Let’s just start this off by drudging the big elephant right out in the middle of the room and shining a big ‘ol spotlight on it. Mike Curb, Herr Führer of Curb Records—the man who has made millions off of the indentured servitude of many of country music’s most famous names, and manipulated consumers with repackaged releases and Greatest Hits bamboozels—has taken his blood money, his ill-gotten gains, and thrown them behind the much-ballyhooed preservation of Music Row’s historic Studio ‘A’ in Nashville, and we all should feel deeply conflicted about it.
It was announced on Tuesday (12-23) that the deal to purchase Studio ‘A’ with the intent to preserve the historic property had finally closed, and that two unexpected, and previously-unannounced investors were joining preservationist Aubrey Preston as partners in the preservation effort. Studio ‘A’, originally built by Chet Atkins and Own Bradley nearly 50 years ago to be the bigger brother of the older Studio ‘B’ right beside it, was sold to a developer earlier this year called Bravo Development, who let it be known their intent was to bulldoze the building that so many greats had recorded hits in over the years to build a condominium complex and a music-themed restaurant. But preservationist Aubrey Preston pulled off an 11th-hour deal to purchase the property for $5.6 million in an attempt to usher it into a more permanent state of preservation.
But Preston may have not been in the position to throw $5.6 million around on his own, and made it known from the very beginning that it wasn’t his intent to own the building himself forevermore, but shepherd it into more permanent hands who could see its preservation into the future. To help buffer the deal, Preston brought on two more partners at closing, and now all three own the building in equal share. The first Preston partner is a healthcare business executive named Chuck Elcan (healthcare is Nashville’s other big industry), and the other is the aforementioned Mike Curb.
Nobody should act surprised that Mike Curb came on board as part of the preservation. In fact, you’d have to have your head in the sand to not see it coming. Mike Curb has worked to preserve other historic places in Nashville, including Studio ‘B’ which like is planned for Studio ‘A’, is now in safe hands to be protected for all time. Curb has also thrown his money around to help build other Nashville landmarks, especially on the Belmont University campus, and as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In August, when some were focused more on being angry about what seemed to be the impending fate of Studio ‘A’ as opposed to crafting pragmatic solutions, Saving Country Music posted an essay about the best ways to preserve Studio ‘A’ (which might have been the least-read article posted on the site the entire year), and observed, “Some large entrepreneurial spirit with an established footprint on Music Row such as Mike Curb or Scott Borchetta could buy the property. It seems like this would be the best option to see the long-term preservation of Studio ‘A’.” It was also pointed out that Curb had already worked with Belmont University on numerous cohabitated properties on Music Row.
But how is the conscientious music lover—many of whom overlap their passion for preserving Studio ‘A’ with the desire to see reform in the way some of Music Row’s major labels do business—supposed to feel about Mike Curb’s involvement in this matter? Meanwhile it can’t be taken for granted that everyone knows about all the ill will Mike Curb has sewed over his sullied career, especially in the last decade plus.
When Hank Williams III began to make a public nuisance about how Curb Records was treating him in the mid 2000′s, many thought it was simply the sour grapes of a foul-mouthed punk. Since then, a parade of artists have come out complaining about how the label has treated them, trainwrecking their careers from their ill-conceived policy of waiting five years between releases, resulting most notably in a massive barrage of lawsuits back and forth with Tim McGraw, who Curb Records did everything they could to keep him perpetually signed to their label by refusing to release his final album, and instead released one Greatest Hits album after another. McGraw, like Hank Williams III, eventually defeated Curb Records in court, but not after great damage had been done to his career.
LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr., Jo Dee Messina, Lyle Lovett, Clay Walker, and even going back to The Beat Farmers and Frank Zappa, they all have legitimate beefs against Mike Curb and the way they were handled by the country music mogul.
In 2011, Saving Country Music asked if Nashville should be careful of its Mike Curb legacy, pointing out that many important buildings around the city now bear Mike Curb’s name and what this might mean as he continues his unscrupulous business practices. Just last month, yet another Curb Records manipulation was unearthed when it was revealed the label would be releasing yet another round of regurgitated releases from Tim McGraw and Hank Williams III in the hopes of misleading the public into buying previously-released material repackaged to look new—something Curb has been doing for years from the two artists.
At the same time, it is a good thing that Studio ‘A’ is being preserved. The concerns about Mike Curb’s philanthropy have never been about the specific targets of it, which all appear to be worthy benefactors, and it’s not as if he doesn’t deserve any credit for making these types of charitable moves with his money. The bigger concern is where that money is coming from, and if it’s worth receiving it if a stipulation to take it is engraving the name of Mike Curb—and all the baggage that comes with it—on the edifice.
Just to clarify, there’s no plan at the moment to rename 30 Music Sq. West “Mike Curb’s Studio ‘A’” or any other such permanent homage to his involvement in this preservation effort. There’s a good chance that by the time the building finds its eventual permanent ownership environment, Mike Curb won’t even be involved. Nonetheless, the legacy of Mike Curb is not one of a few public feuds and personal grudges. It is of a legacy of the purposeful manipulation of artists which has seen Curb Records shed talent at a record pace, despite the label’s aggressive, and many times illegal retention practices, and then taking the money Curb made through such practices to donate to private, charitable projects to help etch a different legacy moving forward.
Like the preservation of Nashville’s historic places themselves, the legacy of Mike Curb, which only continues to grow more dubious by the month, should be considered when looking at what the legacy of Music City will be moving forward. Mike Curb’s money is as green as anyone’s, but his name is tarnished brown. And Nashville’s institutions should ask if they want that stain sullying their most historic and important places.
If you’re looking for names to populate your most anticipated projects to be released in 2015, putting Mo Pitney at or near the top would be a savvy choice. With a one in a million country voice conveyed in a smoothness we haven’t heard since Don Williams, Mo Pitney is a chill-inducing traditional country artist with a succulent pentameter and delivery, and a songwriter’s pen engorged with cutting and resonant lines and stories. A handsome young man with nothing but a promising future in country music ahead of him, Pitney could become one of the fore bearers to making true country cool again like a modern-day Randy Travis.
Mo Pitney has been showcasing his songs and voice through traditional avenues over the past few years and has shined every time. A January 2013 episode of Pitney with mentor Bill Anderson by his side on RFD-TV’s excellent showcase Larry’s Country Diner has since become a must-see installment. From his originals like “I Didn’t Wake Up This Morning,” to his cover of Keith Whitley’s “Miami, My Amy,” the cat was out of the bag about Mo Pitney’s country music powers after the show. He was signed to Curb Records by May of this year, and made his Opry debut on June 20th care of Bill Anderson, dazzling the crowd and receiving a standing ovation for his song “Cleanup on Aisle Five.”
Ahead of his much-anticipated album, Pitney has released the first single simply called “Country” co-written with Anderson and Bobby Tomberlin. Smartly crafted to where it captures a relevant sentiment without being a party to pandering to anything or straying away from Pitney’s core, “Country” highlights Mo’s promise of being a classic-sounding artist with the ability to capture a mainstream audience. Authentic as the day is long, Pitney touches on what could be considered the listing off of countryisms, but avoids all of the obvious ones to take a more subdued and warm thematic approach to explaining what “country” really is.
For country music to extricate itself from the iron grasp of Bro-Country and the overriding influence of other genres, it’s going to need artists who don’t need to rely on gimmicks and trends to find appeal, but that can champion the virtues of country itself and illustrate its charisma to a new generation of listeners. Mo Pitney is an artist with the promise and the proper tools to do this very thing.
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It looks like Hank Williams Jr. might be the next signee to the Cumulus Media / Big Machine Label Group joint venture known as NASH Icon meant to give new life to aging artists who’ve been passed over by mainstream country radio. On Monday night’s poorly viewed American Country Countdown Awards, Hank Williams Jr. closed the night out as a late edition to the show’s lineup with a rendition of his famous song from 1984 “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.” In the midst of the performance, Hank Jr. switched over from a cowboy hat to a black hat with gold lettering that simply read “ICON” across the front.
Since NASH Icon is part of Cumulus Media, who were one of the major underwriters of the American Country Countdown Awards, and the first signeee to the label Reba McEntire was honored on the night with a “NASH Icon” award herself, and the fact that Scott Borchetta was also a part of the presentation and Jr. was added to the lineup so late, it seems to match up that the “ICON” on Jr’s lid was the preliminary announcement of his partnership with the new label.
The NASH Icon record label is looking to sign legacy country music talent that is still commercially-relevant and help get them back on the radio through Cumulus Media NASH Icon radio stations which mix older music dating all the way back to 1980, with hits from the 90′s, 2000′s, and today. Hank Jr. would fit right into that NASH Icon sweet spot as an artist whose heyday was in the past, but is still releasing records to a loyal fan base. Hank Jr.’s last album, 2012′s Old School New Rules was released independently.
