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Missi Gallimore

Interview: Missi Gallimore

Missi Gallimore
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This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Missi Gallimore, owner, T.R.U.T.H. Management / co-owner, Get It Done Entertainment.

Missi Gallimore pays attention to song pitches the way the rest of us pay attention to our breathing; and she thanks God each and every day for being so blessed with the opportunity to discover new country music, and new country talent.

Gallimore’s venerated A&R skills remain the core of her impressive resumé—and as music publishers and songwriters in Nashville have assiduously courted and lobbied her—she has sifted through the mountains of music to source an unbelievable number of hits for Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Faith Hill, Jo Dee Messina, Sugarland, Lee Ann Womack, and others.

Gallimore was born not far from Nashville’s Music Row in the tiny town of Lewisburg and her family moved to Nashville when she was 12. She graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with no plans to pursue a music industry career but, after failing to be hired at a law firm, someone there passed her resumé on to legendary CBS Records’ songwriter/producer Billy Sherrill who took a chance on hiring an inexperienced 19-year-old assistant.

After working for Sherrill for four years, Gallimore spent a decade at Pride Music Group. Following the Nashville-based company being sold, Gallimore and her husband Byron, who had also worked there, started a new chapter in their lives. Byron’s career as a producer went into high gear as singer Tim McGraw’s career exploded, and Missi’s sense of what is an unforgettable song provided McGraw’s string of hits at country radio.

Gallimore continues to handle A&R for McGraw and Keith Urban and, as well, she runs her publishing companies, XOMG and Amped Entertainment.

More recently, she launched a pair of new ventures, T.R.U.T.H. Management, and Get It Done Entertainment.

T.R.U.T.H. Management is an artist management company currently working with, Sam Williams and Shy Carter, who has just signed with Warner Music Nashville.

Get It Done Entertainment is an artist development, management, and publishing company Gallimore co-founded with Borman Entertainment, headed by veteran manager Gary Borman who manages Keith Urban and Mickey Guyton. The company’s management clients include singer/songwriter Abbey Cone, and the trio Track 45.

Borman and Gallimore decided to partner in Get It Done Entertainment in 2018. after Gallimore oversaw A&R for Urban on his previous two albums. Since its inception, the organization has signed a worldwide administration agreement with Kobalt Music that includes the works of Sam Williams, Abbey Cone, and all future writers under the co-venture.

After several years of research, planning, and development, Gallimore opened beach-themed Coffee and Coconuts in June of 2017. Birthed by a love of great craft coffee, live music, and sandy beaches, the uniquely funky coffee shop is located in the square of Berry Farms just south of Franklin, Tennessee.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, you closed Coffee and Coconuts?

I am sitting in Coffee and Coconuts right now. I had to let all of my staff go. I have one manager, Blake Henry, working and, bless his heart, he’s working from 6:30 AM every day. I am so lucky to have him. I just don’t know…we are going to have to have help. We have been filling out application after application trying to get help. I don’t know. It’s a weird time. This is my heart. This little coffee shop is my thing outside the music business. It’s my happy spot.

Coffee and Coconuts is just the best name ever for a beach-themed coffee shop.

My whole philosophy on the coffee shop is that I love coffee, and I love the beach, and I love music. All of the people that I have employed have had to be affiliated with music in some way. Like a struggling songwriter or a struggling artist.

Has your husband Byron been able to work during this time?

He’s been recording Tim McGraw so he’s been kept busy.

(For over two decades, Byron Gallimore, mentored by James Stroud, has been a leading producer in Nashville working consistently with Tim McGraw, and  Faith Hill over multiple albums as well as with Sugarland, Lee Ann Womack, Jo Dee Messina, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride, Randy Travis, Ty Herndon, Jessica Andrews, Phil Vassar, Terri Clark, and Lauren Alaina.)

Are all your management clients’ projects now on hold?

We are holding some activities. Shy Carter is now with Warner Music (Nashville), and we were right in the middle of meetings, and playing his (new) music, and it just stopped. Same thing with Sam. I’m not doing anything in person until after all this is cleared. But you know life goes on.

