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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Justin Townes Earle's Second Album Comes From a Different Place

Singer-Songwriter Wants His Mother to Get Some Credit, Too
Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle
Justin Townes Earle's love of classic honky-tonk is still plain to hear, but the songs on his second album, Midnight at the Movies, are stylistically more diverse. He experiments more freely with elements like bluegrass and rock, even including a cover of the Replacements' hit, "Can't Hardly Wait."

Still present, though, are the comparisons to his namesake, Townes Van Zandt, and his father, singer-songwriter Steve Earle. Recently, he talked with about the new album and what it's like to be not only the son of a famous singer-songwriter but also a strong mother.

CMT: A movie theater is an interesting choice for the theme on Midnight at the Movies. What's the reason behind that?

Earle: The reason that imagery got used was because when I was about 18 years old, I was obsessed with Jack Kerouac, and I was obsessed with that whole "Times Square in the mid-40s early '50s" idea of these dank movie theaters that showed nothing but dirty movies. And so it was just a bit of imagery that stuck with me. I think that the imagery of lone men sitting in dirty porn theaters, I don't think there's anything more lonely sounding than that. So it was something that was easy for me. It was an easy frame for me to put this particular picture into.

You wrote a lot of the songs on your first album, The Good Life, earlier in life, and they were just waiting around for an album. Was that the case for Midnight at the Movies as well?

No, two of the songs on Midnight at the Movies are old songs. "Halfway to Jackson," I wrote when I was 15, and it was actually the first song I ever finished. And then "Walk Out," I wrote when I was about 16. ... I like to use little bits of my past catalog just because I don't want to forget about the songs, and if they fit the frame, you just put them in there. There's no sense in breaking your ass trying to write something that you've already written.

Eight months between The Good Life and Midnight at the Movies doesn't seem like much time to write and record an entire album.

I was going through a lot of changes in my life, and it was just time to do it. People have kind of starting calling me that strange word, "prolific." And I definitely don't want there to be any misconceptions. I'm not saying that it won't happen, but people should not expect two records a year out of me. I already do have designs and have another record already written and another record halfway written. So it's like I am getting ready to release records at a very rapid pace for the first few years, but that's not something that people can expect for my career.

What about "Mama's Eyes"? Can you explain that song a little bit?

Well, "Mama's Eyes" was a very concentrated effort by me to make sure that everybody that listens to my music realizes that I am not an asexual product of Steve Earle. I was raised by Carol-Ann Earle, not Steve Earle, and I grew up with her rules. I wanted mama to get a little credit because she broke her ass for me when I was growing up. She'd work three jobs at a time and really worked her ass off to make sure that my head stayed above water. And I was not an easy kid to keep up with. I was a pain in the ass. And I wanted to make sure that mom got hers because people write and talk about dad all the time. He gets plenty of attention.

Has your mom heard the song?

Yeah, she loves it.

I really love the last verse in "Mama's Eyes" when you have that moment of clarity. I was wondering if that was a song you would have written backwards?

It actually is a song that I wrote backwards. I had the mother's eyes thing much earlier in the song, and it was kind of a comparison that I would make at a chorus when I was first writing it. And then I thought about like, "If I was listening to this song, what would make it punch me right between the eyes?" And that would be to not bring up the most devastating part -- that you do remind yourself of your mother, whether you like it or not. You know, save that till the end because most men look like their mother. That's just the plain fact of it, and it scares a lot of people.

Even though you grew up with your mom, was it still hard to be the son of a famous singer-songwriter?

Well, my mom and I didn't have a lot of money, and for all intents and purposes, I grew up just like every other kid that grew up in the 12 South area [of Nashville]. When I was a kid, it was a little more run-down back then, and it was kind of a rough little neighborhood. I grew up just the same. You know, I had the shaved head and the rat tail and wore the Jams and Air Jordans and got ringworm just like every other kid that rolled around in the grass at Sevier Park. So I never really had to pay attention to it until I started doing this for a living, which was many years ago. And I spent many years, luckily, not in the public eye but trying to separate myself from my father. But, you know, I really realize that I sing different than my father, I write different than my father, I sound different than my father and any separation other than that is personal. And nobody else's business.

How do you feel about where you are musically?

I'm where I need to be for the moment. There's no way to judge the evolution of a songwriter over his career, but I think right now I stand -- more so than I did with The Good Life -- I've made a record that's a better representative and did more for me spiritually than any record I've ever made.

Joe Nichols Releases New Single, "Believers," From Upcoming Album

Joe Nichols' new single, "Believers," was released to country radio on Monday (March 30). Written by Ashley Gorley, Wade Kirby and Bill Luther and produced by Brent Rowan, the single is from a new album due later this year on Universal South Records. "This song is about passion. When people have passion about something, the sky's the limit," Nichols said. "It's also about believing in something bigger than what's right in front of you. There have been a lot of times in my life, both recently and in the past, that I've needed a lot of belief just to move me forward. This song gives me that." Nichols' previous album, Real Things, was released in 2007.

Taylor Swift Schedules Tonight Show, Hannah Montana Premiere

Taylor Swift will appear on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on Thursday (April 2) for an interview and an outdoor performance. Swift will also attend the world premiere of Hannah Montana: The Movie on Thursday in Los Angeles and will perform on the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards on Sunday (April 5) in Las Vegas. In related news, Swift recently surpassed 200 million streams on her MySpace page. She's also on the April cover of Allure magazine and will appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine's May issue.

Toby Keith, Rock Band Partner for Six-Pack Download

Six of Toby Keith's songs will be available in the Rock Band Music Store of downloadable content next month. Selections include "Beer for My Horses," "I Love This Bar," "She's a Hottie," "Should've Been a Cowboy," "Who's Your Daddy?" and "How Do You Like Me Now?!" All tracks are original master recordings. Tracks are $1.99 each with the six-pack priced at $9.99. The Toby Keith Six-Pack will be released in the Xbox LIVE Marketplace on April 7, followed by the PlayStation Store on April 9.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Kenny Gets a Lift for Sudan

Big & Rich's Kenny Alphin brings aid to the Sudan. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Nashville.

March 30, 2009 — Big Kenny has made reaching out to the people of the Sudan a major priority, and he's planning his second airlift of educational and medical supplies to the village of Akon. To help finance it, he's put together a fundraising concert in Nashville that will feature Martina McBride and Faith Hill, among others.
The trip is a huge commitment on Big Kenny's part. The war-torn Sudan is so dangerous that many who consider reaching out back away to maintain their safety. Getting the African government's permission is an accomplishment, and then comes the actual journey, including the logistics of moving several tons of materials into a remote location.
"It's a lot of work — a lot of people to [coordinate with], a lot of customs to go through," Big Kenny says. "Every one of 'em, it gets worse and worse once =0 Ayou travel outside of the United States, how their honor systems might work, or how much you're gonna have to pay somebody just to carry a camera. But it's worth it. I'm seein' lives change, and there's just nothin' cooler than that. I mean, a No. 1 song is pretty doggone good, pretty doggone good, but lookin' into the eyes of children and seein' their faces — they went crazy. So there you have it: We're goin' back, and we'll probably have to go back again. You know, this ain't the only problem on the Earth. This is just the worst one at [this] time."
Big Kenny's Nashville4Africa concert is slated for April 22 at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. In addition to Martina and Faith, he's lined up Dierks Bentley, 3 Doors Down vocalist Brad Arnold, Christian singer Ashley Cleveland, the African Children's Choir and Damien Horne, a Music City musician who accompanied Big Kenny on his first trip to the Sudan. Tickets go on sale Monday. For more information, visit

Clint Black Survives an Alcohol-Fueled "Apprentice"

Clint Black on the Orange Carpet at the 43rd Annual ACM Awards, Sunday, May 18, 2008 in Las Vegas, NV. Photo by David Vespie.