One extra layer of intrigue with the signing is that Hank Williams Jr. was a long-time artist of Curb Records, and a close personal friend of the label’s owner, Mike Curb. Like with many Curb Records’ artists, the relationship ended poorly between Hank Jr. and Curb, with Williams saying upon his exit, “We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship.” This would be the second major artist that has made the transition from Curb to the Big Machine Label Group. Tim McGraw made a similar move under a wave of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between the two companies, with Big Machine and Tim McGraw eventually coming out as the victors in court.
Headgear was the way another potential signee to NASH Icon made his announcement. Ronnie Dunn, one half of Brooks & Dunn, posted a picture of himself wearing a “NASH Chetta” hat on his social network feed on November 27th after dropping hints he was signing with the label in weeks prior. However, the news of Dunn’s signing has never been announced or confirmed by the company. Subsequently, Brooks & Dunn have announced their reuniting with NASH Icon’s Reba McEnitre for a small run of shows in Las Vegas. No word on if it’s just Ronnie, or potentially Brooks & Dunn who would sign to NASH Icon, or if Ronnie’s “signing” simply had to do with the Vegas shows and not the label. Kix Brooks, the other half of Brooks & Dunn, is the host of the Cumulus Media syndicated show American Country Countdown, which was the backdrop for Monday’s American Country Countdown Awards.
If Hank Williams Jr. does eventually sign with NASH Icon, it would give the imprint an artist who is a two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year, a one who carries on of the most famous names in the history of country music.
That’s right, the Curb Records madness continues, and continues to reach for comical, if not maniacal heights.
Apparently Curb Records is readying the release of a new Hank III (not ‘Hank3′ as he goes by now) album called Take As Needed For Pain, scheduled to be made available to the public on April 14th, 2015. Though the album is being credited at the moment to Hank III, early incarnations of this release had it denoted as “Assjack II.” Assjack is the name of Hank3′s early heavy metal project that released a self-titled album with Curb in 2009. The song “Take As Needed For Pain” is a cover song from the metal band Eyehategod that Hank3 turned into a 10-minute epic for the tribute album For The Sick: A Tribute to Eyehategod released in 2007 and recorded under the name “The Unholy 3″ which is the name of one of Hank3′s side projects.
Hank3 also recorded another Eyehategod song for the tribute called “Torn Between Suicide and Breakfast” that could be a pretty safe bet for making the track list of the new album, along with whatever other Assjack or metal songs Curb somehow wrangled out of Hank3 during his years at the label. Why Curb is deciding to go with the Hank III name instead of Assjack might be about marketing, or maybe some country songs will be included on the album as well. One of the issues with some of Curb’s post-contract releases from Hank3 is they haven’t warned consumers they’re buying metal albums instead of country, causing confusion and anger from some fans. It’s pretty safe to say that no matter what finds itself on the track list, it will be music released previously and/or that is already out there on YouTube or other locations. Hank3′s usual response to his fans on these post-contract Curb releases is to “Burn it, and give it away.”
Hank3 entered into a six album contract with Curb in the late 90′s. The Nashville-based label was able to stretch Hank3′s album count to seven by releasing Hillbilly Joker in 2011; a “hellbilly” album Curb initially rejected, but released after Hank3 had fulfilled his contract at the end of 2010. Then Curb released an outtakes album in 2012 called Lone Gone Daddy that brought the total of Curb releases on Hank3′s six-album contract to eight. Ramblin’ Man released in April of this year—another album of previously-released material cobbled together—made it nine. Hank3 also had agreed to the release of one heavy metal album as part of his Curb deal. Take As Needed For Pain would now bring that count to two.
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The grandson of Hank Williams is not the only artist having to shake their head as Curb continues to regurgitate material to try and squeeze as much money out of their name as possible while misleading the public. Tim McGraw has been locked in a public battle with Curb for years, and now has another reason to be angered as the record label is getting ready to release his 10th compilation/Greatest Hits album. That’s right, ten of them. That’s only one less than the total amount of studio albums Curb released during McGraw’s entire career on the label.
Tim McGraw “The Hits Live” is being prepped for release on January 27th by Curb. This goes along with Greatest Hits Volumes 1, 2, and 3, a Collector’s Edition Greatest Hits, a Limited Edition Greatest Hits, A Limited Edition Greatest Hits Volume 1, 2, 3, Number One Hits, Tim McGraw & Friends (duets), and Love Story (his biggest love songs).
In 2010, Saving Country Music published an article mocking Curb for imitating art by releasing seven Greatest Hits albums from McGraw. Subsequently, Curb has released just one studio album, and three additional Greatest Hits compilations. Tim McGraw won a protracted court battle with Curb in 2012 and was finally released from his contract. He now calls Big Machine Records home. Curb tried to delay the release of Tim’s final album under the label called Emotional Traffic to indefinitely keep him under contract.
More Greatest Hits releases are also on the way from previous and current Curb artists. LeAnn Rimes has already had two Greatest Hits releases just in 2014—an album of her Greatest Hits Remixes, and a two-CD Limited Edition Greatest Hits. Now Curb has scheduled an All-Time Greatest Hits release on February 3rd. Rodney Atkins also has a Greatest Hits release upcoming, and Hank Williams Jr. will see the release of previously-released material in a Hank Jr. Sings Hank Sr. compilation.
Curb Records continues to regurgitate material from previous artists on their label as they lose roster names left and right, and carry the reputation as one of the worst labels in town. Aside from some recent success with Lee Brice, a marketable name in Rodney Atkins, and a promising young star in Mo Pitney, the label continues to struggle to find new material to release, and instead insists on misleading consumers with repackaged albums.
I write these proceeding words fully knowing that many will roll up to this Tim McGraw dissertation looking for a bowl of blood as recompense for the emotional direst recent Tim McGraw singles such as “Truck Yeah” and “Lookin’ For That Girl” have waged on the mental state of many innocent country music fans. But the simple truth is Tim McGraw’s new album Sundown Heaven Town deserves to be spared the most sinister strokes from the poison pen—not because it is “good” by some stretch of that flattering term, but because it symbolizes a turning of the page for Tim McGraw, and potentially, is a symptom of the turning of the page for the entire country music genre.
Welcome to the post “Bro-Country” age ladies and gentlemen—an era that we probably shouldn’t entertain as being filled with audio offerings that will in any way compare in quality with the greater historical panorama of country music, but one where we’ll see a clearly defined and much welcomed improvement overall in the music being offered for consumers’ listening edification.
Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town is an example of this. By golly Tim McGraw is actually learning. After he broke from the bonds of institutional subjugation at the autocratic hands of Curb Records which did everything they could to choke every last bit of life force out of Tim’s once high flying career—as accidentally or purposefully as it may have been—he ran to the open and cradling arms of Scott Borchetta and Big Machine to press restart. And almost as if to make up for the half decade he ceded to Curb, Tim started releasing the most ridiculous, panic-driven panderings to young people radio pop as possible in an attempt to regain his relevancy. However the results were so ghastly, even the deficient country music masses saw through it.
Tim’s first post-Curb single was “Truck Yeah,” and immediately McGraw announced there was no floor to the depths he would fall through to regain his pertinence. And for the most part, the single fizzled, especially considering the muscle Big Machine put behind it to reignite Tim’s career. The biggest single to come from Tim’s first Big Machine album came nearly a year later with “Highway Don’t Care.” As a much more nutritious offering, and one that sat much more comfortably in the confines of the adult contemporary style of pop country that has buttered Tim’s bread for years, it became a #1 hit, and the biggest hit on the Two Lanes of Freedom album.
The same story has played out so far for McGraw’s new album Sundown Heaven Town. The first single “Lookin’ For That Girl” was so far outside of Tim’s comfort zone and anything that could be considered “country” it was laughable, and on cue it stalled in the charts. That stuff may fly for Florida Georgia Line, but not for McGraw’s established brand. Then McGraw released his latest single “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” Once again a song with more substance did much better, making it to #2 in the charts.
The lesson here, at least for Tim McGraw, is that even in this bereft country music landscape we find ourselves in, it’s still better for him to be himself—that guy that makes moms all around the country swoon with his tight shirts and sentimental ballads. Tim can’t run with the young pups, and he shouldn’t try. And whether that was the purposeful approach to Sundown Heaven Town or the accidental result, you get Tim being Tim on this album, which means rooting out some of the best adult contemporary compositions the country industry has to offer and doing them justice.
What surprised me was the lack of drum machine intros, loud overdriven guitars, and ploys for radio play on this album. I was also surprised at the amount of steel guitar. No doubt Sundown Heaven Town still affords some creatively anemic moments, and others moments that are downright awful, but they are nowhere near in the measure you would expect from a Tim McGraw album, or really any mainstream album in 2014. The song “Dust” is probably the album’s laundry list “bro” offering if there was one, and still it’s hard to hate too vehemently. “Keep on Truckin’” trying to capture the vibe of the band Train in the country context, and probably should have been left on the cutting house floor. And songs like “Words Are Medicine” and “Sick Of Me” find McGraw striking out boldly to evoke soaring moments, but the lyrical impact seems to be just a little too flat to achieve those heights.
