Sunday, August 26, 2012

"...Even In A Noisy Room, You Can Hear Them Perfectly..."

On the seminal, but long forgotten, Badfinger album, "Straight Up", Pete Ham sings...

"There is no real perfection/
There'll be no perfect day/
Just love is our connection/
The truth in what we say.."

Peace, love and groovy connection notwithstanding, I think a little "au contrare'/ mon frere' " is in order when it comes to the first line, there, Hamster...

Because when it comes to perfection...

A few years ago, producer/performer Don Was remarked that he thought the Mike Reid/Allen Shamblin song "I Can't Make You Love Me", as done by Bonnie Raitt was, in Was' words, "the perfect pop song."

Personally, I think Was was right.

With one proviso.

I'd offer that it was "a", as opposed to "the", perfect pop song.

Because if you're talking a poignant and powerful, even devastating, and, yet, simple expression of a raw and primal emotion like human heartbreak, "I Can't Make You Love Me" is dead center.

Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin nailed it.

Bonnie Raitt gave it exquisite life.

But, for my jukebox money, Del Shannon nailed it thirty years earlier.

And Peter and Gordon gave it exquisite life.

Three writers, three singers, three decades apart, all doing what they did...


Saturday, August 18, 2012

"...Just Having A Little Poke At Taylor, He Said, Swiftly..."

The Borg had it all wrong.

Resistance is futile?

Pish tosh.

I've been resisting, for years now, the inevitable incredible pull on my psyche of the traditional, and very human, force of aging.

Working most of my life in the creative arts (music, writing, radio, et al) has given me an edge over my more traditionally traveled peers.

Then again, a lot of them are happily retired and reasonably well off while I'm still wandering around waiting for my big break so, as G often opines, everything is a tradeoff.

Lately, though, even the youthful attitude in which I wallow, thanks to pretty much every waking hour spent in the pursuit of the aforementioned music, writing, radio, et al, has taken on a little water, sinking me ever closer to the very real possiblity that I might, despite my best efforts, finally morph into that which I have dedicated my life to not become.


Oh, I'm not so naive, vain or deluded that I feel the need to either deny, or regret, the graying of hair, the protruberance of paunch, the aches, pains and/or laments that come with the passing of time. I dress casually (again, thanks to the profession{s}) but I don't think my walking by elicits anywhere near the "tsk tsks" that, say, Madonna evokes these days with her 54 year old carcass crammed into the get up of the average 24 year old.

And though I really do (always have and always will) think that the pop music of the 1950's and 1960's will never be surpassed (and that even includes my guilty pleasure inclusion of Donnie Iris singing "Ah, Leah" on my treadmill IPod),  I have managed, for the most and larger part, to resist any generationally induced temptation to refer to contemporary music as "lame", "useless" "superficial", "irrelevent" or that greatest of the great, that time honored acknowledgement that my opinion of today's sounds have evolved from an OMG/IKR mindset to one labeled AARP.

No thanks to Taylor Swift.

Vis a vi her current "raced to the top of the charts" single. (Apologies if you have to sit through the inevitable :30 hype beforehand....sign of the times)....

Okay. First, the disclaimer.

I totally get why she is a superstar.

She writes and sings songs that hit her audience dead smack center of where they live.

But I'm noticing something here.

Most singer/songwriters, at least those that I have either known, worked with or simply enjoyed through the years, tend to "progress", "grow", even, say, "mature" with both their lyrics and their melodies as time passes, they live and learn more as they, to put it simply, grow up.

Find a copy of "Meet The Beatles" and play it.

Then find a copy of "Rubber Soul" and play it.

The time between those two recordings is less than eighteen months.

Taylor, on the other hand, has apparently decided to become unique in pop music in yet another way.


Her lyrics seem to be moving from heart felt, angst and/or anger flavored odes castrating one bad boyfriend or another, totally relatable and enrapturing the average thirteen year old to heart felt, angst and/or anger flavored odes to one bad boyfriend or another, totally relatable and enrapturing the average ten year old.

Don't get me wrong. Ain't nobody's bizness how anybody does de bizness.

And Taylor shure do sum bizness.

