The Sazerac

It seems befitting that my first post of 2018 say something about one of my simplest pleasures of the holiday time that has just passed. It may sound self-serving to reveal that it was a simple gift to myself, but sometimes you just have to say “I’m going to do something interesting today that’s different, for me”. Many times in the past I’ve made a list of different things like this to do during Christmas. Nothing too challenging, maybe just walk around somewhere different, or check out a new restaurant, see a new movie, or maybe write some kind words to a friend, or cook some new meal. One of my things on my list this past Christmas was to sit down at a good bar and have the bartender fix me a traditional Sazerac. I’m not much on cocktail drinks, but this particular drink was something I wanted to try. The drink has a history. It’s a classic, and it’s from the south. Often called “America’s first cocktail”, it originated in the French Quarter, a recipe created by a druggist there named Antoine Amedie Peychaud. It became the hit drink in New Orleans in 1850. That was all I needed to know to make this a quest. After an early evening cold walk down Main Street in Franklin, TN on December 23rd, my wife, my daughter, and I ducked into a nice locally owned place I felt sure might be able to make this happen. The very nice and inviting upstairs bar was too crowded with standing room only, so we left and went down the street a block or so and walked into another popular locally owned restaurant right on Main Street called 55 South. The place looks vintage, with beads from Mardi Gras past hanging from the chandeliers. 55 South specializes in New Orleans type food….Oysters, Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, Gumbo, Po-Boys, Shrimp & Grits, and other things. It was busy, but I spotted three seats open at the far end of the bar and grabbed them. As my wife, my daughter and I sat down, I immediately noticed that the bartender was really into mixing some kind of an interesting drink. The show was on…right in front of us! I turned to my wife and whispered “rock-star seating”. The bartender had all the mixologist’s tools…the special stir spoon, the small cut crystal glass mix pitcher, an assortment of bitters, absinthe, tasting straws, etc. So I told him about my list of things to experience, and asked him if he could make a Sazerac. He got this proud smile on his face and said “would you let me make you the old style Sazerac, made with Cognac?”, and went on to give me the history on the “original” Sazerac. I thought to myself…”I can’t believe this….here we go…this is going to be cool, and way more than I asked for”. After I gave him a very appreciative “yes”, and he gave me an equally appreciative thumbs-up, he said he’d be right back. He disappeared briefly and brought back a bottle of Pierre Ferrand Cognac, setting it in front of me like a trophy. A beautiful sight it was, so I took a picture of the bottle. He jumped right into the process. Just watching him go to work on this drink was fascinating, and the drink was equally amazing. He handed me this well-chilled amber-red beautiful cocktail that looked very much like another classic, the Old Fashion. I first gave the drink the nose-test. A perfect hint of absinthe, and lemon, with no prevailing alcohol vapors. Nice! I closed my eyes and took my first taste. While savoring the flavors, I felt like I was transcended back in time. It wasn’t just the flavors, but the added experience of the bartender telling me the history of the drink, and by watching the care he put into making the drink, I had actually become enlightened by this little sip of history. Life was suddenly a little better than it was a mere fifteen minutes earlier when we’d walked through the door. What started out as a simple gift to myself had become this whimsical aesthetic adventure, thanks to this amazing engaging bartender who went the extra mile to turn me on to something cool. They call him “Nicky Booze”, a name that might sound a little more appropriate for one of those speak-easy bartenders you might see in an old gangster movie, but Nicky had no handle-bar mustache, no bow-tie, and no white blousy shirt with a black band around his sleeve. After a few minutes talking to Nicky, I knew he was a regular guy, with a family, excited about Christmas for his kids, and just an all-round cool guy who really loves his job. We got to talking more about Rye whiskies. I told him I was fairly new to all this and after months of developing my palate enough for discerning the difference between numerous top-shelf Bourbons, I mentioned that I had taken a particular liking to Rye whiskies, while his hands were busy making an assortment of drinks for other customers. He spoke highly of several brands including Michter’s, Sazerac Rye, Woodford, and even agreed with me that Bulleit Rye was good and said it had a “nice bottle price”. To a novice like me, just hearing that terminology made me feel good, like I was in, like I had been shared some of the insider secret lingo! I also mentioned Whistle Pig and some others, and I shared with him a tip I had gotten early on during my Bourbon quest from a mixologist at the Marsh House bar in Nashville that even Ol’ Granddad was a good Rye for easy sipping and for mixing as well, especially when mixing for the less-discrete drinker. No doubt, I could have enjoyed this experience until the place closed. How does all this tie into songwriting? Well, you certainly don’t have to be like William Faulkner and his mint juleps, or like Hemmingway and his mojitos to write, but you do have to experience different things to be a writer of any kind. I never drink when I write, but I’m sure some do. I also know that drinking is not for everybody. For me there really is no connection between drinking and writing. The real message here is about experiencing something different, doing something unusual, anything to open your heart and mind to people, conversation, and time spent with friends and loved ones. We think people do this all the time anyway, but most of us probably don’t do it enough. Even if you’re one of those who do it all the time, is there really any better time to do something like this than the holidays? So, every year as I make that list of a few fun new things to do during the holidays, maybe again one thing on my list will be to sit down at a bar and try a drink I’ve never had. The Sazerac….just this one simple thing I promised to do for myself during Christmas in 2017 really got me into the spirit. From that moment on, I could set everything else aside and get into the holiday. I even found a new song title on my phone the next morning that I vaguely remember typing in while sitting at the bar, a title that would have probably been eventually found in my pocket written on a 55 South bar napkin, if the napkins hadn’t been black. That’s how much I remember the night…everything, right down to the color of the bar naps!–BH, 2018, Comments Closed

I Need What?

Nashville these days is a mecca for all kinds of songwriters, but when I first moved here, there were many more of the “blue-collar genius” type country songwriters here. Interesting and clever characters, many of them successful at getting cuts, but most were no more sophisticated than their worn-out boots or the beat up guitar they carried around, sometimes with no case. Now and then you’d run across another type of successful songwriter here who was a bit more educated, musically trained, with maybe one foot in the pop world. Though I felt sure Randy Goodrum came from humble beginnings in Arkansas, he was educated, well-spoken, and headed for even bigger things because of his wide range of talent and a lot of recent success. He was an amazing piano player and was getting some very big cuts on his songs. The term “hillbilly rich” just didn’t apply to Randy, and I remember in 1979 when I rented a small apartment from producer Bob Millsap, Randy’s beautiful Bosendorfer grand piano was being stored in the main part of Bob’s house. I would sometimes pull back the cover on it and play it a bit. The Bosendorfer and what I knew of Randy’s success kind of put Randy into the stratosphere to me. It all made sense when later about 1981, Randy was in the office at ATV Music, lugging along the first cell phone I’d ever seen. It was a big gray Motorola “brick”. I’m not sure what model it was, but it was big, and I think Randy said it cost him $800 dollars or more a month, which was a lot then. Randy was a busy guy and had a lot of things going on then between Nashville, LA and New York. I took note of yet another professional songwriter accoutrement that I knew I’d have to have someday. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

How Many Number Ones?