But even the worst song on the album by a long shot “Lookin’ For That Girl” gets relegated to the next-to-last spot on the track list, where it used to be tradition for track arrangers to bury what they believed was the project’s weakest offering. What McGraw seems to understand with Sundown Heaven Town is that albums are for the hardcore fans these days anyway, so you might as well make them count. You might as well make them where they say something and entice people to listen instead of simply being a landing place for hyped-up singles.
Sundown Heaven Town starts off quite strong with “Overrated,” which is something completely unexpected from Tim, and probably one of the best songs on the album. “City Lights” is also strong, and so are the more traditional “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools” duet with Catherine Dunn, and “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” with better half Faith Hill. “Last Turn Home” achieves that high emotional response McGraw regularly looks to achieve with his song selections, and even though “Portland, Maine” has some people in that city a little upset (however playfully so), its expedition into the terrible head space proceeding a breakup is effective and resonant.
Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town does not come recommended, but nonetheless comes with praise for affording a template for how mainstream country albums should be made moving forward, and from showing improvement from the artist. Passive consumers who only pay attention to singles anyway shouldn’t be regarded when making albums. And an artist like Tim McGraw is much better off being who he’s always been, from both a commercial and a critical standpoint. Make good albums and you will be on the right side of where country music is headed, and create separation from the lost era when country believed clichés about beer and trucks would line their pockets forever.
1 1/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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Now that the building that houses the historic Studio ‘A’ on Music Row in Nashville has been sold to Brentwood, TN-based real estate company Bravo Development, the next question is what moves do preservationists have in the playbook to help save the landmark? Ben Folds, the current renter of the studio, and someone who has spent over $1 million on the space in the last dozen years in both rent and renovations, says he is being forced out of the building because of a 124% rent increase. Bravo Development says the building is in poor shape, citing asbestos, bad plumbing and wiring, a leaky roof, and mold in the air ducts. And despite Bravo’s promises to Ben Folds that it was always in their plans to save the historic studio if it was architecturally feasible (even if they tore the rest of the building down), as soon as the company gained possession of the building they immediately put it back up for sale to whichever new developer is willing to pay their price. Saving Studio ‘A’ from the wrecking ball continues to get more complicated by the day.
Preservationists are trying to get the city to grant a zoning overlay on 30 Music Square West and many of Music Row’s other historic landmarks, but there is push back from wealthy developers and some of the property owners on Music Row not wanting to jeopardize future real estate profits by succumbing to such financially cumbersome restrictions. Though there is a lot of popularity for preserving Music Row’s landmarks in the community, it is not a given that saving Studio ‘A’ can be accomplished through the City of Nashville.
So now the question is, who, if anyone, would be in a position to purchase the property with the intent of preserving the Studio ‘A’ space, and potentially the building it occupies? As Bravo Development has stated, the building is in poor shape. All indications are that financially, the most feasible move for most any developer would be to demolish the building and build on the property footprint.
One of the problems in the fight to save Studio ‘A’ is that aside from the studio occupying part of the building, the building itself is not necessarily historic, or attractive, or architecturally significant. We are not talking about a turn of the century structure like the Ryman Auditorium with its regal exterior, or Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church with its Egyptian Revival style. 30 Music Square West was built in 1964 and has a very utilitarian, austere presence indicative of mid-century modern architecture. In other words, it’s a big rectangular box with little ornamentation or imagination. It’s one part offices, one part large-scale studio, with a row of windows along half of it’s horizontal front face, and a mostly brick exterior with some stone thrown in to break the starkness. Compared to the buildings that surround the property, it is fairly nondescript, if not outdated, without being old enough to be called classic. Add on top the other infrastructural and environmental problems with the building, and the outlook is not particularly rosy.
That doesn’t mean that the building, or Studio ‘A’, couldn’t be preserved, the building renovated, and the property beautified by the right owner. But it would take an institution just as interested in preserving the historic space as they are being financially smart about how to craft a sustainable future for the property. Any developer whose plans are simply concerned with the bottom line highest valuation for the asset would likely not be interested in renovation. One of the reasons the building might be in the condition it is in is because the previous owners—the estates of Chet Atkins and Owen Bradly—didn’t see the point in putting more money into a doomed building. That also might be the reason the property was up for sale for so long without finding a buyer, until Nashville’s current boom got so big, developers started looking to gobble up any assets they could.
So who might look to take on Studio ‘A’ simply for the spirit of preserving the landmark, while still getting some functionality out of the existing space? It would have to be a not-for-profit, or a public or private institution not concerned with bottom-line financial outcomes, beyond making a sound investment on a piece of property in a desirable location. And it would have to be someone with the financial resources to purchase it.
Luckily there is precedent for public institutions taking over Music Row properties, and being very successful in that pursuit. Music Row’s Studio ‘B’ on virtually the same piece of property as 30 Music Square West is owned by the Country Music Hall of Fame and is on the National Park Service’s Register of Historic Places. It is co-operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame, who gives guided tours of the studio daily, and another private institution, Belmont University. This partnership has resulted in both the preservation of the site, and the continued use and profit from it as a Music Row institution. Of course, it helped that the studio and land were donated by previous Studio ‘B’ owner Dan Maddox in 1992, but despite the profit potential of the property, preservation prevailed and not at the complete expense of financial return. The Studio ‘B’ building is not particularly architecturally impressive or significant either, and Studio ‘A’ and Studio ‘B’ are virtually connected, making the ability to manage the studio or conduct tours between the two properties by the Country Music Hall of Fame or someone else fairly easy.
The Country Music Hall of Fame also has the resources to raise the cash to fund the acquisition. Keith Urban, who has headlined numerous concerts for the Hall of Fame that have netted millions and helped pay for a recent $100 million expansion on the Hall of Fame, has already lent his voice to Studio ‘A’ preservation. Taylor Swift also recently gave a large sum to the Hall of Fame. Like Studio ‘B’, Studio ‘A’ could continue to function as a studio, while tours could help buffer the overall income environment for the building. The Country Music Hall of Fame could also use the offices for accounting and other tasks that don’t need to be housed at the Hall itself, or open up a Music Row museum as an annex to the Hall and the studios proper.
There is another example of an institution purchasing a historic Music Row property that is much more recent, and much more relative to the situation with Studio ‘A’ since the studio will never be donated by its current owners like Studio ‘B’ was. In early July, Vanderbilt University purchased Sony’s century-old office on Music Row for $12.1 million. Vanderbilt was currently occupying 27,000 square feet of space in the building, and when it was put up for sale by Sony, who intends to move to Nashville’s “Gulch” area a couple of miles from its current location, the purchase made sense. Vanderbilt’s close proximity to Music Row made the logistics of the sale feasible, and just like Belmont University, who has numerous co-inhabited properties with Curb Records on Music Row, the university sees the Music Row campus as a natural extension of its borders and interest.
Even if a new buyer for 30 Music Square West makes promises of preserving the historic Studio ‘A’ space, and even if new zoning restrictions kick in from the City of Nashville, minds can chance, and so can ordinances. If an institution like The Country Music Hall of Fame, or Belmont or Vanderbilt University, The City of Nashville itself, or some large entrepreneurial spirit with an established footprint on Music Row such as Mike Curb or Scott Borchetta could buy the property. It seems like this would be the best option to see the long-term preservation of Studio ‘A’. Out on the open market with investors and developers dealing in the future of the property, most indicators point to the historic studio being doomed.
30 Music Square West (Studio ‘A’ Building):
Studio ‘B’ Building on Left (lighter exterior), Studio ‘A’ on Right
Inside of Studio ‘A’
Hal Ketchum had quite the country music career in the 1990′s. Signed with Curb Records, he released ten albums, including his debut Past The Point of Rescue, and went on to sell a total of five million records, chart 15 Top 10 hits, and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1994. But four years later, a diagnosis of acute transverse myelitis (a very similar ailment to multiple sclerosis) sidelined the singer and songwriter, causing him to lose use of the entire left side of his body. Ketchum had to relearn basic tasks, including how to sing and play the guitar again, and recovered enough to continue to record for Curb until 2008 when he retired to his cabin in Wimberely, TX. “I went through some really serious bouts of paralysis, blindness and the fear that goes with all of that. I was in kind of a dark place,” Ketchum says. “I didn’t write, didn’t perform. I was just laying low…”
But the music spirit in Hal Ketchum has surfaced once again, and working with Austin, TX-based label Music Road Records, the 61-year-old singer is set to release his first album in six years called “I’m The Troubadour” on October 7th.
According to Ketchum, the enthusiasm from Jimmy LaFave and Kelcy Warren of Music Road, and his desire to start writing again, is where the inspiration for the new album came from. “I came to the realization that I had gotten to this deep level of depression, and I finally said to myself, ‘I can still do this. I can still write.’ The key for me was getting up every morning and having something real to do. Some days, my hands don’t work as well as they should, I’ll get a little wobbly on occasion, but I just keep going.”
