MUSIC CITY BEAT September 2015

            NASHVILLE – SESAC, the smaller of the trio of American performance rights agencies, pulled off a major coup in purchasing the prestigious Harry Fox Agency, since 1927 America’s top mechanical licensing firm offering companies rights to distribute copyrighted music material through sale, download or streaming services. Some say the $20 million buy-out will give SESAC a leg up on the larger ASCAP and BMI agencies, all of which collect payment on public performances and re-distributes them as royalties on works of songwriters and their publishing companies. SESAC, unlike the competing firms, is a private company, meaning it’s not beholden to a federal consent decree by the Department of Justice. “This is the first step in a process that is evolutionary,” claims John Josephson, SESAC chief. “The idea of being able to aggregate mechanical and performance into a single license, which is what majors have done on an ad hoc basis, is a direction I think the industry will be going in the future.” Now officially SESAC, which initially was an acronym of the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers, the international organization’s now headquartered in Nashville, with branches in London, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. Reportedly, this new alignment will offer members more transparency in a system that’s become more complicated due to publishing mergers and additional co-writers, each having different publishers, thus creating harder to track data, as well as worldwide “streaming” of songs via such as Spotify. According to Josephson, their ties to the Fox Agency represents stronger database power, royalty tracking ability and a far wider-reaching program, and incorporating these strengths with SESAC’s will improve research: “If you can create a simplified licensing regime, it makes it easier to report.” SESAC’s the only agency providing members monthly reports as opposed to quarterly. Among some 30,000 affiliated members are Bob Dylan, Zach Brown, Neil Diamond and Lady Antebellum.

            Scene Stealers: The Judds reunite for their “Girls Night Out” gig in Las Vegas at the Venetian Theatre, Oct. 7-24, in this the 25th anniversary year of their final studio album “Love Can Build a Bridge” (#5, 1990). That platinum-seller preceded their 1991 breakup as a duo, with daughter Wynonna embarking on a solo career. The mother-daughter team earned five Grammy awards, winning CMA awards every year from 1985-1991, while chalking up 20 Top 10 singles, 14 of which hit #1, scoring another four #1 albums, while selling over 20 millions records. Naomi, now 69, is credited with writing their #1 “Change of Heart,” while daughter Wynonna, 51, co-wrote their Top 10 “One Hundred And Two,” as well as her own Top Five solo disc “My Strongest Weakness.” Among the duo’s chart-toppers are “Mama He’s Crazy” and “Have Mercy.” Look for kid sister Ashley, the family’s movie star, to catch their act in Vegas . . . Caught Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and Blake Shelton filming Aug. 31 for a new feature-length movie “American Saturday Night: Live From The Grand Ole Opry,” due for release later this year. Camera crews were not only capturing performances on stage at the Opry House, but were also shooting candid chats and action backstage to help folks see what makes the Opry tick. A mainstay of WSM-AM, which this year marks its 90th anniversary, the Opry has produced legends like Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Pee Wee King, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Bill Anderson and Loretta Lynn. Incidentally, in 1940, there was a Republic Pictures’ flick titled simply “Grand Ole Opry,” featuring the Solemn Old Judge George D. Hay, Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and The Weaver Brothers & Elviry . . . Often wondered why anyone would subject themselves to “reality TV,” and now we learn that singer-songwriter Kenny Alphin (of Big & Rich) and wife Christiev are doing just that for the TLC/Discovery channel. Actually it began Sept. 2 and the cameras roll continually on the couple, their sons Dakota, 2, and Lincoln, 9, as well as Christiev’s adult sons, Christopher and Cameron, in their area home. Attempting to explain this seeming invasion of privacy, Christiev says, “I don’t know what it is that people see in us, but I guess if I could try to pull back and view us not being us, it could either be scary or crazy, or I want a ticket to sit and watch.”  In a comment to local newspaper The Tennessean’s Cindy Watts, Mrs. Alphin mused, “We don’t do drama. We don’t do yelling and screaming. It’s always . . . is it really worth it? Isn’t that crazy awesome that someone would actually want to (watch us) do that?” Really.

