On Feb. 9, as Allison Moorer returned home from breakfast with her husband and songwriting partner, Butch Primm, her cellular phone rang. On the other end of the line was Bruce Hinton, chairman of the Nashville division of MCA Records.
That got Moorer’s attention. In the nearly two years since she had signed with MCA, Hinton had never called her. He opened the conversation by telling the singer that Tony Brown, president of MCA Nashville and the man who signed Moorer to her contract, was in the office with him.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh my God! They’re going to drop me from the label!’ ” Moorer laughs.
After all, MCA had been at the center of recent music-industry consolidations, and several artists connected with MCA/Universal had lost their record contracts in recent weeks. Because Moorer’s first album, Alabama Song, hadn’t sold particularly well, she feared the label might be letting her go.
But Hinton’s call was anything but bad news. The label exec informed Moorer that her song, “A Soft Place to Fall,” had been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. The tune, written by Moorer and Nashville rocker Gwil Owen, was featured in the Robert Redford movie The Horse Whisperer. Moorer appeared in the movie as a nightclub singer, performing the song while Redford danced with actress Kristin Scott Thomas.
“I had no idea the nominations were coming out that morning,” she says. “It had crossed my mind that maybe the song would be in the running to be nominated, but I never thought in a million years that it would actually happen. So when Bruce gave me the news, all I could say was, ‘Oh my God, you’re kidding?’ ”
Last spring, the movie role helped jump-start Moorer’s career. But country radio unjustly ignored “A Soft Place to Fall,” a languid, melancholy ballad rich with emotion. Apparently, “power country” programmers found it too low-key for their tastes, and they assumed listeners would naturally tune out in search of something peppier.
Indeed, there may be no better example of country radio’s head-in-the-sand approach to programming. Even Jay Leno, an avowed country music fan, expressed his frustration about this very subject prior to Moorer’s performance on the Tonight Show Feb. 15. As the host put it, she’s appearing in films, Robert Redford loves her, movie fans love her, music critics love her, and now she’s been nominated for an Academy Award. Yet she’s still not getting any airplay. “What’s wrong with those people?” Leno asked.
At least Moorer can feel vindicated in knowing that her nomination will result in a flood of exposure. To top it all off, on Oscar night, she’ll perform “A Soft Place to Fall” during the worldwide telecast. That means she’ll be seen by millions of peopleand, in music-industry terms, that’s millions of consumers.
People picking up on Moorer in the next couple of months will likely be asking two questions: One, why haven’t we heard this outstanding and unusual singer before? Then, once they start thinking about the country music they do hear on the radio, they’ll echo Leno and ask, “What’s wrong with those people?”
There is one way to change that: Call a country radio station and ask the program director to play Allison Moorer. Should he refuse, ask him, “What’s wrong with you people?” Then tell him you’ll be listening to another station from now on.
All hail the queen
If U.S. Rep. Bob Clement and Musicians Local 257 get their way, the Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells, will be one of this year’s Kennedy Center honorees. At a recent press conference in Washington, D.C., Clement and the musicians’ union recommended Wells for the honor.
The Kennedy Center has yet to recognize a female country singer, but if anyone deserves the honor, it’s Wells, who in 1999 celebrates her 80th birthday and her 50th year as a recording artist. She first made history in 1952, when her No. 1 hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” induced record companies to open their doors to more women. Wells’ successwhich went on to encompass 37 more Top 10 hitsalso inspired Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and countless other women to take to the stage. Born Muriel Ellen Deason, and for 51 years married to country star Johnnie Wright, Wells was, in 1976, the first living female solo artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 1991, NARAS honored her with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Recognition from Kennedy Center, however, would be a fitting crown for the Queen of Country Music. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Get well soon
Our sincere wishes for a speedy recovery to Dr. Charles K. Wolfe, one of the nation’s leading experts in folk music, who is recovering from heart surgery after suffering a massive heart attack three weeks ago. A popular professor at MTSU, Wolfe is a renowned scholar and author whose works include the country-music history Tennessee Strings and biographies of the Louvin Brothers and Grandpa Jones. He also wrote the liner notes for Rounder’s essential reissue of The Carter Family’s 1927-1941 Victor recordings, as well as notes for more than 150 other records. His interests are boundless and his enthusiasms infectious, as students of his MTSU folklore classes can attest.
Wolfe had surgery at St. Thomas Hospital and may return this week to Murfreesboro to begin long-term recuperation. “I’m much better this week than I was last week,” Wolfe says. “I’m not all that bad, considering all the junk I’ve been through.” We wish him well, and soon.
Elliptical dispatches: Pumpskully had to cancel its appearance last Tuesday night with The Ravens at 12th & Porter, but audience members got a surprise treat instead: a rare club set by Mavericks piano-pounder Jerry Dale McFadden. A popular club draw on his own here since the mid-1980swhen he was billed around town as “the S&M Cowboy”McFadden has been hellaciously busy outside the Mavericks: In addition to recording a solo CD, This Girl, with producers Brad Jones, Rick Will, and Russ Long, he’s part of a supergroup called Swag with Doug Powell and members of the Mavericks and Cheap Trick....
Tickets go on sale Friday at all TicketMaster outlets for a concert to benefit the 1999 Journey of Hope Apr. 12 at the Ryman Auditorium. The evening includes performances by Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, the Indigo Girls, and Jackson Browne, with an appearance by Sister Helen Prejean, the anti-death-penalty activist whose experiences formed the basis for the movie Dead Man Walking. The Journey of Hope is led by murder victims’ families and survivors who seek alternatives to the death penalty....
Roots rocker Tim Carroll, one of Nashville’s most underrated talents, sets up a Wednesday-night residency at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge this month in the back room. His upcoming Sire Records debut has a great buzz but no firm release date; in the meantime, you can catch him through Mar. 30 at Tootsie’s with drummer Rick Schell and bassist Dave Jacques. He also plays Tootsie’s this Saturday night....
Mark your calendar for a Mar. 16 show by Chicago’s hard-country wonders Freakwater at the Bluegrass Inn. The opening act is Toronto’s The Sadies, who back R&B wildman Andre Williams on his upcoming Bloodshot Records country album.
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