March 30, 2009 — Clint Black's last CD of entirely new songs came with the 2005 concept album Drinkin' Songs & Other Logic — all of it music about alcohol and its effects. He did plenty of research on the subject during the early years of his career when he played the clubs in Texas, and he was reintroduced to the topic in Sunday's edition of The Celebrity Apprentice, which closed with a promo for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Clint, however, was not the cause for the AA reference. Instead, it was Dennis Rodman, whose sullen behavior during this year's season came to a head when he was named project manager for the men's team in the latest episode, in which the celebs were judged for their customer service at a Loew's Regency Hotel in Manhattan. Dennis started off with a take-charge approach.
"Dennis stands a chance of bein' a better leader than a follower," Clint observed early in the episode.
But that viewpoint did not last long. Dennis fueled his management style with an endless supply of vodka and cranberry juice. In short order, he became loud and belligerent, forgot decisions he'd made, argued with his teammates — Clint, R&B singer Brian McKnight, ex-NFL star Herschel Walker and Monster Garage host Jesse James — and eventually walked out on them. In the most bizarre moment, he paid extra attention to two guests who wanted dinner at a nice restaurant: He got a car to take them, then joined them for the meal and ordered all the food. In the process, he left his teammates to fend for themselves at the hotel, and the team already had one less player than the women.
The women outscored the men's team, 91-86, to win for the fourth time in five episodes, and the board room became an intervention. Jesse said he believed Dennis had a drinking problem, and the rest of the participants agreed. Donald Trump typically sends the winning team to another room while he decides who to fire, but that step was eliminated this week. Trump sent Dennis packing: ""You let me down, you let yourself down, you let your team down. You're fired!"
Dennis promised to overcome his issues in the final scenes, just before NBC ran the AA Web address,,20on the screen.
Despite his clashes with Dennis, Clint insisted he had positive thoughts of the controversial basketball star's potential.
"I think I understand Dennis," Clint said. "Who Dennis is trying to be I don't like."
Dennis is "not for everyone," Clint added, "but he could be for a lot of people."
The show resumes on Sunday with more drama; NBC is teasing that Trump may face a "celebrity mutiny."

Dolly Parton Tickled Pink Over Cracker Barrel

Dolly Parton's 2008 CD, Backwoods Barbie. Photo courtesy of Dolly Records.

March 30, 2009 — It's been 13 months since Dolly Parton released her Backwoods Barbie album, but the CD found new life when she added three more songs for a collector's edition that's being sold exclusively at Cracker Barrel.
Dolly being Dolly, you figure she could've found lots of places to put her music, but the Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel — which has also had exclusive projects with Sara Evans, Josh Turner and Kenny Rogers, among others — was a really great fit for the Tennessee-based owner of Dollywood.
"You think about it," Dolly told Suzanne Alexander on the national radio show GAC Nights: Live From Nashville. "They love a lot of the same things I do: family — I had two uncles that owned country stores back home — and the fact that they have that great country food. I've been eatin' at Cracker=2 0Barrel for years and years and years, and everyday — or at least every week — I send somebody over there to get some cornbread and muffins or somethin'."
"Of course," she continued, "they sell a lot of music at Cracker Barrel, along with some other wonderful things that I've bought through the years, and it just seemed to be the perfect thing for kind of the way that I grew up, that mountain flavor, country-people flavor, and so it made a nice coupling."
Dolly upped the ante on the deal when Cracker Barrel rolled out a special Dolly edition pink rocking chair. Only 1,350 copies were made, and Dolly figures they're going to run out very quickly.
"Pink is more a Barbie color," she told The Asheville Citizen-Times. "People are buying them up just to get them off the [Cracker Barrel] porches!"
Some of the songs featured on Backwoods Barbie are also part of Dolly's theatrical production of 9 To 5: The Musical. Previews for the show begin on Broadway April 7.

Lee Ann Womack: Winning Is Secondary

Lee Ann Womack photo by Danny Clinch, courtesy of UMG Nashville.

March 30, 2009 — With "Last Call" currently ranked at No. 9 on GAC's Top 20 Country Countdown, Lee Ann Womack is a nominee for Sunday's 44th annual Academy of Country Music Awards.
She's in the running for Top Female Vocalist against Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift and Heidi Newfield, but she's not all that concerned about winning. Lee Ann's taken home five ACM trophies during her career but finds the nomination is actually sweeter.
"I love being nominated for anything anytime," Lee Ann says. "I've always been more happy with the nomination than I was with the win. I think it's because the win comes and goes so quickly, but the nomination — you get nominated, and then it's a couple of months until the awards show where you're part of everybody's shows that they're doing. So I've always liked being nominated."=2 0
Hopefully Lee Ann likes performing on awards shows, too, because she's slated to appear on Sunday's CBS telecast from Las Vegas along with Jamey Johnson, John Rich, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts and host Reba McEntire, among others. Lee Ann also takes part the next day in the taping of George Strait: Artist Of The Decade, An All Star Concert Special, slated to air May 27.
One other awards event where Lee Ann was recently spotted: the first-ever T.J. Martell Honors Gala in Nashville. Lee Ann joined Michael Bolton, Caitlin & Will and Boyz II Men in performing during the event, which raised a whopping $400,000 for AIDS, leukemia and cancer research.

Keith Urban Ranks With Beatles, Rolling Stones

Industry heavy hitters gathered in BMI's Music Row lobby on March 16, 2009 to recognize a cluster of substantial milestones for superstar Keith Urban. In addition to celebrating the release of his new CD, Defying Gravity, BMI also toasted his 10th chart-topper "Sweet Thing," and his 11 song-deep list of BMI Million-Air award-winning compositions, which he either wrote or co-wrote. In addition to witnessing the awards presentation, guests enjoyed an intimate performance by Keith and his band. In this photo, Keith inspects his new BMI signature Takamine guitar. Photo by John Russell, courtesy of BMI.

March 30, 2009 — When Keith Urban was honored this month with a party at BMI's Nashville office, the songwriting agency buried him under a pile of awards, including one for hitting No. 1 with "Sweet Thing" and a bevy recognizing 16 million radio plays of his singles.
Sort of lost in that onslaught of information was the achievement of "Somebody Like You," which has logged a whopping 3 million broadcasts since its release in 2002. Three million is a huge nu mber — it puts that song on par in airplay with some other classics that have been in circulation for decades, including the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love," the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," Dolly Parton's "9 To 5," Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart," Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson's "Good Hearted Woman" and Janis Joplin's "Me And Bobby McGee."
That's some pretty heady stuff, though the one person who seems least impressed by the accomplishment is Keith himself.
"That's from a numbers standpoint, and I think there's a lot more to be said for those artists than just numbers," he notes. "To be in the numbers game with them is a fascinating statistic in itself."
But that's hardly the only numbers game Keith is playing these days. It's one day until the release of his new album, Defying Gravity, and he hopes it generates enough sales to land him at No. 1 on the country album chart — and maybe the pop chart as well. He'll be on a number of TV shows this week to support it — including The Ellen DeGeneres Show and NBC's Today show on Wednesday — and he's lined up more than 50 cities for his upcoming Escape Together World Tour. Eight different acts have signed up to open for him during the run of dates, including Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Jason Alde an, Dierks Bentley, Little Big Town, the Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum and Glen Campbell.
Two more numbers: Keith's new single "Kiss A Girl" is at No. 23 on the USA Today Mediabase country singles chart, while "Sweet Thing" hangs in at No. 11.

