(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)
Tritt in Tinseltown: Georgia Cracker Meets Uncle Kracker
Travis Tritt has been in Los Angeles shooting a segment of the CBS-TV sitcom, Yes, Dear. While there, he also recorded a song with Uncle Kracker — “What Say You” — written by Nashville’s own Frank J. Myers (“I Swear,” “I’m Already There”) and Uncle Kracker’s producer, Michael Bradford. There’s no info yet on how the song will be used.
Is “Letters From Home” Song of the Year?
Paul Worley, who heads A&R for Warner Bros.’ Nashville division, says he became so excited when he heard John Michael Montgomery’s recording of “Letters From Home” he ran up and down Music Row the week before Christmas trying to find someone — anyone — to play it for. But no luck. Still bubbling about it after the holidays, Worley put the complete recording on e-mail and zapped it to virtually everyone in the business. Along with the song, he sent a cover note that basically commanded the recipient to listen. And he concluded with, “I’ll put my reputation on the line — this is the song of the year for 2004.” Since he’s produced everyone from Highway 101 and the Desert Rose Band to Martina McBride and the Dixie Chicks, Worley has a sizable reputation at stake here. Still, it seems a pretty safe bet.
“Letters From Home” is told in the voice of a frightened, lonely soldier from the rural South whose one bright spot is mail call: “I hold it up and show my buddies/Like we ain’t scared and our boots ain’t muddy/And they all laugh.” Neither war-endorsing nor war-specific, the song simply shows the beauty and comfort of a strong human connection. Tony Lane and David Lee wrote the song, and Byron Gallimore produced it.
“We’ve had incredible response to the song,” Worley tells Hot Talk. “The good news is that people did listen to it. They’re affected by it the same way we were. … If a better song comes out of this format this year, then I’m all for it. But this is one of the best songs I’ve been attached to in my whole career.” The single is scheduled to make its official radio debut on Feb. 2.
Rushlow Looking to Second Single
Rushlow’s debut single, “I Can’t Be Your Friend,” stayed on the charts last year from early May until late November, finally topping out at No. 16. But it wasn’t until near the end of its run that Lyric Street released an accompanying music video to potentially enable fans to see what the new band looks like. Rushlow is built around and named for lead vocalist Tim Rushlow, a member of Little Texas from its inception in 1991 until its breakup in 1997. After that, he recorded as a solo act for Atlantic Record until the label closed down. In December, Lyric Street released Rushlow’s first album, Right Now.
Rushlow — the guy, not the group — tells Hot Talk the second single will be “Sweet Summer Rain” and that this time the video will probably come out first. “We’re going to do this one the right way,” he says, “now that we’ve got [an album] in the stores. We don’t have a date [for the single release] yet. My guess is some time within the next eight to 10 weeks. But we’re real excited that we’ve got a full launch on a major label coming. We’re roaring to go.”
Little Texas did so well for so many years that I just had to ask Rushlow why the band broke up. “We disbanded pretty amicably,” he says, noting that the group did its final show on New Year’s Eve of 1997. “A lot of people have asked [why we quit] over the years, and I always say, in complete honesty, that we all were sort of driven by different things. We all had different visions of what success looked like. I really think we were at that point where we could not be friends much longer if we didn’t walk away from it. We clearly agreed to disagree on some key points and just shake hands and do a group hug and move on. And we did that.”
Nashville Producer Shooting Carter Family Documentary
Kathy Conkwright, who wrote, produced and directed the revealing documentary on early Grand Ole Opry star DeFord Bailey, is handling the same chores for a film on the original Carter Family. A staff producer at Nashville’s PBS station, WNPT, Conkwright tells Hot Talk the hour-long documentary probably will be broadcast this summer. Working with her on the project are music scholar Colin Escott (who has also been heavily involved in the PBS special on Hank Williams already reported here) and Chris Conder, director of photography.
“We have interviewed several [Carter] family members,” Conkwright continues, “including [founders] A. P. and Sara’s daughter, Janette Carter, and son, Joe Carter, as well as grandchildren.”
Conkwright had some good news as well about her DeFord Bailey: A Legend Lost, which bowed in Nashville in May 2002. She says it will be broadcast nationally on PBS the evening of April 12. It’s a must see for real country fans. A crowd-rousing harmonica player, Bailey was the Opry’s first black star — and its last one until Charley Pride came along. Bailey played on the Opry from 1926 to 1941, during which time he toured with such fellow musical luminaries as the Delmore Brothers, Uncle Dave Macon and Bill Monroe. He died in 1982.
Folkies in Line for Lifetime Awards
The North America Folk Music and Dance Alliance will present lifetime achievement awards next month at its convention in San Diego for work done by the New Lost City Ramblers, Bess Lomax Hawes and the late Mississippi John Hurt. While the Ramblers and Hawes never graced the country music charts, they did much to fuel the folk music boom that echoed through country music in the 1960s via Marty Robbins, George Hamilton IV, Glen Campbell, Bobby Bare and others. Hawes, the daughter of famed folk music collector John Lomax, niched her place in history when she co-wrote the protest song “M. T. A.” It became a hit in 1959 for the Kingston Trio. The Ramblers revived the rural string-band sounds of the 1920s and ’30s that were once the mainstay of the Grand Ole Opry. In their zeal for musical authenticity, they became a template for groups like the Red Clay Ramblers, the Highwoods String Band and, more recently, the Old Crow Medicine Show.
Ralph Stanley Performs for Own Museum
Let others sing for their supper — Ralph Stanley is singing for immortality. At least that’s what he did Thursday evening (Jan. 15), when he and his band headlined a benefit for the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center now being constructed in Clintwood, Va. Phyllis Deel, a member of the museum’s board of directors, tells Hot Talk the show drew a sellout crowd of more than 400 and raised “around $5,000.” These funds will be used to help pay a curator yet to be chosen. Deel reports that the exterior of the museum was completed at a cost of over $1 million. The interior “transformation,” now in progress, will cost another $1.2 million. The museum is expected to open in early summer, Deel says. Other fundraisers will be held throughout the state and possibly in Nashville later this year.
Say what you will of me, but please know this: I have never uttered the word “prestigious” nor felt kindly toward anyone who did. That’s got to count for something. Reassure me with honeyed words to HotTalk@CMT.com