I used to count mine, but they all seem to come with some needed clarification (especially with a 40 year or more career). Which market? Which country? Which chart…. radio, sales, streaming? Which source…. Billboard, Mediabase, Nielson BDS, Music Row, Record World, Cashbox, Gavin, Radio & Records, Country Music News, RPM? Is a hit on the Billboard Country chart as important as a hit on the Mediabase Country chart? Is a hit on a Scandinavian or Canadian chart as important as a hit in the UK or Australia? Are you scratching your head yet? Well, if you’re only judging by earnings or by what you listen to, charts are vastly different and are based on different things like radio airplay or sales and now streaming, but if you’re judging my impact or significance, any chart success on a reputable chart wherever it is means someone is playing your song or buying your song, and that is important. Since I started in the business there have been numerous chart references that were considered valid at various times. Magazines like Record World, Cashbox, Gavin, Radio & Records, Country Music News, and RPM are long gone, but they were highly-respected chart references in their time. Billboard and Music Row still exist, and perhaps other magazines with charts are often referred to for awards, publicity, and for other reasons. There are other regional charts or market specific charts, and certainly many around the world that track the success of a record based on the other things I mentioned…sales, airplay, or both. Examples of two highly respected market-specific charts are the Americana Music chart, and Bluegrass Today. Ok, back to my point….the counting of number ones. The Country market in the U.S. is a big market, but still very specific, yet the people who work in it seem obsessed with counting number ones more than other markets. Nashville songwriters these days are having a field day counting their number ones and putting the count in their publicity. Buildings all up and down music row are hanging up banners every week changing the #1 count for this or that songwriter faster than the ink can dry. To be quite honest, I’ve had big #1 singles in various markets including the Country market, but I no longer count them because of all the previously mentioned clarifications needed, and I’ve found that some of my songs that never made the Top 10 are more popular than songs of mine that went well into the Top 5. Also, when you take a hard look at chart history, you find out quickly that some of the most iconic and significant songs in the Country market never went to #1. I don’t want to slight anyone for counting, but the count is getting kind of ridiculous with some of my colleagues who are enjoying the spotlight in today’s market with 20-30 fairly recent number ones. There are some really good songs out there, but lately at the push-rate that these sometimes called “pop-up” number ones are happening, how are the really good songs going to get the respect they truly deserve or even get the chance to become iconic if lost within the noise. Trust me, and maybe your ears have noticed…the best songs don’t always win. The recognition of significant songwriters and their careers is also being obscured by all this. As the market seems flooded with trendy material designed to appeal to the latest consultant-identified demographic, will many of these current “pop-up” #1 songs even be remembered? Time will tell. In every market, and over any stretch of time, there are many #1 songs that aren’t well-remembered. It seems that right now though, in 2017 and for the last several years, it is one of those particularly odd times. I often compare it to the pre-George Strait or the pre-Randy Travis period, when Country music was churning out #1 records on artists you wouldn’t even know of now. You won’t see anywhere on my website or in my bio how many number ones I’ve had. Whenever asked how many number ones I’ve had…. my standard answer is (jokingly) “not enough”, and I sometimes name a few iconic and historic recordings that are known worldwide that have never been #1 in Billboard. Here is a list of recordings that were important enough to be #1 records to me…”Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow, “Slow Hand” by the Pointer Sisters, but guess what?….they went to #2 in Billboard. Other iconic songs like  “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” by Glen Campbell, “All Of Me”, “Whiskey River”, “Night Life”, “Uncloudy Day”, “Reasons To Quit”, all by Willie Nelson, “The Bottle Let Me Down”, “Ramblin’ Fever”, “I’m Always On A Mountain When I Fall”, “Misery And Gin”, “Rainbow Stew”, “Are The Good Times Really Over”, “What Am I Gonna Do (With The Rest Of My Life)” all by Merle Haggard, “Here In The Real World”, “Mercury Blues”, “Who’s Cheatin’ Who”, all by Alan Jackson, “Unwound”, “Marina Del Ray”, “The Fireman”, “The Cowboy Rides Away”, “Adalida”, “Troubador”, all by George Strait, and “You Lift Me Up”, “I’m Not That Lonely Yet”, “Fancy”, “Why Haven’t I Heard From You”, all by Reba McEntire, are arguably “Country standards” in my book, but they didn’t go #1 in Billboard, and the list goes on, and on, and on,. What about all the iconic artists themselves who have never gone to #1 in Billboard? To name a few; Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley (as a solo artist). I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to brag about how many number ones I’ve had to any of those people! -BH, 2017, Comments Closed


The Nashville Songwriters Association was founded about 8 years before I began visiting Nashville. I didn’t know much about the NSAI until I moved here in 1978 and had signed at ATV Music. Though the organization was founded in 1967 by some of the biggest songwriters of the time, and had grown to quite a few members, when I got here the organization’s outreach seemed mainly targeted to new songwriters. One of the earliest things I remember about the NSAI was the very inspiring “legend” nights they would do, where great songwriters (not stars) would go up and sing their hits at a big dinner event usually held in a large banquet room. The show was put on like a talent review. One by one, great songwriters would walk up on stage and sing a monster song or two, and then the next songwriter would come up. It was incredible! The shows had far more impact to me than the rounds we have today because the songwriters were presented as if they were the stars, and in my mind they were. The first time I stopped by the NSAI office, I mainly went there to take a look at the Hall of Fame. The NSAI and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame were one and the same back then. The Hall of Fame wasn’t much more than a hallway and maybe a meeting-room or two with framed sketches of the inductees on the wall, and anyone who wanted to just see “the Hall” would be somewhat distracted by the membership business going on there all the time. The NSAI was run then by a very energetic older lady named Maggie Cavender. As soon as anyone met Maggie, they knew something good was going on there. After I learned more about the NSAI, I decided I had to become a member. Though I am fairly sure I joined the NSAI much earlier than 1985, it was around then that UK songwriter Tony Hiller and I were writing one day and both decided to go over there and pay the extra $500 dollars for Lifetime Memberships. The fact that from that point forward I would never again have to pay dues wasn’t the motive. We truly wanted to be associated with the legacy and the good things they were doing. I started helping out the organization now and then by serving on this or that committee, and sometimes I would be asked to perform at a show. I figure as a songwriter, you can cruise through your career ignoring some of the stuff people are doing on your behalf, but you should jump in and help if you can. Because I was starting to make a mark in town with a few hits and a bunch of cuts, I started getting calls from from whoever was the board President at the time, asking for my help with something even more involved. Eventually I was asked to serve on the board. One of the long-running misconceptions is that the NSAI mainly does things to help beginner or amateur songwriters. This is probably because the NSAI for decades has always been a terrific first-stop resource for any and every songwriter. But the professional songwriters in Nashville, Los Angeles, New York and beyond all owe much to the NSAI for the incredible effort it has put forth in Washington over the years, fighting for our rights, and fighting for the way we are paid. I’m proud of what they do and for whatever time I’ve been able to help. I know many professional writers who have put in a lot more work than I have, but I also know many professionals who don’t seem to pay attention to everything the NSAI is doing. If they only were aware of what really goes on, and how powerful of a voice they too could be, they would jump in and get involved. The way I see it, if it was good enough for the some of the founders like Eddie Miller (“Release Me”), Buddy Mize (“You Keep Me Hangin’ On”), Bill Brock (“I’ll Have Another Cup Of Coffee”), Liz & Casey Anderson (“The Fugitive”), Felice & Boudleaux Bryant (“Wake Up Little Susie”), Kris Kristofferson (“Me And Bobby McGee”), Marijohn Wilkin (“Long Black Veil”), and 40 or so other huge songwriters back in 1967, it’s good enough for all of us to be involved. Just knowing Kris Kristofferson still cares greatly about the NSAI is inspiring. As I mentioned earlier, the NSAI and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (run by the Nashville Songwriter Foundation) have not been under the same roof for a quite a long time now, but both organizations share the same inspired beginning, a great legacy, and contribute in their own uniquely amazing ways to our profession. Over the years I have seen a long succession of great staffers, Board members, Presidents, and Executive Directors. Though all have served with remarkable dedication, the current and long-time Executive Director Bart Herbison has taken the NSAI, its effectiveness, and its reach, to a completely different level. If there is ever a Mount Rushmore to be chiseled out on music row in honor of our most notable music business leaders of all time, there will no doubt be a portion of the rock set aside for Bart Herbison. I consider Bart and his NSAI staff to be some of the most important friends any songwriter can have in this business. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed


On August 2, 2000 I ventured out to Austin, TX again. This time I had pre-booked a handful of co-writing meetings. I’d always been intrigued by the loose, no-rules vibe, yet creative nature of the Austin music scene, which I had noted on my first trip there performing at Willie Nelson’s studio with Gil Grand for a bunch of radio people on Gil’s radio tour back in 1998. Many of the songs I was recording myself as a singer-songwriter were personal, acoustic, and had that roots Country but not the typical Nashville feel that was happening on radio. When I recorded my first album in 1999 (just prior to this Austin trip), I had no intention of competing with the Tim McGraws or anyone on mainstream Country. I was a “songwriter” and therefore had complete creative freedom, and knew I could find ways to get my music heard in circles that mattered, whether there was big money waiting for me or not. I asked my friends at ASCAP Nashville if they would help connect me with some of the movers and shakers in Austin. I booked a trip and stayed a little above my means at that beautiful cattle baron hotel, The Driskill. I was also booked for a gig in Austin at The Saxon Pub. I met some cool people that week. People like Jan Mirkin who was the local rep for ASCAP, and her assistant Sue. I wrote with Sandy Knox, who had previously been a professional songwriter in Nashville, and had a good handle on the creative differences of Austin. I also wrote a couple of songs with Dave Grissom and really enjoyed Dave and Shelley’s cool home out in Spicewood. Dave also had a respect for all aspects of music and songwriting and he didn’t see me as an outsider. We went to a BBQ place near his home that was unbelievable, with large smokers outside where you selected your meat, everything from chickens to brisket or pork shoulder. They wrapped it in brown paper and we took it into the restaurant where they cut it up, tossed in your side orders, wrapped it all back up, and sent you to a table to enjoy. You get the feeling that some of the talent in Austin perhaps view Nashville songwriters as “hacks”, and even apply the crazy label of “commercial” to what we do. Maybe it’s because of some old feelings from the Willie Nelson days when there was a bit of an exodus of talented people who chose to take their careers back to Texas. I’ve never quite understood what’s wrong with being “commercial”. I used to hear that word before I ever moved to Nashville from people back home…”don’t go commercial”! Well…I did need to make a living, so “commercial” to some extent was going to have to play a part in it. I think the Austin opinion of the Nashville songwriting scene varies greatly. Those in Austin who have managed to bridge their creative freedom with commercial success “get it”. For those who hold on to their creative freedom and embrace the struggle with little or no success seem to have less respect for any commercial market, and would probably feel the same whether they lived in Austin, Seattle, Minneapolis, or any other well-known left-of-center music area. I’ve always had a good feeling about the talent in Austin, a long list of good folks, even the ones who seem to be outspoken about their disdain for Nashville. I respect them for whatever they’ve got going, what they are doing, and what they’re not doing, and maybe I’m a little envious of the creative freedom they hold fast to. It certainly is entertaining to hear a cool singer-songwriter singing something non-formulaic, something from the heart, something that is the essence of themselves, being performed with just their voice and a guitar or piano. Two or three days into my trip, I got to spend a fun day playing golf with Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel. The band had recorded one of my songs ten years earlier on Arista records and had a fairly good chart run with it. The gig at the Saxon Pub was one of the monthly sponsored songwriter nights being produced by Richard Perna, who ran a very successful publishing company in Austin co-owned by ZZ Top’s manager. Every month Richard would bring some Nashville songwriters in and add a local or two to the show. Tony Martin and Ralph Murphy joined the show from Nashville, and it was a real pleasure for me to hear the wonderful voice of Austin singer-songwriter Sara Hickman who was also on the show. Both Sara and I were suffering a bit from the intense cigarette smoke that night in the club, but we made it through it. I think she bailed a couple of songs early. The Saxon Pub was probably the smokiest club I’d ever performed in, and really set the turning point for me to only play smoke-free gigs whenever possible from then on. The night is particularly etched in my mind because I got the first and only lesson I’ve ever needed on talking politics from the stage. I said something fairly benign that was not an expression of my own political leanings, but more of a comment to poll the crowd a bit and find out how they leaned. I think I said something like “it’s great to be in Austin, in Texas, and in the home state of George Bush”. It was a time when political emotions were pretty heated and I think a few people in the audience jumped to the conclusion that maybe I was preaching politics from the stage. Actually, it wasn’t an “oh shit” moment or anything too heavy, but whenever there is the slightest “ooo” from the crowd, you feel uncomfortable as a performer. I’m sure the crowd was mixed with all types, but the conservatives weren’t as vocal as the liberals, and it didn’t help that I was onstage with two guys I’m pretty sure leaned left, and fully took advantage of the faux-pas and looked at me with wide-eyed amusement as if I’d stepped in something! So, a lesson was learned. After the show, a guy came up to me and introduced himself. It was Roger Brown, cowboy hat and all, whom I had met before when he lived in Nashville, but he had moved back to Austin. Roger was so kind, and almost apologetically explained the political make-up of Austin, and made me feel a lot better. I think he even said it was really no big deal, or jokingly said “screw them” or something like that. Anyway, it was the beginning of a long friendship and we would go on to co-write many songs after he moved back to Nashville. Roger and I are still close friends, and I still love to visit Austin. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

The Yellow Pages

Back before I moved to Nashville, I used to mail my songs to music publishers. It was ok back then, and publishers were more receptive. Regardless though of how many responses I received through the mail, or how many publishers I got to know that way, I knew I would have to start making trips to Nashville if I wanted to really break in. One of the publishers that I had made good contact with was Jonathan Stone who was then at ATV Music Nashville. About 1976 Jon urged me to make the trip. I remember Jon suggested for my first trip that I stay at The Downtowner, which was right smack in the middle of town. I had never been this far west, so the trip through the mountains was very exciting. I also took noticed of the more western influences that were in Nashville, the clothes, boots, etc. I laugh now because Nashville was hardly “the west”. It was only 450 miles away from my hometown, but so very different, and big. After checking into the hotel, I went to the bedside table and pulled out the phone book and looked for the Music Publishers page in the Yellow Pages. The page had been torn out, gone! The hotel didn’t have interior hallways, but had walkways outside on each floor. I went down to the end of my walkway to the pay phone on the wall. Back then they had phonebooks chained to the phone. I turned to the Yellow Pages. Same thing….the Music Publishers page was torn out. I knew then that someone got her before I did, and I had some competition. Of course, many of my heroes were already in Nashville or had done their time in Nashville….Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller, a long list, but it hit me that there were a lot of other songwriters like me trying to get here. I was somewhat aware of the many people seeking out similar dreams as mine because I had done my homework. I had read the two current books about it, one by Tom T. Hall published in 1976 called How I Write Songs, and Why You Can, and one by Michael Kosser published in 1976 called Bringing It To Nashville. The torn out page in the Yellow Pages made it real though, and it lit my fire even more. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

