Just when it looked like the talk was dying down about Capitol Records, singers Tanya Tucker and John Berry have asked to be released from their contracts. This latest development has spurred a.new round of speculation about what’s next for the label, best known as the home to Garth Brooks.
Some believe the news proves what many have been saying for months: Capitol has neglected the other acts on its roster by putting all of its efforts and resources into promoting Brooks’ album Sevens and his recent box set. In fact, a lawsuit recently filed by Tanya Tucker against the label alleges just that. (The lawsuit doesn’t actually name Brooks, but sources confirm that his role at the label helped to spur the suit.)
Last fall, Pat Quigley was named president and CEO of Capitol Records. He replaced Scott Hendricks, who didn’t get along with Brooks, Capitol’s biggest act and a big Quigley supporter. Since that time, the label chief has attracted attention for his unorthodox methods and his apparent lack of knowledge about country music. Now Tucker’s and Berry’s departures appear to confirm some discontent at Capitol, word of which has been spreading through town over the last few months.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s customary for acts to leave a label when a new regime steps in. Some acts feel as if they are no longer a priority, and often they’re right: Executives are more interested in promoting their own signings, in which they have a vested interest. The older acts, meanwhile, either beg off the label, or they’re unceremoniously dumped.
What’s unusual in this case is that Tucker hasn’t just asked to be released from the label, she’s also suing Capitol for alleged breach of contract. Tucker attorney Jay Bowen says the singer is asking for $50 million, which reflects the loss of record and ticket sales due to Capitol’s lack of support.
The lawsuit was filed in Davidson County Chancery Court on July 24 and then was refiled on Aug. 12. It alleges that Tucker, unhappy with the marketing and promotion of her most recent album, Complicated, asked to be released from her contract while Hendricks was in charge, but Capitol instead exercised its option to extend the contract for two more albums. Once Quigley took over, Tucker again asked to be released. Last November, the lawsuit says, Capitol told Tucker that it wouldn’t require her to deliver another album.
Here’s where the problem begins: Bowen says that under the “pay or play” provision of Tucker’s contract, Capitol was legally obligated to pay her approximately $300,000 for not releasing another record. But Capitol said it would only release Tucker from her contract if she waived her “pay or play” rights.
According to the lawsuit, Quigley told Tucker in January that she was no longer a Capitol priority and that it would be at least one year before he would consider allowing her to record another album. In addition, he wouldn’t allow the singer to participate in Asylum’s tribute record to Tammy Wynette unless she waived her contractual rights with Capitol. Such moves, the lawsuit alleges, have prevented Tucker from working for two years and those are two years Tucker’s career can ill afford to lose right now. Complicated sold poorly and had little success at radio, so the singer needs to regain momentum now or risk losing it forever.
“Essentially Capitol has held Tanya hostage until she gives up her rights under the contract,” Bowen says. “In any event, they’ve told her she’s not going to release an album.” And the label’s unwillingness to let her cut a one-off track for another label illustrates the fact that the label is playing hardball. In effect, Bowen says, the label is telling her, “ ‘We’re going to do everything we can to mess up your career until you give up your rights.’ That’s why this is different from an artist just saying, ‘I’m unhappy with my label.’ ”
For his part, Quigley says he was surprised by Tucker’s request, though he agrees that she was mistreated under Hendricks. “I said, ‘You are right. If you are that unhappy, you can go.’... She was tied to us for another record..., [but] when she quit, she came back and said, ‘Pay me.’ ‘For what? You didn’t put out the record. I let you off the label.’ I don’t think Tanya really understands what her lawyers are doing.”
Negotiations over Berry’s departure were much more amicable. “He just wants to regroup and catch his breath and make a new album that is completely different,” Quigley says. “I come from the world of sports, and sometimes it’s good when a player goes to another team. I don’t think Capitol is doing a real good job with John right now, and that’s my personal failure. We’re failing John; there’s something wrong with Capitol if we’re not succeeding with a voice like that.”
Quigley deserves credit for allowing Berry to leave, rather than holding him to his contract, but he is perhaps a little too self-congratulatory about the matter. (One can’t help but wonder how he would have responded if Berry were experiencing some success.) “I’m just a liberal from New York who believes that the personal happiness of my people is a reflection of who I am,” he says.
It remains to be seen what will happen to Suzy Bogguss, Billy Dean, Deana Carter, and Trace Adkins, the other Capitol artists who predate Quigley’s administration. As it stands now, Carter’s second album is scheduled for an October release.
Whatever critics might say about him, Quigley does appear to be developing a vision for his label. He signed Steve Wariner, whose album sales are approaching 500,000, and he recently added former Christian singer Susan Ashton, who has sung backup for Brooks, to the roster as well. “We didn’t have a big voice like Trisha Yearwood,” he says. “We needed one, and that voice is Susan Ashton. I think we need a big male voice, and I think that voice is Trace Adkins.”
Adkins, however, appears to be floundering at the moment. His most recent single, “Big Time,” performed worse than anything else in his career, failing to break the Top 20. But Quigley seems committed to the singer. “My only comments to his management are challenge his voice more than you do, and Trace is responding.”
Quigley says he’s also looking for a duo, preferably two males, who he envisions could be the next Everly Brothers. Interestingly, the label chief hasn’t had an A&R director since he took over, nor would he confirm reports that Emory Gordy Jr., who will produce the Ashton album, is coming aboard. He says he’s in no hurry for new signings.
“Fifty acts a week come across my desk,” he says. “What would I do with them? Until I can give these people radio success, I’m not going to put out a lot of acts. I have to break that radio code, and that’s my intellectual challenge. I don’t intend to do it by giving radio a bunch of junk.”
Certainly, no one can question Quigley’s commitment to Brooks. When the label announced the release of Brooks’ album Sevens last fall, Quigley said he would consider the record a failure if it didn’t sell 10 million copies. “Of course, I’ll get to 10 million,” he says. “It’s at 6 million in eight months. By the end of this year, I’ll have sold 25 million discs by Garth Brooks. It’s the most profitable year in the history of Capitol Records in Nashville.
“I’m the first person in this seat in a long time who cares about Garth Brooks.... By New Year’s Day, Garth is going to be in the range of 95 million records [in total sales], so all of the people [at Capitol] who said his career is over, they’re gone for a good reason. He was right; he’s not close to peaking.”
Looking at Brooks’ and Wariner’s careers, it’s obvious that Quigley is an innovative, capable marketing man when he believes in an act. It remains to be seen, though, just how far down the roster his enthusiasm goes. Does Quigley who admits that he’s a marketing man, not a music man have the interest or the ability to develop a viable roster of artists? Both Wariner and Ashton have ties to Brooks, so it’s too soon to tell if Quigley is truly running the show, or if he’s just doing what it takes to keep his superstar happy.
Corrected. Thank you.
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