“I wasn’t really planning on doing another album,” Ketchum continues. “The whole Nashville scene is extremely competitive. You’re as good as your last record. People are always showing you spreadsheets on how much money you owe for videos and tour support and everything else. I think there’s a certain level of resentment that comes with that.“
That’s one of the reasons why fans of Ketchum shouldn’t expect his new album to be exclusively country, but a mixture of country, blues, folk, rock, and soul. “I like to say that I’ve been successfully misunderstood for 30 years. I mean, I was a cabinet maker from Gruene, TX. I got a record deal and I had a number one record out of the box, and suddenly I was a ‘country’ singer. The genre served me very well, and I’m really grateful for the opportunities that the country music world brought to me. But creatively, this record was a really beautiful departure for me. It’s really opened me up again. the freedom of working with Music Road Records, without genre restrictions and commercial pressure, has given him new life … I think it’s going to be refreshing for people who haven’t heard me in a while to know that the old man’s still swingin’.”
Ketchum insists he still loves country music and is honored to play it. But I’m The Troubadour will be an exploration of all of his musical influences.
“My mother put a great poem on my wall when I was a little kid called ‘Keep a-Goin’. It went -
Ain’t no use to sit and whine, ’cause the fish ain’t on your line,
bait your hook and keep a-tryin’, keep a-goin’.
“So that’s become my motto,” Ketchum says. “Just keep going.”
Brad Paisley has been making quite the spectacle on Twitter over the last two days, claiming to be leaking bits and pieces of his upcoming album Moonshine In The Trunk against the will of his label Sony Music. Or so he says.
The frivolity started Saturday night (7-27) as Brad Paisely took to the social network site to post YouTube links to players that featured 2-second snippets of his new songs, all while supposedly stirring the ire of the “suits.”
“I’m going rogue.” Paisley said. “The label doesn’t know I’m doing this. Seriously. But I made a Moonshine Preview teaser. Don’t tell. Better listen to this while you can. I bet the label tries to pull it down. Clock’s ticking.”
Brad then posted links to the Youtube players, and later screen shots of supposed communications from Sony who was apparently trying to “shut him down” as he continued on his quest to release the teasers. “Hurry up and Listen. I’m going to dentention. Breakfast club!!! Here I come.”
Later Brad Paisely posted, “I really do love my record label. Especially for puttin’ up with my $h@t. But I love y’all even more. Ha! Priorities. Okay suits. Catch me if you can. Take 2: enjoy.”
And this continued with subsequent tweets as Brad Paisley complained that the YouTube players were getting yanked by Sony, and posted further players to circumvent them.
Then similar hijinks happened again on Sunday night. After Brad claimed he was restricted from posting the YouTube previews by Sony, Paisley supposedly recruited Ludacris—rapper and co-judge of ABC’s new reality singing competition Rising Star—to post the players for him. “I promised I wouldn’t post the link myself. Me. Myself. I. I’d love to post another link but they’re watching me like a hawk but I bet they’re not watching Ludacris.”
All of this was happening with ABC’s broadcast of Rising Star bisecting Sunday’s Twitter event. “OK great show everybody! Now back to the rebellion!” Brad said afterwards, along with more screen shots of supposed emails and texts from management.
Normally an artist rebelling against their label, even if that artist or their music doesn’t particularly fit the style of what Saving Country Music would condone, would receive nothing but cheering and steadfast support here. And it isn’t as if the Brad Paisley/Sony Music relationship is without problems. Brad has ongoing court dealings with Sony over the amount of royalties he’s been paid, but even in his “rebellious” tweets Brad said, “I really do love my record label,” and there’s never seemed to be a strain in the working relationship between Brad and Sony.
This Brad Paisley leaking episode is not him acting out against his label, it is pure marketing. Maybe Sony did not know that Brad was planning to leak the 2-second snippets, maybe they did. But either way, the entire episode was planned out, choreographed, and carefully executed by a marketing team assembled by the Brad Paisley camp. Whether Sony was in on the ruse really is inconsequential.
Normally when an artist rebels against their label, there’s a means to an end. All we have here is two seconds snippets of songs, and a remix of his already-released single “River Bank” with Colt Ford. There’s no freedom gained by Paisley, or any particular value for the consumer by posting two-second bits of songs. This is all to create a stir in the public, and by attempting to portray Brad Paisley’s actions as spontaneous, let alone rebellious, it is an insult to the intelligence of the country music fan. The lines in the tweets and texts are clearly canned, and it’s no surprise Brad was in cahoots with DJ Bobby Bones to release the “River Bank” remix. Bobby Bones is another character who is apt to fabricated attention grabs full of canned jargon an ambiguous gripes about “suits” shutting him down.
There are artists in country music and elsewhere that truly labor under unfair, unethical, and sometimes illegal conditions from labels, sometimes with tongue-tying clauses in their contracts that don’t even allow the artists the ability to speak on the matters publicly. Many artists were, and are resigned to this fate under Curb Records, and have to fight protracted and costly legal battles to gain the ability to release their own music, including Tim McGraw, Hank Williams III, and others, sometimes having to wait half a decade between releases as their careers lose momentum. To use this unfortunate reality of country music for many artists as marketing is in poor taste, and Paisley’s own potential short changing by his label for royalties should have made this even more top-of-mind.
Once again Brad Paisley is resorting to headline-stealing histrionics to try to remain at the top of the country music mindset in a move that undermines his natural talents, and his standing as one of mainstream country music’s good guys.
Rebellion my ass.
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. falls in line with the other country artists covered in Saving Country Music “10 Badass Moments” series by being a rough and tumble character both on and off the stage, but also in showing great character by giving back and using his famous name for good.
Here’s 10 Badass Moments from Shelton Hank Williams III, or Hank3.
1. Playing Charity Concerts for Homes For Our Troops
When you heard that The Marines had been called to the Hank3 concert at The Meridian in Houston, TX in March of 2010, you could only expect the worst. After all, the son of Hank has been known to throw some pretty rowdy shows. But the occasion that called for a military dispatch including a Marine Color Guard was not an unruly crowd. It was meant to honor Hank3 for donating all the proceeds from the concert to the charity Homes For Our Troops that provides housing to wounded veterans. And this wouldn’t be the last time. Hank3 has also done other charity shows for Homes For Our Troops, as well as animal rescue organizations (see below).
Pretty cool moment before The Meridian show:
2. Playing For 5 Straight Hours at The Valarium in Knoxville
Hank3 is known for his long, sometimes 3-hour+ shows with only a 5 to 10 minute break between his country and his punk/metal lineups, but this particular set was one for the record books.
Exactly what happened at The Valarium in Knoxville, TN on July 15th, 2009 that stimulated Hank3′s marathon, 5-hour set depends on who you talk to. But when Hank’s manager, assistant manager, and five other people were arrested for “disorderly conduct,” Hank3 felt the best way to protest the injustice was by playing one of the longest sets in the history of country music. Without any break, Hank3 held forth with his “Damn Band” staring at 10:00 PM Wednesday night, and the music didn’t stop until almost 3 AM Thursday morning. When Hank3 ran out of material with his band, he switched to an acoustic show and kept on going.
The show went so long, an after party at the adjacent Cider House featuring the local band J.C. and the Dirty Smokers didn’t start until 2 AM, and nobody was there. “Basically, I said, ‘Since we’re already set up and already have a stage, we might as well work on a couple of originals,” Dirty Smokers frontman J.C. Haun said at the time. “So we ended up having a rehearsal, basically.”
And as if Hank3 hadn’t already done enough, he called Valarium owner Gary Mitchell after the show to apologize for not playing the Assjack metal portion of the show. “He felt like he’d stiffed his hardcore fans,” Mitchell told the Metro Pulse.
3. Playing Charity Concerts for Animal Rescue
For years Hank3 has been playing charity concerts to benefit animal shelters in his home of middle Tennessee. “We are thrilled that Hank3 would support our mission,” says Kat Hitchcock, who has worked with numerous animal shelters in the area. “He doesn’t just support it, he lives it. He is a genuine advocate for animal welfare. We are extremely fortunate. We can’t thank him enough.”
The 4th show Hank3 played to benefit Happy Tails Humane in Franklin, TN was on August 3rd, 2012 at the Marathon Music Works in Nashville, and raised a whopping $18,000 for the organization. A DVD was also made of the event, and you can watch the entire footage of the concert below:
4. Taking In Stray / Abandoned Animals
Beyond throwing benefit concerts over the years for animal rescue, Hank3 has been known to pull his tour bus over to check on stray animals, and take them in if the proper owner can’t be found, or use his famous name to help find the furry friends a new home. Hank3 goes beyond the call for animals, and over the years it has become his pet issue (arf arf). Check out this PSA he made a couple of years back.
5. The “Fuck Curb” Campaign
Hank3′s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with turmoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3′s contract.
