Country Music People December 2018 - Page 3

contents cmp Features December 2018 N ot to 10 William Michael Morgan I DUNCAN WARWICK SPEAKS TO THE major label star waving the flag for traditional country music. t ain’t easy these days being a traditional country with a major record label deal. It can be hard to be recognised by country radio among the RnB infused pop offerings and even harder to have hit records because of it. William Michael Morgan is one such example of the endangered species. It’s almost a miracle that he ever charted at all with his debut I Met A Girl in 2015, let alone go Top Ten. It probably didn’t hurt that the song was co-written by Sam Hunt, and it neatly connected the worlds of both old and new. Criminally, the follow-up single, Missing, barely cracked the Top 50. Penned by Rhett Akins, it is one of the finest examples of a commercial slice of neo-traditionalism you are likely to hear this side of 2010. Even Akins himself, who can write across the board, says, “I would say my country songs kind of sound like early George Strait,” and he’s not kidding. The title track of Morgan’s debut album, Vinyl, failed to chart at all and those of us raised on a diet of Mark Chesnutt, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Diffie and such feared we might have heard the last of William Michael Morgan on a major label. He’s way too country for that! “I get that. I get that,” says WMM assuredly, “And that’s something that Warner…I have to say, they have been really good with us. With Cody Johnson now...They’re really good at letting their artists, within reason obviously, let us do what we want to do. Be creative how we do it, making music that we want to, say the things that we want to say, and that’s something that I don’t think we would have been able to do if we were at a different label.” The history of his label and their part in the new traditional movement of the mid-80s isn’t wasted on WMM either. “They [WB] turned a lot of things around. Storms Of Life and I guess Randy [Travis] and Ricky [Skaggs]…A lot of people don’t give Ricky Skaggs enough credit either, because he was a huge part of that turn along with Keith Whitley and a handful of others. But that Storms Of Life record was iconic. Still is.” Warner Bros have indeed stood by their artists like few others in this day and age, and new songs have started to trickle out on WMM’s website. Most notable among them is Brokenhearted. It’s another on which Akins is one of the writers, one that Mark Chesnutt would’ve been proud to call his own, and it’s another Like a major label anomaly William Michael Morgan strives to keep Brokenhearted songs alive. 14 Week In The Life... - Mark Hagen Mark Hagen behind the scenes at the biggest week in country music. 20 Randall King William Michael MORGAN 10 cmp - DECEMBER 2018 Duncan Warwick speaks to author Jake Brown about the hit songwriters. 50 Josh Turner WEEK LIFE ... IN THE Mark Hagen (BBC Radio 2 Producer) 8-15 Nov 2018 The album he’s always wanted to make. 53 Country’s Protest Songs We pick some of the best. 56 Connie Smith Kelly Gregory talks to the legendary singer about her new compilation. 11 Alex Rossi hears from the fast rising Texas singer and songwriter. 24 Nashville Songwriter DECEMBER 2018 - cmp Page 10 Bob Harris Country BBC Radio 2 Thursdays 8-9pm “ A h, November - poppies, fireworks, crisp autumn nights and the busiest week in the Bob Harris Country calendar! Busy because, of course, it’s the CMA Awards and so we decamp to Nashville for 5 days to cover the event for Radio 2, to record as many sessions for the programme as we can pack in, renew old friendships, make new ones and generally stoke the fires of the programme for the year to come. In common with most Radio 2 programmes, “Bob Harris Country” is not a huge operation: Bob presents it, I do everything else and our editor is Al Booth, with the team expanding for bigger events like our coverage of the C2C weekend and this coming week. It also sometimes shrinks - Radio 2’s coverage of the CMA Music Festival for example typically consists of me with a tape recorder! In the last couple of years, the BBC has also reacquired the rights to the CMA TV show, and so Bob and I also have to film the opening links for that before sending all the material back to London for a quick turnaround edit. But before all that, we have a live radio programme to make... big hitters from the Nashville mainstream. Bob is in the studio, and I’m in the control room where I keep an eye on the technical side of the programme, answer emails, feed Bob listener comments and dedications, do the programme’s social media posts and so on. The show flies by, fuelled by some delicious banana bread brought in by Sara Cox who’s on air next, and that means that Music City is ahead of us! Sunday November 11th Thursday November 8th The Bob Harris Country week generally starts on a Friday, when I send Bob an update on the week’s new releases, chart positions and general country music news so he can make a start on putting the show together for the following week. The brief for the programme is to provide a weekly snapshot of country music in all its forms, and so over the course of each month you’ll find modern chart country rubbing up against Americana, bluegrass, country rock, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and of course our regular live music sessions. This week, however, is our CMA Award preview show and so it’s an hour of And off to the airport on our way to the CMAs. BA’s direct flight to Nashville means that you’re almost certain to bump into somebody you know, and it’s no different this time round as the departure gate is clogged up with the likes of Old Dominion, Eric Paslay, Otis Gibbs and James Blunt. Sensing exciting news we bustle over to the latter, only to find that he’s going to Music City on a writing trip and not to make a surprise appearance on the award show. Oh well... Nine hours later, and the madness has begun. I’ve been visiting Nashville two or three times a year since the early 90s which means that I know a lot of