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Stacy's Music Row Report All Rights Reserved
Stacy's Book Reviews
(Author of Comedians of Country Music, The Carter Family: Country Music's First Family, Classic Country and The Best of Country: The Official CD Guide and contributor to Country Music Stars and the Supernatural and The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History& Culture)
Country-music industry polymath Peter Cooper (perhaps the only one of us who knows “every word to all of Guy Clark’s songs”) finds inspiration for the title of his latest book, not from Clark’s pen, but rather, as Jack Clement and Mac Wiseman fans don’t need to be told, from Cowboy Clement’s quill.
Clement, the famed music and film producer, arranger, performer, studio owner and novelty songwriter, is the first of many Music Row stalwarts, country-music industry icons and characters Peter introduces, or reintroduces (e.g., Cash, Pride, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, et al) as the case may be, to readers in remarkably rapid succession. (Cooper artfully manages to cram in an astounding number of observations, experiences and insights into his 243-page narrative. Kudos are also in order, in a cost-cutting era of publishing, for inclusion of an index.)
Armed with all of the nearly-singular rights and privileges befitting the young Tennessean entertainment reporter he once was, Peter enjoyed a backstage pass to the dazzling panoply of unvarnished, behind-the-scenes conversations and events before ubiquitous media-training could sanitize many of them.
Why Cooper even got to co-write with Don Schlitz before leaving the morning daily (grind) amid administrative changes, layoffs and all the newspaper business changes that aren't supposed to stifle, nor otherwise impact, talented, creative self-starters, but often do.
As a reward for the trust, well-earned industry-wide adulation and respect Peter continues to enjoy- without objection even from a once-offended Lee Ann Womack- what is now a permanent pass to the parade has been issued to the Grammy-nominated music producer in Cooper's current capacity as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's senior producer, producer and writer. (Peter moonlights as an industry-validated songwriter, musician and senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music.)
While a fan might not have washed his/her hand for days, if afforded the luxury of a handshake from the King of Country Music, Peter Cooper has enjoyed a degree of access that, he reveals, landed him a “prize possession” (that evidently means more to Cooper than any swag bag): Roy Acuff’s last tube of Super Polygrip Dental Adhesive, even as “I won’t tell you the name of (The) New York Times best-selling author who gave it to me.”
While keeping us in blind-item suspense, Peter entertains readers with appropriately-placed asides about events that, he suggests, don’t necessarily warrant entire chapters.
Cooper's knowledgeable command of subjects like click tracks makes such subject matter of interest to readers who may not be musicians, aspiring or otherwise.
While Peter doesn’t write much about his early life (he makes a passing reference to his stepmother), Cooper notes in his narrative that when he moved to Nashville, while still a young man, the native South Carolinian was warned that meeting his heroes could lead to disappointments warned him.
Peter had been down that road when, as a 14-year-old baseball fan he met major league baseball great Warren Spahn, winner of 363 games- more than any other left-handed pitcher in the history of the game.
Spahn’s response to an admiring teen's polite request for an autograph? A loud, cursing refusal!
In contrast, Cooper’s take on country-music artists, songwriters and others is that the bigger they are, the nicer they are.
Many of his colleagues will agree with him, but, as with most generalities, there are notable exceptions. The very existence of the fabled code of the road, to which Cooper alludes (and which deserves to be the subject of a book all its own), gives rise to the hush-hush environment that discourages, and makes it appear unseemly, for Nashville reporters who value their press passes to name names and dates that otherwise provide the proof, when those in a position to do so abuse their authority.
Anyone who has read Crook & Chase: Our Lives, the Music and the Stars (Charlie and Lorianne’s 1995 career retrospective, penned with ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz) can’t help but notice why Nashville’s entertainment news and TV variety hosts would never be so candid as to assure the certainty that they’ll never have lunch in this town again.
Indeed, amid all of the gushing about, and name-dropping of, the country stars of the day, Crook & Chase reserved their less-than-flattering comments about celebrity guests on their show to those who were not based in Nashville and who had little, if any connection, to the country-music industry.