Gretchen Wilson Plans New Single, "The Earrings Song," for April 20

Gretchen Wilson will release a new single, "The Earrings Song," to country radio on April 20. However, no release date for the forthcoming album has been announced. In past interviews, Wilson has often talked about women who take out their hoop earrings before they get into a bar fight. Wilson's most recent album, One of the Boys, was released in 2007. Her next tour date is the Sticks Country Festival in Auburn, Ala., on April 17.

HOT DISH: Alan Jackson Is a True Artist

More Country Music News About George Strait, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride and Others
Hot Dish
Hot Dish
(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 hosts CMT's Southern Fried Flicks With Hazel Smith and shares her recipes at

Whenever Alan Jackson releases a single, an album, or in this case, an emotional video of a hit single such as "Sissy's Song," he does a first-class job. It's never sloppy and always has a deep, heartfelt meaning. Like all the rest of his work, his commitment is obvious to the fans, or in this case, it's fan and critic (me) who are left with a heavy heart and teary eyes.

"Sissy's Song" is the story of a young woman in her 40s who for years worked in the Jackson's home every day. Leslie "Sissy" Fitzgerald died in a motorcycle accident in May 2007, leaving her husband, a college-aged daughter and high school-aged son.

Alan's country heart hurt deeply following the accident. He couldn't sleep. After he sat down and wrote "Sissy's Song," he somehow felt better. He recorded the song and gave it to the Fitzgerald family for the funeral. The song helped heal the hurt felt by the Fitzgeralds, as well as the Jacksons.

The video was shot at the Bear Creek Church in Culleoka, Tenn., south of Nashville. The church was a place of worship for the Confederates during the Civil War. It's rumored that hauntings have swirled around the grounds and that ghost hunters have captured spectral photos of spirits in the churchyard. I don't know if that's true, but I have no intention of traveling in the direction of where hauntings have allegedly swirled and ghost hunters have taken photos. I'll just take their word for it.

The bottom line is that it's a great video and that the lyrical content of this song and others such as "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" place Alan in a special category reserved for country music's true artists.

Stars Still Coming Out for ACM's Artist of the Decade
The stars keep signing up to help honor the Academy of Country Music's Artist of the Decade, George Strait, during an April 6 television taping in Las Vegas. Among the latest additions to the list are Brooks & Dunn, Jamie Foxx, Jack Ingram, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry, John Rich, LeAnn Rimes, Blake Shelton and Lee Ann Womack. They join an impressive lineup previously announced for the tribute -- Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Sugarland, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban.

There's no bigger star than George Strait. The Cowboy was the first to play stadiums. As I look at the list above, I see a couple of major acts who opened shows for George through the years. It's my hope that all his opening acts will be on hand to honor him. I'll tell you what, I'd sing him a song any day of the week!

Remembering Dan Seals
Longtime friend Tony Gottlieb called Wednesday night (March 25) to let me know Dan Seals had lost his two-year battle with mantle cell lymphoma. Surrounded by his entire family, he died at his daughter's home in Nashville at 8:30 p.m., his show time. Dan was flown here March 20 from the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., where he'd received a stem cell transplant.

More News
When President Barack Obama appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, the musical guest was his friend, the great Garth Brooks. Garth's guitar player said he only got a glimpse of the president, but he noticed a whole bevy of bomb-sniffing dogs walking about.

Taylor Swift just may have the biggest tour of 2009. So far, every venue has been a quick sellout. Madison Square Garden in New York City sold out in a minute.

The McBride family -- Martina, husband John and their three daughters -- recently spent a week vacationing in the Bahamas. Last week, she was in New York for a series of media appearances and interviews. This week, she'll be doing more of the same in Los Angeles. Martina is putting on the Shine on her new album of the same title. She plans to tour in November.

Native Texans Michael Martin Murphey, Linda Davis and Neal McCoy are the latest inductees into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. In addition to her career accomplishments, Davis, of course, is the mother of Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum.

Speaking of Neal McCoy, he jumped at the chance to join retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks in Hobart, Okla., for the May 23 grand opening of the museum named for the general. "Gen. Franks is a class act, and anytime he wants me to be involved with him, I'm going to do what it takes to make it happen," Neal said.

Waylon Gave Good Advice to Lost Trailers
Ryder Lee, Stokes Nielson, Manny Medina, Andrew Nielson and Jeff Potter make up the band known as the Lost Trailers. The group hasn't slowed down one iota since the release of their album, Holler Back, which garnered a Top 5 spot on the Billboard country albums chart.

Stokes recalls a time when Waylon Jennings gave him some much-appreciated advice, telling him not to be afraid about writing songs about real pain and things that he's gone through or that affected him. Waylon told him people related to music and stories that are real. Stokes says, "I just feel lucky to have been the songwriter standing in front of him when he said it."

The Lost Trailers' latest single is "How 'Bout You Don't." Be sure to watch for those pretty boys on CMT's Southern Fried Flicks on Saturday (April 4). The movie is The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.

Taylor Swift and Darius Rucker Still Stand Tall on the Charts

But Randy Travis Roars Back Like a Rocket
Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift's Fearless and Darius Rucker's "It Won't Be Like This for Long" once more reign on Billboard's country albums and country songs charts, respectively. It's Rucker's second consecutive week at No. 1 and Swift's 19th.

The highest-debuting album is I Told You So: The Ultimate Hits of Randy Travis, which pops in at No. 3, right behind Carrie Underwood's Carnival Ride. Underwood can (and should) take credit for introducing Travis to a new generation of fans via her respectful cover of his unmatchable 1988 hit, "I Told You So."

And, wonder of wonders, the stoic North Carolinian bows yet a second new album this week, Three Wooden Crosses: The Inspirational Hits of Randy Travis. It arrives at No. 31.

Your next assignment, Miss Underwood, is to resurrect Earl Thomas Conley. It's been too long since we've heard that smoke-laced voice and those sculpted lyrics.

The other new albums are Willie Nelson's Naked Willie (No. 29) and Ambition by the memorably monikered Zack Walther and the Cronkites (No. 51).

There are but two returning albums: Jewel's Perfectly Clear, which encores at No. 67, and the various artists CD, Songs 4 Worship: Country (No. 69).

Brad Paisley boasts the highest-charting new song, "Then" (No. 26). Then come Jack Ingram's "Barefoot and Crazy" (No. 56), Pat Green's "What I'm For" (No. 58) and Jonathan Singleton and the Grove's "Livin' in Paradise" (No. 60).

Albums No. 4 and No. 5 are the Zac Brown Band's The Foundation and Rucker's Learn to Live.