The Amazing Dan McCorison

Our neighbors back during my teenage years in NC were Ben and Grace Johnson and their kids. The Johnsons knew this young rambling musician named Dan McCorison. Dan was a few years older than me when they introduced us. Dan had this cool black truck, sort of like a panel-truck with no windows in the back. He was a singer-songwriter and was heading out west to “make it”. The back of his truck was suitable to camp in, with everything he needed, a foam mattress, a stereo system, and of course his guitar. I was spellbound with all this. The impression I had of Dan being free, a creative vagabond, chasing his dream, stuck in my mind and definitely planted the seed in my head that I would someday follow his footsteps, and leave home to do what I loved. Through other friends in my hometown I eventually met Dan’s brother Craig, and through Craig I would sometimes get updated news about Dan. By 1974 I’d heard that he was living in Boulder Colorado and was signed to Columbia Records as part of the band Dusty Drapes & the Dusters. By 1977, Dan had signed with MCA as a solo artist. I was hanging on to every bit of news I could get about him, and even corresponded with him a couple of times. He would very kindly write me back. He was doing everything I hoped to do someday, and even charted a single in Billboard called “That’s The Way My Woman Loves Me”. I remember being excited for Dan’s 1977 self-titled album release on MCA. Around that same time I was visiting Nashville on one of my early visits there to take my songs around. Though Dan was signed to MCA in Los Angeles, I felt certain they were aware of him at the Nashville office of MCA, so I stopped by hoping I could at least mention Dan’s name and it might lead me to some contacts there. I’ll never forget that day, because the office was locked up, and there was a huge wreath on the door. The tragic plane crash that had killed several members of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd had just happened. By the time I made a return trip to Nashville hoping to stop by MCA Records again, the ball seemed to have been dropped on Dan’s release and I was one very disappointed fan. Dan and I reconnected many years later when he moved to Nashville, and we even wrote together. Dan is a kind and gentle man, and an excellent songwriter. I recently looked him up on the web. He’s still performing and doing what he loves. There’s something special about people like Dan who remain true to their God-given talent. Inspiring. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed


There is no shortage of rejection in this business. My entire career I have had my songs rejected in many different ways. What people say when they reject a song has changed and gotten more creative through the years, but it’s always some variation on the simple phrase “it’s not what we are looking for at the moment”. I have a stack of rejection letters received before I even moved to town from some of the biggest publishers of the time. These were all pretty classy rejections, though fairly standard with the wording. They all started out “Thank you for contacting us….”, and ended with “best of luck to you and your songs”. Many of the classier rejections were signed personally by the publisher, sometimes by famous people who owned the company. Sometimes they were signed form letters that obviously came from a huge stack of Xeroxed copies waiting to be sent as needed sitting by the publisher’s outgoing mail bin. Sometimes you’d only get the word “Pass” written across or at the top of the returned lyric, or remarks somewhere on the lyric like “good work, but cliche idea” as if your song had been graded by a school teacher. Song by song rejection is easier because you assume from the beginning that every song you write is not going to fit every situation. The other kind of rejection is when you are rejected on the whole as a songwriter. Between deals, every songwriter scopes out the possibilities, checks out which companies are looking to sign people, puts out the calls, and sets up the meetings. I’ve been lucky to always find a company to sign with and usually for the right reasons, but in-between the acceptance, I’ve heard every kind of creative rejection comment you can imagine; “my plate is full right now”, “we’ve already got one of you”, or “I already have five of you”, or “we’re only signing artist/writers right now”, or “I’ve got a lot of songs like what you write”, and one horrible rejection that was recently inflicted on a good friend of mine… “aren’t you a little long in the tooth to be looking for a writing deal?”. Who do these people think they are who pretend that these kinds of rejection comments are constructive or even considerate? I remember asking the publisher who told me that she “already had one of me” to tell me who this other me was? This woman had never heard my songs other than my radio hits. She had no idea who I was writing with, who I was producing. All these somewhat offensive rejections are just crap they’ve picked up along the way from some cranky old-school publisher, or its something they made up to make themselves sound like a big-shot, or maybe they’re just tired of saying the same old thing to people and try to be clever. Maybe the truth would be better….”I’d like to sign you, but our budget is really tight and we don’t have a slot right now”. I would rather someone just tell me that they just can’t take on anyone new right now and be done with it. At least when you leave the room after one of those responses you can still respect them. One more kind of rejection is the deal-end rejection, when your contract is over and they’ve decided not to renew. It can be very painful because you’re leaving the place you’ve hung out for the past three years, where you’ve made a lot of friends among the writers and the office staff. You may have even brought in warm donuts several times a year, or brought your kids by for a tour. I remember one time, I was signed at a major publisher (one of the big three) and they called me in to give me the news that I was not being renewed. I asked if they were sure, because I was set to have a single on a major artist. They said basically “yes, but we all know how that goes, and a single may not happen”. Well, they didn’t renew me, the single came out and went to #1 for two weeks, and what the publisher overlooked was that my contract stated that I got my catalog back, including the administration of my share, upon recoupement. I recouped before the end of the then current payment period, and my formal notice to the publisher was immediately served. They even tried to reject my formal notice until I sent a 2nd notice pointing out the catalog return paragraph, which apparently they had not even taken the time to read! Leaving a company is never easy, and it is always a bit awkward, but things usually heal with time and you cross paths with the same people later under different circumstances, sometimes at different companies under different deals, and voila! …everybody is back in love again. Rejection of any type is better than signing somewhere and being ignored. That’s another blog topic! -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Live Performing

When I first moved to Nashville, time well-spent for most songwriters was on writing, not performing. There really weren’t many opportunities in 1978 for songwriters to play out. Venues in Nashville like the Exit/In had singer/songwriters who performed, but most staff songwriters were not performers. The hand-in-hand thing that songwriting and performing has become has really exploded over the last 20 years, even to the point that new songwriters these days seemingly don’t have a chance unless they perform too. Before I came to Nashville, I performed a lot. I performed in college, and later had a bluegrass duo in college with multi-instrumentalist Gene Wooten. Then when I moved back to my hometown I was in a trio called Red Cloud. We played many gigs in 1974/1975 at Beech Mountain, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Laurinburg, and at the beach. Along the way I teamed up with other friends for the occasional gig in my hometown. By the time I moved to Nashville in 1978, all I wanted to do was write songs. After being in Nashville a couple of years I was invited to play a few ASCAP functions as a result of some hits I had written, but it wasn’t until about 1995 that I got back into feeling enthused again about more playing live. I’ve really got to thank Paul Worley, who was not only a great musician and producer but the then Sony Records head of A&R, for inspiring me to do so. He encouraged me to start rehearsing with a new band he’d put together for a series of radio promotion gigs with Gil Grand, the act I was producing at the time at Monument Records (Sony). That started me performing again, and since then I’ve savored it and enjoyed the stage more than ever. I have done hundreds of shows in various configurations since then….solo shows, songwriter rounds, club gigs, house concerts, corporate shows, etc, singing my hits and telling the stories behind the songs. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Everything Changes