people here and therefore there’s a lot to pack in every time I arrive. My phone has been going non-stop since we landed and I’m already struggling to fit everything - and everybody - in. First up for Bob & I is a quick drink with Scott Borchetta, the head of Big Machine of course, and famously the Man Who Discovered Taylor Swift. I myself am The Man Who Sat Next To Taylor On The London Underground last year, which is not such a good headline but does at least get a laugh. Anyway we swap a few war stories and I leave Bob with Scott while I head over to the Exit/In to see a four act bill headlined by Lindsay Ell over Clare Dunn, Kassi Ashton and the Sisterhood Band, who are Rod Stewart’s daughter Ruby, and Alyssa Bonagera whose parents are Baillie & The Boys. The Exit/In itself is a venerable old Nashville landmark of course, having opened at the beginning of the Outlaw era and its latest makeover is more rock club than country venue. I hang with Cassadee Pope to watch the bands before she beetles up on stage to end the night with a mass singalong of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and I go to bed, clutching the bottles of wine Lindsay has kindly given me to help me through the week. It seems to be 4 in the morning UK time. How did that happen? Monday November 12th The first of two days of sessions for “Bob Harris Country”, and today is - by luck rather than judgement - a C2C day with four of the main stage acts coming in: Chase Rice, Brett Eldredge, Dustin Lynch and Drake White. We record the sessions - and pretty much everything else we do in Nashville - at Audio Productions on Music Row, a splendid facility 14 cmp - DECEMBER 2018 DECEMBER 2018 - cmp 15 Page 14 60 Obituaries RANDALL KING had a cult following with only one ep release behind him. this year’s full length album sees him become a major player on the texas scene. by ALEX ROSSI Reviews 30 Album Reviews 49 Live Review D espite only having released one EP and one full-length album Randall King seems to have been around for years. Maybe it’s that his sound is so steeped in the West Texas Plains from which he hails, maybe because the tradition runs deep in the singer raised on a diet of Keith Whitley, George Strait, Randy Travis and Alan Jackson, or maybe it’s just that real heartfelt country music is timeless. Just one listen to one of the best songs this year, Mirror Mirror, from King’s eponymous debut, and it’s immediately obvious that any of his heroes would have been delighted to wrap their tonsils around it. The song (also a single and video) is both instant and classic, and the singer scoffs at the suggestion that it’s too country for country radio. “You never know, man. If that song blows up it could be on national radio.” Recalling writing it, King adds, “You know, its really funny, I wrote that song with a couple of friends of mine back in Texas, and I hadn’t worked it up with a full band at all, it was still kinda getting polished. I loved, loved, the song, and I didn’t really think it would work. It’s that old-school country lower key, and my manager… we opened for Cody Johnson up north… and my manager was there and he goes, ‘Hey man, i think you should start working Mirror Mirror into your set. Your set’s missing it.’ So we worked it up, and we were playing it probably for about eight months before the record even came out and that is the one song that wasn’t even recorded anywhere and we had fans singing it every night.” Another standout track from King’s album is Reasons To Quit which is about cherishing and holding on to love. King describes it as, “Very Randy Travis,” and the song epitomises everything that’s great about country music in one package. 20 cmp - DECEMBER 2018 King continues, “When I produced that song on the record I wanted to take it up, so we did some bluegrass stuff to it. there’s some Dobro on it, and I love that song. I wrote that song with Bobby Terry who played all the steel parts and about seventy percent of all the guitar parts on my record. We wrote that song and he played every single instrument on that track. It’s an incredible song but I didn’t think it really meant as much to me as it did until my grandmother called me and said, ‘I love that song’ and then I realised that basically that my grandmother was the character in the song. We lost my pawpaw a year and a half ago and they were married for 65 years. So after 65 years of marriage that’s a lot of love, that’s a lot of little things that connect and make that relationship special. She was still doing things on her everyday routine as if my grandpa was still there.” Randall King’s star is rising pretty quickly. With only an EP behind him he began playing live and built up something of a cult following. “We toured for two years on five songs,” he laughs, “and with those five songs I was able to get several things. I was able to get my management, my booking agency, and we built a pretty decent fan-base just off the EP for two years. It’s jumped up a lot and it’s been three, three and a half years, and it’s not a bad boat, man. There’s still a lot of work to do and there’s still a lot of fans to gain but we’ve been putting in the work and it’s starting to show.” King is quick to credit ‘his team’ in getting him to where he is today, and indeed, his notoriety on the Texas scene is impressive after so few releases. “I have an incredible team behind me. From my management company to my booking agent, we attack certain markets via radio play and they would put me in the best positions as far as RANDALL K Work I Ethic N G DECEMBER 2018 - cmp Regulars 4 News 8 Tour Guide 23 The David Allan Page 29 Corner Of Music Row 59 Americana Roundup 21 Page 20 Jake Brown with Josh Kear Nashville-based author Jake Brown takes us behind the scenes of the Music row hit machine in his latest book which features the stories behind 400 songs, 300 of them number one hits. He speaks to DUNCAN WARWICK I t’s all about the song. Three chords and the truth. These are phrases frequently cited when trying to define country music and if you think that the people behind