(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)
Tim McGraw Picks Songs for Nobel Concert
Tim McGraw has decided what to sing but not what to wear when he performs at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert Thursday (Dec. 11) in Oslo, Norway. The concert follows by a day the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize to Iranian human rights activist, Shirin Ebadi. McGraw’s lyrical offerings will be Skip Ewing’s “It Wasn’t His Child” and Rodney Crowell and Wil Jennings’ “Please Remember Me.” The show, which will be taped and then broadcast in 150 countries, can be seen in the U. S. on the A&E Network Dec. 21. According to McGraw’s publicist, only a few members of his Dancehall Doctors band will journey to Oslo to back him on what will be an essentially acoustic performance. However, his wife, Faith Hill, and their kids plan to be on hand for the event. So, will Tim wear a tux for this august occasion? That matter, we’re told, is still pending.
Hank Williams’ Second Wife, Billie Jean, on Upcoming PBS Special
The producers of next year’s PBS special on Hank Williams have scored a coup by securing an on-camera interview with Williams’ second wife, Billie Jean. Her marriage to the legend was brief — from Oct. 18, 1952, until his death on either the evening of Dec. 31, 1952, or the morning of Jan. 1, 1953 — but it covered a disastrous period of his life about which there continues to be great curiosity. Morgan Neville, who is co-producing Hank Williams: Honky Tonk Blues, tells Hot Talk that he and his team conducted nearly 40 interviews on Williams over a five-month period. Others who will be spotlighted in the special include Hank Williams Jr.; Don Helms, the last surviving member of Williams’ original Drifting Cowboys band; the late Grand Ole Opry star Bill Carlisle; and the late Henderson Payne, son of Williams’ first musical mentor, Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne.
Neville, who also did the documentary Muddy Waters: Can’t Be Satisfied, is co-producing with Williams scholar Colin Escott in conjunction with Nashville’s PBS station, WNPT, and the BBC, which will air the special in England. The completed project will be delivered to PBS in April and is scheduled for broadcast in June. Still at issue, Neville says, is whether the show will run for an hour or 90 minutes. “The home video [version] will certainly be 90 [minutes long],” he says, “and the broadcast I’m pushing for 90. God knows we’ve got more than enough material.”
Escott’s 1994 biography of Williams is being updated and republished to accompany the broadcast, and there is some talk, Neville says, that Universal Records will issue an album of Williams’ music keyed to the special.
John Michael Montgomery Reflects on New Album
John Michael Montgomery has cast his lot with producer Byron Gallimore for his next album. And he’s damn glad he did. Gallimore’s other high-profile and bestselling clients include Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Jo Dee Messina. “He’s a truly wonderful person but an unbelievable producer,” Montgomery enthuses. “He makes being in the studio easy and comfortable. He makes it very relaxed. You go in there, and it’s not this one big ball of stress that sometimes producers can make it out to be. … It’s been no doubt the most pleasant experience of any album I’ve made so far.” Montgomery says he’s cut seven songs to date, including “Good Ground,” which will probably serve as the album’s title cut. “That’s what I feel about this album,” he explains. “It’s going to be a very grounded album for me. It gets me back to where I started.”
Rockin’ Around BMI’s Christmas Tree
The elves of Music Row turned out last Thursday (Dec. 4) for BMI’s annual Christmas tree lighting and caloric overload. The 100-voice Hendersonville Choir, dressed in black gowns and tuxes, provided seasonal music with a program that included virtually every Christmas carol ever written. Speaking to the crowd on the wellsprings of holiday joy, BMI CEO Frances Preston declared, “It all comes from within. … You are the ones that make the holiday. It can’t be painted on.” She assured the revelers that the 40-foot Norway spruce in front of the BMI building that they had come to see lighted had not been capriciously sacrificed for the display. It had, she said, been cut down only because it had become a storm menace to a nearby house. With that, she flipped a switch, the tree exploded in lights and the elves exploded in cheers. Another triumph.
Jon Randall Recording Again
A reader wants to know what’s happening with singer/guitarist Jon Randall, who rose to fame as the guitarist in Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers band and was subsequently signed, albeit it briefly, to RCA Records. His manager, Monty Hitchcock, says Randall is now recording an album with the famed engineer/producer, George Massenburg, as his co-producer. If all goes as planned, Hitchcock adds, the album will be issued on Sony Music. “He’s written most of the record but not all of it,” Hitchcock continues. “There’s definitely some outside stuff.” Expect a lot of guest artists, too. Vince Gill, John Cowan (of New Grass Revival) and Jessie Alexander have already recorded their parts, with more big names to come. While it’s too early to speculate on a release date, Hitchcock estimates that the album will be completed this coming spring.
The Oaks, Johnny and June Among Grammy Bright Spots
To those of us in the music biz, the Grammy announcements are more exciting than the onset of Christmas. Such publicity! Such preening! Such politicking! The announcements came early this year, and by now you’ve read and reviewed them all. So we won’t go over that again. Hot Talk isn’t inclined to make predictions about who will win nor to descant on what the nominations portend for popular music. But there are a few things in the list of final nominees that really delight us. First of all, there’s the Oak Ridge Boys. They’re up for the best country performance by a duo or group with vocal award (Whew!). These guys have done so much for country music and have been so unforgivably forgotten the past several years that it renews one’s sense of justice to see them back in the game. And how about the late Johnny Cash and June Carter getting a pick for best country collaboration with vocals for their cover of the ancient novelty tune, “Temptation” (aka “Tim-Tayshun”)? The original “Temptation” was a serious romantic tune when it emerged in the 1930s. But in 1947, Red Ingle and Jo Stafford (aka Cinderella G. Stump) butchered it beyond recognition with their revved-up hillbilly romp. Cash would have been 15 and Carter 18 when the song was a hit — ample evidence of how a thing like that can lie dormant and fester. (What similar lyrical time bombs await us a half century hence?) Finally, we’re pleased as Christmas punch to see how well the Louvin Brothers tribute album — Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers — fared in Grammyland. It’s in the running for best country album, and one of the tracks, James Taylor and Alison Krauss’ “How’s the World Treating You,” is contending for best country collaboration with vocals. Hot Talk was the first to alert you to this album, and we kept you up to date on its progress, sometimes to the point of running producer Carl Jackson ragged. But it was a wonderful work to watch blossom and a treat to listen to. Grammy winners will be revealed on a Feb. 8 CBS special.
More Thoughts on Top Albums
Hot Talk continues to get suggestions to supplement Rolling Stone’s much-disputed list of the Top 500 Albums of All Time (see Hot Talk, Nov. 24). “I’ve been through two divorces in the past 10 years,” writes Eddie White, “and part of my survival is due to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Stones in the Road and Lee Roy Parnell’s Every Night’s a Saturday Night. Vince Gill was a huge help, too, but through individual songs.” Another unsigned reader cast votes for Hank Williams Jr.’s Greatest Hits and Man of Steel, the 20th anniversary edition of Wanted! The Outlaws (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Tompall Glaser), Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire and Merle Haggard’s Big City.
Another New Year’s Eve Show
Add this to your database of seasonal follies: Montgomery Gentry, with guest artists the Charlie Daniels Band, Phil Vassar and Dierks Bentley, will welcome the New Year with a show at Lexington’s Rupp Arena.
So, how’s the world treating you? You can tell me at HotTalk@CMT.com.