Everything changes, and we seem to be in a business that is changing at a faster pace than ever, especially how we create, what we create, and how we are compensated. The prime time of a songwriter’s career and an artist’s career seem to be shorter. Iconic artists have lasting careers, but fewer artists now seem destined to be “iconic”. Music buyers that used to remain loyal to an artist for many years, now seem to only taste this or taste that in the streaming world or the YouTube, share what they like and move on quickly to something else. Similar to experiences documented by selfies, they “like”, “tag”, “share” and repeat as they make their way through whatever is cool at the moment. They may buy the concert ticket, but that doesn’t really help songwriters. For new songwriters when I came along, blind ambition used to be our best friend. We could ignore the odds and keep working away at it, knowing in time something would happen. For songwriters in general, the measure of work-to-returns has never made sense, but now it’s such a long-shot that songwriters need to broaden their abilities to survive. Having the artist component or producing component to what you do is more important than ever. When I moved to town, “making it” to most of us meant becoming a hit songwriter. Now “making it” means becoming a hit artist who also writes his or her own songs. Nashville was known as a “songwriter town”, but now the truth is it’s an artist/songwriter town. I don’t put quotes around that term though because it’s still called a “songwriter town”. The stars really have to align like never before. Recent estimates that come up in discussions on music row have counted only about 450-500 professional songwriters actively working here in 2017, compared to as many as 4500-5000 making a living at it fifteen to twenty years ago. Its particularly difficult for those of us who have a 30, 40, or 50 year perspective on things, because we are often torn between relishing how things were while trying to keep up with and respect how things are. A songwriter friend of mine recently said “I’m glad I came through the tube when I did”. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Vintage Guitar Redux

Back about 1973 in my hometown I tried to stretch a bit musically and gear up with an electric guitar. By then I’d owned a good number of acoustic guitars, but I contacted my old high school classmate and friend Sam Moss about helping me find an electric. Sam’s reputation as a rock guitar player was unquestionable and he really knew guitars, especially Gibsons. He was a great player, and everyone around the hometown and beyond knew it. He even collected high-end guitars, especially vintage Les Pauls. I had my sights on a Gibson SG. Not the greatest choice for me because I had been used to a pretty good quality Martin acoustic guitar. Unless you really get the right Gibson SG set up and tweaked, it can be a beast to keep in tune. Sam, being a guitar dealer of sorts, showed me a huge photo book of Polaroid photos of guitars he owned that were for sale. My eyes landed on a white SG, so Sam and I headed off to Camel Pawn shop to see the guitar. I didn’t fully understand the situation but Sam wasn’t someone you questioned much about anything. Before Sam opened his own guitar shop, he kept much of his inventory of guitars at Camel Pawn, all on layaway. Sam would simply hand the clerk the layaway ticket and they’d bring it out for us to see. All Sam had to do was pay the minimal monthly layaway charge on all those guitars, show potential buyers his book of Polaroids, and when someone wanted to buy one, Sam would negotiate the price with the buyer, take the money to Camel Pawn, pay off the layaway ticket, and it was that simple. So Sam basically had a virtual guitar shop, with no storefront, no rent to pay, and a rather large inventory of guitars being warehoused and insured by Camel Pawn! How cool was that! The “added value” for the customer was that after the purchase, Sam would take you back to his workshop (which was then in Gene Holder’s mother’s house) and upgrade the guitar for you if you wanted him to. He would offer suggestions… “see that old (vintage) faded bell cover on the head?…I can put a brand new one on there for you…..and these old yellowed knobs?….check these out….and these dull looking old pickups?… I’ve got some shiny new pickups and a brand new pick-guard for ya if you want it”. So, a couple of hours later, I proudly walked out of Sam’s with my beautifully re-furbished (old) Gibson SG, with all new parts! “Wow! Thank you Sam!” It hit me later. Did I feel fleeced? Uh…not really. It was Sam Moss, my old high-school buddy, a hell of a musician, and a well-loved guy who was on the other hand trying to help me get something that was right for me… something functional, easy to play, that sounded good. I felt honored that he took the time to fix me up with such a cool looking guitar. I wasn’t into “vintage” anyway. Oh well….somewhere I guess someone’s got another Gibson SG with my nice vintage parts. Later when I was teaching guitar at Dixie Music in my hometown, whenever I had a student who wanted to learn rock stuff on an electric, if the student showed promise, I’d call Sam and send him the student. Sam and I remained friends, and now and then whenever I was in the hometown I’d stop by his cool little guitar shop he eventually opened and say hello. I sold my Gibson SG about 35 years ago, and I guess the buyer didn’t care about “vintage” either. By then the bell cover looked a little older, so did the pick guard, and the pickups were a little tarnished and knobs were looking well-used. I didn’t say anything, and the buyer didn’t ask. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Gene Wooten

In the summer of 1972 I met Gene Wooten. We were both students at Appalachian State University. Back then people knew him as “Ken” Wooten, which was part of his fuller name, and the name he went by when he was growing up. Gene was a true musician’s musician. He lived in Eggers Hall, the large dorm building next to mine. I had learned a lot of Bluegrass when I was a teenager, and was looking for someone to pick Bluegrass with in college. Someone told me I could find Gene in his dorm, that he was always playing Bluegrass. When I approached his room I could hear him tinkering with a banjo. He was installing a “Scruggs key” and I asked him if he needed someone to pick along with to test it. We must have played “Earl’s Breakdown” a hundred times that day! His room was packed with any and every kind of Bluegrass instrument you could imagine and looked like a workshop rather than a dorm room. Gene and I quickly became friends and he asked me to come along and play on some gigs. Having me always available to play rhythm allowed Gene to fill in the calendar with some smaller gigs than the one we’d do now and then that required the fuller sound of upright bass and fiddle. We worked often as a duo together, performing for weekend off-campus square dances, clogging events, and at Beech Mountain. I swear I think my right arm became stronger than my left, from all of the rhythm guitar I played backing Gene as he would pick the fire out of any instrument he laid his hands on, and he always brought an array of instruments to each gig. Gene recognized my ability to play the old Carter Family style of picking and literally took me to school on the more challenging types of Bluegrass music. There were many great local players in the hollers around Boone, but many of them had families and other obligations and couldn’t do the gigs as much as we wanted to. Somehow we landed some shows for the Carolina-Caribbean Corporation at Beech Mountain, which was a real estate development company that would put on parties for potential buyers. I remember one night at a private party held in a model chalet about 1972, the movie Deliverance was huge at the theaters and the only song they wanted to hear was “Dueling Banjos”, over and over. That was fine with us….better than the typical requests which were usually for something that didn’t really fit what we were doing, like “rollin’ on the river” (better known of course as “Proud Mary”), a great song, but kind of hard for a flat-top and a traditionalist banjo player to pull off the way they wanted it done! Gene also introduced me to Doc Watson. On Saturday mornings Doc and his wife would go shopping in town, and Rosalie would drop Doc off at the music store. One Saturday, Gene and I were there. Doc came in, sat down on a stool and asked us to grab a guitar off the wall and pick with him. Gene was the first person I knew who was definitely headed for Nashville. A year after Gene moved, I followed in 1978. Gene was working at Shot Jackson’s place doing repair work, and had already landed his first professional job playing for Wilma Lee Cooper. He became a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. He also worked in the studio and on the road with the Osborne Brothers and Del and Ronnie McCoury. In 1994 he won a Grammy Award for his work with Jerry Douglas, Josh Graves, Rob Ickes, and others for his work on hit dobro album The Great Dobro Sessions. He was also a member of the Country Gazette, and the Sidemen which were the house band at the Station Inn in Nashville. For three years, he was awarded Dobro Player of the Year by the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass in America. Gene recorded a solo album and played as a guest on many albums for artists including Patty Loveless’ big album, Mountain Soul. All his life, Gene did exactly what he loved. Gene passed away in November of 2001. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Home Recording