Hank3′s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3′s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3′s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
At the time Hank3 was seen as a foul-mouthed yob. But since then, public issues arising with Curb Records and many of its artists, especially Tim McGraw, shows that Hank3 was ahead of his time, and that his salty language was warranted.
6. Including Three Songs by Wayne “The Train” Hancock On His First Record
On Hank3′s first solo record Risin’ Outlaw from 1999, he included 3 songs from one of his early mentors and heroes, Texas singer-songwriter and the King of Juke Joint Swing, Wayne “The Train” Hancock. By including “87 Southbound,” “Thunderstorms & Neon Signs,” and “Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone,” it introduced Wayne Hancock to a whole new generation, and a whole new segment of fans. It also would help Wayne with what songwriters call “mailbox money”—royalties from song credits—for years to come.
7. Calling Out Kid Rock
In his song “Not Everybody Likes Us” from the album Straight to Hell, Hank3 calls out Kid Rock, saying:And just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so goddamn you’re fuckin’ dumb.
The anger was stimulated when Hank3′s father, Hank William Jr., began to refer to Kid Rock as his “Rebel Son” around 2002. At the time, Kid Rock and Hank Jr. were collaborating together on music. The “Rebel Son” talk stimulated rumors that Kid Rock truly was another son of Hank Jr., and Hank3 got tired of answering the rumors. It all boiled over one night at a show in Kid Rock’s home of Detroit when Kid Rock and his fling at the time Pamela Anderson tried to board Hank3′s bus to patch things up between Hank3 and Hank Jr.
Hank3 told Blender Magazine in 2006:
…he kept trying to come on the bus—you know, him and Pam [Anderson] and all that shit —and I said, “Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,” and then he finally gets his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father and I’m like, “All right, you just crossed the line motherfucker.” And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: “No, he’s not my fucking brother…
8. Recording The Album Straight to Hell DIY Style
Considered Hank3′s opus, Straight to Hell released in February of 2006 was recorded on a $400 consumer-grade Korg D-1600 machine in Hank3′s steel guitar player’s house. It was the first true DIY recording made outside of the conventional studio setting to ever be released through a country music major label and the Country Music Association. It was also the first album to be put out through the CMA with a Parental Advisory sticker.
The point was not just for Hank3 to gain control of his own music, but to inspire a generation of new artists to do the same thing, to see that they didn’t need to sign big deals and have lots of money to make and release music. And that’s exactly what it did.
9. Standing Up to the Grand Ole Opry
For years Hank3 has been trying to get The Grand Ole Opry to show respects to his grandfather by reinstating him into the institution he loved so dearly. Hank Williams was kicked out of the Opry for drunkenness and missing rehearsals with the idea that once he sobered up, he could be reinstated. Unfortunately Hank Williams never got that opportunity. He died on New Years Day, 1953 as an ostracized member of the institution he helped bring to prominence. All Hank3 is asking is a symbolic gesture be made to the legacy of Hank Williams by reinstating him to the Grand Ole Opry, also known as Reinstate Hank. The issue has also come to symbolize the fight to keep the purity of The Grand Ole Opry institution alive.
10. Shaking Every Hand And Signing Every Album After Shows
This may not sound like some altruistic task for some artists whose shows stretch to top 75 attendees, but when you’re constantly selling out concerts with hundreds of tickets sold, and every one of those people wants to meet you, this simple gesture has become one of Hank3 signature symbols of showing how he’s willing to go the extra mile for his fans, sometimes patiently spending many hours after two and three hour performances to shake hands, sign autographs, and take pictures.
BONUS – 11. Playing Bass for Phil Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual
Showing that the show didn’t need to be all about him, while Hank3 was fighting with Curb Records and trying to get his album This Ain’t Country released, he took his friend Phil Anselmo—the former lead singer of Pantera—up on the offer to join his band Superjoint Ritual on bass. Between 2002 and 2004, Hank3 could be seen banging his head on stage as a side man in concerts across the country. When Superjoint Ritual shut down around 2004 and Hank3 returned to the country world and released the album Straight to Hell, he showed legions of punk and heavy metal fans the virtues of traditional country music and created many country music converts.
The grandson of Hank Williams and the son of Hank Jr. is having to deal with yet another post-contract release from Curb records, this time called Rambin’ Man, slated for release on April 1st. Insert your April Fool’s jokes here. The album will include 8 tracks of outtakes, unreleased material, and cover songs Hank3 contributed to tribute albums and other projects during his Curb years. Most of the music is stuff Hank3 fans have already heard, repackaged to look like a new album.
Hank3 entered into a 6 album contract with Curb in the late 90′s after a child custody suit and a judge forced him to get a “real job”. Curb was able to stretch Hank3′s album count to 7 by releasing Hillbilly Joker in 2011; a “hellbilly” album Curb initially rejected, but released after Hank3 had fulfilled his contract at the end of 2010. Then Curb released an outtakes album in 2012 called Lone Gone Daddy that brought the total of Curb releases on Hank3′s 6-album contract to 8. Ramblin’ Man would make it 9.
With the news of the release of Long Gone Daddy, Hank3 fans knew Curb still had unreleased material from the 3rd generation star, because a cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “I’m The Only Hell (My Momma Ever Raised)” that was rejected on his Damn Right, Rebel Proud album had yet to surface. Though Curb decided at the time that the cover song was not fit for public consumption, similar to how they rejected Hank3′s Hillbilly Joker album altogether, they see perfectly fit to release the song now on this new record.
Hypothetically, Ramblin’ Man would be the last of Hank3′s material from the Curb era, though the inevitable “Greatest Hits” card has yet to be played by the label.
Some other interesting notes from the track list: “On My Own” was a song from Hank3′s previous Curb record Risin’ Outlaw. “Ramblin’ Man” is a song by Hank Williams that Hank3 once recorded a cover of with The Melvins, as was Merle Haggards “Okie From Muskogee”. “Fearless Boogie” is a ZZ Top song Hank3 once covered on the tribute Sharp Dressed Men. “Marijuana Blues” originally appeared on Rare Breed: The Songs of Peter LaFarge.
Hank3 has previously encouraged fans to burn these albums and share them instead of buy them. He’s also indicated intention to release new material in 2014.
Ramblin’ Man Track List:
- Ramblin’ Man
- Fearless Boogie
- Okie From Muskogee
- The Only Hell (My Momma Ever Raised)
- On My Own [Full Length Version]
- Marijuana Blues
- Hang On
- Runnin’ & Gunnin’
Not since Blake Shelton called traditional country fans Old Farts and Jackasses has a sitting country music star painted such a grim and disparaging picture for traditional country music as Clay Walker did in a recent interview with Taste of Country. The 44-year-old Curb-Asylum artist says that “Traditional country music died,” and that George Strait’s win for Entertainer of the Year was a “closing of the door” for traditional music in the country format.
Traditional country music died. I think that George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at the CMAs was, to me, a symbolic and a real closing of the door. It was, to me, as if the industry was saying, “Thank you George for everything that you’ve meant to traditional country music.” I’m not saying George Strait won’t be played, but I’m saying I don’t think any new acts, including myself — I’m not new, but … I think people are fooling themselves if they think for a second that the recording industry is going to accept any more traditional country music on the radio. I think that is the end of a world, the end of an era.
It’s kind of like Rome. Rome has fallen [laughs]. There’s a new world and a new era. I feel like I totally accepted that. Now I’m not saying that fans are not going to continue loving traditional country music and playing it and listening to it and maybe even downloading some of it. But I don’t think you’ll see this town record what we call ‘traditional’ country music ever again. I believe that era is completely over.
But is Clay Walker happy about this fall of Rome, or is he remorseful about it?
No. No remorse whatsoever. I think it’s the perfect evolution and it’s the way it should be. It’s time. It’s time for that change. And, albeit rough at the moment, it’s a beautiful rough. I don’t think that we’ll be heavy metal, as some of the bands are doing and calling it country. I don’t think that we’ll be rap. I just think that we’re trying to find where the absolute limitations are and then work within those limitations. I believe that right now we’re stretching the limitations out as far as they’ll go and the fans will bring them back in.
Clay also seems to feel like with this perception that traditional country music is dead, he can use this to his advantage in plotting his career path.
I feel like recognizing where music is, and it’s really cool to have this particular view that I have right now. I would call it more like a catbird seat because I can see what’s happening and I accept it.
Clay Walker made his country music debut in 1993 and considers himself in the class right after country’s big explosion of popularity that saw the rise of artists like Garth Brooks, George Strait, and others. However a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1996, and the strange career track Curb Records has taken with many of its artists including Clay have kept his name out of the headlines as much as in them. Clay has only released two albums in the last decade, which is par-for-the-course with Curb, including his last one She Won’t Be Lonely Long in 2010 that Curb first issued as an EP with 3 singles from his previous album Fall before eventually releasing it as a full record.