Rounding out the Top 5 songs are Swift's "White Horse," George Strait's "River of Love," Jake Owen's "Don't Think I Can't Love You" and Rodney Atkins' "It's America."

Can life hold more treasures than these?

CMT Insider Interview: Keith Urban

Singer-Songwriter Opens Up About Digital Music and Defying Gravity
Keith Urban
Keith Urban
Editor's note: Watch Katie Cook's interview with Keith Urban when the new episode of CMT Insider debuts Saturday (March 28) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.

Keith Urban thinks his fans will see themselves reflected in the lyrics of his new album, Defying Gravity. However, if you pore over every word and phrase, trying to decipher clues about his high-profile marriage, you're missing the point.

"I try to keep a certain ambiguity about it that lets people read their own thing into it," he says. "The delicate balance for me is trying to maintain a sense of privacy in my private life but also write songs. I think most of what I am comfortable talking about comes through in the songs."

In this interview with CMT Insider host Katie Cook, the country superstar discusses drum machines, digital downloading and the heartfelt song he wanted to write for his wife, Nicole Kidman.

CMT Insider: Most people would consider Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing a pretty rocking record. How would you define Defying Gravity?

Urban: It's a more joyous record. ... Not to say the other doesn't have its joy, but I think this one has a lot more clarity to it than the last one.

Would you say there's a certain sound or type of lyric, or even an instrument, that it just would not be a Keith Urban sound without it?

Probably the six-string guitjo [a banjo with a six-string guitar neck]. The guitjo is a pretty prominent part of what I do -- even since the Ranch record -- but on the first solo album, it's on a lot of songs. I write a lot with it, too -- a drum machine loop and little guitjo and the songs start to come. ... If I'm gonna write, then they're the things I need to have -- the guitjo, a drum machine with a bunch of loops and a tape deck.

Why the title Defying Gravity? I know it's a line in a song.

It's a very "up" record, and the record is a lot of that -- falling in love and being brave to fall in love -- because it takes a lot of bravery to open your heart up and be vulnerable to love. And so it's about rising above things and enduring and not being dragged down. There are a lot of metaphors for that in the title.

Some artists prefer fans to buy the album rather than downloading tracks because they want them to have the whole experience. How important is that to you?

The reason I like [buying a full album] is because you can go on a journey with the songs. And more importantly, coming to the concert, you're going to know more than just the single, which is always good.

You are releasing some songs on iTunes before the album comes out. Does that make you nervous at all?

There are a lot of new ways of doing things that, as an artist, I feel uncertain about. But at the same time, I think at the end of the day, it's the way in which we listen to music and buy music and stumble upon it. I don't think having one song [on iTunes] negates the fact that someone might want the record. ... This is the way I look at it: I think the idea of buying singles has exploded because people are so sick of buying records that have two good songs. They paid 12 or 15 bucks for an album that's got 13 songs, and they only want to hear two -- and the rest is garbage. I've got plenty of records in my collection and they're rubbish. I like the idea that you can buy one song and another, and if you like three or four, you may like the whole record.

When people download songs, they can put them in any order they want. How important is it to you to have that flow from song to song? Do you focus on that when you're putting a record together?

Again, I think with people being able to shuffle and do the things they want to do and make their own playlists ... I only get to put it out the way I hear it, and then the rest of it's up to the people buying it, to do what they want with it.

You said there are a lot of different ways of doing things now. Obviously, you have to think of the business side of things. You can't make music and not think about the economy or people buying singles rather than albums. How often do you think of the business when you're creating music?

I don't think about it at all when I'm creating music. No, definitely not. That's a dangerous place. You've got to just create and make music and record it, then all that stuff happens, I think, after the fact.

"Sweet Thing" became your 10th No. 1 single. Do you watch the charts excessively when a song is climbing like that?

Not when it's climbing, but I think it gets really exciting when it gets up in that top little bottleneck area. It's very exciting. Part of me wants to be not too aware of it, and the other half of me is very fascinated by all that stuff.

When I listened to "Thank You," I teared up because I felt so much emotion in your voice. I pictured you in the studio maybe crying while you were singing it.

We recorded it quickly. I think the important thing with that song was to not belabor it too long. Capturing those things in their real form is the most important thing, not worrying about all the other stuff. .... That's hard to talk about that stuff. It's not meant to be talked about. It's meant to be played and people take from it what they want. But it's something I wanted to be able to do for my wife, too. She's been an incredible strength for me. In the last couple of years, particularly so.

Wariner Plans Chet Atkins Tribute CD

Monday, March 30, 2009 – Steve Wariner is working on a Chet Atkins tribute disc. Wariner is putting the finishing touches on the disc with plans to release it this summer.
Wariner self-produced the music, which will be on his own SelecTone label. The music is a combination of some songs that Atkins recorded and originals that are inspired by Atkins' style.
Wariner's last disc was "This Real Life," also on SelecTone in 2005.

Hal Durham, manager and announcer who revitalized 'Opry,' dies

By Peter Cooper • THE TENNESSEAN • March 30, 2009
Hal Durham, who helped assure the Grand Ole Opry's transition into the modern era, died over the weekend at his home in Cape Coral, Fla. Mr. Durham, a McMinnville, Tenn., native who also served as a WSM announcer and executive, was 77.
"Our deepest condolences are with his family," said Jean Shepard, a member of the Opry since 1955. "He was a great manager of the Grand Ole Opry. One of the best."
Mr. Durham's contributions to the Opry were substantial and necessary. He served four years as manager and began his 15-year run as general manager when he succeeded E.W. "Bud" Wendell in 1978.
By that point, country had evolved well beyond its roots as an acoustic music format, and top country artists were drawing arena-level audiences that necessitated playing lucrative tour dates away from Nashville.
The general manager reacted to these factors by altering both the Opry's stage setup and its membership rules.
Under Mr. Durham's leadership, full drum sets were allowed on the Opry stage.
Before, drummers had to appear with only a snare and a cymbal, and when percussion was first allowed on the Opry in the 1950s, drummers such as Buddy Harman had to actually strike a brush against a drum head that was affixed to a standup bass.
Mr. Durham also significantly relaxed membership requirements with regard to requ ired personal appearances, clearing the way for artists with heavy touring schedules to become Opry members without having to commit to multiple Opry appearances each month.
Among the notables Mr. Durham signed as Opry members were Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Riders in the Sky, The Whites and Reba McEntire.
'He was one of us'
While attending the University of Tennessee, Mr. Durham began working at Knoxville's WROL radio. He was an announcer at Atlanta's WSB, then moved back to McMinnville to become a program director beginning in 1960.
Four years later, he moved to Nashville's WSM and worked as an on-air personality and as a Grand Ole Opry announcer.
"He had a voice that harkened to an earlier era," said WSM-AM on-air personality and Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs.
"And physically, he had a towering presence. He commanded your respect without ever having to verbally ask for it."
Mr. Durham became WSM's program director before moving into the ranks of Opry executives.
"Hal's time at the Opry was a heyday of the Opry feeling like a family," said Country Music Hall of Famer Bill Anderson.
"He was low-key, and he was one of us to start with: Because he'd been an Opry announcer, it wasn't like an outsider coming in. I don't know of anyone who didn't like Hal Durham."
Mr. Durham's tenure as general manager ended in 1993. He then=2 0became president of the Grand Ole Opry Group, and served in that role until 1996. All told, he was a part of Opry history for 32 of the show's 84 years.
In retirement, Mr. Durham spent a lot of time in Cape Coral, less than a half-hour drive from Fort Myers, where the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins play their preseason exhibition games.
"He was a huge baseball fan," Anderson said. "When he retired, I remember him telling me, 'I'm going to get to every spring training game I can.' "

