With 13-year-old LeAnn Rimes proving to be the countrymusic sensation of the summer, it’s surprising that the media continues to repeat a misleading story about her hit “Blue,” which has gone onto become the biggest blockbuster from Nashville since “Achy Breaky Heart.” When Curb first issued the song to radio programmers, it sent along a story relating how Bill Mack, a legendary Dallas deejay and record promoter, had originally written “Blue” for Patsy Cline, who died before she had a chance to record it.
This much we can assume is true. As the PR info would have it, though, Mack held onto the song all these years, waiting until he found the right woman to sing it. When he met Rimes, who was just 11 at the time, he reportedly decided that she had the voice he’d been waiting for since 1963.
The tale, which crosses more than a quarter of a century in time, sounds about as likely as someone experimenting with pot without inhaling. As it turns out, it was a masterful snow-job delivered to the record company by Mack himself, who, as we said, is a longtime record promotera job in which honesty is not considered a commendable career characteristic.
Nonetheless, the story has been passed along as fact by an endless number of publications. As far as we know, the lone journalist to take the time to check the information is John Lomax III, who looked into the story before writing about Rimes for London-based Country Music International. Lomax discovered three previous recordings of the song, including one by Mack himself that was released on Starday Records in the 1960s. Yodelin’ Kenny Roberts recorded the song for Starday in the late 1960s, and just two years ago, Australian singer Kathryn Pitt released “Blue” as a single in her own country. “It’s conceivable that there are more versions, but those are the only ones I’ve been able to confirm,” says Lomax, who did his research through the Country Music Foundation.
Yet the story continues. Country Music Weekly did a cover story on Rimes, with the Mack story as the major hook. When Lomax informed the magazine of his research, the magazine reacted with little interest, and the false information was never corrected. In the July 27 issue of Billboard, respected journalist Fred Bronson recited the hype without question or commenteven though his “Chart Beat” column specializes in research about the history of hit records.
Bronson correctly noted, however, that Rimes has already achieved greater success on the pop charts than Cline ever did. And, in the end, this may be the more interesting and important story. None of the erroneous background information surrounding “Blue” will dim Rimes’ accomplishments, nor should it. According to Billboard columnist Wade Jessen, her debut album sold more than 123,000 units in its first week. That’s the largest first week of sales for a new artist since SoundScan started tracking across-the-counter sales figures by computer in May of 1991. Rimes’ sales were 30,000 units beyond first-week figures for Billy Ray Cyrus’ Some Gave All, which came out just as “Achy Breaky Heart” was peaking in popularity.
Still, Rimes now will forever be wrapped in Cline’s aura, for better or worse, thanks to Mack’s brainstorm of a promotion idea and thanks to Curb Records’ willingness to introduce the young singer through a pumped-up, factually wrong story. But hey, it’s a good story, right?
For three years, musician Mike Williams has run an informal songwriters’ pull, the 6 Chair Pickin’ Party, every Wednesday night out of his living room in his Fleetwood Drive home. For the month of August, the event has moved uptown to the Bluebird Cafe under the name Nashville Pickin’ Party; Williams and cohost Shug Mauldin will tape two shows every Tuesday night for a planned syndicated radio program. Upcoming guests will include Jon Vezner, Kevin Welch, Tom Kimmel, Buddy Mondlock, Steve Seskin, Kate Wallace, Victor Mecyssne, and “Long Black Veil” coauthor Danny Dill. Special guests will be invited onstage from the audience each night, so the lineup is by no means rigid. For more information, call 383-1461.
Last year, Suzanne Tinsley, front office manager of the Regal Maxwell House Hotel, joined forces with her friend Avi Poster, a Chicago school principal married to Nashville songwriter Joie Scott, to bring together their friends in the music industry for a good cause and some serious networking. The resulting songwriters’ jam raised $1,000 for Outlook Nashville, the nonprofit organization that helps handicapped adults adjust to independent living.
This Friday night at 7 p.m., the Regal Maxwell House hosts its second annual Singer/Songwriters’ Summer Music Showcase, which sports even more of Tinsley and Poster’s friends. Included in this year’s lineup, along with Joie Scott, are Marc-Alan Barnett, Benny Berry, Buddy Causey, Paul Craft, Rick Crawford, Cindy Green, Karen Taylor-Good, Jennifer James, David Kent, Jon Michaels, Ashe Underwood, Kenny West, and Bobby Whitesidea group whose credits range from Martina McBride and Patty Loveless to Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand. Admission is free, but individual contributions will be accepted for Outlook Nashville. For more information, contact Suzanne Tinsley at 259-4343.
Megan Fox and Dave Barry
Walton Goggins for Fox. Claire Danes, if you squint, for Barry.
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