In fact, my whip smart six and half year old granddaughter Olivia knows all the words, back and forth, to all of Taylor's heart felt, angst and/or anger flavored odes...yada, yada.

Friday morning on the radio show, I played a snippet of the new tune and then, in a spirit of professional camaraderie, called upon my own moderately known gifts as a songwriter and suggested a few song titles that might assist Taylor with the direction she seems to be taking with her work, titles that I think, given where it seems to be headed, she could totally run with.

"I Don't Like You and You Can't Have Any Of My Skinny Cow"

"Why Do You Have To Be Such A Poopy Head?"

"My Easy Bake Oven Light Is Burned Out And I Suspect You".

"Who Needs Nike or L'Oreal? I'm The New Spokesperson for Fisher-Price".

"And You Thought Justin Bieber Was Annoying."

And, last, but I think absolutely the one that will become her signature tune...

"I'm Actually Almost 23, But Adele Has That Market Nailed Down".

Taylor seems like a nice kid.

And she makes Olivia happy.

So, live and let listen, I suppose.

Of course, I realize that, having been a little impish with the icon, I'm going to get emails offering song titles Taylor can use to get even with me.

No need, girls.

She already has that covered.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"...Just A Comfy Little Glass House In The Country..."

The latest from the feet of clay folder...

(CNN) By Phil Gast, CNN -- Country music fans are loyal and they don't like to see their legends fall.

Randy Travis, one of the genre's most revered traditional singer-songwriters, was arrested this week after being found naked, smelling apparently of alcohol and lying on a remote roadway in northern Texas, authorities said.

In a genre largely led by artists who can achieve chart-topping tunes and high-grossing concert tours, industry consultants and radio station personalities say Travis, 53, faces significant challenges ahead and should first address whatever issues may have led to this incident.

Country's unique "cradle to the grave" fan base will likely stick with Travis, one industry expert told CNN.

Travis was considered a breath of fresh air for country music when he made his debut during the mid-80s.

"Country music fans are notorious for their loyalty," said Wade Jessen, senior chart manager for Billboard in Nashville. "They tend to live the artist's lives with them -- good, or bad, (but) only up to a point."

Some say Travis may have reached that point Tuesday evening.

Travis was driving his black 1998 Pontiac Trans Am, which went off the north side of a highway just west of Tioga, Texas, where he resides, and struck several barricades in a construction zone, said Texas Highway Patrol Trooper Mark Tackett.

Travis was found naked, Tackett said. When the singer was brought to Grayson County jail at 3 a.m., after a hospital visit, he still didn't have clothes, Sgt. Rickey Wheeler said.

"He was given a paper suit, which is a jail uniform made out of paper," Wheeler told CNN.

Travis was charged with driving while intoxicated and felony retaliation, after allegedly threatening to fatally shoot highway patrol troopers who responded to a concerned caller who notified authorities of "a man lying in the roadway" Tuesday. The incident happened just six months after he pleaded no contest to public intoxication in another case.

Travis, of course, isn't the first country star to run into problems.

Hank Williams and George Jones were known for their tumultuous lifestyles and drinking. Jones even earned the moniker "No Show Jones" because he missed so many performances.

"The difference is George Jones had his clothes on," said country radio consultant Joel Raab.

And it's certainly not the first time a celebrity from any genre has found himself in the middle of a personal and public relations challenge. R&B star Chris Brown worked his way back up the charts after he was convicted three years ago of assaulting ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Former "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen is back on television after a very public firing and meltdown.

Susan Keel, a Nashville-based publicist who has represented country singers, said Travis should postpone his current tour and issue a statement indicating he is getting help.

"He should apologize to the officer, the public, friends and fans to indicate he will get his life back on track," said Keel.

Travis burst onto the country music scene in 1986 with "Storms of Life." The North Carolina-born singer's debut album sold nearly 4 million copies and made him a star of the "new traditional" scene.

Travis was in his heyday from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, recording such classics as "Diggin' Up Bones" and "Forever and Ever, Amen." His baritone voice and songs and even his retro wardrobe harkened to a traditional country style.

Julie Stevens, now program director at KRTY in San Jose, California, said Travis and George Strait came in like a breath of fresh air during the mid-1980s, when country radio stations were suffering low ratings.