            Bits & Pieces: American Idol alumna Kelly Clarkson might’ve found a more gracious way to announce she’s in the traditional “family way,” in between songs at her Sept. 6 concert in Bridgestone Arena here. Instead, the blonde belter chose to disclose her good news by telling fans, “We haven’t toured in a couple years because I got ‘knocked up,’ and I’m ‘knocked up’ again. Hey! We know how to do it, honey!” Stunned hubby Brandon Blackstock merely winced, while his barefoot wife sang her #1 “My Life Would Suck Without You.” No word on when their second baby’s due, but their first together, River Rose, turned 1 on June 12 . . . Streamsound Records may have dropped artist Kristian Bush (Sugarland survivor), but a just-released documentary “Walk Tall: The Journey of Sugarland’s Kristian Bush” is drawing new attention to the now solo singer. That may also account for a reported surge in sales of his latest single “Light Me Up,” which has a new music video out, too . . . The late Johnny Cash is the subject of a documentary, as well, that screened Sept. 12, which not so incidentally marked the 12th anniversary of The Man in Black’s death. Titled “Johnny Cash: American Rebel,” the film features chats with family members Rosanne Cash, John Carter Cash, Carlene Carter, Rodney Crowell and such colleagues as Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and producer Rick Rubin . . . Newcomer Jake Owen attracted the attention of a company called Salt Life, which is sponsoring a line of wear designed by the country singer. Salt Life offers product for beach bound vacationers, as well as surfers and fishermen. “Jake is a fantastic spokesperson and a great fit . . . He grew up in Florida. He fishes, he weight-boards, he paddle-boards, he loves the water. A lot of his songs tie back,” smiles Jeff Stillwell, Salt Life president. Indeed, Jake #1’s include “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Beachin’.” . . . Congratulations to Oak Ridge Boy William Lee Golden, 76, on his Aug. 29 marriage to longtime pal Simone Stanley, 36, in a private ceremony at The Rosewall in Nashville. Among family and friends present for the nuptials were his musical partners Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall and Richard Sterban. It was Golden’s fourth wedding, and the Grand Ole Opry member’s currently promoting yet another new album “Rock of Ages,” and also celebrates induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame this month . . . Yet another country crooner succumbing to the sound of wedding bells is Preston Brust (LoCash Cowboys), who married Kristen White in a private ceremony, Sept. 7, this one on the rooftop of the new George Jones Museum in downtown Nashville. As noted by his latest success “I Love This Life,” sure he’s happy, and had this to say regarding the new love of his life: “She’s my soul on fire, my song, my person.” . . . Must be something in the air: Newcomer Mo Pitney just posted on Instagram, he’s engaged to Emily Bankester, she of the performing bluegrass family Bankesters. This was his message in part: “I couldn’t be happier. The Lord is just dumping love on me . . . I love this beautiful Jesus-loving woman and I’m so excited for a lifetime of serving The Lord together. I’m overflowing with thankfulness for the future Emily Pitney.” Meantime, he sure sings great honkytonk songs.

            Honors: A portion of Highway 96 in Williamson County near the late George Jones’ old homestead in suburban Franklin, was renamed George Jones Memorial Highway, as dedicated by state congressmen Jack Johnson and Charles Sargent, Sept. 10, while the singer’s widow Nancy Jones proudly witnessed the official designation. Mayor Rogers Anderson offered a prayer, and noted that Jones would have been age 84 on Sept. 12 . . . Singer Rex Allen, Jr., 68, a member of the Western Music Assolciation Hall of Fame, was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the National Traditional Country Music Association, Aug. 31, in LeMars, Iowa. Allen, whose 32 country chartings include the hits “Two Less Lonely People,” “I’m Getting Good at Missing You” and “Lonely Street,” was in town for the annual Plymouth County Fair and surprised by the on-stage presentation by Robert Everhart. “My heart was full as I looked into the crowd and took it all in. I’m proud of my roots and I’m thankful there are still so many that appreciate wonderful, classic country and western music.” He’s the son of movie cowboy Rex Allen and has hit duets with Margo Smith, including “Cup Of Tea,” narrated some 80 Walt Disney films and early on was a bronco buster and bull-riding rodeo competitor . . . Miranda Lambert has been announced as the choice for this year’s Harmony Award, sponsored by the Nashville Symphony, which cited the singer’s contributions to Nashville’s music community, specifically noting the recent establishment of her female student scholarship program at Belmont University. She will be honored during the 31st annual Symphony Ball, Dec. 12, at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Past recipients include Amy Grant and Keith Urban . . . The 17th annual Teen Choice Awards, Aug. 16, saw Carrie Underwood copping best country artist and best single for her “Toy Guns,” while former country chirp Taylor Swift won Choice’s overall top pop female star, best female summer star and noting her popular website, earned something titled Choice Twit, while her song “Bad Blood,” with Kendrick Lamar, gained other bests, Choice’s Music Collaboration and Choice’s Break-Up Song. 

