NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Nobody Asked Me, But …

When Hootie & the Blowfish Go Country, Can Michael Jackson Be Far Behind?

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

• Rehabbing a sagging or sunken pop career in Nashville is a long and time-honored tradition. When you’re all washed-up, you head to Music City to be washed in the blood and to be reborn in country music. What could be more logical than Michael Jackson grasping for one last career revival in that safest of musical havens — Nashville?

“I’ve always been country” is the first thing you say when you pop up for rehab in Nashville. The Wacko one may be a bit too outrĂ© even for Nashville. But perhaps Manuel, the tailor to many Nashville stars, could re-make Michael’s fashion image in a country vein.

I can hear the publicists now: “Oh, Michael’s always had deep roots in country.” I mean, he already owns half of Hank Williams’ song catalog, along with many other great country copyrights, through his deal with Sony. He could move Neverland to the old Tennessee State Fairgrounds here and feel right at home.

After his indescribable appearance in a Burger King commercial in a flashy cowboy outfit, Darius Rucker, aka Hootie, and his Blowfish seem poised for some country activity. The new Hootie & the Blowfish album coming in August, Looking for Lucky, was recorded in Nashville with such luminaries as Sam Bush helping out and with songwriting from such regulars as Matraca Berg, Keith Burns and Radney Foster.

Jessica Simpson is already laying the groundwork to have a foot in country. One morning not too long ago, Richard Simmons showed up loudly singing country songs in the hallways of CMT. Jerry Springer has been cutting country records in town. You know, we can take a lot in Nashville, but one of these days, enough is going to be too much.

• Note to A-list country superstars who were too busy or too important to bother with coming to Fan Fair (face it, no one’s going to let go of that name) this year: country fans have long memories. Do you remember how you got to where you are, big stars? You met the fans and talked to them and signed autographs for them. They remember that, and they’re loyal. If you get too big to do that anymore, they’ll remember that, too.

Case in point: One of the biggest stars this year at the autograph signing sessions in the Nashville Convention Center was a dog. Duke, the Bush’s Baked Beans dog, worked harder than any country singer I’ve seen in years. He met thousands of people, stayed friendly and in good humor and posed for thousands of photographs. And that dog is a pro. He can tell when someone’s arm is blocking his camera view, and he seems to move to make sure he has an unobstructed line of sight to the camera lens. People love him — and for good reason. He’s a star and he loves his fans. If he could only sing, he would bury some of you so-called country stars.

• Album of the week: George Jones: My Very Special Guests — Legacy Edition George Jones has, for my money, always been the king of country duets for his work with singers as far ranging as Tammy Wynette and Gene Pitney and Ray Charles and Linda Ronstadt. In 1979, Jones recorded the original My Very Special Guests with 10 duets. Now, Legacy has added many more vocal pairings for a staggering total of 37 Jones duets. Highlights abound, with artists ranging from Elvis Costello to Shelby Lynne to Johnny Cash and my personal favorite: “Bartender’s Blues” with James Taylor (which Taylor wrote).

There have been a few singers who can come close to copying Jones vocally, but I recently ran across someone who sounds as close to Jones as I’ve ever heard.

L.M. Stone has a natural singing voice that is so similar that it’s eerie — but does not sound as if he’s consciously following Jones. Check out his new CD on Lamb, Looking Through the Mirror of My Life. It has good, if not great, songs and is definitely worth a listen. All I know about him is that he’s a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and has been working in the Atlanta area.

• Somebody should rerecord the great Johnny Russell hit, “Red Necks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer” (written by Wayland Holyfield, Bob McDill and Chuck Neese) which long ago predated the whole furor about red states vs. blue states.