"It was horrible," said Stevens. "We were just coming out of John Travolta and the whole 'Urban Cowboy' thing."

Travis ran out a string of successful songs and albums.

"The two of them together saved the format," Stevens said. "I don't know why George endured and Randy didn't."

Travis eventually moved toward gospel music and today he largely plays smaller venues, including casinos.

Strait, meanwhile, is still bringing large crowds to arenas. While he has a predictable sound, according to Billboard's Jessen, Strait "is very adept at making it sound fresh from album to album."

"I don't think we can blame Randy Travis' decline on the format," Jessen said.

Observers point out that Travis hasn't had a top-selling record for a decade. Finding one now could give him a needed boost.

"He has to make a hit record that will work on country radio with today's country fans," said Raab. "You would be hard-pressed to find a Randy Travis song on a contemporary country radio station today."

An estimated 2,000 stations, most of them "contemporary," are considered the primary marketing vehicle for country music, Jessen told CNN.

Listeners ages 25 to 54 are the key demographic, and successful musicians keep the songs coming.

"If you take it in general terms, Randy Travis is considered a veteran artist," said Jessen. "Randy doesn't have singles on the radio all the time. Current artists have a new single on the radio all the time. They tour and record. They tour and record. They tour and record."

Still, Travis has won seven Grammy Awards, five Country Music Association awards, 10 Academy of Country Music statuettes, 10 American Music Awards, seven Music City News awards, and eight Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association, according to his website.

He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1986, according to his website.

Travis' last major hit came in 2002 with "Three Wooden Crosses," a song about faith and redemption.

There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway,

Why there's not four of them, Heaven only knows.

I guess it's not what you take when you leave this world behind you,

It's what you leave behind you when you go.

Travis "was able to tell it with sincerity and it was a hit," Jessen said.

Jess Wright, program director and on-air personality at WFRE in Frederick, Maryland, said her station plays some traditional country songs favored by the likes of Travis. "If it is not the right song, it is hard to find the right place to play it," Wright told CNN.

Raab provides consultant services to 27 stations, a few of which are "classic" -- meaning they play songs from the 1950s to the 1990s.

He spoke Thursday with an individual at one such station. While they discussed Travis' most recent incident, they never discussed whether his songs should be taken off the air.

"I don't think the legacy of his music is necessarily tarnished by what he did," said Raab.

The past two years have been difficult ones for Travis.

He divorced his longtime wife in 2010. According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year, Elizabeth Travis remained his personal manager until she terminated the agreement in 2011 -- without proper notice, the suit alleges.

Randy Travis countersued in May, contending Elizabeth Travis divulged confidential information about him in order to damage his reputation and career. He did not provide specifics.

In February, the legendary performer was arrested for public intoxication while sitting in his car in front of a church in Sanger, Texas.

"I apologize for what resulted following an evening of celebrating the Super Bowl," Travis told CNN in a statement after that arrest. "I'm committed to being responsible and accountable, and apologize for my actions."

With fewer songs on radio, Travis primarily reaches his fan base by touring, said Jessen. "An old rule in country music, men like to be sung about and women like to be sung to. Randy has done both."

"His diehard fans are going to stay with him through this," Jessen said. "They will wish him well and stay tuned to the news."

"Country music fans don't like to see their legends fall."

Keel said the country music industry still considers Travis a legend.

"This is a very supportive community and a forgiving community," she said.

Not that anybody has asked, but, for my money, the preceding piece pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The conventional wisdom in Nashville during my own years of writing and studio work was that country music fans, as opposed to rock, etc, fans, were loyal to the singer as much as, if not more than, the song.

In the 70's, the prevailing attitude was that Kenny Rogers could have sung the phone book and the CD would have gone double platinum.

Randy enjoyed much of that same fan fervor during his time in the high wattage spotlight.

That blind loyalty, as a matter of fact, was something that a lot of my friends/peers on Music Row, in the day, pointed to as an explanation for the smashing success of a song Randy recorded that included the lyric, "honey I don't care / I'm not in love with your hair..."

Oscar Hammerstein, come home, all is forgiven.