How did artists come to trust you so much? Are your ears that good? All the years you’ve been working with Tim McGraw and his wife Faith Hill, and with Keith Urban. While I know that Tim and Faith were working with Byron, they have trusted you to pick their songs. So they trust your judgment. You are probably bringing in 20 or 30 songs per project.

Yeah. I listen all of the time. I’m listening 24/7. I think it is just a trust thing. With Tim, it just started with Byron (as the producer) being too busy to find songs for him, and I kind of stepped in and started finding songs. It was the “Everywhere” album (1997) that I was really able to step forward. Every song on that album I found.

(“Everywhere” reached #2 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 4 million copies. Six singles were released including “It’s Your Love,” the duet with Faith Hill (written by Stephony Smith) which topped Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for 6 weeks.)

Next, you found all the songs for his follow-up album “All I Want,” including “She Can’t Be Really Gone,” and “I Like It, I Love It,” and that album sold over two million copies. So from those two albums until now, you have been finding Tim songs.

Oh yeah, “Everywhere,” that was the first big one.

You started working with Keith Urban while he was in the midst of recording his 2016 album “Ripcord.” You came in at the tail end.

I had met with Keith at his house. I left and 30 minutes later Keith texted me saying, “Let’s do this.” So yes, I started doing A&R for Keith on the “Ripcord” album, and I was late on that album. He had already cut a bunch of stuff, and I was thinking, ‘How am I ever going to find songs for Keith Urban for this album? He’s already cut a bunch of stuff.” I knew it was going to be tough, but I just put my head down, and I was able to get 4 songs on the album coming into it very late. ‘Blue Ain’t Your Color’ was one of them.

When you are right a few times people think you know what you are doing.

I don’t know if I know what I’m doing. I really don’t. I just don’t know what it is. I just love music. I still get excited when I hear a new song. For example, there’s a song that Tim just cut that is ready to come out, and I have listened to that song a million times. Tom Douglas is a writer on the song along with Allen Shamblin and Andy Albert, and Tim just cut it. ”

What’s the title?

I can’t tell you. I can’t. I can’t right now. But I still have passion for music, and I still get so excited when I find a great song. I think a lot of times people get jaded, and it’s really hard not to get jaded because you have been doing it for so long. But I don’t know. I can’t explain. I don’t know.

It must be great thrill hearing a recorded version—however rough—by an artist or group of a music demo you brought them.

It is. There are two songs that I can tell you about that. “With “Breathe” I actually pitched that song to Tim first. He was like, “I can’t sing this song but you need to play this to Faith.” That was one. “Highway Don’t Care” (2013), the one with Taylor Swift that Tim recorded. I took that to Faith first, and Faith said, “I don’t hear myself doing it, but I really hear Tim doing it. You should pitch this to Tim.” And there you go. It was a big song for Tim and Taylor Swift. So when I first heard  “Humble and Kind” (which won Song of the Year at the 2016 CMA Awards) it was literally a work tape. It was (songwriter) Lori McKenna recording it on an iPhone recorder. That is how the song was pitched to me. That song laid around with Tim for quite a while. Then when they took that song into the studio—I don’t know sometimes when you take songs into the studio, it is just magic that happens. A bit of fairy dust comes down over it. That song whatever, that day whatever Tim was doing, whatever Byron was doing, the fairy dust was there, the Song God because that song came out, and when I heard it was like “Holy Moly”. The same thing with “Breathe.” It is just so exciting.

Many artists won’t consider outside songs but if you look at artists like Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Keith Urban–hell Aerosmith in rock– their biggest hits have been from outside sources. If an artist has 14 songs, and someone pitches them song #15, and it’s better than the others, it makes sense they should record the better song. Are artists that are also songwriters as well in Nashville generally more open to recording songs they haven’t co-written?

No. They don’t want to do anything like that. It is such a disgrace. It is stupid that they don’t open themselves up to outside songs. Look at this. Keith Urban’s “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” (written by Hillary Lindsey, Clint Lagerberg, and Steven Lee Olsen), his biggest song. Miranda Lambert with “The House That Built Me” (written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin). Outside song. Biggest song of her career.

Faith Hill didn’t write “This Kiss” nor “Breathe.”