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Martina McBride finds fresh inspiration for 10th album

New producer helps 'Shine' fresh light on recording process
By Peter Cooper | THE TENNESSEAN • March 29, 2009
She smiled through the whole thing, but Martina McBride was getting worried.
Her promising 1990s had led to a new century filled with accolades and female vocalist of the year prizes and big hit singles. And then things were different.
"I made Evolution (1997) and Emotion (1999), and for me that was such a creative time," said McBride, whose new album, Shine, was released last Tuesday. "After that, I felt like I missed out on some of that creativity. I felt a little lost, to be honest. With the Martina album (2003), the process was a little frustrating, and it was hard to find inspiration. It's hard to find songs that are different, after you've done so many."
McBride reacted to that by recording an album of classic country covers called Timeless, an endeavor that allowed her to indulge her love of traditional country and to step off of what felt increasingly like a contemporary country treadmill. And then, she decided to fully engage in her next album by sitting in the producer's chair for the first time.
"Right, that was Waking Up Laughing, where I decided to take it all on myself," she said. "And in hindsight, that was ahugeundertaking. It was honestly kind of overwhelming."
And so McBride found herself flustered, needing to record a 10th album and also needing some kind of inspiration and perspective. She called Dann Huff, who had played on her albums and who had produced smashes for Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts and others.
Before Waking Up Laughing, each of McBride's albums had been produced by Paul Worley, and the change for McBride was significant. She and Huff co-produced the album, a situation that allowed McBride all the creative input she wanted but also allowed her enough creative distance to focus on her vocal performances.
"I love Paul and love the work that I've done with Paul, but it was time to try something new," she said. "Paul and Dann approach things completely differently: Dann is very fluid, and he goes inside the tracks to create musical hooks. He's got such an ear for a hook that it's crazy. In the studio, this one felt new and fun and fresh, like the way I felt with Evolution. This was brand new."
Brand new isn't often something that's sought by highly successful veterans of the music industry. McBride broke in to the mainstream in 1992, and since then she has established a recognizable and profitable pattern. Platinum success with empowerment songs such as "Independence Day," "Safe in the Arms of Love" and "Love's the Only House" meant that songwriters and publishers tended to pitch her a slew of similar songs, unless they were pitching power ballads in line with "Where Would You Be" and "Concrete Angel."
Enter "I'm Trying," a song about=2 0alcohol and marriage that was written by Darrell Scott and Tia Sillers.
"That song came to me on a demo, and I immediately was so moved by it," she said. "On the demo, it was just Darrell singing and playing guitar, and the song was an intimate conversation between two people. I wanted that intimacy to show through in the recording, and I had no idea how we were going to beat the demo."
McBride and Huff determined to record the song with little adornment. Accompanied only by former Bering Strait member Illya Toshinsky, McBride sang the song live in the studio, seven or eight times.
"Technically, I learned to sing it better as I went along," she said. "But the first time I sang it, it had a vulnerability that I never got back. We went with the first take."
These days, McBride sounds unworried about the way her career is going, and grateful about the way it has all gone.
"Were there times I wanted things to be more successful, or to be an automatic add on radio when I put a song out? Sure. And sometimes I feel I've earned that. But the bottom line is that I've had a 17-year-career. So the light has shone just the right amount. If it had been more, more, more, it might have burned out quicker."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Clay Walker: Golf Keeps Him in the Swing

Clay Walker photo courtesy of Curb Records.

March 27, 2009 — Clay Walker is just one of a long list of country performers who play golf regularly, but it might be as important for him as for any of them.
Clay was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1996, making it more essential than ever to stay in good physical shape. As it turns out, the exacting nature of the sport helps him keep in tune with what's going on in his body. It's part of the reason he says golf is his "favorite four-letter word."
"Golf has been a great barometer for where I am with the disease," he told Golf Digest. "If something is not exactly right, I can feel it in my golf swing immediately. I remember eight or nine years ago I was at Pebble Beach, playing in the AT&T. I had some trouble at the top of my back swing, a little electric shock. So I called my doctor. It was one of the things that prompted me to get on the medication Copaxone, a daily injection. I've been in remission ever since."
Golf is, Clay pointed out, less taxing on the joints than some other sports, such as softball, running or boxing. Plus, it gives him a reason to leave the hotel room or the concert hall when he's out on the road.
"As a musician, having a good pastime on the road is a great way to get a little bit of exercise and to get out and unwind after a concert the night before," he said. "I think a lot of musicians love to play golf for that reason; it's a beautiful distraction."
When Golf Digest ranked the top golfers in music last year, Clay came in at No. 20, ahead of such notable figures as Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, Glen Campbell and George Strait. Country and bluegrass stars in the Top 10 included: Dan Tyminski, No. 9; Larry Gatlin, No. 8; Steve Gatlin, No. 7; Steve Azar, No. 5; Vince Gill, No. 4; Diamond Rio's Marty Roe, No. 3; and Rudy Gatlin, No. 1.

Dan Seals Memory and Video Wall on Countryville Website

In memory of the passing of Dan Seals, we have posted a tribute on the Countryville website. On the main page, you'll find a live video of "Meet Me In Montana" (with Marie Osmond), and you can listen to full length songs of Dan Seal's greatest hits.

A new feature called "Memories" will be available on the Countryville website soon. This new feature will feature videos and songs from late/passing country music artists.

Reba - 6th and Final Season is Rumored to be Scheduled for Summer

The last year of the show is coming to DVD in June, according to our sources

With the release of the penultimate season this past January, fans have been wondering when they'll be able to complete their collection with Reba - Season 6 on DVD. Fox Home Entertainment hasn't announced it yet, but an early alert to retailers was passed along to us today, saying that we should expect the last 13 episodes on a 2-disc set this June 2nd. Price would be $24.98 SRP. This is early info, and could still be subject to change, but if that happens we'll certainly let you know! Stay tuned for more details, box art and extras (if any) whenever Fox makes it official.

"Reba" Season 6 "2-disc" DVD? Maybe. . . have heard "rumors" that Season 6 of "Reba" may be released on a 2-disc DVD in June 2009.

Click here to read more about this story at

NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Hank Williams: Songs Are the Measure of a Man

New Boxed Set of Unreleased Recordings Is a Modern Landmark
Nashville Skyline
Nashville Skyline
(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/ Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Editor's note: Chet Flippo is taking a break this week. In the meantime, here's one of our favorite columns from the Nashville Skyline archives.

Songs are the measure of a man. And with the new Hank Williams CD set you can hear the man in the songs.

Williams was country's first superstar and deservedly so. His music lives on because it was what made him a superstar. It was not publicity's glare or intensive hype or celebrity friends or any other kind of flash that made you know who he was. He wrote and sang solid music that stopped you dead in your tracks when you heard it.