Interestingly, Walker also hinted in the interview that Curb Records is no longer receiving star treatment from Nashville songwriters, and instead has to get what falls to them as far as potential songs, further speaking to the diminished power of Mike Curb in the wake of multiple controversies in how his label handles artists. “Record labels are smart business people and they know it’s all about the songs,” says Walker. “So they pretty much join up with the powerhouse publishing companies who have the powerhouse songwriters and those songs stay in those labels. At least, they have first shot at them. Every now and then, drippings for the poor will come off the table, but not very often.”
The declaration of death for traditional country and Clay’s excitement for ushering in a new era tells us what we can very likely expect coming up from him in the way of new music. Whether traditional country is completely dead on radio or the mainstream in general, it sounds like Clay Walker is willing to take a “If you can’t beat them, join them” attitude about it.
After releasing a total of seven Greatest Hits releases in an attempt to keep Tim McGraw under contract indefinitely, after refusing to release his last album on the label Emotional Traffic, after insisting McGraw owed them yet another album and losing virtually every court case and decision while in a protracted legal battle with both McGraw and his new label Big Machine Records, finally releasing Emotional Traffic after they had found out they had lost, and releasing a duets album in an attempt to counteract Big Machine’s first Tim McGraw release, Curb Records is releasing yet another album from Tim McGraw; an artist that hasn’t called Curb Records home officially for over 2 years.
The album will be called Love Story and will feature Tim McGraw’s “12 biggest love songs,” two previously-unreleased recordings, and will be released exclusively through Wal-Mart on February 2nd, 2014.
Mike Curb and Curb Records have a long list of transgressions against their artists, refusing to release music in a timely manner to keep artists under contract, repackaging music to mislead consumers, and releasing music against the wishes of their artists. Along with Tim McGraw, Frank Zappa, The Beat Farmers, LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Jo Dee Messina, Clay Walker, Lyle Lovett, and others help comprise a long list of Mike Curb’s transgressions against artists.
- It’s You Love – Featuring Faith Hill
- Just To See You Smile
- My Best Friend
- When The Stars Go Blue
- She’s My Kind Of Rain
- Not A Moment Too Soon
- Watch The Wind Blow By
- My Little Girl
- Tiny Dancer
- I Just Love You (Previously Unreleased)
- What About You (Previously Unreleased)
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
After a six year wait to release an album of original material at the mercy of Curb Records’ career-shattering and sometimes illegal talent retention program, prolonging the release process for artists on their final album with the label nearly indefinitely, the embattled and bruised LeAnn Rimes has finally released Spitfire—a diverse country pop record with a few interesting moments, a few moments that are not so interesting, but an intriguing mix of content and influences that is worth a deeper sniff than your average Music Row fare.
These days with so many of country music’s women setting the bar higher and higher in regards to quality and progressiveness of content, you almost can’t discount any country female project without a closer investigation. As the men try to outpace each other in their headlong dash to see who can reach the newest low in country on a daily basis, the women are doing everything they can to keep country out of the dirt road ditch. And after all, you have to be a pretty hard critic to not hear some of those very first LeAnn Rimes hits like “Blue” and not feel a stirring in your country heart and keep hope that LeAnn will at some point in her career re-discover her original, unblemished magic.
But LeAnn Rimes has been her own worst enemy over the past few years. A big glossy magazine cover story cheating scandal erupted for her a few years ago, and more recently a strange story about her tipping off photographers to where to snap her wearing a bikini in hopes to draw positive pub. When you’re a bona-fide superstar at 14-year-old, it can do strange things to the psyche, and that is what we’ve seen with LeAnn over the years. One minute she wants the cameras to respect her privacy, and another she wants their focus.
The chatter around Spitfire has been polarizing to darn near bellicose, with the main focus being the album’s lack of commercial appeal. While in the mainstream world this accusation might be poison, to independent country fans this is a flag that maybe this album is one of those rare Music Row gems, similar to Kellie Pickler’s 100 Proof from 2012. But what you get with Spitfire is an album that is neither here nor there, resting in sort of the demilitarized zone of country music where neither the mainstream nor independent world really want to claim it or sing its praises.
But when stripped down to just the songs, there is still some material on Spitfire worthy of both mainstream and independent ears. The second song on the album “What Have I Done” is surprisingly mellow, subtle, and artistic, without being sappy or mawkish like many mainstream ballads can veer towards. It’s a sincere little song right off the bat that let’s you know that Spitfire is not going to be some cookie cutter album. It also sets the tone in the album of LeAnn directly addressing her now well-chronicled infidelity, giving Spitfire a personal feel. And then how does LeAnn follow this up? With another song that delves into these very same subjects, and with a similar understated and artistic approach in “Borrowed” that is brushed with mournful steel guitar.
But in between these songs is the busy and overdone “Gasoline and Matches.” Just like the title track of the album, it tries too hard to evoke this overused theme in modern pop country of badass women oversinging songs that always involve fire in some way and that completely sap any soul out of a composition. As complimentary as one can be about female country in 2013, this audio equivalent to three snaps in a ‘Z’ formation is as unsavory as it gets to the active music listener, and so is the oversinging that usually accompanies it. This formula rears its ugly head again in the very rhythmic, almost rapping “You Ain’t Right.” Though you can hear how the lyrics would be a fun listen for some women, these songs illustrate that in female pop country in 2013, it’s not what you sing, but how you sing it, squeezing in silly, acrobatic vocal runs that ruin the story of the song, ignore the sweet spot of the singer’s range, and stretch the song’s pocket until it just comes across as saccharine diva-ish show-offidness. It’s the singing competition show influence on popular music.
Another song from Spitfire that has some people talking is “I Do Now.” The track mentions Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and delves into how you may love classic country artists and their songs when you’re young, but never really understand the subject matter until you’ve lived through the themes yourself. Though the story of the song works very well, once again LeAnn’s vocal approach centers your attention around her singing, and will keep traditional country fans that the song would otherwise appeal to at arm’s length.
And that is pretty much how Spitfire goes. It may be too heady for a wide mainstream audience, but there’s a little too much fluff to enact a resurgence of LeAnn’s traditionalist roots. Or, if you want to see the glass half full, there’s a little something for everyone. Maybe this album was destined to be misunderstood, and seeing how it has fallen pretty precipitously in the charts, this would seem to be a proper diagnosis (though it may be just as much a commentary on Mike Curb’s eroding powerbase). But instead of letting one song or LeAnn’s personal missteps outside of music turn you off of this album, if you’re subject to liking some of the music coming from the mainstream when it’s not positively awful, you may want to give Spitfire a fair glance and decide for yourself.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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Two guns up on the two songs below.
Saving Country Music started in the spring of 2008 as an organization called “Free Hank III” meant to help Hank Williams III who was suffering at the time from the repressive business practices of Mike Curb and Curb Records. From its inception, many perceived Free Hank III as a bunch of foul-mouthed yobs attempting to prop up a punk artist by over-zealously portraying Curb’s deceptive and dangerous business practices.
Now Mike Curb’s repressive stance towards artists and his sharky dealings with other labels is a given amongst the informed country music community, with his latest ploy being the release of a duets album from Tim McGraw two weeks before the former Curb artist is slated to make his debut on Big Machine Records.
But Hank3 and Tim McGraw are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mike Curb’s draconian business dealings. Mike Curb’s rap sheet is long, so let’s take look at some of the most memorable Mike Curb wrong steps over the years.
Mike Curb Fires Frank Zappa
Mike Curb started his first record label Sidewalk Records in 1963 when he was 18. In 1969, Sidewalk merged with the ailing MGM Records, giving Mike a 20% stake in MGM and appointing him president. One of Curb’s first orders of business was to fire any artist that he felt advocated drug use, including Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. However neither Frank Zappa nor his music promoted drugs. He was one of the few clean artists in southern California in the late 60′s, often referring to drug users as “assholes in action.”
Mike Curb Abuses Political Power, Pisses off California Gov. Jerry Brown
After working on the political campaigns for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford in the late 70′s, Mike Curb decided to enter politics and ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1978, winning despite no political experience and not even regularly voting in elections. While then California Governor Jerry Brown was out of the state running for President, Mike Curb used his executive powers to fiat through legislation and judicial appointments that Jerry Brown flatly disapproved of. Curb signed anti-crime legislation and appointed a controversial, ultra-conservative judge to the influential California Court of Appeals. Jerry Brown was a liberal Democrat, and had to rush back to California to rescind Curb’s actions. Mike Curb became so controversial, the California legislature created the “Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission” to keep Mike from making any new judicial appointments. The Sacramento Bee editorialized that Mike “tried to take advantage of [the] situation by making a controversial judicial appointment, but mostly succeeded in making an ass of himself.”
Mike Curb ran for Governor later, and lost.
Mike Curb vs. The Beat Farmers
Way before Mike Curb would bombard the country music public with incessant “Greatest Hits” releases from Tim McGraw (see below), or release albums with out the consent or knowledge of Leann Rimes (see below), he would pull the same stunts with San Diego’s offbeat country rock outfit The Beat Farmers. Signing a 7 album deal with Curb in 1986, the band first got sideways with the label when they found out Mike Curb authorized the release of a live album Loud and Plowed…And Live!! without the bands knowledge or consent. Then in 1993, after the band signed to Sector 2 Records in Austin, TX, Curb released Best of the Beat Farmers without the band’s knowledge or consent. The release nearly coincided with the band’s release of the album Manifold on their new label.