No. “This Kiss”(written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, Robin Lerner, and Annie Roboff) was the first big song I took to Faith, and then “Breathe.” The publisher played ‘This Kiss’ for me, and then I played it for Faith. She loved it. As I said, I pitched “Breathe” to Tim first. Tim was at the house, recording, I said, “Come here, I’ve got to play you this song.” I dragged him to my car and played him the song, and he said, “I can’t do this song, but you’ve got to play this song for Faith.” So I played it for her, and she loved it.

(“Breathe,” written by Stephanie Bentley and Holly Lamar, became Faith Hill’s 7th #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, spending 6 weeks at #1 It also peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 2000.)

Look at artists like Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. Tim McGraw’s “Humble And Kind,” it’s a Lori McKenna song. These artists cut outside songs, and make their living cutting outside songs, and they are still are big artists. They still cut outside songs.  It just all starts with a song, and these (artist) writers that don’t want to cut outside songs are stupid in my opinion. I just do not get it. It makes me really mad. It makes me really mad.

You’ve been a major supporter of Lori McKenna. I discovered her in 2004 with her Signature Sounds album “Bittertown.” You were there for Lori years before she came to work with Lady Gaga, Natalie Hemby and Hillary Lindsey co-writing “Always Remember Us This Way” from the 2018 film, “A Star Is Born.”

I can tell you the exact place where I was when I heard “Bittertown.” I was driving. I listen in my car. That’s is where I feel that I do my best listening. I remember picking up the phone, and I called Faith. Tim and Faith were probably the only two artists that really supported Lori in the early days, and who really got what Lori was doing.

Lori was then a mother of 5 kids living south of Boston.

Right, absolutely. Actually, Melanie Howard, Harlan Howard’s wife, turned me onto Lori. That’s how I found out about Lori McKenna.

(Melanie Howard, the owner and president of Harlan Howard Songs, had first signed Mary Gauthier, and then Lori McKenna. Gauthier began her career in Boston, as did McKenna, and she was a fan of McKenna’s music. Gauthier told Howard about her friend saying, “I think some of her songs have the potential to be country hits.” Howard went to McKenna’s website, loved what she heard, and called the songwriter. “I need a publisher,” McKenna told her, “I don’t even know what a publisher does, but I know I need one.”)

The story I’ve heard is that once the contracts were signed, Melanie took Lori’s songs to you, and you and Byron took 5 of her songs to a dinner at the McGraws’ home, and Tim and Faith flipped over her music. Faith recorded at least 5 of Lori’s songs, and three of them—“Fireflies,” “Stealin’ Kisses” and “If You Ask”—ended up on her 2005 “Fireflies” album, her third #1 album that sold two million copies. Faith had wanted to record Lori’s “Bible Song,” but Sara Evans beat her to it.

So I picked up the phone, and I called Faith. I just remember picking up the phone and going, “Faith, there’s this girl Lori McKenna”—nobody knew who she was at the time in Nashville. Nobody—and I said, “You have to hear these songs. And I went over to Faith’s house, and I played her the  songs and when she heard “Stealin’ Kisses” she cried, and she said, “I have to record this.”

What makes Lori and Mary’s songs great are they aren’t like anyone else’s. They’re pure, and they’re real. Faith released her song “Stealing Kisses” as the 5th single from “Fireflies” but the single only reached #36 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

Faith recorded Lori’s songs, but I think that what happened was they were so ahead of their time at radio that radio couldn’t grasp what Lori was doing at the time. Does that make sense?

In some ways, that’s also the backstory of singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters who moved to Nashville in the late 1980s. She first gained respect on Music Row when Martina McBride had a hit with her “Independence Day” in 1993, winning the Country Music Association’s award for Song of the Year after Reba McEntire had apparently turned it down. Gretchen has done quite well since writing songs recorded by Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Shania Twain, and Bryan Adams.

(Gretchen Peters was a 2014 inductee into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.)

Yes, that’s true for sure. So Bryon and Tim cut an album on Lori, “Unglamorous.” (released 2007 on StyleSonic Records through Warner Bros. Records). Lori signed to Warner Bros. which was a commercial type deal, but it didn’t work. Lori and I have stayed in close contact through the years, and she pitches me songs. I’m still a huge advocate of Lori McKenna. There are songs to this day that I still pitch to artists of hers; that I still believe wholeheartedly in her songs. There are two songs. There’s a song called “Make Every Word Hurt,” (recorded in 2013 for her “Massachusetts” LP)  and there’s a song called “That’s How You Know” (recorded in 2011 for her  “Lorraine” LP)  that she wrote with Andrew Dorff.