Hank Williams understood more than he knew. You can hear it in his songwriting and also in his song selection. He said things in his own songs that he could never say in real life. And he seemed to seek out larger truths in selecting compositions by other writers. As far as I can tell from researching and writing a biography of Williams, picking others' songs went against his grain because his ego called for him to record only his own songs insofar as far as he could. But, especially early on in his career he built up a repertoire of many and varied works.

You can hear many of those in the new boxed set, Hank: Unreleased Recordings (released Oct. 28), which I think is one of the most important recorded music projects in recent years. Why? Well, it can introduce a new generation to the architect of modern country music that Hank Williams was. It can display much of Hank's back-story, the music that got him to the point that he became country's first true superstar and legend-to-be. All by the time that he flamed out at age 29. And it can, through this glimpse of Hank, give us an accurate glimpse of what popular American country music really was in the 1940s and 1950s.

These recordings were made for an early-morning show on Nashville radio station WSM mainly in 1951. The sponsor was Mother's Best Flour. The shows were usually recorded because Williams was on the road throughout the week. That these shows were recorded on fragile acetate disks for later broadcast is the only reason they have been preserved at all. The acetates were later discarded by the radio station, which was pretty much standard practice in those days. Fortunately, someone rescued them from the trash bin and held onto them for years and they now can be heard by all of us.

Of the songs included in those radio shows, we will never fully know the extent to which Williams' alter ego, Fred Rose, figured in his selection process. Rose was Williams' song collaborator, de facto record producer, and father figure. He was a successful Tin Pan Alley songwriter long before he moved to Nashville and launched Acuff-Rose Music in 1942. It was country music's first song publishing house. It later took on other roles for its artists and songwriters. In Hank's case, Acuff-Rose filled the roles of publisher, manager, producer, co-writer, booking agent and accountant.

Unfortunately for history, Fred Rose left no journals or other written accounts of his work with Williams. Rose was much more sophisticated musically than was Williams, who also admittedly bought songs from writers he ran across -- standard practice in those days. But we can tell that Williams' song selection for his radio shows was much broader than his choices for his recordings.

Williams' listening habits were pretty wide for a country boy born in 1923 into poverty in Alabama. The songs he picked for his radio shows ranged far beyond what you might imagine he listened to. As a child in rural Alabama, his musical sources were limited to AM radio, old Southern folk songs sung locally, the rare phonograph recording, live church music, a street singer like Tee-Tot who taught him much and religious tent revivals. Songs that stayed with him ranged from the old folk standard "On Top of Old Smoky" to the gospel song "I'll Fly Away" to a weeper such as "The Blind Child's Lament" and even "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The 54 songs included here range widely across the spectrum, from traditional Southern gospel to Hank originals, from Appalachian ballads to a Western standard, from honky-tonk to cob-webby ancient tunes. They all share Hank Williams' formula for musical success: total emotional commitment to the song. If he couldn't identify with the song himself, Hank Williams could never sell it to anyone else and he well knew that.

I have enjoyed discussing these recordings with Hank's daughter Jett, who is very eloquent as a spokesperson for her father's legacy. Jett has spent much of her adult life in court, first establishing her identity as Hank Williams' daughter and then in recovering these lost recordings and making them available for the public to hear. She never got to meet her father, which makes these recordings especially poignant to her. "I finally heard my father laugh," she said. "I heard him as he was, as a man." On his radio shows, he discussed the songs and told corny jokes and displayed his human side.

For the greater listening audience, all of this means that you can hear one of America's most significant music figures at the height of his powers, playing and singing the music that he really liked and treasured personally. Not the music that he felt he should record professionally for Hank Williams, the big star. This is the music that Hank Williams, born Hiram King Williams in Mount Olive West, Ala., wanted to play and sing when he was just out there with his people.

Miley Cyrus, Jamey Johnson, Lady Antebellum Among ACM Awards Performers

Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus, Jamey Johnson, Lady Antebellum, Reba McEntire, John Rich and Lee Ann Womack have been added as performers for the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards, which will take place April 5 in Las Vegas. This will be Cyrus' first time to perform on the show. Lady Antebellum is nominated for top vocal group. Johnson earned five nominations, including album, single and song of the year. McEntire will host the show. She is also nominated for vocal event with Brooks & Dunn for "Cowgirls Don't Cry." Rich, a member of Big & Rich, is nominated for top vocal duo, while Womack is up for top female vocalist. Previously announced performers include Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Heidi Newfield, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Taylor Swift.

Martina McBride Speaks Out Against Teen Dating Abuse

Martina McBride will be the spokesperson for the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline's new program, called My Time to Shine. She will promote the organization during her media appearances and will also show a public service announcement prior to her concerts. "Young people today have more opportunities to make decisions about their lives, and it places a lot of pressure on them early," said McBride. "If we can help them to form healthy relationships at an earlier age in life, they will make better choices for life partners, and as a mom, I want to be part of that." McBride is the mother of three daughters. Her new album, released Tuesday (March 24), is titled Shine.

Dan Seals, Singer of "Bop," "Love on Arrival," Dies at 61

Other Hits Include "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight," "Meet Me in Montana"
Dan Seals
Dan Seals
Dan Seals, the former pop singer who notched 11 No. 1 country hits between 1985 and 1990, died Wednesday (March 25) following treatments from lymphoma. He was 61. Seals was one-half of the pop duo, England Dan & John Ford Coley, which earned a major pop hit in 1976 with "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight." As a solo artist, Seals won a CMA Award in 1986 for "Bop," the same year he and Marie Osmond won a CMA vocal duo award for their No. 1 hit, "Meet Me in Montana."

Seals' other No. 1 country hits included "Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold)," "You Still Move Me," "Three Time Loser," "One Friend," "Big Wheels in the Moonlight" and "Love on Arrival" -- all of which he wrote or co-wrote with Bob McDill. His additional No. 1 singles included "I Will Be There" by Jennifer Kimball and Tom Snow, "Addicted" by Cheryl Wheeler and "Good Times" by Sam Cooke.

Other Top 10 singles included "God Must Be a Cowboy," "(You Bring Out) The Wild Side of Me," "My Baby's Got Good Timing," "My Old Yellow Car" and "They Rage On."

Seals was born in McCamey, Texas, on Feb. 8, 1948. Although his father was an amateur musician, he played with country artists like Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb and Jim Reeves. Other musically inclined members of his family include his brother, Jim Seals (Seals & Croft), as well as his cousins, country singer Johnny Duncan ("Thinkin' of a Rendezvous"), songwriters Troy Seals and Chuck Seals and former Little Texas singer Brady Seals.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lady A to perform on the 44th Annual ACM Awards

