To learn more about the fight between Ronnie Milsap and Capitol Records Nashville, click here.
A lot of people have been curious why I championed the fight of Ronnie Milsap against Capitol Records, from my core readers to Milsap fans. Normally I cover artists here that nobody else does, and this doesn’t really pertain to Milsap. The truth is this story touched a nerve with me because of the the themes and history at the very core of Saving Country Music. So I thought I would explain in detail why this is, and at the same time hopefully impart some hope to Ronnie Milsap and Bleve Music.
When Bleve decided to refuse to comply with the court’s “cease and decist” order, they posted a picture of a small kid taking on a Sumo wrestler. It was going to be a David and Goliath fight no doubt, but like Bleve said, sometimes you have to take a stand.
But this is not the first time a small independently-minded entity has taken on a major Nashville label in recent memory. In 2004, the grandson of Hank Williams, Hank Williams III took on the label Curb Records after they would not release his album, originally entitled Thrown Out of the Bar. Legally, Curb did not have a leg to stand on. They just did not want to put out the album. So Hank III fought them in court, and in the court of public opinion.
Hank III started a campaign with the name “Curb” preceded by an unsavory four letter word. There were T-Shirts and bumper stickers. Hank III even wrote it on his guitar. Curb held defiant, until a judge ruled in favor of Hank III in the Spring of 2005, and the album now entitled Straight to Hell, was officially released. David had slayed Goliath. Well, sort of.
A concession Hank III had to make to get the album released was that he could not publicly slander Curb Records anymore. Now Curb had Hank III where they wanted him, because when his next album, Damn Right, Rebel Proud was set to be released, they played the same delay game they had played with Straight to Hell, and Hank III was unable to say anything about it.
What Curb had not banked on was the loyal and active nature of the Hank III fan base. Saving Country Music grew out of an organization called Free Hank III. Since Hank III had been stripped of his freedom of speech, his fans spoke for him, putting pressure on Curb to release the album.
The movement culminated when hundreds of Free Hank III supporters started calling Curb Records and tying up their phone lines, demanding that Curb give the album a released date. Coincidentally, this was the same day Hank III and his management were meeting with Curb executives to try to end the standoff. A few days later Curb decided to release Damn Right, Rebel Proud, which they did in October of 2008.
Since the very beginning of the Free Hank III fight, I had this sentence in the verbage of the site:
“Hank III’s fight is not just about country music. You may not like country music or you may not like Hank III’s music, but his fight is the same fight artists of all walks are fighting for creative control of their art. Weather you are a musician, painter, writer, sculptor, whatever, Hank III’s fight is your fight, and he serves as an inspiration to us all.
You could say the same about Ronnie Milsap, or any artist, it doesn’t matter. And the fact that Ronnie Milsap’s song and Bleve Music are trying to benefit charitable organizations makes their fight even more righteous, and the irony of Capitol Records Nashville’s stance even more thick.
I never thought that I would have police officers commenting and reading my articles. I’ve had a few firefighters as readers almost since day 1. I joke that a lot of my core readers could populate America’s Most Wanted. In truth I love them all, and judge nobody, and try to respect everyone’s opinion. But the reason my readership is so diverse is because the themes behind the fight are so true and eternal. Back in the 70’s they called Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings “Outlaws,” not because they were outside of the law of the land (well, not all the time) but because they were outside of the control of the intrusive Nashville entities, entities just like Curb and Capitol.
Artists should have the right to do what they want with their art, and the big companies that control music should respect the artist and the fans first, and then concern themselves with the money interests. We all have to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when the desire for money clouds moral judgment and begins to affect people’s lives in adverse ways, we all must take a stand, no matter what flavor the cause might be.
Some may think that we take this fight to save country music too seriously, and sometimes I wonder about that myself. But this is just one element in the larger fight across our way of life, fighting the homogenization of our culture, and fighting for the freedom of expression and art in general. Some may decide to take the fight up for farms or jobs or politics, etc. We have just chosen country music, because it is something we believe in. It is simple and something we cherish.
That is why I have chosen to stand behind Ronnie Milsap and Bleve Records, and because of my Free Hank III experience, why I have hope that if we stand together, what is right will prevail.