Jeff Walker RIP

         NASHVILLE — Top tier Music Row publicist and promoter Jeff Walker, 65, died Aug. 24, in a Nashville hospital, after suffering a heart attack at Nashville International Airport. The Australian-born music man had been in Florida on a business trip when he first felt ill and decided to return home.

         Born in Sydney, Jeff earned an economics degree from the University of Sydney, as an accounting major, while dad worked with RCA Records in country. For a breather, Jeff took a tour of Europe, then followed his father to Nashville, where the arranger-conductor worked since 1964, with artists like Eddy Arnold and was music director for the 1970s’ Johnny Cash ABC-TV series, the former Music City News awards, CMA and Dove awards shows, as well as TNN’s 1990’s Statler Brothers Show.

         “I came to Nashville late in December 1974, when it was just in its infancy as far as public relations companies were concerned,” the younger Walker told us. “Publicity was then generally treated in-house by the record labels. P.R. has since grown and the number of labels has also increased, adding more artists.”

         Initially, Jeff worked with Price-Waterhouse as a CPA, but in 1975, he and his father founded Con-Brio Records, an indie which handled such artists as Jan Howard, Don King and a blonde newcomer named Terri Hollowell, who in ’78 became Mrs. Jeff Walker. In 1977, however, Billboard magazine named Con-Brio “best new country label of the year.”

         “We had 43 nationally charted singles in three-and-a-half years. That was a real learning experience in my life, a real terrific education for me.” The second-generation Walker also became a songwriter, and saw three of his own creations charted on Billboard,notably King’s renditions on “She’s the Girl Of My Dreams,” and “The Feeling’s So Right Tonight.” Another newcomer, Jerry Green, charted Jeff’s novelty number, “Genuine Texas Good Guy,” all in 1977.

         Terri, a Hoosier, charted five Con-Brio discs, including “Happy Go Lucky Morning,” “May I” and a revival of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” According to her hubby, “She had a real good career going in England, too. She went over there as opening act for Don Williams, performed at the Wembley Country Music Festival and had co-hosted four BBC variety shows (with Ronnie Prophet).” Preferring motherhood to songbird status, Terri retired to raise their children Jonathan and Christy, added Jeff, “After the first child, she just wanted to quit.”

         In 1980, Walker launched his Aristo Music in the attic of his home, choosing the name from the word aristocrat, feeling it meant “the finest, or the best,” adding facetiously it put him up front in telephone listings: “With a name like Walker, I usually wound up at the bottom of most lists.”

         Helping to spread the word of his new agency, Jeff produced his own weekly syndicated broadcast, Country Music Jamboree, which was even carried by 56 stations “Down Under” in his homeland. Before long, he was also representing Christian acts, as well, and bought his own building on 16th Avenue, in the heart of Music Row. Yes, Aristo grew fast, thanks to Walker’s persistence and his belief in creative marketing, which prompted him early on to recognize the potential overseas for American country music.

         “In this business, you’ve got to be really tuned in to what the future holds,” warned Walker, who followed through expanding his firm’s title to the AristoMedia Group, which soon included his all-important MarcoMedia Group. Essentially his was a diversified entertainment company, not limited to publicity and p.r., but including radio, TV, music video promotion and distribution, along with dance club marketing, web production, and added consulting to the mix.

         Walker also became a mentor to many getting their start on the music scene, working for Aristo as “interns” (students of the industry), some of whom he engaged full-time when they completed training. Among these was Craig Campbell, while at Middle Tennessee State University, who Tweeted  Music Row, a trade publication: “I had the honor of being Jeff’s first intern – back when ‘Music Row’ was a one-page folded ‘magazine.’ He gave so many people a shot in the music industry and was happy for anyone who left for other opportunities. He loved country music and was one of the biggest champions for artists touring abroad. More than anything, Jeff loved his family, and that big smile grew even bigger when those two granddaughters arrived. He was a rock, and he will be greatly missed.”

         Jeff’s first clients in May 1980, were songwriter Roger Bowling, whose credits included mega-hits “Lucille” and “Blanket On the Ground,” and the Shorty Lavender Talent Agency.  In the wake of their successes, signing on to Aristo were stalwarts such as Nelson Larkin, Robin Lee, Charlie Daniels, Earl Thomas Conley, Tanya Tucker, Eddy Raven, Billy Joe Royal, and Jeff Stevens & The Bullets, major names in that era. Through the years the roster’s grown immensely, covering such legends as George Jones, Lorrie Morgan, Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, K. D. Lang, Dwight Yoakam, Keith Urban, Shania Twain, and Hank Williams, Jr. Today, Jeff’s son Jon and daughter Christy, along with her husband Matt Watkins, help keep Aristo a smooth-running p.r. empire.

         All the while, Jeff’s made his presence felt within the industry itself, serving as both a Country Music Association board member, heavily involved in the annual CMA Music Festival; and as a Country Radio Seminar board member and treasurer, while playing a major role in the annual CRS conventions in Nashville. Just in June, Walker accepted the 2015 CRS President’s Award from Charlie Morgan, board president, during the Country Radio Hall of Fame awards gala in Nashville.

         “Jeff was instrumental in so many CMA efforts over the years, but chief among them was our international outreach and initiatives,” Sarah Travhern, CMA director and CEO, noted. “He was incredibly passionate about supporting U.S. country artists going overseas, but he was just as dedicated to providing opportunities for international country artists to perform here . . . His tireless energy on behalf of our organization, our artists, and our fans will be sorely missed.”

         In honor of his devotion to duty, Walker received the CMA President’s Award, the CMA Jo Walker Meador International Award, Australia’s CMA Lifetime Achievement Award, Britain’s CMA International Services Award, Canadian CMA’s Leonard T. Rambeau International Support Award, and the Operation Troop Aid Certification of Appointment, among others.

         Nashville Mayor Karl Dean stated in part, “Jeff Walker played an important role in spreading country music overseas and bringing country music talent from other countries to perform in Nashville. His zeal for growing country music’s appeal around the globe made him an integral part of our Sister Cities’ program.”

         Survivors include wife Terri, daughter Christy Walker-Watkins, son Jonathan Walker, father Bill Walker, stepmother Jeanine, and two grand-daughters. Services were conducted Aug. 28, at First Baptist Church, Nashville, followed by a private interment. A public Celebration of Life was held Sept. 10 at the City Winery in Nashville.

 

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