the scenes penning the hits are the unsung heroes of country music, or if you’re a wannabe songwriter felling the irresistible tug of Music City and need a little advice from those who have been there and done it, or even if you’d just like to hear the stories behind some of the biggest songs in recent memory, then a new book by Jake Brown, Nashville Songwriter Vol.II, offers all of that and more. As the title implies, this is the second volume from the busy Nashville-based author who had previously put the likes of Bill Anderson and Tom T. Hall in the spotlight with 2014’s Volume One. This time around the songwriters featured tend to have come to prominence in the last decade and among the artists for whom they’ve supplied songs are country’s biggest hit-makers such as Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Kacey Musgraves, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Cole Swindell. In all there are interviews with 35 of Music Row’s top songwriters covering 300 chart-toppers. Explaining the idea behind the book which gets behind the songs, author Brown, for whom this marks his 45th published book in 17 years says, “There’s been a lot of biographies on country music but there’s been no book series that profiles the stories behind, not only the 24 cmp - DECEMBER 2018 songs which are popular in country music, but along with that the songwriters… and they’re the unsung heroes of country music. Percentage-wise it’s changing now because more writers are getting in the writing room with these people, but really for decades, and unique for country music, most of the hits you hear are not written by the artists who made them famous. They’re written by these songwriters. I wanted to create, if possible, the first really thorough anthology series that told the stories behind these men and women’s stories. How they got to Nashville? Did they come here to be stars? Did the come here to be songwriters? “The first book came out in 2014, and it had 19 profiles in there. This one has 35. The idea was to really try to get also as current - it took me four years because I write a lot of other books at the same time - this one I was constantly interviewing new songwriters but also constantly catching up with ones I already talked to because they kept having number ones. The idea was to get to 300. That was the number I set along with my publisher. There are closer to 400 in the book but 300 are number ones. “Another facet of country music that’s unique is that Country has two Number One charts - US Country Airplay and Hot 100 Country Songs. The demand and the amount of hits they are under pressure to turn out at any given time is huge.” DECEMBER 2018 - cmp 25 Page 24 JOSH TURNER Charts A Higher Power 64 Americana & UK Country Charts 65 Billboard Country Charts Courtesy of Billboard Inc. T BY DUNCAN WARWICK here’s nothing better than God-given talent. Josh Turner is certainly one of the recipients of such a gift. Even his speaking voice rumbles low and hints at his powerful baritone. It’s a voice that made one heck of an entrance with his debut single Long Black Train in 2003 and saw him nominated for the Horizon Award and song Of The Year at the following year’s CMA Awards.It didn’t win but It did clear up at the Inspirational Country Music Awards. His faith has always been important to Josh Turner and with his latest release he is giving a little back with a full-blown tribute to the man upstairs. Called I Serve A Savior and featuring new songs alongside traditional hymns and songs of faith it is the record we’ve always known Turner had in him, and one that he’s probably always wanted to make. “Yeah, it is,” confirms the deep voice at the other end of the phone. “I do want to clarify one thing. A lot of people ask me or have asked me why did it take so long for me to make this record, and the honest answer is I feel like God has told me to be a country singer in my life and so up until this point my priority has been to establish myself as that and I feel like I’ve done that. So coming off the heels of Deep South, debuting at number one on the album chart and then Hometown Girl going to number one on the singles chart. I didn’t real have any big plans for 2018 outside of touring, so when this opportunity came I just felt like it was God’s time. I just felt like it was the right time to go after this. I’m glad I did. It was a lot of fun and I love the way this record has 50 cmp - DECEMBER 2018 come together. My fans are very pleased.” Turner’s releases have often included a song of faith and this release has been inevitable at some point in the eyes of his fans. “I’ve tried, on every record of mine just to show a heart. Not every record has had a Gospel song or a faith song on it but most of them have. That’s the most important thing to me in my life ad I feel that that’s the most important message that I can get out there to people, that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and he conquered the grave, and he’s gonna come back one day, so out goal is to live for him, and serve him, and work with him.” I Serve A Savior is Turner’s seventh studio album and features appearances by bluegrasser Bobby Osborne (Osborne Brothers), Christian singer Sonya Isaacs, and Tunrer’s own family. There are also new live recordings of Turner favourites Long Black Train and Me And God alongside traditional hymns and new songs. Explaining the thought process behind choosing the songs Turner says, “Well, when it came time to make a Gospel record, ‘Gospel’ can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and I wanted to come at this record from a lot of different perspectives. So the song choice just came from a variety of sources, so we have the standard hymns like Amazing Grace and Great Is Your Faithfulness and that kind of stuff, we also have original songs on here, we have covers of Hank Williams’ I Saw The Light and obviously I did new versions of Long Black Train and Me And God, and I even did Swing Low Sweet Chariot. I feel like there’s a lot of variety on this record.” DECEMBER 2018 - cmp 51 Page 50