For Faith’s album “Fireflies,” you picked the song “Paris” written by Blair Daly, Troy Verges, and my Cape Breton friend Gordie Sampson who broke through in Nashville after he’d co-written “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” (with Brett James and Hillary Lindsey) for Carrie Underwood which was #1 on Billboard’s country chart in 2005 for 6 weeks. He has since had songs recorded by Keith Urban, LeAnn Rimes, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss, and Martin McBride.

I love Gordie. Oh my God. He’s one of my favorite writers in town.

The core business of Nashville evolves around music publishing, and the norm is songwriter/artists co-writing with songwriters. Writing with others is not as common elsewhere where so many songwriting artists, especially in the folk and rock realms, balk at collaborating with others. “I have my own vision.” That’s often a mistake. They can write probably 10 good songs on their own in a year but, maybe, 5 or 10 more with others. At the same time, they would be forging relationships within the music community. So it’s a mistake.

It’s a major mistake. It’s also a major mistake that big writers don’t consider writing with up-and-coming artists because you never know if that artist is going to break or not. So if you are a big writer, and you are cutting yourself off from writing with these up-and-coming news artists, you are killing yourself because you don’t know who is going to break anymore.

Big artists in any genre usually only want to write with someone bigger.

They do, and that’s where…you have to continue to write with these young up-and-coming artists. People like Sam, Abbey and Track 45 because you don’t know who is going to be the next superstar.

In Nashville, connecting with a major artist, or with their manager, or their producer is a big leap. The best path is through other songwriters or being on the ground floor of an artist’s career.

Yes, the best way to do it is to get in with these artists now. Like writing with artists like Sam. Like what Mary (Gauthier) is doing in writing with Sam. She has been sitting in with Sam since day one. Sam is going to continue to write with her. Even when he’s successful, he’s going to continue to write with her.

Songwriters like Lori McKenna, Shawn Camp, and Dan Tyminski have also been co-writing with Sam.

Yes. So these songwriters need to get with these young artists from the ground up, and help be a part of their sound.

Are labels in Nashville pushing those types of relationships early in the development process of artists or they just waiting for songs to come in from music publishers? Are they seeking out co-writers for some of their untried artists? Are they knocking on your door seeking songwriting opportunities?

No, they really don’t. Like with Cris Lacy (EVP) at Warner Bros. with Shy, it’s really funny because Shy has had so many hits as a songwriter himself Cris is wanting Shy to write with the other artists on the label.

(Shy Carter’s songs have been recorded by Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo, Billy Currington, and R&B-pop star Charlie Puth. He co-wrote Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s  tracks “Speak To A Girl” and “Roll The Dice,” off their 2017 duets album “The Rest of Our Life,” and “Never Comin’ Down,” and “My Wave,” for Keith Urban’s 2018 album, “Graffiti.” Last year, he and Tim McGraw celebrated Southern towns in “Way Down.”)

That’s understandable given Shy’s formidable track record as a songwriter.

But as far as labels calling me and saying, “Hey, you need to write” with so and so, they don’t do that. That’s what their publishers are supposed to be doing.

I don’t see encouraging the writing of songs as separate in the A&R process. It’s the same (struggle) for labels, managers and music publishers alike.

Yeah, it is.

I suggest that one reason you’ve branched out into personal artist management, and deeper into music publishing is that even with your years of experience in A&R you still wanted to spread your wings. You have all of this music industry background, all these contacts, “Yeah I can do management.” Yes, you realized you could learn from a veteran manager like Gary Borman to partner with Get It Done Entertainment, and that opportunity was there, but was it not because it was a time in your life where it makes sense?

It was the time of my life and, and at the same time, I opened a coffee shop as well, but yes, it was a time of my life. I was doing A&R for just Tim and Keith and I was doing it at a very successful rate, and people were really starting to take notice, but I am also really good at a lot of other things too; developing and guiding acts  I just felt like that I had a lot more to offer. I just wanted to spread my wings. I am an entrepreneur, and I’m a hustler.

