Tim McGraw in “Sundown Heaven Town” on New Album
Tim McGraw went all out to find a place to do interviews with press for his new album, “Sundown Heaven Town.” His search led him to bring us all together at Trinity Farms, a place just south of Nashville that seemed to be located in the clouds. The long and winding steep driveway led to the top of a hill that overlooked a valley filled with picturesque homes and farms. It was a beautiful setting (“like heaven,” his publicist commented to me) for an interview.
Beautiful settings can’t take away or add to the music, however, but this album has some great songs on it. Tim says he strives to find great songs for each album he releases. “I’m always really put a lot of care into the type of songs I pick, and I always let the song speak first, and I always love every song on the album,” he says. “I always know that some songs are more artistic and a little more not radio but for reflection and for listening and creating the heart of the body of the album.”
On this album, however, Tim explains, “I think every song could be released to radio. If I had my way, we would just send it to radio and tell them to play what they want. I know there has to be a focus with a single release, but I wish there was a way to turn in a project and just say there is not a single, just play what you want to.”
Tim seems to be in a really good place right now, both in his personal life and in his career. “I think that any time you do something for a long time there becomes a point in which you worry less and less about what other people think about what you do,” he replied. “Not that it doesn’t become a part of the process, because everyone wants to be liked and you want people to like the album and you want radio to play the songs.”
Tim says that as he has become more comfortable in what he does and with going into the studio, he doesn’t stop to think about what his label, his fans, radio or management want him to do with a new album. “Certainly those things are in the back of my mind because you want to be relevant and you want to compete, and I am a contemplative person. I listen to the radio and I’m influenced by everything I hear. But at the end of the day I want to go in and shut that stuff off.
“It’s like being on a submarine with a bunch of troops. You go in and crank the speakers up and let the songs lead where they are going to lead, and you want to lead with your heart and soul. You have to put everything else behind and walk out of there as an artist and say I fulfilled myself as an artist. I am comfortable with what I do. I think when you reach a place where you are sure with your comfort level as an artist, and you look in the mirror and say I was true to myself when I made this record, then the rest of it just sort of either falls into its place or it doesn’t, and it doesn’t matter as much to you.”
Tim also commented that he hopes fans won’t judge the entire CD by the songs they have already heard on radio, which includes the duet with wife Faith Hill on “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s,” “Lookin’ For That Girl” and the current “Shotgun Rider.” Tim called on a couple friends for duets, including Kid Rock on “Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs” for the deluxe edition with 18 songs, and Catherine Dunn on “Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools” for the regular edition with 13 songs.
“Nashville” Heads Into Third Season Wednesday Night on ABC
Chris Carmack isn’t acting when he plays on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. The “Nashville” star recently introduced the new song he plays live on the premier of the third season of the popular series, which depicts the ups and downs of singers and songwriters trying to hold on and/or make it in Music City. Chris plays Will Lexington, an up-and-coming star who has his own set of baggage to deal with on the show.
“It’s really exciting that we performed live on the premiere, but it’s not so much nerve wracking, anymore than it is any normal live performance,” Chris says of the season’s premier. “I think if I was to treat it different than any live performance I would be doing myself a disservice. I had to think of it as I’m playing with the band at the Bluebird. And obviously if I was doing a show at the Bluebird I’d give it my best, so just because we’re beaming it out live … to millions of people … doesn’t mean I’m gonna treat it any differently.”
Chris and Chip Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne, both played live from the television show’s set of the Bluebird Café. The night was special for Chip, who co-wrote “I Know How To Love You” with singer Deana Carter of “Strawberry Wine” and “Did I Shave My Legs For This” fame.
“Chris’s song was live at the beginning, and “I Know How To Love You Now” was live at the end,” Chip explains. “To be doing that with a song that I had a hand in writing is a day I won’t forget. It will really be something.”
The song title for Chip’s tune is obviously one referring to his and Connie Britton’s relationship on the show. Connie, who portrays Rayna Jaymes, says she isn’t sure where her relationship with Deacon is going, but it is fun to play a part as a character who has had a long-term relationship with another character on the show with great dynamics between the two.
“What I love about the Deacon/Rayna relationship is that it is a very grown up relationship,” she says. “It’s a relationship of people who have a lifetime together and a history together, and as actors that’s so fun to play because there’s so much dimension and depth to it and we can go in so many different directions. But there’s always this foundation between the two of them. And everybody has relationships like that in their lives and I think that that’s something that you want that. You want that familiarity, and so it’s really fun to be able to explore that.”
“Nashville” airs on Wednesday night at 10 p.m. Eastern over ABC .
Carrie Underwood Adds Executive Producer to her Repertoire
When I first heard Carrie Underwood’s song “Two Black Cadillacs,” I told her that it sounded like a movie to me. Not that they took my advice, but the song is being made into a six-hour mini-series for Fox.
The song was penned by Carrie, Hillary Lindsey and Josh Kear. The singer is quick to take the credit for having the cheating lover killed off in the tune. “After we came up with the line two black Cadillacs, we created this whole story about these two Cadillacs and these two women who meet at a funeral.
“Once we figured out they killed this guy, then we had to decide how they met for the first time at the funeral. We created this whole story and it was fun to figure out how we were going to get to all these points and moments and make everything make sense.”
The script is being written by Ildy Modrovich of “Necessary Roughness” fame. “Two Black Cadillacs” will be from Jerry Bruckheimer TV and Warner Bros TV. Carrie will oversee as executive producer along with Bruckheimer and Jonathan Littman. Kristie-Anne Reed will co-executive the series.
The video for the song had a Stephen King-type ending, but no word if the script follows the video or takes off on its own winding path of terror.