            Final Curtain: Singer-songwriter-guitarist Boomer (Clarke) Castleman, 70, died Sept. 1, losing a battle with cancer. His successes included the short-lived 1967 Lewis & Clarke Expedition (with Michael Martin Murphey), and a 1975 Top 40 solo single “Judy Mae.” He later played Nashville studio sessions with such notables as Murphey and Earl Scruggs.  Born Owens Castleman, July 18, 1945, in Los Angeles, Calif., “Boomer” hailed from Farmers Branch, Texas, where he initially teamed with Murphey and (pre-Monkees’) Michael Nesmith in Survivor, a regional band. Later, Nesmith encouraged his friends to record for Colgems as The Lewis & Clarke Expedition, famed for their 1967 signature song “I Feel Bad (I Feel Good)” and “The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian” (revived four years later, it became Paul Revere & The Raiders only #1).  

            Murphey, of course, went on to solo stardom via hits such as “Wildfire” and “What’s Forever For.” Meanwhile, Boomer Castleman recorded his suggestive Top 40 pop single “Judy Mae” (#33, 1975), followed by yet another steamy ballad, “Hot Day In the South.” In 1977, Clarke also produced Meri Wilson’s Top 20 pop sizzler, “Telephone Man.” 

            Although co-writers Murphey and Castleman’s partnership was brief, they produced their L&C album sub-titled “Earth, Air, Fire and Water,” boasting such collaborations as “This Town Ain’t the Same Anymore,” “Blue Revelation,” “Lies” and “My House of Sorrow.” They also furnished The Monkees’ their memorable country-rock success “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” Additionally, theirs served as theme music for Eli Wallach’s film “The Tiger Makes Out” (1967), and they performed their song “Destination Unknown” in the Mary Ann Mobley-Milton Berle movie “For Singles Only” (1968). Although few remember it today, Columbia Gems produced a TV pilot titled The Kowboys, in which they hoped to introduce Boomer and Travis performing a Monkees-type sitcom, Western-style; unfortunately, that 1970 venture wasn’t picked up by the powers-that-be.

            Castleman also invented the “palm pedal,” which lets guitarists execute pedal steel-style string bends in 1968. Although his original patent expired, the Bigsby/Castleman version stands as the original. Boomer also founded the independent country record label, BNA Records, since sold to Bertelsmann Music Group. Survivors include daughters Anne Marie Middleton and Breck Castleman; two granddaughters; four sisters and a brother; and loyal friend Lois Hess. Services were conducted Sept. 4 at the Grand Ole RV Resort, Goodlettsville, Tenn.

            Evelyn Graves, 86, widow of Bluegrass Hall of Honor member Burkett (Uncle Josh) Graves, died Sept. 6 in Nashville. Her obituary proclaimed, “She lived her life for her husband and children.” Unselfish to the end, she listed among her survivors: Children Burkett Howard (Sonny) Graves, Linda Graves Howell, Billy Troy Graves, Raymond Bryan Graves; 17 great-grandchildren; and several great-great grandchildren. Services were held at Hendersonville Funeral Home, Sept. 9.

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