Like many of us, you are also older and seeking, perhaps, increased security for the senior years to come. There’s almost nothing better than being associated with successful artists, and owning a strong catalog of music publishing to fulfill that goal.

Absolutely. Yeah, of course, and you have to do whatever you can in the music business which has kind of gone to crap right now as far as production-wise. So I had the opportunity to do this, and I took it. You know what? I have blinders on. I don’t take “no” as an answer.

A characteristic of the entertainment business is that people slot people; that, despite one’s experience expertise, it becomes difficult to move into another sector within the industry. While you are experienced as an independent A&R consultant, you didn’t have management experience.

Was it hard convincing Shy Carter and Sam Williams to let you manage them on your own or even to set up Get it Done Entertainment, as a  joint venture with Gary Borman, and then sign Abbey Cone? Thankfully, you had Gary in your corner believing in you. But it’s still hard to jump out of a box in our business and move on.

Gary has been… I couldn’t even tell you what a mentor Gary Borman has been to me. We have this joint venture, the management company with two of the acts that we manage Abbey Cone, and a group called Track 45–composed of siblings Jenna Johnson (vocals, guitar), Benjamin Johnson (vocals, cello) and KK Johnson– that has just recently signed a record deal. It just happened.

Who has Track 45 signed with?

I probably shouldn’t say right now. The deal is not done yet. The proposal is back in their (the label) side now. We are getting close.

How did the Get it Done Entertainment co-venture with Gary develop?

I’ve known Gary for so long. I knew Gary from the Faith days because I A&Red all of Faith’s records during the time that she was with Gary. Gary and I have always had a great relationship. I think that Gary has always respected my ears and the success that we have had together. I chose to sign with Gary because of how well-respected he is, and I was confident that we would work well together. I was just getting started in management, so I felt it was essential to go into it with someone that had a tremendous amount of experience in that area and could be a real asset in helping accomplish our artist and company goals.

Getting in the front line of management is still a major accomplishment when you had no experience in the field.

Gary and I started talking one day– I was working with Keith at the time—and Gary said, “We should start an artist development company together. Record labels aren’t developing any of these acts, and I think that this is something that you and I could be really successful at.” That was two years ago. At the time I was working with Abbey. She was our first signing, Abbey was. I brought Abbey to Gary. Gary and I have publishing on Abbey, and we manage her. I have learned so much from Gary. I just kind of sit back and keep my mouth shut and listen. He is such a strategic-type manager. It’s amazing how great he is. So I brought in Abbey, and I brought in Track 45 to Gary because I couldn’t manage those acts on my own. I just didn’t have enough experience.

Your own company T.R.U.T.H. Management manages Shy Carter and Sam Williams. New managers are always caught up in lobbying on behalf of their acts. Finding an agent is usually a hurdle at that stage as are bookings, including finding openings on shows or tours.

I don’t have any problems with that. With Shy and Sam, they just kind of wanted me to sell myself. They were both like, “I believe in you. I believe that you can do this on your own. We don’t need Gary. We can do this together.” So with Shy and Sam, it is just me managing them. That’s T.R.U.T.H. Management. But you know what? With Shy and the people, I think it’s just a different day now. With Shy, we had a showcase, and all of the booking agents came out to see him, and they all wanted to sign him. They all wanted to sign Shy. It was very easy and Shy ended up going with WME, and they have been great. We are still building it (a career) with Shy. Before (the COVID-19 breakout) he wasn’t playing a lot of shows because he doesn’t have any music out yet. But I don’t know. I haven’t found (making career connections) to be hard.

Nevertheless, it took a while to get Abbey Cone signed. She was named to CMT’s Next Women of Country 2020 class, and Big Machine Label Group imprint The Valory Music has now picked her up. She’s only 21.

It took 2 ½ years and it was just finding the right creative team to complete this whole picture, and once we had the creative team Scott Borchetta heard her music and flipped. Loved her style. Loved her. And he signed her immediately to the label. But it took 2 ½ years of me strategically building a creative team around her, and strategically putting her with writers who Abbey and I thought would be right to help to get her career going. Like with Jessie Jo Dillon. That’s her favorite co-writer. She doesn’t write with a lot of writers.