Danny Griego Knows How To Hang On To A Song
Once Danny Griego hears a song he knows is a hit, he doesn’t give up on it. Witness the tune “The Coast Is Clear,” written by Red Lane and Scotty Emerick. The singer was writing with the late songwriter Hank Cochran, and in another room of the house Red and Scotty were writing that song. When Danny heard it he immediately asked if he could cut it and they said sure.
“The song stopped me dead in my tracks and I really wanted to cut it,” Danny says. “But I was the only person in the house I hadn’t heard of and I was surprised they were gonna let me have it. But then, about four or five months later, Scotty called and said Kenny Chesney had it on hold and he was gonna pull it away from me.”
As it turns out, Chesney didn’t cut the song so when it came time to record the next album, I asked if I could cut the song. Scotty told him to go ahead and cut it. Then came the phone call.
“Scotty called and said ‘Listen, I got a record deal and the album wants that song to be the first single so I have to have it.’ I told him I understood, and he cut it but it didn’t do very well for Scotty.”
So it came time for Danny to cut again, and when he checked on “The Coast is Clear,” Chesney had it on hold again. The minute Chesney’s album came out, Danny says he was at Wal-Mart the day it was released. Sure enough, “The Coast Is Clear” was not on it.
“I called Scotty immediately and he said Kenny had cut it but it didn’t make it onto the album. I said “Well?” So he told me to knock myself out. We went into the studio and cut it and put it out to radio. It broke into the top 30 on AC charts on Billboard and MediaBase and it did really well for me. I’m just not good at giving up on stuff.”
Danny says he stuck with the song because he knew it was a hit.”When you hear one of those things you know it. You hear so few of them these days. When they show up everyone knows it. They knew it then. That is why it was on hold so many times. Everybody was excited about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets cut again and becomes even a bigger hit.”
If Danny’s name is familiar outside of music, it might be because he has been affiliated with the NHRA. The singer noted that NASCAR had begun holding concerts before or after the races, but he also noticed that the NHRA did not have that element at their events. The singer jokes that he’s never been involved in motor sports, other than hot rodding a little on blacktops late at night.
“Fans want to come and be entertained, have dinner and everything – they want to go to the circus,” he says. “I looked for a model with a large crowd with the right demographic that liked country music but did not have entertainment. The NHRA has 55,000 people per race with a 14 million viewing audience on ESPN and they are a total treasure of an organization. It is the most undervalued franchise in sports, in my opinion. You can go to the race and regular tickets get you right up to the pits.”
At first Danny became the sponsor and co-owner of a pro-stock motorcycle team, Griego and The Cowboy Cartel, and traveled the NHRA circuit that way. Then he asked if he and his band could perform in the pits for the drivers after the race. Soon the NHRA asked him to do their entertainment package, which had been his goal.
“Everybody has been very kind to us and it’s been a great experience,” Danny says. “What everyone is learning is that the NHRA is not just racing, it’s entertainment. People want that one-stop shop, which is the NASCAR model. Fans come out for the weekend and hang out and go to the after party and become part of the family. We do a couple teaser sets in between the races, and then when the top fuelers stop around 6 or 6:30, we hit the stage and do our show. It’s pretty neat. Everybody wins on this.”
Dean Dillon has been a part of George Strait’s career since his first album. He and the late songwriter Frank Dycus co-wrote “Unwound,” one of George’s first hits. He went on to write numerous other tunes for George, including my favorite, “The Chair.”
“I had no idea who George Strait was,” Dean recalls when he and Dycus wrote the tune. “Frank and I were sitting on the porch of his house on 17th Avenue and we had just bought a case of beer off this guy driving a Budweiser truck.”
While the two were sitting there, producer Blake Mevis pulled up and rolled his window down. He told Dean and Frank that he was working with a new guy from Texas and wondered if they had any songs they might want to pitch to him.
“Fortunately for us we had just written “Unwound” … it was maybe two or three days old and I immediately thought about that song,” Dean recalls. “I told Blake we probably had something for him. George wound up doing six songs of ours on his first album because no one would pitch their best stuff to him. In those days you didn’t pitch an unknown act your best songs.
“Being the rebels that Dycus and I were, we didn’t care. We thought maybe this kid could do something and hopefully do it with our songs. Little did any of us know what would come thereafter. I can honestly tell you this — the day that Blake showed up asking us for songs for George Strait, my life changed forever.”
It is a relationship that has gone on throughout George’s 30 year-career. Considering the number of Dean’s songs that George has cut, and the many that have been hits, it has been quite a phenomenal run for the singer/songwriter.
“I’ll say this too,” Dean adds, “a lot of people ask me what kind of guy is George Strait. I can tell you this. He never has forgotten that Frank and I took the chance. Every Monday morning at 10 o’clock, for every album he’s ever done, I’m sitting across the table from him in his office playing songs. He’s a very loyal man, as we have been when it comes to pitching him songs.
“I get accused a lot of writing for him but I can promised you this. We never wrote ‘Unwound’ or ‘Marina del Rey’ or ‘The Chair’ or ‘Ocean Front Property’ for him. It just so happened that he was the voice for those songs. Sure, after a while everything I did write he got first shot at if he was recording. It’s been a great ride.”
The ride is not over for Dean or George. Although the Texan has just retired from doing major tours, he will continue to record. The singer just released the 20-song album from his final concert, “The Cowboy Rides Away: Live From AT&T Stadium.” Dean has three songs on it. To date, Dean has write 19 of George’s singles, with 11 of them climbing to the number one position on the country singles chart.
With that kind of success. I figured Dean would have some great speech for young songwriters coming to town. When I asked the question, he was succinct and to the point: “Tell them they’ve got to write and write and then write some more. You know that 500th song has to be better than the first one.”