HOT TALK: Jewell Is Everybody’s Buddy

A Cache of Cash, Plus Paycheck From Little Darlin'

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

Buddy Jewell Takes Home the Gold
Just about everyone on Music Row showed up at the BMI offices Thursday (March 25) to help Buddy Jewell rejoice over his first gold album. It was a festivity made all the sweeter by the fact that Jewell is such a late-blooming underdog. He had kicked around Nashville for 10 years or so, knocking on doors and singing demos, before his triumph on the Nashville Star television series won him a contract with Columbia Records. With Clint Black producing, Jewell cut his album in a whirlwind eight days. That was 11 months ago. Since then, he has had two Top 5 singles, “Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey’s Song)” and the still-ascending “Sweet Southern Comfort.” Nowadays the world looks pretty bright to the Arkansas native.

“Congratulations, everybody,” Sony Music Nashville president John Grady shouted to the crowd. “We broke an act.” Indeed, it seemed that almost everyone there had something to do with Jewell’s success, from his supportive wife and three kids to his producer, lawyer, manager and financial handler.

Grady reminded the partygoers that “a gold record is a big deal” and pointed out that Jewell is one of only three new country artists in the past 15 months to strike gold (which means that record stores have ordered 500,000 copies of his album).

“Boy, if I could sing this speech, I’d be a lot better off,” said Jewell as he came to the stage to stand beside Grady and accept his gold-album plaque. (Jewell had actually been given a gold record during his New Faces performance at the recent Country Radio Seminar, but the party made it more “official.”) He began by thanking fans for buying his records. He told Nashville Star talent judge Tracy Gershon, who also helped him find songs for the album, “You’re the only woman I could tell in front of my wife that I love you and get away with it.” Jewell became increasingly emotional as he spoke, breaking into tears when he thanked his children for allowing him to stay out on the road. In a press conference held a few minute before the party started, he told reporters that separation from his family was the only downside to his newfound fame.

Joking with Black, who stood near the stage, watching him with paternal pride, Jewell said, “I hope you’ve got that Taylor guitar picked out that you’re gonna give me one of these days.” Black later told Hot Talk that Jewell was referring to his promise to give Jewell a custom-made Clint Black model Taylor acoustic guitar “worth about eight grand” if his album goes platinum. Jewell was still grinning benignly as the crowd ebbed away.

Will Rambeaux, who produces Sherrié Austin, told Hot Talk he had hired Jewell to sing a demo about a year before he appeared on Nashville Star. After the session was over, he said, Jewell just sat there with his head bowed and his hat pulled down. “What’s wrong, Buddy?” Rambeaux asked. He recalled that Jewell looked up and said, “I may never get a record deal, but if I ever do, I’m cutting this song.” He was as good as his word. The song he had demoed was called “O’Reilly Luck,” and it’s on his gold album. “That’s the kind of man Buddy is,” Rambeaux said.

During the press conference, Jewell revealed that Garth Fundis will produce his next album. A Music Row veteran, Fundis produced Keith Whitley’s last hits and Trisha Yearwood’s first ones. Jewell explained that both he and Fundis lean toward traditional country music.

A radio and television major in college, Jewell handled the press conference adroitly, never dodging questions but always giving diplomatic, well-sculpted answers. Speaking of the rigors of touring, he said, “I tell people I sing for free; I get paid to travel.” He acknowledged it has taken some adjustment to become a recording artist, noting, “I’ve been around town for so long, but I’m naïve in so many ways.” He said he still marveled at his own celebrity: “It’s incredible to have someone like Martina McBride come up to you and want to introduce you to her mom and dad, as she did at the [CMA Awards show].”

He joked easily, often making himself the butt of the humor. Asked why he didn’t have an elaborate video to introduce his New Faces performance, as all the other acts did, he quipped, “Dierks Bentley’s dog ate it.” Then he added that he and his record label had decided that the money the video would cost could be better spent elsewhere. “I’m a pretty practical kind of guy,” he said. “I’ve got this Wal-Mart mentality.”

Jewell was lyrical about his wife and her support of his career. “She’s the most wonderful woman I’ve ever met,” he said. “We’ve been married for 15 years, and in all that time she’s never come to me and said, ‘I think you ought to think about selling insurance.’” He conceded that now that he’s a star, he’s limited in what he can do to help other aspiring artists. Observing that “we live in such a litigious society,” Jewell admitted that he can’t accept material directly from a would-be songwriter for fear of being sued. “I’ve got third and fourth cousins coming out of the woodwork who are songwriters,” he said with a wise grin.

Fall PBS Show Has Some of Cash’s Last Performances
One of the last major filmed interviews of Johnny Cash will appear in the upcoming PBS series, The Appalachians, which is set to air this fall. It will also spotlight Cash and his daughter, Rosanne, singing together. While the three- to four-hour documentary — still being edited — will examine the history, politics and customs of the Appalachian region, it will have a substantial musical component as well. Singer Naomi Judd will narrate, and there will be excerpts from interviews with the Cashes, Ricky Skaggs, Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Little Jimmy Dickens and Marty Stuart. Local musicians from Appalachia and Northern Ireland were also interviewed, and their music will run throughout the documentary.

Although Cash is from Arkansas, his marriage to Virginia’s June Carter and his championing of the Carter Family’s musical legacy made him a natural for the project. “I assumed we’d get about a 30-minute interview,” executive producer Mari-Lynn C. Evans tells Hot Talk. “Instead, we spent about two and a-half hours at his home.” The interview took place in July, about two months before Cash’s death. “Rosanne came in from New York,” Evans continues. “[They] sang about five or six songs for us. Johnny sang some old Carter Family songs, and then they sang ‘Forty Shades of Green’ together, which is absolutely just unreal. No one has seen that film that didn’t break down and cry at the end of it.”

In June, Random House will publish a companion volume, The Appalachians: America’s First and Last Frontier. Evans says the book has an essay by the Country Music Foundation’s John Rumble on the importance of country music to the Appalachian culture and another by Middle Tennessee State University’s Dr. Charles Wolfe on the Stonemans, a family group that in many ways paralleled the musical arc of the Carters. In addition, there are shorter pieces by Cash and Lynn. The film will also have an accompanying CD and an educational Web site.

A native of West Virginia, Evans heads Evening Star Productions in Akron, Ohio. She says she shot approximately 150 hours of footage for the documentary. I’ll alert you to the series’ airdates as soon as they’re confirmed.

Koch Raids Little Darlin’ Archives for Paycheck, Helms Albums
On May 11, Koch Records (formerly Audium) will release albums on Johnny Paycheck and Bobby Helms from their Little Darlin’ recordings of the late 1960s. The Paycheck package is titled In the Beginning, while Helms’ is called The Little Darlin’ Sounds of Bobby Helms. Paycheck and his manager-producer, Aubrey Mayhew, established Little Darlin’ Records in 1966 and kept it going until 1969. Jeannie C. Riley also recorded briefly for the label.

Dale Watson’s new album, Dreamland, is due out on Koch April 27. Restless Heart are nearing completion of its first album for the label. Still untitled, it is expected to be on store shelves by the end of June.

Oh, sure! One week you’re all over me, and the next I’m looking at a bare horizon. Send your regrets, questions and news tips to HotTalk@CMT.com.