Abbey has also collaborated with songwriters Shane McAnally, Nicolle Gallyon and Laura Veltz. Meanwhile, Sam has worked with writers Lori McKenna, Shawn Camp, Dan Tyminski, and Mary Gauthier, among others.

Sam, I’m telling you, Sam is a treasure. He is a special artist. I’m very protective of Sam. We are in the process of finishing his project. I would love to have you hear it. I will send it to you once it’s done. But he looks just like his grandfather Hank Senior. He looks identical to Hank Senior, and he also writes like Hank Senior. He is a very, very deep writer. He has a duet with Dolly Parton. Out of a whim, he co-wrote this song, “Happy All Of The Time” with Mary Gauthier. I was riding down the road one day on the interstate, and I called Sam and I said, “Sam, we have to get Dolly Parton on this song. We have to.” He laughed at me, “Yeah, right. Like that is really going to happen.” But guess what? It happened.

I’ve worked with Dolly several times, and there are few people like her.

She has inspired Sam in so many ways. She’s special. And Sam is special.

(Sam Williams, the youngest son of Hank Williams Jr., and the grandson of the greatest country singer and songwriter ever, Hank Williams Sr., was born in Nashville, and raised on Highway 79 in Paris, Tennessee. Growing up, he cared more about sports than he did in following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. A Belmont University drop-out–he spent 2 ½ at the school in Nashville– before leaving to focus on his music, releasing the singles “Darkwater” (2016), “The Lost Grandchild’s Plea” (2018) and “Gemini” (2019).)

I’ve been to Paris where Sam was raised that influenced his song “The River Will Flow,” about not having any family roots in the area, and about his grandparents, Hank Senior and Audrey Williams, passing away before he was born There’s also his song “The Lost Grandchild’s Plea,” which honors his late grandparents.

Sam fights a lot of demons. His childhood was a real crazy childhood and it comes out in his music and in his writing. Sam has made it on his own. Sam hasn’t had any help from his parents. He’s got the (Williams) legacy, the name, but Sam is doing it all on his own.

The Williams’ name and legacy are both a boon and a curse. Sure they get Sam short-term and immediate interest, but he will have to remove himself from the comparisons and the pressure because the legacy and the name can be too much. Outside of Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams Senior was the biggest country music star ever.

Absolutely. Ever. I feel very blessed to be working with Sam. I think that he is going to be a big artist. When Sam and I started working together, he was very green. He came to me, and he said “I want to give this a try. I have never done this before. I don’t want to work with anybody else. I am going to work with you. I’ve studied your track record and I trust you.” That was over two years ago, and I just feel really blessed to be working with him, and guiding him. Hopefully, we are going to have some success together.

You are one of the few people I’ve encountered working in country music in Nashville that was born in Tennessee. You were born in Lewisburg, a tiny town 50 miles south of Nashville in the hills of Southern Middle Tennessee. Your family moved to Nashville when you were 12. You seem to be one of the few Tennesseans on Music Row.

Oh yeah, okay. That’s crazy. Yes, I am a native.

You graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with no plans to pursue a career in the music industry.

I majored in recording industry management.

You did apply for jobs at law offices in Nashville.

After I graduated from MTSU I was willing to do just about any kind of job. So I started to apply at law offices, trying to be a receptionist. My mom was a paralegal and I was familiar with law office surroundings. I was like, “Okay, this might be interesting.” So I applied at several law offices in Nashville, and one of the law offices, they didn’t hire me, but they liked me, and they passed my resumé onto (producer) Billy Sherrill. That was my connection, or whatever you want to call it, into the music industry by way of applying for a receptionist position at a law firm.

(Recordings by Billy Sherill, first as a producer at Epic Records, and then as VP of CBS/Epic in Nashville, topped the country music charts for nearly three decades. He oversaw recordings by such artists as George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Ray Charles, Bob Luman, Barbara Mandrell, Tanya Tucker, David Houston, Marty Robbins, Johnny Paycheck, Janie Fricke, David Allen Coe, Lacy J Dalton, Johnny Rodriguez, Jim and Jesse, Gene Watson, and Elvis Costello.)

Billy Sherrill chose artist’s songs, rewriting them in some cases to suit their style.

That man was such a mentor to me. He was very protective of me. I was very green. I didn’t know anything about country music. Nothing.