My interest in home recording started in the very early 1960s when I was just a kid. My Uncle was a well-known radio personality at WGST and WAGA in Atlanta. You can look him up. Don Naylor did a lot of things in radio, but was known for creating the characters Wee Willie, Madame Bottlestopper, and Uncle Cyrus, characters that he performed himself and included in his radio shows. He was a real showbiz guy and always had one of those large heavy Wollensak portable reel-to-reel tape recorders around the house, and often recorded radio-style interviews with family members. When I was about ten years old he recorded me playing songs I had made up on my guitar. Of course, that lit the fire in me to go buy my own tape recorder, a small three-inch reel-to-reel (probably at Sears or Radio Shack). By the time I was a teenager, reel-to-reel recording was becoming popular in the home stereo market and the Sharp company started making more affordable recorders that included this interesting little feature called “sound on sound”. The recorder was basically a two-track reel-to-reel that you could overdub on with a flip of a play-head switch. Back about 1970, my high-school friend Wade Long bought a matching one and we would get our machines together and build tracks. We called it “pinging” tracks. We could do quite a full sounding recording after pinging the recordings back and forth a bunch of times. We even got experimental with it and tried some “backmasking”, where a part would be recorded in one direction but would be mixed into the final recording backwards. Of course, this was all more about production than the song, but we were learning. One valuable lesson learned through all this was about the accumulation of “white noise” on the recordings, also called “hiss”. This lead us to learning how to adjust input levels, the signal-to-noise ratio, and about Dolby processing. By the mid-1970s some of my friends were buying the Teac 2340 four track reel-to-reel. Guys in my hometown like Gene Holder and Jeff Ayers had them. I couldn’t afford one yet, so I started going to my friend’s houses and recording my songs on theirs. This was truly a leap forward for everyone. When I started visiting Nashville in 1976, every office had them too. After moving to Nashville, I bought one myself and bought an additional two-track Teac reel-to-reel to mix to. Every songwriter carried some sort of a hand-held recorder in their writing bag but these were just for worktapes, and the real finishing touches to the song would often be done at home on the larger recorders. I learned quickly that every aspect of this process was changing fast. Songwriters were carrying with them to writing appointments everything from little cassette recorders, to Dictaphone type mini-cassette hand-helds, to Sony Walkman type recorders. All the while, the home recording gear was getting even better. One of the early leaps forward for songwriters was the Tascam 144 Portastudio, which was the first four-track deck that used a cassette. Even Bruce Springsteen recorded his Nebraska album on one, and that got everybody talking. Improved versions of the 144 followed and along came Roland, Fostex, Korg, and other well-known companies who were moving quickly from analog to digital with affordable internal hard drive products for songwriters. We all had to have these things, as we wanted our home demos to impress our publishers and ideally be ready to pitch without waiting for the next big studio demo session. I was always buying whatever kept me current at home on the demo level, and it lead me into a succession of home recording tools that covered it all, midi, digital workstations, and hard disk recorders. By 1997, some of my best and easiest recordings at home were done on a Korg D8, which was a 16 bit, 44.1 kHz, 8 track, with stereo digital effects, and then a couple of years later I bought the Kord D16. You could actually record an album on that machine. The recordings sounded great, and much of my Ramblings album was done on that machine at home. After selling it, I had moments of regret, but I knew things were changing. Meanwhile the demo studios were still using analog and some had switched to Radar or Pro Tools, which was really intriguing. Staying true to my desire, or maybe I should say “addiction” to staying current, I bought Pro Tools. It was a huge leap and like everyone I knew, I got caught up in all the upgrade expense that came with it. I’ve been through so many versions of Pro Tools, both on PC and Mac, that I don’t even remember what Pro Tools version or OS I started with. Along the way, I got frustrated with the upgrade hassles and dabbled around with other formats like Cubase, but I had gotten all too familiar with the great editing functions of Pro Tools and stuck with it. I also loved the compatibility of Pro Tools with the projects that I was involved with at the bigger studios. Pro Tools enabled me to do record-quality vocals and overdubs, and transfer them to other studios for more work or mixing. Presently, a lot of my songwriter friends with Macs are using Logic as part of their songwriting gear. So, it’s a never-ending story, and short of building a full-blown studio in my home, I will probably be doing whatever I have to do equipment-wise at home to present my songs the best way possible for the rest of my life. It’s not for everybody, I know that, but it’s fun and having good gear at home that is easily accessible allows me to do other things like voice-overs, audio editing for videos, catalog conversions and archiving, or any number of other things that need good, fast, quality work like a great guitar vocal recording for a film sync pitch that has to be done immediately. I started to talk about microphones here, but how much time do you have? That’s a whole ‘nother blog subject. Stay tuned! -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

My First Guitar

Dad was a musician. The influence that he was on me has affected my entire life. I remember when I was a kid thinking my Dad was the best guitar player in the world, then eventually I learned my fourth chord on the guitar and figured out that maybe I had over-estimated Dad’s picking abilities. He knew he wasn’t the best, but his influence on me was strong. Few people know that that he was a heck of a harmonica player. He would amaze all of us with his ability to bend notes on his harmonica and wail away on a country song, and he could even play the blues. When I was about 10 years old, my parents bought me my first guitar, a Kay arch top. It was a beauty, and I still have it today and the original cardboard fake leather case. It played a little rough, and the Black Diamond strings didn’t help, but that’s all I could find back then. My Dad began teaching me some old Carter Family songs. Dad’s real musical ability was the simple pick-strum method. He could keep a nice rhythm going in the Carter Family style with his thumb hitting the bass notes with a light strum in-between. He would sing along with this simple style of playing and it was very effective. Dad could play and sing lot of songs, mostly old country songs, and taught them to me. Songs like “You Are My Flower”, “Columbus Stockade Blues”, “You Are My Sunshine”, “New River Train”, “Frankie and Johnnie”, “I’m Here to Get My Baby out Of Jail”, and even some bluegrass. By the time I was a teenager I had gotten to know a neighbor named Paul Huff, who introduced me and some of the other boys around to some basic “Rock and Roll” chords and riffs on the guitar. Paul taught us some cool things like the guitar part to “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris, that slamming chord pattern to “G-L-O-R-I-A” by Van Morrison’s group called Them, and the guitar part to maybe the coolest song ever… “House Of The Rising Sun” by The Animals. There was a time when my Dad signed me up for group guitar lessons in town at the YWCA on Glade Street. It was one of those classes where everyone (except me) had classical guitars and you had to put your left foot on a little folding foot-rest. There I sat with my Kay arch top and not feeling very happy about playing “Clair de Lune” note by single note. None of this felt right to me. I remember this kid in the room sitting next to me turned to me, and when the instructor wasn’t looking he whispered “hey, try this” and played the theme to “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers. Then he showed me the intro guitar riff to “So Happy Together” by The Turtles. That was it. I quit the classical lessons and started learning my own way, listening to the radio and to all kinds of records. I wore my fingers out on that guitar for several years and built some serious calluses on my fingers. After moving on to many other guitars through the years, I always kept my Kay Archtop. In 1974 when I was in a trio, I put a dobro-typed raised nut at the top of the neck and raised the bridge as far as it could go, and installed a clip on cross-the-soundhole pickup on it, changed it to an Open D tuning and fearlessly wailed away on it at shows with a slide bar, playing through an amp. Later after moving to Nashville, I basically restored the Kay to its original condition and it has been a beautiful wall-hanger ever since. It has proudly been on display in my home all these years. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Pickin’ with Mr. Brown

