(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)
Welcome to the country music community, Steven Tyler. Nashville is here to embrace you, support you and encourage you to stay.
Just this week, the Aerosmith frontman debuted his first country single, “Love Is Your Name,” and it’s a solid effort. Is it hard-core country music? Of course not, but what did we expect? But it is more traditional and rootsy-sounding than a lot of stuff that’s succeeding these days in the mainstream country world. So far, he’s not embracing the spirit of Conway Twitty — who also found a career in country music after being a rockabilly singer — but there’s also no indication that he’s embracing bro-country, either. We’ll hope for the best when Tyler’s full album arrives later this year.
Tyler has always been a great singer, of course, but he’s also obviously a smart guy who did some homework before embarking on his country project. He wisely resisted the urge to make his entrance to country radio with a song he wrote. Instead, he opted for one co-written by Eric Paslay and Lindsey Lee.
He also has a strong work ethic. He has already promoted his new single with appearances this week on Entertainment Tonight, CBS This Morning, American Idol and other high-profile media opportunities.
From a business standpoint, he aligned himself with Big Machine Label Group chief Scott Borchetta, signing his country deal the Big Machine’s Dot Records imprint. Before launching Big Machine Records and the career of Taylor Swift — and long before he became a national celebrity in his own right — Borchetta was the top record label promotions rep at MCA Nashville, securing airplay for George Strait, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill and countless other artists. Not to downplay his other skills and accomplishments, but Borchetta knows how the radio business works. If he can’t secure airplay for an artist, it’s highly unlikely that anybody else can.
Tyler has been living in Nashville since January, aligning himself with some of the city’s most successful songwriters and making the rounds at the CMA and ACM awards shows. Another smart move.
But I hope Tyler realizes that Nashville has been through all of this before. Country singers and musicians are a lot like the rest of us in their fascination with bigger-than-life characters who have achieved fame in other media or musical genres. Nashville’s songwriters are that way, too, but one of their prime motivations in collaborating with a major rock star is the potential royalty checks coming their way if the project becomes a major success.
And while a single project may be a major success, how does that translate to the rock star’s commitment to the country genre? It’s unlikely that Steven Tyler will totally abandon his rock career and, to his credit and to the best of my knowledge, he has never even implied that he thinks his longterm future lies in Nashville and country music.
However, it’s one thing to make a country album. It’s another thing to be a country artist.
Of all the rock and pop acts who have come to Nashville to finally record the music they “grew up listening to” and “have always loved” — to borrow the standard cliches — the one person who has put in the time and hard work to become a real country star is Darius Rucker.
In a 2013 interview, Rucker told me why he had invested in learning how Nashville works before releasing his first country album.
“I felt like I was the new guy,” he said. “I didn’t want to come out and tell people how great I was and have to headline my tour or anything. I wanted to come in and be the first guy on the tour. I wanted to start from the lowest rung of the totem pole and work my way up. That came from a lot of things. It came from, first of all, just being that kind of a guy and wanting to do that.
“Second of all, I had been in Hootie & the Blowfish. With our first foray, we were the biggest band in the world, and then there was nowhere to go but down from there. So I wanted to build it up to where, three or four records down the road, I could be something in the (country) genre.
“But I didn’t want to come out and make everybody think that I was something — ’cause I wasn’t. I was the new guy making music. I was the pop guy — the carpetbagger — coming over here. I wanted to earn my stripes. I didn’t want it to be just given to me.”
In a press release announcing the arrival of his first country single, Tyler alluded to his love of Nashville.
“I picked up and headed for Tennessee, and the first day in the studio, I recorded a song that became my first single,” he said. “And if ’Love Is Your Name,’ then Nashville’s my new girlfriend.”
While we congratulate Tyler on his new relationship, let’s hope he doesn’t toy with Nashville’s emotions, have his way with us and then suddenly leave without at least leaving a goodbye note.