Being that you were 19, you would have been into music.

I was into music but I wasn’t into country. I was into pop, and rock in the early ‘80s. Like Journey.

Tell me about that first drive down Music Row’s 16th Avenue, the heart of Nashville’s country music industry, with the offices of numerous record labels, publishing houses, music licensing firms, and recording studios. It’s a daunting drive the first time for many.

Billy wanted me to come in for an interview. He wanted me to come in at 7 in the evening. So I am driving down 16th Avenue which is a bunch of old houses, right? So as I was driving I was thinking, “Oh my God. What have I gotten myself into?” I was terrified to go into this house. I just thought, “I don’t know about this.” So I went into this house. I went in the back way, went upstairs. He was in his office. It was 7 PM and he offered me a glass of champagne. And I was thinking, “Oh my God.” I had no idea who Billy Sherill was. No idea at all. So he offered me a glass of champagne, and we sat and talked. You have to know Billy and how he was. He said, “Hey, I want to play you something.” So he played me a Charlie Rich song and he asked, “Do you like it? I was like, “No not really.” He said, “You’re hired.” That was my introduction to the music business.”

(Charlie Rich had been a marginally successful performer, scoring a 1960 Top 30 hit with the single “Lonely Weekends” on Sun Records where he was a session player, but it was his early 1970s work with Billy Sherrill, particularly the countrypolitan hits, “Take It On Home,”  “Behind Closed Doors,” and “The Most Beautiful Girl,” that brought him stardom.)

I remember Billy telling me, “You stay away from David Allen Coe. He’s got something like 7 wives. You can’t get involved with him.” Then Johnny Rodriguez would come in and he’d ask me out on a date. Billy would go, “Nope.”

Johnny Rodriguez was a good-looking guy back then.

He was. He was. He was. I was just scared to death.

What did you do working day-to-day with Billy? You were as his assistant the person people would meet when he wasn’t there?

I was his face at CBS Records. So if people called looking for Billy I would take the call. If people dropped off music or whatever I would meet them. Billy was just never there. I was just his assistant to do whatever he needed me to do. I was mostly at CBS Records and when he left I went with him to his office where he did all of his production work, and I worked with him.

By the 1980s, Billy was working with less frequency. But he produced “Almost Blue,” Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ 1981 album of country songs, and “Friendship,” Ray Charles’ 1984 album of duets with various country singers Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, and others before he left Nashville for Florida.

Right. On his boat.

In retrospect, Billy Sherrill (who passed away in 2015) was the primary architect of the Nashville Sound, a countrypolitan hybrid of country and ‘60s pop values. Those were the days when the multinationals left their Nashville country divisions alone because everything from scrappy barroom honky-tonk country to country power ballads with the likes of George Jones, Charlie Rich, Tammy Wynette, and Merle Haggard was selling so strongly.

Oh my goodness, I know. You know what Larry? His records to this day still sound amazing. You know what I mean? They are just very timeless.

After working for Billy for four years, you took a job at Charley Pride’s publishing company, Pride Music Group where you stayed for 10 years, and met your husband Bryon.

I started out working part-time and then, as I took on more responsibility, it (the job) became full-time. I worked there under the direction of Byron. I started out doing administrative work, and then I kind of graduated to helping to pitch songs. I would pitch. Pride Music had writers. The writers would bring songs, and I would pitch some of their songs. Not a whole lot. It was like I was just getting started. I was trying to get my foot in the door. You know it’s all about contacts. That world of pitching songs. It’s all about who you know and contacts and things like that. So it took a while for me to get my footing. It’s a man’s world, the publishing world,

Nashville-based Change The Conversation and other women-led organizations like Women in Music,, SoundGirls, and Digital Divas are recent attempts to turn justified feminine frustration into action, and help level the playing field, The first meeting of Change The Conversation, co-founded by Leslie Fram, Tracy Gershon and Beverly Keel, was in January 2015, with the intent to improve the environment for women in country music.

Publishing is still a man’s world, but there are a lot of great women that make great managers. They actually make better managers than men. I’m just going to say that. I’m sorry but they do. They are doers, and they don’t sit back and wait. They get out and they make things happen.