The Academy of Country Music announced today that Lady Antebellum, Miley Cyrus, Jamey Johnson, Reba McEntire, John Rich and Lee Ann Womack are scheduled to perform as part of the 44th ANNUAL ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS, hosted by Reba McEntire. They join previously announced performers Toby Keith, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Heidi Newfield, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and Taylor Swift. The ceremony, which honors country music's top talent as well as the industry's hottest emerging artists, is produced for television by dick clark productions and will be broadcast LIVE from MGM GRAND in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 5th, 2009 at 8:00 PM ET/PT on the CBS Television Network.
Lady Antebellum is nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award for Top Vocal Group. The group won Top New Vocal Duo or Group last year.
Golden Globe and Critic's Choice Award nominated singer and actress Miley Cyrus makes her Academy of Country Music Awards debut. Cyrus' current hit "The Climb" is #48 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs Chart.
Jamey Johnson is nominated for five Academy of Country Music Awards, including Top New Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, Single Record of the Year and as an artist and composer for Song of the Year for "In Color." He previously won an Academy of Country Music Award in 2006 for Song of the Yea r for "Give It Away," which was recorded by George Strait.
Reba McEntire will return to host the Academy of Country Music Awards for a record eleventh time. She is nominated for Vocal Event of the Year for "Cowgirls Don't Cry" with Brooks & Dunn. McEntire has won twelve Academy of Country Music Awards.
John Rich is nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award for Top Vocal Duo. Big & Rich has been nominated for fourteen Academy of Country Music Awards including Rich's five nominations as a producer and two nominations as a writer.
Lee Ann Womack is nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award for Top Female Vocalist. She is a five-time Academy of Country Music Awards winner. She has previously won Single Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Top New Female Vocalist and twice for Vocal Event of the Year.
For up to the moment news about the show, please visit
About the Academy of Country Music Awards The 44th ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS is dedicated to honoring and showcasing the biggest names and emerging talent in the country music industry. The show is produced for television by dick clark productions and will be broadcast LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Sunday, April 5, 2009 at 8:00 PM live ET/dela yed PT on the CBS Television Network. Orly Adelson and R.A. Clark are executive producers, Barry Adelman is producer and Bob Bardo is executive in charge of production.
For more information on the ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC and the ACADEMY OF COUNTRY MUSIC AWARDS, please visit

Lady A pledges to pay it forward with Brita's FilterForGood campaign

Award Winning Trio Goes Dark On Stage To Support EARTH HOUR on March 28

Lady Antebellum
is partnering with water filtration leader BRITA and their "FilterForGood" campaign to encourage fans to use fewer disposable water bottles as a small step to better the environment.  

The group will help spread the FilterForGood message online and on the road, starting with this week's "Webisode Wednesday" that will be devoted to the topic.   Once Lady A hits the road for Kenny Chesney's "Sun City Carnival Tour," fans will also be able catch them tailgating with their reusable FilterForGood Nalgene bottles.

"The message of our new video for 'I Run To You' is about paying it forward and being there for others when they need you," says Lady A's Hillary Scott.   "We are going to try and make small lifestyle changes now to pay it forward for people younger than us, like my little sister, so that they have a clean, healthy and safe environment to enjoy years from now."

BRITA's "Filter For Good" campaign is a movement to raise awareness of the simple changes everyone can make to go green and live healthier lives, starting with filling a reusable bottle with Brita filtered water instead of using single-serving water bottles.

To take the pledge, purchase an iconic FilterForGood bottle like the one the band uses and find more tips, visit

Lady Antebellum is also participating in the World Wildlife Fund's Earth Hour on March 28, when individuals and communities across the world will turn off their lights at 8:30 PM local time to show their commitment to take action on climate change.  To that end, the band will dim their stage lights during their performance of current single "I Run To You" to support the global effort.

For additional information, visit

Rascal Flatts Thinks Big With "Goodbye"

GAC host Nan Kelley chats with Rascal Flatts on the set of Top 20 Country Countdown.

March 25, 2009 — Rascal Flatts made a huge impact with "Here Comes Goodbye," the first single from the forthcoming Unstoppable album.
Written by former "American Idol" contestant Chris Sligh, the song is ranked at No. 7 on the USA Today Mediabase country singles chart. The band is not surprised at all by its success; they knew it was significant right from the moment they heard it.
"It was one of the first songs that we put on hold for this project, and we knew we had something special," guitarist Joe Don Rooney said on GAC's Top 20 Country Countdown. "It was just a piano/vocal. And something like that, that can be that big-sounding already in itself in that small of a demo, we knew we had something very special. And I remember Jay [DeMarcus] and Dann Huff, our pr oducer, talking about 'We should cut this big band. It should be full and big, you know, string sections, make this really powerful, pull all the emotion out of it. And it does. It builds throughout the song, until the end, you just gotta catch a breath."
The Unstoppable album comes out April 7, just two days after the "44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards", where the band is nominated for Top Vocal Group. If Rascal Flatts wins, it will pass Alabama, becoming the first act ever to claim that trophy seven years in a row.
GAC's Headline Country presents a special ACM Preview edition Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET. The episode looks at the top nominees — including Brad Paisley and Heidi Newfield — as well as the finalists for Top New Artist of the Year: Jake Owen, Julianne Hough and the Zac Brown Band.

Hank Williams Jr., Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard Lead ACM Off-Camera Winners

Hank Williams Jr. photo courtesy of Webster & Associates.

March 25, 2009 — A bevy of country music standard bearers who made their first impact in previous decades — including Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and Hank Williams Jr. — are among the off-camera winners announced for the "44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards".
The genre's pioneers, its musicians and the movie Beer For My Horses are among the winners of the California-based ACM's special trophies, which will be presented during a ceremony in Nashville during September.
Dolly is receiving the Jim Reeves International Award for spreading country's impact beyond America's borders, while Merle and the late Harlan Howard — who authored such hits as Patty Loveless' "Blame It On Your Heart," the Judds' "Why Not Me" and Patsy Cline's "I Fall To Pieces" — claim the Poet=E 2s Award.
Kenny Rogers and the late Jerry Reed join Randy and Hank Jr. as winners of the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award, named for a significant West Coast musician, publisher and talent scout. Toby Keith's Beer For My Horses follows such previous films as Walk The Line, Sweet Dreams and O Brother, Where Art Thou? in claiming the Tex Ritter Award, which bears the stamp of one of the silver screen's singing cowboys.
The Academy also presents a bundle of industry honors and musician awards that recognize outstanding performance on a specific instrument. The musician winners (and some of their credits) include:

• Top Guitarist of the Year: Tom Bukovac (Carrie Underwood's "Last Name," Rascal Flatts' "Every Day")
• Top Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year: Gordon Mote (Darius Rucker's "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," Trace Adkins' "You're Gonna Miss This")
• Top Bass Player of the Year: Glenn Worf (George Strait's "Troubadour," Heidi Newfield's "Johnny And June")
• Top Percussionist/Drummer of the Year: Greg Morrow (Chris Cagle's "What Kinda Gone," Montgomery Gentry's "Back When I Knew It All")
• Top Steel Guitar Player of the Year: Dan Dugmore (Josh Gracin's "We Weren't Crazy," Ra scal Flatts' "Take Me There")
• Top Fiddle Player of the Year: Aubrey Haynie (Darius Rucker's "It Won't Be Like This For Long," Lee Ann Womack's "Last Call")
• Top Specialty Instrument(s) Player: (tie) Eric Darken (Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me," Lady Antebellum's "Love Don't Live Here") and Jelly Roll Johnson (Gary Allan's "Life Ain't Always Beautiful," Joe Nichols' "I'll Wait For You")
• Audio Engineer of the Year: Chuck Ainlay (Taylor Swift, Brittini Black's Good Happens)
• Producer of the Year: Tony Brown (Brooks & Dunn's "Cowgirls Don't Cry," George Strait's "River Of Love")

Tracy Lawrence’s Narrow Escape

Tracy Lawrence on the Orange Carpet at the 43rd Annual ACM Awards, Sunday, May 18, 2008 in Las Vegas, NV. Photo by David Vespie.