Mike Curb vs. MCA over “How Do I Live” Single
No, Big Machine was not the first label to be in a competing radio war with Mike Curb. That distinction falls to MCA. In 1997, MCA wanted to record the song “How Do I Live” for the soundtrack of the movie Con Air. LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood were the two artists tapped to contribute versions of the song, with Yearwood’s version eventually winning out because LeAnn Rimes’ voice was considered “too young” and her version “too pop.” When MCA released the Yearwood version on May 27th, 1997, Mike Curb in retaliation released Rimes’ version on the same exact day–a total contradiction of one of Music Row’s most hard and fast unwritten rules. Rimes was a Curb artist, and Mike Curb had a long-standing beef with MCA. The result? Neither version ended up making it on the soundtrack. Yearwood’s version did well on the country chart while LeAnne’s version stalled. So Mike Curb released LeAnne’s version to pop radio, where it set a record 69 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
Mike Curb Releases Ill-Conceived LeAnn Rimes Album I Need You
LeAnn Rimes was also in the middle of Mike Curb’s first major record dispute. In 2001, Rimes was working heavily on the movie Coyote Ugly, both playing herself in the film and contributing to the soundtrack. Instead of the current Curb practice of delaying the release of albums to keep artists under contract indefinitely, Curb had a stipulation that LeAnn Rimes had to release at least one album per year. Since LeAnn hadn’t recorded an album yet in 2001, Curb cobbled together various B sides and alternate versions to songs and released it as an album called I Need You. Curb then booked LeAnn on a nationwide tour to promote an album neither LeAnn nor her management being asked for permission to make or even notified about until right before the release. So LeAnn decided to fight fire with fire, using the nationwide tour to instead let the public know she did not support the release, including a very public admonishment of I Need You on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Hank Williams III’s This Ain’t Country & Thrown Out of the Bar
Hank3′s entire 14-year career with Curb Records was filled with turmoil. The first major conflict arose over an album called This Ain’t Country. Hank3 turned it into Curb, just to have Mike Curb deem it was not fit for release. Curb shelved the album, and then released it after Shelton left the label and after he’d fulfilled his contractual obligation for the number of releases. It was a way for Curb to squeeze another album out of Hank3′s contract, the same move Mike Curb attempted with Tim McGraw’s Emotional Traffic.
Hank3′s 3rd album Thrown Out of the Bar was slated to be released in late 2004, but Curb refused to issue it. This prompted Hank3 to start a “Fuck Curb” campaign that included T-Shirts, stickers, and the words “Fuck Curb” written prominently on Hank3′s guitar. Hank3 also took Curb to court, and like so many other artists with Mike Curb grievances, the court found in favor of Hank3 and made Curb issue the album that was later reworked into the album Straight to Hell. Curb also delayed the release of Hank3′s 4th album Damn Right, Rebel Proud for undetermined reasons, and since Hank had signed a non-defamation clause to his contract to get Straight to Hell released, he couldn’t even speak out against Curb’s actions.
Mike Curb Loses Long-Time Friend Hank Jr.
When Hank Williams III was born, there were two men in the hospital: Hank Williams Jr. and Mike Curb. For years Mike and Hank Jr. were very good friends and close confidants, until once again Mike’s oppressive business practices got in the way. In July of 2009, Hank Jr. announced his album 127 Rose Ave. would be his last with Curb after a 25 year partnership, and he did so with some choice words. ““You want to know the bottom line? This is my last album, and he’s (Mike Curb) history. . . We will move onward and upward, You just wait. We’ll have a lot to talk about. I’ve had some recording ideas that they didn’t care for. Well, there’s a lot of other labels that do care about it. We’re going to get off this old, dead sinking ship.”
By losing both Hank Jr. and Hank3, Mike Curb had officially squandered the Williams family legacy.
Mike Curb Jobs Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina signed with Curb as a teenager and released 3 albums in the first 4 years of her contract. But then Mike Curb, like he’s done with so many of his artists, put the brakes on Messina’s output. Her last full-length release was 8 years ago, 2005′s Delicious Surprise. In the fall of 2006 she recorded the album Unmistakable that was originally scheduled to be released on November 6th, 2007. But Curb shelved the album, slowly releasing a number of singles from it in 2008 and 2009, but waiting 3 years after the album’s original release date to make it public, and then it was released it as an “EP Trilogy” with two of the extended plays only made available in MP3 format. ““For me, my fans just want to hear the music,” Jo Dee says. “They just want to be able to get it. And it’s been such a struggle for the last… eighteen years. I signed when I got out of high school. So for eighteen years I’ve been just kind of struggling with the label and having them release stuff or not release stuff.”
In December 2012 Messina became the latest artist to finally be released from her Curb contract.
Mike Curb Ticks Off Tim McGraw
Of all of Mike Curb’s transgressions over the years, his treatment of Tim McGraw must be the most comical, unless you’re Tim McGraw and his fans. Mike Curb released no less than 7 “Greatest Hits” compilations as a filibustering tactic to keep McGraw on the label indefinitely. This was followed by a protracted legal battle over his album Emotional Traffic that the courts finally ruled was McGraw’s final album on Curb, even though Mike Curb insisted Tim owed him yet another. And then when Tim went to release his first post-Curb album, Mike reared his ugly head again by licensing material from other labels and releasing a duets album two weeks before Tim’s Big Machine Records debut.
And this doesn’t take into account the countless other grievances artist and music entities have had with Mike Curb and Curb Records over the years. Lyle Lovett, a 20-year Curb prisoner, entitled his final album with the label Release Me with an image of himself tied up on the cover, symbolizing the binds of his Curb stint. Clay Walker also had public issues with Curb and how the label releases music, or doesen’t. His album She Won’t Be Lonely Long was released both as a full length, and an EP, both with two completely different track lists. “There can only be one boss,” Clay said, “and we know who that is.”
The last artist to leave Curb Records, please turn the lights out.
Curb Records’ talent roster continues to contract. The latest defector is Jo Dee Messina, whose charted 9 #1 hits and sold more than 5 million records worldwide during her 18-year career. The reason? Just like Tim McGraw, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Clay Walker, Lyle Lovett, and LeAnn Rimes to name a few, Jo Dee Messina is fed up with Curb refusing to release her music.
After releasing 3 records in the first 4 years of her contract, the big Nashville-based music label put on the brakes on releasing new music like they’ve done to so many of their artists. Messina’s last full-length release was 8 years ago, 2005′s Delicious Surprise. In the fall of 2006 she recorded the album Unmistakable that was originally scheduled to be released on November 6th, 2007. But Curb shelved the album, slowly releasing a number of singles from it in 2008 and 2009, but waiting 3 years after the album’s original release date to make it public, and then it was released it as an “EP Trilogy” with two of the extended plays only made available in MP3 format.
“For me, my fans just want to hear the music,” Jo Dee told Chicago Now. “Do you know what I mean? They just want to be able to get it. And it’s been such a struggle for the last… eighteen years. I signed when I got out of high school. So for eighteen years I’ve been just kind of struggling with the label and having them release stuff or not release stuff. Now, we’re pretty much just free to do whatever we want with this new project so I’m very excited.”
Both Hank Williams III and Tim McGraw went through high profile fights with Curb near the end of their respective contracts. Curb’s modus operandi for the last few years seems to be to refuse to release artists’ last contractually obligated album to keep the artist signed to the label virtually indefinitely. Though Curb has lost most all of the court battles they’ve fought with artists trying to leave the label, their “catch and not release” program seems to still be in practice.
Many believe the character Marshall Evans, the controlling and manipulative record executive from the new ABC drama “Nashville” is based on Mike Curb. Marshall Evans continuously threatens actor Connie Britton’s character Rayna Jaymes with releasing a “Greatest Hits” album. Mike Curb famously released no less than 7 Greatest Hits albums for Tim McGraw while he was trying to keep McGraw under Curb contract.
Jo Dee Messina will be releasing a new album in 2013 on a new label.
On Tuesday (9-25-12), the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a lower Chancery Court ruling denying a request by Curb Records to block Tim McGraw signing and recording with another record label. Barring another appeal being accepted by the Tennessee Supreme Court, this means Tim McGraw is finally free from Curb Records, his label for 20 years who tried to keep him perpetually under contract by claiming the material from his final Curb album Emotional Traffic was recorded too soon after his previous album, and by releasing a comical parade of “Greatest Hits” compilations.
The court battle began in May of 2011 when Curb Records sued Tim McGraw for breach of contract. It got even muddier when during the litigation process, McGraw signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records on May 21st, 2012 and announced he’d recorded 20 songs with the label. Curb refused to acknowledge the new signing, asserting that McGraw was still under contract with them and the 20 songs were their intellectual property. Then in a battle of Music Row heavyweights, Curb and Big Machine began releasing competing singles. The courts have since ruled against Curb in a number of smaller decisions leading up to Tuesday’s big decision that should put McGraw’s label status mostly to rest.
