Word Has It
Despite the ups and downs of country sales and country labels, one Music Row organization continues to expand. No small thanks are due to the many dedicated volunteers who spend valuable time ensuring the continued growth of this entity. We refer not to the Country Music Association, but to the Music Row rumor mill, which works ferociously and feverishly to remain ahead of the action on 16th Avenue.
Faster than the quickest e-mail, the rumor mill has become an unofficial media source. Word spreads from labels and publishing offices to restaurants, hair salons, and health clubs, and then on to radio, newspapers, and TV. “The music part of this town doesn’t need the newspaper,” says veteran producer Jimmy Bowen. “They can just use their own little gossip channels.”
The network operates much like the famed shampoo commercial of years ago; one person tells two friends, and so on, and so on. It all starts innocently enough: At first the rumor is considered just thata rumor. But after one person hears the same rumor from three different sources, it becomes accepted as fact.
All this passed-on information is harmless enough if the rumor is indeed correct. For instance, rumors began circulating last summer that Sony exec Doug Johnson was headed to Giant Records; Giant finally made the official announcement last week.
On the other hand, results can be damaging if they are false; careers and relationships can be destroyed. “If you check with the correct people, who are the people involved, that would dispel any rumor,” say Warner Bros.’ Susan Niles. “People will never ask an artist about a rumor, they’ll just keep telling their friends about it. They just have a habit of keeping it going for no reason.”
The difficult part about correcting a negative rumor, Niles says, is that it’s impossible to get everyone to tune in to one media source that can disseminate the correct information. Recently, for example, a competing label began spreading the word that Sony had dropped Wade Hayes. Even though the rumor was completely untrue, a syndicated radio show broadcast the news, and soon it was all over town. Producer Don Cook, who was afraid publishers might stop pitching him their best songs, felt compelled to address the situation in Row Fax.
Perhaps the most devastating false rumor of late is the one about Walt Wilson, one of the top music-marketing execs in the city. After working for MCA for 15 years, Wilson joined Capitol in 1995 as executive vice president/general manager. He left Capitol in October 1996 over “philosophical differences” with Capitol head Scott Hendricks.
But even before Wilson left, however, false rumors began to circulate that he was being fired for sexual harassment. At first, it appeared that the confusion centered around Wilson’s predecessor, who had been sued for sexual harassment. The rumors got so bad that Wilson addressed them in a staff meeting; by that point, a TV news reporter was working on the story.
Then Wilson discovered that an anonymous release making the same allegations had been faxed from Kinko’s to Music Row, Billboard, and other publications. (None of them actually wrote a story.) Wilson finally hired a private investigator, who discovered the sender was someone who disliked Wilson for personal reasons.
Even though Wilson left Capitol eight months ago, the rumors are still dogging him. “Everybody I’ve talked to is saying they’ve heard it,” he says. “It’s affecting my business. It continues to haunt me over and over. Once it gets into this rumor mill, it becomes fact. I keep on hoping it will go away if they’ll ask people at Capitol, who are more than happy to talk about it.”
No matter how damaging or how frivolous a rumor may be, it can always take on a life of its own. To set the record straight, here are a few of the latest we’ve heard:
Rumor: Tanya Tucker is dating TV anchor Stone Phillips, who has on several occasions allegedly been spotted on the Monday-morning flight to New York.
Response: “The rumor is definitely not true,” says Tucker spokeswoman Kadie Jones. “They are friends, but he is a married man, and she knows that.”
Rumor: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw lied about their new daughter’s weight, making her appear smaller than she actually was so that her conception date would have occurred later.
Response: “That is ridiculous,” Niles says. “It was four pounds and 14 ounces.”
Rumor: Vince Gill is dating singer Becca Bramlett.
Response: “Absolutely not,” says Bramlett publicist Wes Vause. “They are touring together. She is singing background vocals with him on the road.”
Rumor: Singer Jewel will record a song with the Mavericks.
Response: “Yes, I think so,” says producer Don Cook. “We just talked about it at our last meeting at MCA. I hope it happens.” Cook says the collaboration was Jewel’s idea.
Rumor: Mindy McCready is dating Superman star Dean Cain.
Response:“Mindy is reading for a part in a movie, and he is involved in the movie as well,” says RCA spokeswoman Marion Williams. “He flew out to her show in Texas. I don’t know if they’re dating or not.”
Rumor: Reba McEntire and husband Narvel Blackstock are having marital problems.
Response:“That rumor crops up every few months,” says McEntire spokeswoman Jenny Bohler. “I’ve been dealing with it for six or seven years. It was untrue then, and it’s untrue now.”
Race to the top
MCA appears to be winning the battle against Curb in the quest to take “Butterfly Kisses” and “How Do I Live” up the charts. This week Trisha Yearwood’s MCA version of “How Do I Live” sits at No. 45 on the R&R country chart, while LeAnn Rimes’ version on Curb has yet to make an appearance. On Billboard’s chart, Yearwood’s single is at No. 52, while Rimes’ is at No. 70. In a WSIX listener test, 75 percent voted for the Yearwood version, says Dave Kelly, music and program director. “As far as a definite rotation, Trisha is the one we’ll play,” Kelly says. “We’ll play LeAnn occasionally.”
Meanwhile, the Raybon Brothers’ version of “Butterfly Kisses,” also on MCA, sits at No. 36 this week on the R&R country chart; Jeff Carson’s Curb release hasn’t charted, and the version by Christian singer Bob Carlisle, who wrote the song, is at No. 43. His version, on DMG/Jive Records, should continue to climb because BNA has taken over radio promotion; the song is also being included on a Christmas album that benefits St. Jude. On Billboard’s chart, the Raybons are at No. 39, Carlisle is at No. 46, and Carson debuted at No. 72. WSIX is playing the Raybon Brothers’ version.
Fan Fair update
Ever year, there are always a few dedicated country fans who trek across the country to meet that one special star at Fan Fairwithout ever determining in advance whether the star is actually scheduled to appear. For the record, the following acts are not appearing at Fan Fair this year: Shania Twain, Dwight Yoakam, Faith Hill, Reba McEntire, George Strait, K.T. Oslin, Kentucky HeadHunters, Billy Dean, Shenandoah, and George Dukas. Currently, Garth Brooks is not scheduled to appear.
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