Another year gone, another sigh of relief from Music Row. Country music has been permeated for so long by a sense of fatalism that even its current practitioners tend to regard good fortune as a cosmic aberration. Consequently, they wait with crossed fingers for the bottom to drop out of the market. And maybe it willbut not this year. In spite of the oft-heard complaints that radio playlists are stretched to the limits, that too many record companies are pushing too many new acts, that all the new talent looks and sounds alike, and that music videos have reached the limits of their promotional usefulness, country music is still building momentum.
Bidding to become major country players, several new labels put down roots in 1995. Among them were Almo Sounds, Veritas Music Entertainment, Encore Records and, most recently, Rising Tide Entertainment. Arista Records spun off a companion label, Career Records. Magnatone released its first records, from Billy Montana and Shelby Lynne. River North Nashville debuted projects by such established country acts as Holly Dunn, Ronna Reeves and Rob Crosby. And Word Records announced that it’s also starting a country label, Word Nashville.
Except for the turnover at Liberty (now Capitol Nashville) Recordsin which Scott Hendricks replaced Jimmy Bowen as presidentthere were no top-level upheavals at Nashville-based major labels this year. The same could not be said of SESAC, the performing rights company that saw several of its most visible and talented execs take flight, including such long-timers as C. Dianne Petty and Vincent Candilora.
While Music Row failed to field a new Garth Brooks in 1995, it did offer up a new Brooks album, Fresh Horses. In its first week out, the album was second in sales only to the much-ballyhooed Beatles package. And there were some near-Garth experiences: Shania Twain went from being “Who’s she?” to “That’s her!” with her second album, The Woman in Me, a nuclear-powered vehicle that has already sold more than 3 million copies. More amazingconsidering the fact that she’s on Rounder Records, an independent labelAlison Krauss has seen sales on her Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection soar nearly to the 2 million mark. Krauss was also a big winner at the Country Music Association awards show, where she copped the female vocalist, single, Horizon and vocal event of the year honors.
It was also a good year from a fan’s point of view. Ty Herndon made an absolutely dazzling breakthrough with his first single and music video, “What Mattered Most.” So singular is Herndon’s talent, and so strong his appeal, that he was able to survive the bad publicity that ensued when he was arrested in Fort Worth on charges of indecent exposure and possession of a controlled substance. Two new groupsPerfect Stranger and Lonestarcame out of nowhere to capture a lot of attention with their catchy, situation-oriented lyrics and sweet, close vocal harmonies.
Turning in particularly memorable early singles were Jeff Carson (“Not on Your Love”), Terri Clark (“Better Things to Do”) and Bryan White (“Someone Else’s Star”). With “Can’t Be Really Gone,” platinum-selling, hormone-churning Tim McGraw showed that he’s a moving ballad singer as well. And, although they’ve been around for a whileas measured by current country standardsCollin Raye, Travis Tritt, Aaron Tippin, John Berry and Martina McBride all gave us new records this year that were surpassingly fresh and powerful.
After a painfully long apprenticeship on a debut album that continually seemed near death, David Lee Murphy finally rode to glory on “Party Crowd” and even higher into the stratosphere with “Dust on the Bottle.” Jeff Foxworthy spent the yearquite profitably, thank youdemonstrating that he’s no comic flash in the pan. This slick, might-be redneck carries the torch that Hee Haw finally dropped from old age and exhaustion. If even the ghost of Hee Haw can flourish in these modern times, surely the future of country music is secure.
♦ CMT: Country Music Television has picked its best music videos of 1995. Here are the top 12: 1. Garth Brooks, “The Red Strokes”; 2. John Michael Montgomery, “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)”; 3. Travis Tritt, “Tell Me I Was Dreaming”; 4. Reba McEntire, “And Still”; 5. Alan Jackson, “I Don’t Even Know Your Name”; 6. Shania Twain, “Any Man of Mine”; 7. Alan Jackson, “Gone Country”; 8. Jeff Foxworthy, “Party All Night”; 9. Sawyer Brown, “This Time”; 10. Pam Tillis, “Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life)”; 11. Faith Hill, “Let’s Go to Vegas”; and 12. Tracy Byrd, “Keeper of the Stars.”
CMT’s special category winners were Alan Jackson, top male video artist; Pam Tillis, top female video artist; Sawyer Brown, top video group; Bryan White, rising video star; “Workin’ Man Blues,” by Jed Zeppelin (Steve Wariner, Lee Roy Parnell and Diamond Rio), top video event; Shelby Lynne, “Slow Me Down,” top independent video; and Michael Merriman, top video director.
♦ Jones International Networks, Englewood, Colo., will launch a direct competitor to CMT on Dec. 31. The new around-the-clock cable channel is dubbed “Great American Country.” According to a company statement, it will be carried initially on “a number of Jones Intercable Inc. (JIC) systems.” Other system operators will be offered equity participation in the new channel. Participating cable systems will also be given four minutes of the channel’s broadcast time every hour for local advertising sales.
♦ Writer and talent manger John Lomax III has taken over management of Larry Myer, a songwriter and singer from Ames, Iowa. Myer recently showcased at the Bluebird Cafe. Lomax continues to manage the Cactus Brothers.
♦ Here’s an update on Michael Barham, the young singer/songwriter from Tulsa profiled in this column in early November; I’ll continue to chronicle his fortunes as he seeks country music stardom. Already signed as a writer to Warner/Chappell Music, Barham is in the publishing company’s Nashville studio this week to record tracks that will ultimately be presented to record labels in an attempt to secure him a recording contract. Andy Byrd is producing. Barham has just signed to the Clif Doyal Agency of Nashville for booking. The agency, which has done similar work for Little Texas, Lonestar and Ricochet, specializes in developing acts that are making the transition from local to national prominence. Toward this end, the agency has booked Barham into such high-profile clubs as Toolie’s Country in Phoenix and Grizzly Rose in Denver. This spring, he will perform in various Las Vegas venues. Then, May 16-20, Barham will showcase his talents at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon. His management company is Artists Concepts, also of Nashville.
Just so you know, you accidently put Scarlett's name instead of Juliette's under Glenn. I…
my girl and I hadn't been that much into all the TV shows when we…
I second the nomination of Richie Richington for sacrificial Tennessee lamb. And dammit, it sure…
Oh yeah! Wentworth Miller and his wife Sienna Miller. I think they're probably gone forever…
what about the richie couple? my money is on one of them - the wife?…