March 25, 2009 — Tracy Lawrence prefers his blow-outs come on stage or on birthdays, but over the weekend he had a blow-out that threatened him and four members of his tour entourage.
While winding back to Nashville Sunday from a show in Jackpot, Nev., the left front tire on Tracy's bus burst on Interstate 80 near North Platte, Neb. Road manager Chuck Pursel, who was behind the wheel relieving bus driver Raymond Hall, lost control of the vehicle, which weaved across the median and continued rolling on the wrong side of the interstate with the tires from only one side of the bus in contact with the pavement. Cars were speeding toward the bus, and Chuck jerked the wheel to the right, which could have flipped the carrier. Fortunately, it brought all the tires back on the road, and Chuck pulled the bus onto the median befo re they came to a stop.
It could have led to a traumatic accident. Instead, no one was hurt, the bus suffered a comparatively minor amount of damage, and Tracy and his crew were merely delayed a couple hours while they replaced the tire and checked the bus over.
"By divine intervention," Tracy says, "we were at the right place at the right time for a serious incident like this to happen and have everyone walk away unscathed."
Tracy's been thinking a lot about divine guidance these days. He's planning the release of a gospel-influenced album, The Rock, in June. He shot a video for the first single, "Up To Him," on Tuesday.

Johnny Cash, George Jones, Loretta Lynn: History Preserved

Country legend Johnny Cash.

March 25, 2009 — The long-established backdrop for the Grand Ole Opry's productions has been a red barn, so it's appropriate that a ton of old concerts, primarily by Opry stars, were preserved in the back of a barn for decades. Now those live recordings — including performances by such legends as Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn and George Jones — may find their way to the marketplace.
According to The Boston Globe, rumors of the tapes' existence had circulated for years, but it was only when a California actor and producer, Richard Pittman, took the legend seriously that they were tracked down. Ken Alexander, a now deceased sound engineer, had recorded hundreds of shows in the Northeast from the 1940s through the early '70s and left them in a building on his farm. The current owner hesitated for about a year after Pittman tracked him down before finally selling off the reel-to-reel tapes, which required two pickup-tr uck loads to remove them from the property. All told, there were more than 1,000 concerts documented, though many of the tapes were in bad condition — mangled, wrinkled, spliced. Many of the boxes didn't even notate who had been recorded, or when, or where.
Among the collection are 1940s performances by Country Music Hall of Famers Roy Acuff and Grandpa Jones, Porter Wagoner duets with Dolly Parton and a Loretta concert in which Crystal Gayle appears on background vocals the night before Crystal started recording her first album.
And then there's Jerry Lee Lewis.
"He shows up late, tries to hide the fact that he's drinking onstage and finally says, 'Screw it, I'm drinking,' forgetting lyrics along the way," engineer J Franze told The Globe. "It's great, just him doing his thing."
Thus far, only 50 of the tapes have been restored completely. The producers still don't even know all they've got in their hands. But they're convinced there's an audience for the music.
"Somebody," J said, "is in for a big treat."
In the meantime, some of country's standards get rolled out with the unveiling of a new Opry Country Classics show on Thursday. The first edition of the weekly series features Loretta, Lorrie Morgan, Mandy Barnett and Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers Band, who host the performance. The honor is timely for the Gatlins: Marc h is the 30th anniversary of the recording session that yielded their signature hit, "All The Gold In California."

Jason Michael Carroll Finds New Gauge for Success

Jason Michael Carroll performs at the Nightly Concert on the Vault Concert Stage LP Field Saturday, June 7 in Downtown Nashville during the 2008 CMA Music Festival. Photographer: John Russell / CMA

March 25, 2009 — There are plenty of ways to measure the success of a recording career: chart position, ticket sales or album sales are the traditional methods.
Jason Michael Carroll has grown to appreciate a rather unscientific gauge: the length of time it takes to get in and out of Wal-Mart.
"I leave Wendy and the kids in the truck and tell them, 'I only need a few things, I'll be right back,'" he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "If I'm not back in 10 minutes now, one of the kids usually pipes up and says, 'Daddy's signing autographs again!' But they're real understanding about it."
Signing autographs might delay the family, but it's a good indication that people are recogni zing Jason and that his music has begun to mean something to them. They certainly connected with his first two hits — the tear-jerker "Alyssa Lies" and the relationship affirmation "Livin' Our Love Song." Now fans are beginning to relate to his new single, "Where I'm From," in which an Armani-dresssed businessman embraces his down-to-earth roots.
"I wanted to play it live and record it from the moment I heard it," Jason Michael said, of the song. "I've sat on that wooden pew in my Baptist preacher daddy's church, and I grew up on a tobacco farm and watched those deals go down out in the field. I knew what that song was about."
"Where I'm From" is currently ranked at No. 19 on the USA Today Mediabase country chart. It's the first single from Jason's sophomore album, Growing Up Is Getting Old. The CD is set for release April 28.

Reba & Heidi interviewed for CMT Insider

Check out Reba & Heidi Newfield interviewed for CMT Insider about their Price Is Right special.

Gatlin In Nashville To Host 'Classics'

From music writer Peter Cooper:
Larry Gatlin is in Nashville today to host and perform on the first edition of the Grand Ole Opry's every-Thursday-this-spring series, Opry Country Classics.
Tonight's show finds Gatlin introducing and interacting with Loretta Lynn, Lorrie Morgan and Mandy Barnett, as the show salutes country legend Patsy Cline. And Larry is bringing along his brothers, Steve and Rudy, to sing with him.
As for Larry, he's a whirl of activity.
"Oh, I'm singing, traveling, babysitting, writing a musical and all kinds of things," Larry said.
Hold on a second. This economy is so bad that Larry Gatlin — the dude who sang "Broken Lady," "All The Gold In California" and so many other hits — has resorted to babysitting to pick up extra cash?
"Yeah, that and we're taking in ironing," he says. "No, actually I've just been babysitting my granddaughter. This morning I've been chopping up apples for her, to put in a chocolate cereal called Bumpers. She loves that Bumpers."
But enough about Bumpers. The business at hand here is putting on the new Opry show.
"This show is a very special thing," he says. "I'm going to host the whole two hours, and each week there's a theme. This week, it's Patsy Cline. I'm going to host six or seven of these shows through the spring, and there'll be other hosts on some other weeks. They wanted to do something different20and put a spotlight on country music history."
Larry's own place in country music history is secure, but that doesn't mean he's not pleased and impressed to be around folks like Loretta.
"I'm so respectful of what she's done in this business," he says. "Around her, I think I … well, I'll tell you a little story. We were in Cincinnati doing a show. Reba McEntire was the headliner, and we were second on the bill, and a young guy named Clint Black was the opener. He was just a kid.
"I was in my dressing room and this nice-looking young man with a black cowboy hat knocked on my door. It was open, but he knocked anyway. And he took off his hat and said, 'Mr. Gatlin, I just came to pay my respect and tell you I'm honored to be on the show with you tonight.' He did it the right way, and I was appreciative of that. So when I get to the Opry, I can guarantee that I'm going to knock on Ms. Loretta's door and tell her I'm honored to be on a show with her."
The Opry Country Classics show begins at 7 p.m. Tickets range in price from $33 to $49, available at


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