“All recordings made after December 1, 2011, belong to McGraw,” the Tennessee Appeals Court ruled. “We find no error in the trial court’s preliminary determination regarding the ownership of masters…We affirm the judgment of the trial court and assess the costs of this appeal against the appellant, Curb Records.”
However Tim McGraw still must navigate the trial hurdle for the original breach of contract issue. Though the courts have ruled that McGraw can now make and release music with a new label, they still must determine if he indeed recorded the music for his last album Emotional Traffic to soon, and if so, what the penalty will be. Curb released a statement after the court ruling, saying in part:
The fundamental issue in this case is whether Tim McGraw fully performed under his contract with Curb Records. That issue has yet to be ruled on by any court, and will be the subject of a full trial on the merits scheduled for later this year.
We respectfully disagree with today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals on that issue, and we intend to continue to pursue this issue, including through the further appeals process as appropriate, in light of the significance of the underlying principles involved.
Those principles include our belief that contracts must be enforced as written, and in particular that exclusive personal services agreements with individuals, such as Mr. McGraw, who possess unique and extraordinary talent, must be subject to enforcement by injunctive relief.
The heavyweight fight between Curb Records and and Scott Borchetta of Big Machine over the rights to Tim McGraw and his music continues, on the airwaves in the form of competing singles, and in the courtroom in the form of legal briefs by both parties in an ongoing legal battle. McGraw, who just announced a Las Vegas residency with wife Faith Hill, has been in a battle with Curb Records for years over the length of his contract.
Earlier this year, the courts ruled McGraw could begin recording new music while the court hashed out whether McGraw had actually been in violation of his Curb contract for recording his last album Emotional Traffic too early, and if he was, what the penalty should be. Meanwhile, McGraw signed with Big Machine and now has released a competing single “Truck Yeah” to the singles Curb has been releasing from Emotional Traffic.
Now the legal situation has created another potential problem from Scott Borchetta and Big Machine. In late June, Curb asked and received from the court a delay in the legal process to evaluate Tim McGraw’s new relationship with Big Machine, and asked to receive a wide range of documents and access to Big Machine materials, including McGraw’s current contract, his distributor deal with Universal Music, the ability to directly question Scott Borchetta and top Big Machine brass, as well as emails, press materials, etc. that involve Tim McGraw’s signing.
But more than just shedding light on Big Machine’s relationship with Tim McGraw, these documents and interviews could also unlock reams of Big Machine business secrets that could give Curb new strategic advantage over the much-younger Big Machine who is steadily gaining market share from Music Row’s old guard.
“Curb, having lost in its effort to stop McGraw from making music now sees the ability to use the power of this Court to gain access to the inner-most workings and financial documents of a primary competitor,” said Big Machine lawyer John Day in a legal filing.
One of the primary reasons Curb wants to see the Big Machine documents, and one reason the court may allow it, is to determine just exactly when Big Machine began to reach out to Tim McGraw to join the label. If it was while Tim was still under contract with Curb (and according to Curb, he still is under contract with them), then Big Machine could be held liable.
Just because Curb requests the documents though, doesn’t mean they will receive them. They must prove the documents are relevant, will contain evidence pertinent to the case, and that there’s no other way the evidence or information can be obtained. Also, the Big Machine documents may only be made partially available, or only available to Curb attorneys in a closed-room situation.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Curb insists that Tim McGraw is still theirs, and that his first Big Machine single “Truck Yeah” along with 30 other songs Tim has recorded for Scott Borchetta are Curb intellectual property.
Both parties return to the court August 17th to decide what documents Big Machine must produce.
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In my opinion, Curb is dreaming if they think that they will come into possession of the new Tim McGraw material and then get yet another album out of him before he fulfills his contract as they are asking for. But Scott Borchetta’s aggressive moves, signing Tim and released an unprecedented competing single before the court has decided the status of McGraw’s Curb contract opened up the possibility for Curb to receive reparations from Tim McGraw and/or Big Machine, and apparently so does the court when they ruled to delay the trial in late June. As irrational as Curb was being when they released one Tim McGraw Greatest Hits album after another to extend his contract, Big Machine was being irrational by not waiting a few more weeks for the court to make some key rulings before moving forward with McGraw.
Tim McGraw had Curb right where he wanted them–in the rear view mirror–when the court ruled he could begin recording new music. Now, it may be vice versa.
For more information on the case, check out The Tennessean: Tim McGraw, Curb Records battle now ensnares Big Machine
I was really surprised in November of 2011 when after a minor initial court ruling in favor of Tim McGraw against his label Curb Records, it resulted in a victory lap by the McGraw camp. All the court had ruled was that McGraw could begin recording music with another label, not that he wasn’t still under contract with Curb, or owed them reparations for violating his contract when he recorded the music for his album Emotional Traffic too early. As I said in my story on the November court ruling:
The win means McGraw is now free to record new music and pursue a new label “outside of his contract” with Curb, but in no way means he’s out of the woods. A full trial is set for July, when the decision will be made if McGraw was in breach of his contract, and if so, what the penalty is. Despite the win, McGraw may still be bound by certain elements of his Curb contract, and by court orders from the ongoing lawsuit.
However McGraw immediately began recording new music, signed with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine records, and stated plans to release a new single “Truck Yeah” on Tuesday all before the trial and penalty phase of his court battle had even began.
Now the court has ruled in favor of Curb Records to postpone the trial until it can investigate the legal relationship between Big Machine Records and Tim McGraw. But once again, some outlets are falsely reporting the story, saying that Curb won and now all the music Tim McGraw has recorded with Big Machine is now the property of Curb. This is simply what Curb records is requesting from the court because they feel Tim McGraw is still under contract with them, and so any music he records would be their property.
The actual finding by the court if in fact McGraw is still under contract with Curb Records, if he still owes them another album, or if the 20-something songs he’s recorded recently belong to Curb, will be decided in a trial set for July. You can read the full Curb Records request for the court HERE.
I don’t begin to have any idea what the court will rule, but I was really surprised at the confidence both Tim McGraw and Scott Borchetta approached their new relationship with, way before the trial with Curb had taken place, a trial whose date has been set for July 2012 since late last year. The fact that McGraw has now signed another contract without allowing the trial process to resolve, and then with Borchetta planning the unprecedented move of releasing competing singles with Curb’s material, I can only imagine the court looking unfavorable towards McGraw and Borchetta’s aggressive moves, just like they did to Mike Curb’s aggressive move of asking McGraw for a whole other album before releasing him from his contract.
What is clear is we are seeing a battle of epic proportions transpire on Music Row, whose implications and court decisions could set historic precedent and shape Music Row politics for years to come.
An outright street fight of mammoth proportions is breaking out on Music Row in Nashville, the legendary stretch of asphalt where many of country music’s major labels hold their headquarters. The brawl is pitting two of Music Row’s heaviest hitters against each other, Mike Curb of Curb Records, representing the old guard and the heavy-handed restrictive way of handling artists, and the up-and-comer, Scott Borchetta, the Country Music Anti-Christ.
The two Nashville-based record labels, located mere blocks from each other are lobbing competing Tim McGraw radio singles at each other like grenades, a very unique and virtually unheard of scenario in music. McGraw, who was signed to Curb for some 20 years, signed with Borchetta’s Big Machine label last month. At the press conference announcing the new McGraw signing, Borchetta hinted competing singles may be released, and today made it official when Big Machine announced that they will release “Truck Yeah” from McGraw on Tuesday, July 3rd.
Curb, who had been holding back McGraw’s last album Emotional Traffic in hopes to indefinitely extend his contract, immediately began releasing singles from the album as soon as they lost a key court battle that allowed McGraw to record with another label. McGraw has a current single from Emotional Traffic “Right Back Atcha Babe” out right now, climbing the charts. Now the two singles, the two labels, and the two men, Borchetta and Curb, will be competing for the attention of the general public.
This development is very significant for Music Row, a usually tight knit fraternity of music business colleagues. Now you have arguably the two most significant Music Row citizens duking it out. Many major labels have satellite offices on Music Row, but are based in other cities like New York, LA, or London. Curb Records and Big Machine are the two major Nashville-based, independently-owned labels that call Music Row home.
“Truck Yeah” also marks a significant change in Tim McGraw’s style. Aside from his first major single, the controversial “Indian Outlaw”, McGraw has been known for more serious material, sometimes labeled as the adult contemporary star of country music. “Truck Yeah” with it’s heavy guitar smacks of the arena rock, laundry list songs that have become so popular over the last couple of years in mainstream country music.
Who will win this battle we will have to see. But the most significant development to take away from this is that Music Row now is not only battling the forces from the outside–illegal downloaders, traditionalists mad at the direction of country, artists wanting more freedom, etc.–it is now fighting itself.
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