Change The Conversation was launched following American radio consultant Keith Hill telling the trade publication Country Radio Aircheck that he had advised radio stations not to play too many songs by women, and not to play two women back-to-back. Do you believe that kind of crap still goes on in 2020?

Yeah, I do. I do. I still think that it goes on.

(“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Keith Hill had said  “Trust me. I play great female records, and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”)

One thing experienced by many country female artists is that there’s  pressure on them to be accommodating or nice to male label, radio, and booking agency personnel. Kacey Musgraves has told the story of a radio program director becoming furious because she wasn’t paying enough attention to him, so he canceled a business dinner with her. She’s hardly alone

Women are having to go out on major radio tours they are probably being hit on still. There’s no telling… well I do know what’s going on but…

At the beginning of the year, CMT’s (SVP/Music & Talent) Leslie Fram addressed the issue of airplay parity between male and female artists. Music video programming blocks on CMT and CMT Music channel now feature 50% women. The very notion that country radio or video station can’t play two females back-to-back is ludicrous. I heard that working at FM rock radio in the ‘70s.

That is so crazy. Females make better music anyway. No, no, I’m just kidding. But it is coming around. I feel in the management world though that it’s still a bit of a man’s world too.

Country music culture is aggressively white and the genre has struggled with diversity. You worked for Charley Pride, the first black country star since harmonica player DeFord Bailey was ejected from the Grand Ole Opry and fired by WSM in 1941 because of a licensing conflict between BMI and ASCAP which prevented him from playing his best-known tunes on the radio.

Charley broke into country music in the mid-60s when Jim Crow laws and customs were still present. African-Americans, in general, had a tough time of it. In 1966, RCA signed him and released his first single, “The Snakes Crawl at Night.” For years, Charley struggled finding bookings because promoters wouldn’t hire a black country singer, particularly in the South, where “only whites sing country music.” Charley went on to have over 30 #1 country hits and as many Top 5 hits.

I went to see Charley at the Opry about five months ago. I loved them (Charley and his wife Rozene). They supported me, and they supported Bryon. We are still close friends. He came out to sing at the Opry and we went to see him. They announced how many records he’d sold…

It’s like 70 million records with over 50 years of sales. At one point RCA publicity boasted that Charley was second to Elvis in sales on the RCA roster. He was one of the top Stereo 8-track and cassette tape sellers during their heyday, and his TV compilations, which probably were not reported to Billboard, had phenomenal sales.

Oh my God. Nobody to this day has done that. Sell as many records. Maybe Garth (Brooks). It was like I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how many records Charley Pride had sold.

(Garth Brooks remains the best-selling solo country artist with over 140 million albums sold.)

There have only been a handful African American country stars since, although Stoney Edwards, Linda Martel, and Cleve Francis had followings just after Charley. Today there’s Darius Rucker (who was advised on Twitter to leave country music to “white” people), Lil Nas X, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, Trini Triggs, Mickey Guyton, and Blanco Brown.

Shy Carter is mixed. I am trying to get him and Charley Pride to do a duet together.

I knew that. As a teenager, Shy was in an R&B group and after graduating from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked on tracks for Nelly, Ashanti, and Chingy.

We are working on trying to make that happen with Charley.

(Latino country music stars aren’t that well known either even though Latinos have been singing country for decades. In the ‘70s, Latino country singers Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez were embraced as country stars as were to a lesser degree were Scotty McCreery, Tish Hinojosa. Rick Trevino, and Vince Mira later on. Today, only Lindi Ortega and Ricky Valido are visible.

I somewhat inspired a Diane Warren song that I strongly feel could be a country hit; she feels it could be a hit too–but it has yet to be recorded after a couple of years.  All of us have songs we just know are hits. You too?

Yes. There’s the Lori McKenna song “That’s How You Know” I mentioned earlier. I cannot believe that this song has not been cut yet. I cannot believe it. There’s another song that I pitched to Tim  10 times before he ever cut it, “When The Stars Go Blue” (released in 2006 by as the first single from his album Tim McGraw Reflected: Greatest Hits Vol. 2”–composed and originally performed by Ryan Adams). I literally took that song to Tim 10 times before he cut it.

Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-80. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.

He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is a co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide,” and a Lifetime Member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

He is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry.

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