HOT DISH: Toby Keith’s Show Dog Biz

If His Record Label Succeeds, Look for Others to Follow in His Paw Prints

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

Toby Keith had one of the world’s major music industry powers at the launch of Show Dog Records, but it didn’t matter. All eyes were on Toby and his partner, Scott Borchetta.

Universal Music Group president and chief operating officer Zach Horowitz was just one of the executives who joined them during Wednesday’s (Aug. 31) press conference at the Global CafĂ© in downtown Nashville. UMG — the owner of Toby’s former label home, DreamWorks Nashville — will distribute the CDs on Show Dog (the label Toby will oversee) and Big Machine Records (where Borchetta will be calling the shots).

Toby, who has sold 25 million records, has hired a top-notch team by plucking award-winning execs from various record labels to build what he calls a music-driven record label. “Music is the only thing we take seriously,” Toby said during the press conference. “That’s our motto.”

Toby himself is the first artist signed to Show Dog. His bandmate and songwriting partner, Scotty Emerick, is the second. Borchetta’s signees to Big Machine include Jack Ingram, Danielle Peck and 15-year-old Taylor Swift.

Keith and Borchetta were associates at DreamWorks Nashville. Toby was correct when he described Borchetta as the best there is at what he does: radio promotion. Their raring-to-go team have flexed their muscles with all the big dogs and have no intention of accepting anything less than major label status. Looking forward to rule-breaking and decision-making without calling L.A. or New York sounds great to the partners who, for the moment, are in complete control.

Asked about his future plans as an actor, Toby said he didn’t want to talk about that during the announcement to launch Show Dog, but he did say Paramount Pictures had contacted him, adding he will begin shooting a movie in October.

Mark my word: If Show Dog becomes the success Toby hopes for, every unhappy superstar will start their own label so fast it will make heads spin on Music Row.

Breakfast With George and Nancy
What a way to start a day! Breakfast with George and Nancy Jones at their Franklin, Tenn., estate is about as close to hillbilly heaven as one is allowed on planet Earth. They opened their doors to the news media last week in preparation for the Sept. 13 release of George’s new CD, Hits I Missed … And One I Didn’t, on Bandit Records. Biscuits, country ham, George Jones’ own brand of bacon and sausage, gravy, jelly and preserves, scrambled eggs, omelets made on the spot, fresh fruit, good hot coffee and juices — all that food plus the wonderful George and Nancy. It was a breakfast of breakfasts I shall never forget. Anytime I look up to see George Jones while I’m sopping gravy, pal, it just don’t get no better than that.

You know, I am as crazed over George Jones’ music as Lee Ann Womack is. According to the word I got, Lee Ann plays the Possum 24/7 on her bus, so when she opens her door, out flows George’s music. With his new CD in my player, whoever opens my door will hear Jones, too.

Walk the Line
Be prepared to smile, cry, and laugh come November when the film, Walk the Line, is released in theaters. I had no idea Joaquin Phoenix could emulate Johnny Cash as well as Jamie Foxx did Ray Charles in Ray, but he aced it. Sure, there were scenes where he failed to do Johnny’s facial moves, and he never did his familiar cough, but he gave an all-heart performance that has Oscar nominee written all over it. Ditto for Nashville girl Reese Witherspoon in the role of June Carter Cash. Especially where Johnny was concerned, Reese was all June but lacked the Virginia drawl so prominent among June, Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters. Almost no emphasis was on the music of Mother Maybelle, and June’s sisters, Helen and Anita, were never mentioned.

Reba Hancock, Johnny’s sister, sat in front of me at the movie screening in Nashville. I asked her if she was happy with the movie, and she allowed she was. Reba was John’s assistant for 40 years and knew her brother as well as anyone on earth could have known a sibling. She knew the good, the bad and the ugly about him and said there were parts of the movie she could barely watch.

The movie includes lots of great Cash music. It’s always gratifyng to hear great music from a great artist.

Bluegrass Women Rule!
Females used to attend bluegrass festivals and concerts to more or less decorate the place because they were cute, cuddly and kissable. The once male-dominated music genre saw new blood for 2005 when the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award nominees were announced last week. Alison Krauss & Union Station received 14 nominations, and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage followed with eight. Longtime favorite Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and the popular Blue Highway each picked up seven nominations.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, the Del McCoury Band, Larry Sparks, Mountain Heart and Paul Williams received five or more awards each. Cherryholmes, a family group that consists of a dad, mom and four kids (that’s a total of three females) got nods for entertainer of the year and emerging artist. Cia Cherryholmes, who sings and plays banjo in the group, is up for female vocalist honors.

The press conference at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened with a performance by the Grascals. After Skaggs and Rhonda Vincent announced the nominees, Cherryholmes did the closing performance.

When WSM-AM disc jockey Eddie Stubbs announced that the late Benny Martin and the late Red Allen (father of songwriter Harley Allen) were this year’s inductees into the Bluegrass Hall of Honor, it brought back memories for me. I remembered like yesterday the day Benny died. The late John Hartford called me, crying like a baby. Benny was John’s mentor, and he felt Benny did not get the credit he deserved as an artist. How happy Benny would have been had he lived to receive this honor but not half as happy as John would have been that Benny finally got the recognition he so deeply deserves. May they both rest in peace.

Montgomery Gentry Took Off Their Britches
Montgomery Gentry have been known to show their fannies without taking off their pants, but now they have taken off their britches big time. It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. Eddie (with his broken hand) and Troy (with his leg still in a cast) removed and autographed their pants to be auctioned off during the National Hemophilia Foundation’s Blue Jeans for Genes auction on eBay. Major celebs have joined in the cause, including Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire and Nashville native Reese Witherspoon, who portrays June Carter Cash in the upcoming movie, Walk the Line.

Gretchen Pockets Her Skoal
Redneck woman Gretchen Wilson has been waving a can of Skoal smokeless tobacco (we call it snuff back home) near her face at concerts when she sings “Skoal Ring,” a new song she co-wrote with John Rich. When he took his teenaged daughter and niece to see Gretchen in concert in St. Louis, Tennessee attorney general Paul Summers apparently thought Gretchen was coming close to doing a commercial for Skoal on the big screen video monitors. Summer wrote Gretchen a letter mentioning that tobacco is unhealthy for all those thousands of teens who come to her concerts. Before you could dip, chew, spit or sniff Skoal, Gretchen’s manager, a very wise (and rich) Dale Morris agreed with the attorney general’s letter. End of story — and the end of Gretchen’s Skoal on the screen.

Here and There
Tanya Tucker and her family are taking time off from taping her reality TV show with a vacation in Alaska.

DeFord Bailey, Glen Campbell and Alabama will become the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. They will be formally inducted during the CMA Awards in New York City on Nov. 15.

Johnny Van Zant, lead vocalist for Van Zant and Lynryd Skynryd, has been sidelined by vocal surgery. His doctors have ordered three months of silence following the removal of a polyp from his vocal cords.

I’m Already There, the album by Lonestar, went out of this world and returned. A copy of the platinum-selling CD was aboard the space shuttle Endeavor during its two-week mission. Air Force Col. Paul Lockhart, a Lonestar fan, showed up at the group’s recent concert in Cohasset, Mass., and returned the CD that helped him wind down after his 14-hour workdays.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Pumpkin Cake.