Without intending to either counterpoint or split hairs with Mr. Gast's take on it, here's what my own instincts, down home honed after thirty five plus years of both Nashville songwriting industry membership and/or country radio show producing and hosting, tell me about the Randy ruckus.

Country music fans, at least the more traditionalist fans who think that country music could do with a lot less Pickler and a whole lot more Patsy, a whole lot less Paisley and a whole lot more Possum, will quietly tsk tsk amongst themselves as to Randy's raw and raunchy behavior, but, in the end, forgive, if not forget, his Trans Am transgressions, pray for his recovery from the demon rum and get back to bitchin' about how country music has gone to hell in a handbasket..

After all, they will reason, who amongst us hasn't come just this close to gettin bare ass naked, certifiably shit faced and headed on down to the local Suds and Sack for a pack of Marlboro Lights?

Those willing to live and let live will just add this story to the legendary saga of Geroge Jones, drunk and denied keys to the family wheel by Tammy, using his own pickled smarts to ride his lawn mower miles down Franklin Road to the nearest liquor store.

Of course, Possum wasn't naked. But the envelope gets a little more of a push with each passing generation, right, ya'll?

And, yes, he threatened to shoot and kill the police officers that arrested him, but, hey, there's not a good old boy in the crowd that hasn't offered to have us "wonder where the Loosiana sheriff went to" now and again.

Bottom line is, Randy did break the law, but it's not like he's Jerry Sandusky.

Randy's "problem", in the end, won't be about acceptance or rejection by his loyal fans.

And it won't be that his obvious issues with drinking, driving and disrobing have made a big splash in the news.

His problem will be that he, unlike George Strait, as Gast mentions, for example, has been unable, to keep his music relevant and important to this generation of country music fans.

And the only thing worse for somebody in the song business than being in the being old news.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"...Everybody Thinks Their Pitch Is The Perfect Pitch...But This Pitch Really Is...."

Nothing feels as good as lending a helping hand.

Which I am inclined to do.


First, though...

Keith Urban is dismantling the way he makes records — and he likes it.

Urban is working with new producers, writing with different songwriters and recording in different studios hoping to make an album unlike anything he’s recorded to date.

So far, it’s working.

“I wanted to have everything around me be totally unfamiliar to me and I think it’s great in a sense that all sorts of stuff is coming out that I normally haven’t done before,” he says.

In particular, Urban is excited about a song he wrote recently with producer Jay Joyce and Jeremy Spillman, both of whom are new co-writers for the singer. He called the writing session “exhilarating” and says it “gave birth to a song that I never would have written with anybody else melodically and in a lot of other ways, too.”

Urban says he has accrued six or seven songs in the past several months, and that so far the music is hopeful but offers fans something new and with insight into his past.

“The song (I wrote with Joyce and Spillman) is a bit of my journey over the last six years, my transition,” he says. “I have it represented in there and I like it because it got represented in a song that’s otherwise pretty upbeat, and I didn’t think that would be the place for that kind of lyric, but it works.”

As for when the new music will be on store shelves, Urban says it will likely be sometime next year, and that carving out a handsome chunk of time to make an album is something he’s always wanted to do. This time, however, it was more than just a want.

“It just isn’t easy to do,” he says. “But it just feels very, very strong in me to do it. I am putting a tour on next year, but it won’t be early in the year, so there is somewhat of a need for an album sooner than later. But I just would like for the album to be right.

“We can’t keep remaking the same record.”

Change is good.

And in my ongoing effort to be a part of the solution, I have a pitch idea for Keith.

Here's a pretty clever song that was recorded some years ago by a Capitol Records group called The Ranch. It was going to be their "next single" but, as fate and the song biz would have it, the label decided to focus more on the lead singer of the group and put their time and energy and money into his career.

So, the group ended and the "next single" meandered up to 60 or so on the chart and then withered away in the wind of career change.

Hey, kids, this is the NFL. Shake it off, take a shower and get on with the game.

Reading about Keith's new direction, though, it occurred to me that this song might just be right up his alley.

It's not like anything he's done in recent years.

And I'm pretty sure he could nail it.

After all, he sounds an awful lot like the lead singer of The Ranch.

Guy named Keith Urban.