Dad knew a guy from work who was a real character, a country singer, and a guitar player. Clarence Brown was a hard-working man who worked along with my Dad at Western Elelectric. He had been to Nashville a number of times trying to make it, but had become too old for that and was feeding a houseful of kids by being a contract illustrator, picking up jobs as he could with no real permanent position. Mom and Dad took our family over to visit their family for dinner a couple of times, mainly to let me play songs for Mr. Brown and pick along with his songs. I remember we were a little surprised by the huge mountain of greasy barbecued pork chops Mr. Brown cooked for us on the grill. Mr. Brown was a great singer, sort of like a cross between Hank Williams and Jim Reeves. His persona was rough around the edges a bit and showed signs of a hard life, but he encouraged me and spoke well of my abilities. My Dad, Mr. Brown, and I would sit at the table with our guitars and sing country songs. Mr. Brown always had a cigarette going, a bottle of Afrin, and a tall can of beer. He would hit all three of these things ceremoniously between each song he performed. It was basically a “guitar pull” at the table, with me and Dad picking songs when it came our turn. Dad also brought his harmonica and a pair of spoons. I must have been about 12-13 years old. During the war Dad had met a lot of interesting characters in the Navy, so I think he was kind of intrigued by someone like Mr. Brown. I detected though that Dad was a little concerned that I might be too impressed by him. I remember Dad saying something about the hard life that being a musician could be. We could tell that his family was struggling a bit, probably from the uncertainty of Mr. Brown’s prior music dreams, the contract jobs as an illustrator, and all the moving around to make ends meet. I’ve never forgotten him though, and Mrs. Brown…his very nice wife. I have wondered many times what happened to the family. If the massive intake of pork chops, cigarettes, Afrin, and beer was a routine for Mr. Brown, I sort of doubt he is around anymore. Wherever the rest of his family is, I’d like them to know that I remember him. Even though my Dad and I used to pick guitar and take turns playing songs around the house, I have to thank Mr. Brown for having us over for my first real “guitar pull” in 1965. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed


Sometimes wisdom is all around us and we have to find it. Sometimes it’s given to us just at the right time. Sometimes it’s thrown at us when we don’t want it. Most songwriters in this town who have had any success, have really been through a virtual war-zone of stuff and have learned some hard lessons. Wisdom is all over them. They bear it like scars. They wear it like armor, and they sometimes wield it like weapons. The same ways that wisdom comes to us, is often the same ways we deal it out. In the songwriting profession, there is sort of this “come-up-ins” apprenticeship you get from other songwriters who have been around longer than you have. Some of this wisdom is harsh and some of it very constructive and helpful. I’ve found that the older I get, the more I’m taken seriously and listened to, whether I’m comfortable with that or not. It has been a strange realization for me, because I think of myself as being younger than I am in many ways, especially creatively, and I like to feel on level ground with my co-writers, neither above them or below them in my abilities and know-how. Along with that feeling comes with a certain recklessness with words that you can get away with when you are younger. I was in my 50s by the time it hit me that I needed be a lot more careful what I say and how I react to younger writers, or to anyone really…because they’re listening. They are actually taking note of what I say. They truly want my encouragement and honest critique. They don’t expect the younger antics from me, the locker room talk, the crazy conversations that sometimes come up during co-writing sessions. I’ve realized that sometimes they may even expect to see me as a “class-act”, the one I don’t always see when I look in the mirror. They want to know if I have anything in mind that they can glean something of value from. It’s not that I have any real wisdom to cast out there. I’ve just been around a while and I’ve learned a few things. So I’ve started being more mindful of my tone, my words, and how I express myself. Wisdom doesn’t sound very much like wisdom if presented wrong. I’ve made that mistake before. This has been a fairly recent realization, so I’m not totally used to it. Not that I can’t lash out at someone if they’ve got it coming, and I can still join in on a rant with a couple of my closer friends when it feels right. However, these days when I lash out or join in on the harsher or cynical conversations with people in general, it doesn’t feel good. The older me doesn’t want to sound like some cynical fool. I want to sleep at night rather than be wishing I hadn’t said this or wishing I had said something else. Sometimes wisdom is not always in knowing exactly what to say, but it’s how you say it. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Romancing the Catalog

There’s a lot of grumbling about the way things are these days in the music business, and how great things used to be.  The following is not one of those reminiscent rants about how things were and how things should be. It’s just a reflection on a part of the essence of songwriting, both then and now. I remember before I moved to Nashville how I marveled at the song catalogs that songwriters owned. The songs of course were the most important part, but even the company names fascinated me. I’m certain that my fascination with what songwriters called their companies dated back to the Beatles and their Maclen Music. I thought often about how cool their company name was…”Maclen” being part McCartney and part Lennon. A few people (other than me) may know that they also had another company called Lenmac. Another famous catalog was Aldon Music, a New York-based company, founded by Don Kirshner and Al Nevins in 1958. Aldon had a significant role in the Brill Building Sound in the late 1950s and 1960s with iconic songwriters like Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Diamond and many others. Other iconic songwriters had interesting catalog names as well. Johnny Cash had House Of Cash, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant had House Of Bryant, Dolly Parton had Velvet Apple, Jimmy Webb had Canopy Music and White Oak Songs, and Tom T. Hall had Hallnote. In Nashville companies like Central Songs, Cedarwood, Coal Miner’s Music, Tree Music, Pi-Gem, Picalic, House of Gold, Deb-Dave Music, and Combine Music were independently owned companies that had grown from humble but well-funded startups and became famous on the row. Their writer staffs consisted of great songwriters who had everything it took and represented everything it meant to be, to be called a “professional songwriter”. You knew what kind of songs you could find at each of these companies, and you knew what kind of songwriters each company generally signed. Each company, together with its writers seemed to have a personality. Companies like these continued to thrive in places like London, New York, or LA, with a long-running tradition of developing and supporting their songwriting staffs. I think any songwriter who has ever moved to Nashville has hoped to build a catalog full of gems, songs that could be serviced to all artists. In some cases, songwriters hoped to be successful enough to eventually go bigger than just owning a catalog. Their dream was to take their catalog to the “bricks and mortar” level, put up a “shingle”, make it a place to hang out, a place that was cool, build a songwriting family, a place successful enough to support more songwriters, a place attract producers and A&R to come there to find hits for their artists. A catalog, whatever its size, is an investment entity, but I think it meant much more than that to anyone who owned one. There was always a soft competitiveness on the row, but also a solid comradery on the row. Even companies that competed fiercely knew the other guys were cool. We all went to each other’s parties, went to lunch, hung out. Along the way since moving to Nashville, I have started numerous catalogs for my songs. Some were dba type companies and others were partnerships or corporations where there was more than one owner. Every one of my companies was started with great excitement of a fresh start, new material, a chance to get it right, an opportunity to make something happen. Sometimes some level of success was a fairly sure thing because of who I was aligned with at the time. Other times, not so much. I look back on my own catalogs and I know the personality of each one. I know the songs, and even after having written nearly 5000 of them and nearly forty years of being under some kind of publishing situation, I usually know which catalog any of my songs is in. If not, I have a database that tells all the essential information about each song. That’s how intimate I am with my catalogs. Since the beginning of music publishing it seems, a reasonably successful songwriter who wanted to start something new could put the word out and find someone to invest in them for the next few years. The songwriter and the investor would start a catalog together and grow it. You don’t have to reminisce back very far at all to the time when new catalogs were good investments, particularly if the catalog was centered around a songwriter with a known track record, or the songwriter was on a roll, it all made sense. Even more attractive was the investment if centered around an artist’s career or a producer’s career, which has always been a good way to ensure a catalog’s success. Sadly, we’ve seen a decline of startup money for songwriters and catalogs in recent years. With royalty payments not what they were, pipeline money being short-lived, activity becoming more and more difficult to get, and resale multiples dropping, investors are just not as interested in the risk as they were. Along with this general decline on the business side and waning of investor interest, the ‘romancing’ of the catalog is declining too. I’m sure any songwriter who wants to start a catalog these days asks themselves…..what does it mean anymore to grow catalog of great songs, with a cool company name? Will anyone even care? If I have success, will anyone want to buy my catalog someday? Is recent news dramatically changing consumer trends and low streaming rates going to scare off investors? I still ‘romance’ my catalogs, but I’d really like one of my great songs to get a good date-night out on the town sometime soon…like the old days. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed

Artist Development

Aside from my songwriting, I’m proud of some things I’ve done in the music business but none I’m any more proud of than the work I’ve done with artist development. I’ve had a hand in developing some important artists, but I’m not going to name-drop here because they’re already featured in other areas here on my website. I’m going to talk about what it means to me to develop and produce a new artist, bring them to fruition, and continue the development process. I don’t know what draws me to this aspect of the music business because it’s a lot of work. I used to say it’s just an extension of what I do as a songwriter, but it’s not something all songwriters aspire to do. It’s actually something that started for me before I ever moved to Nashville, working with talent and recordings, trying to figure out how to shape and polish the songs and the sound of what an artist does. I learned early on that it has to be the artist’s record, not mine. So if I can enhance what they do, and bring them to the market, that’s a pretty cool thing. After I moved to Nashville and was introduced to better studios, better gear, better engineers, it continued. I started meeting even more talented people with even greater potential, and would sometimes consider getting involved with artists in some way to help them. It’s fun, exciting, and very fulfilling to help an artist come into their own, with the songs, the sound, the image, the honing of their performance, and watching them gain knowledge during the process. I guess it’s a lot like the same feeling a teacher gets from the student that really wants to learn and improve. There is something really beautiful about working with an artist who trusts your ears, your song sense, your production ideas, and your grasp of the market, and there is something equally beautiful about knowing when an artist has learned enough for you to trust theirs. I am particularly proud of the fact that my involvement in artist development has always been for the right reasons. I was very fortunate early on in my career to have a few highly experienced mentors. One of those was a man named Gerry Teifer. I remember how Jerry drove it into my brain to never get involved producing anyone that I don’t truly believe in. In other words, do it first for the music, not the money. I’ve never taken anything that could come close to being called a “fee” during the initial development process with a new artist. By the time I engage with a new artist, I go in knowing that if things happen as I believe they will, there will be plenty of ways to be compensated with standard fees and points later as artist’s career matures and grows. The most fun are the new artists who realize how much they need the help and guidance, the ones who allow themselves to learn. The learning comes from me showing them all corners of the process, selecting the right songs, the polishing of the songs, the arrangements, the tempos, the keys, determining how each song will complement the other, and hiring the experts to get it done… the engineers, the musicians, the studio people, the whole camp, the team, the environment. It’s sort of a sacred world I bring a new artist into, and in my mind, once I’ve committed, they’ve already passed the test to get in. Then, together we learn how all those elements applies to the attributes the artist already has. I’ve never been able to help those new artists who think they’re already there, or that the world owes them stardom, the ones who are too concerned with what other artists are doing. Anyone that I take on has a good amount of what it takes, but few of them know how to use it. Artists who have the greatest chance of success are the artists who do not try to sound like someone else, and have a good understanding of what they are and a desire to improve on that. Artists sometimes, lose sight of all the hard work that goes into this. It can be exhausting. Even after I’ve put a lot of thought into whether I even want to get involved and finally made the decision, it takes vision, patience, care, a lot of brainstorming, and a ton of work. When I commit, my involvement goes way beyond the recording of the record. The A&R guy in me stays with the project all the way, even through the process of endearing everyone I can to the music and what the artist is about. Once you reach the point where the artist is ready to be launched, the harsh reality is that everything you’ve done for and with that artist is judged by one final and most important thing…the recording. It has to accomplish something, and it has to do that every time, though having a huge hit is not always the goal right out of the box. There is no point at which you can say “that’s it…the artist is completely developed…they are everything they need to be now”. Ideally, artist development is over the long haul. It continues and really never ends. The things I do for the first album are the foundation blocks for the next album, and so on. As you move forward, there is a thread you hold on to that connects all the way back to the beginning. No one truly knows the artist like the person who started with the artist at ground zero and was able bring it forward. True, it doesn’t always work that way for many reasons, some valid and some not. Sometimes for business reasons it totally makes sense to step aside from your artist development/producer role and hopefully you will have some kind of compensation factor built-in to let you rest easy about it. Even if you’re out of the picture from a certain point forward, it’s good for the artist to keep you supportive of what they do. Music row has a lot of great, honest, and extremely talented independent producers with a lot of vision, who can bring a fresh sound to an already established artist who needs it, but Music Row is also a breeding ground for a another type of paid producer who will produce anything that comes with a paycheck. Sometimes new artists fall into working with these producers, paying them to record final product before the artist ever gets a chance to properly develop. For all the right reasons, that kind of “custom producer” is not the kind of producer I’ve ever been or wanted to be. ‘Why things don’t work’ sounds like a good subject for another blog post, so I’ll stay with the good stuff here, and just talk about the things that do work. Not every producer-artist relationship is the same. Success and fruition are defined by lot of different things. Sometimes just getting an artist up and working and making a living doing what they love is the goal. To some artists having hits in a specialized market is the goal. Other times it’s the big apple they want, a succession of hits in a large market, with an artist who has the desire to go bigger and bigger with every record. These days, success is hard to measure because there are so many artists and so many markets and ways one can be successful. I’ve always believed if an artist is unique and different, anything can happen, so I treat every act as if we’re reaching for the stars. When success comes, it’s a wonderful feeling being acknowledged for your work. Going up to get gold records or industry awards for a project are moments I will remember forever. Standing there with the artist, and getting a quick moment at the mic to say something nice is kind of a naked moment where you become humbled by it all, a moment to count your blessings, a moment to be thankful. Often times your artist’s fiercest competition is in the audience, but everybody in that audience usually knows that somewhere behind all the humble words, you and your artist have worked your asses off from the beginning to make it happen. The money? Well… money is certainly is nice, but honestly it’s not the best part. Just like songwriting, getting the award or cashing the checks is not really why we got into this initially. The best part is getting to the heart and soul of the process, creating something great, and bonding with the artist. The relationship with the artist could be called a “friendship” but it’s really more than that and deeper than that. Every song and step of the process is like a trip you take with the artist. You get to know each other. You learn everything about each other. You learn to trust each other. I can honestly say I’ve never regretted any decision I’ve made when I’ve said to a new artist “let’s do this”. -BH, 2017, Comments Closed