (4) allow their wedding photos to be published in or on the cover of Country Weekly or (5) permit CMT to send a camera crew along with them on their honeymoon. Moreover, in interviews alluding to their marriage, neither party shall use the terms ’soul mate,’ ’my one true love,’ ’the one I’ve been waiting for,’ ’mature enough to know what I want’ or ’finally.’ In the event the parties jointly have a child or children during this five-year period, said offspring(s) will not be named for either parent and thus made to serve as a constant reminder of an appallingly bad choice. There will be no personalized tattoos.”

You are so right. Now tell me again what we were talking about. I’m waiting at HotTalk

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