Warren Spahn has been conveniently dead since 2003. But the safety of candor without repercussions is not so much my point as is the fact that those of us, with not only print and broadcast credentials, but years of greater experience covering country-music, its legends and wannabes, than Lorianne, Charlie and Peter, realize a chasm; the contrast between the way those who naively live in a bubble are treated by gatekeepers and celebs alike, versus the disregard and dismissal those of us of lesser visibility have been known to experience from those who feel no incentive to so much as acknowledge, let alone assist, us as messengers of their messages. (In a sexist industry, Lorianne's being married to the her show's producer might have had a little something to do with the show not being called Chase and Crook.)
False intimacy begets hagiography among those victims of the bubble in which high-profile, Music Row journalists and media personalities are ensconced, oblivious to the fact that, as anointed Nashville royalty, they are first among equals.
The late Tom C. Armstrong, another Music Row polymath, knew this. As he once confided to me about a prominent Music Row executive: “He’s just being nice to me because he thinks I can do something for him.”
Peter Cooper is one
most likable (as opposed to “likable enough”)
people I know. When people treat you well it's easy to
believe they treat everyone that way. You might have to dig
for dirt in order to find it. (Knowing the truth of
a statement intellectually
amid quite different
personal experience makes for cognitive dissonance.
(As Jimmy Martin would say.)
There's that bubble again...
When taking the high road comes naturally, it is nothing if not a blessing. I’m reminded of Claude King’s 1970 hit, Mary’s Vineyard in which the protagonist weaves a narrative of seducing three sisters. He brags about ignoring an implied threat from the young beauties' father who “don’t know” and “I ain’t gonna tell him” about what the suitor and his harem are up to. The idea, served up with equal parts sexism and machismo being that the patriarch believes “he’s raised three little angels” and “I think that’s fine.”
I hasten to add, should it not be already clear, that Nashville’s music industry is truly full of wonderful people, many of them mentors, who have no more than to be themselves to be on their best behavior.
Still, we all make mistakes. As I was more focused on content than typos when presented with the rush review of galleys for one of my books, I felt it somewhat unfair when a reviewer, who could find no (other) factual errors in my book, indicated that I misspelled Eddy Arnold’s name. (I responded to the review by indicating that, of the several mentions of Eddy in The Best of Country: The Official CD Guide, only one rose to the level of the otherwise embarrassingly inaccurate “Eddie.”)
So I offer the following with a hope that the first edition of Johnny’s Cash… (clearly one of the best- if not the best- book I’ve read all year) will sell so well that Cooper’s publisher will find it worthy of more pressings and an opportunity to add a few minor edits in the process: In Johnny's Cash..., the “Eddie” gremlins took possession of correct spellings of the first Mrs. Johnny Cash’s name turning Vivian into “Vivien,” while elsewhere the word “fist” becomes “first.” (I pray for same attention to detail when proofing my own manuscripts. Repeat: This is neither a challenge nor invitation. Something about people who live in glass houses, overreliance on spell-checkers, old age, congenital eye disease and other assorted excuses for carelessness…)
Too, Peter details (Mr.) Johnny Cash’s being initially misdiagnosed as having Parkinson’s disease, indicating that “we still don’t know” the source of Cash's palsied loss of dexterity. (Was it not “autonomic neuropathy,” along with a handful of contributing maladies, that ultimately claimed the Man in Black?)
On a related note, while Peter references Kris Kristofferson’s incorrectly being led to believe that his increasing memory loss could be attributed to dementia, a second edition of Cooper’s book would include the welcome news that Kris’ symptoms abated once he was apparently given, and treated for, the correct diagnosis: Lyme disease.
Reading the first edition of Johnny's Cash..., music historians and fans alike will be treated to Peter Cooper's literally retracing Hank Williams’ final ride. For, after having hopped in the car and been privy to Hank’s journey in a way, even in the age of interstate highways, Williams’ biographers have not, Cooper advances the suggestion that, historical accounts to the contrary, Hank Williams may not have taken his last breath in Oak Hill, West Virginia on January 1, 1953.
But Cooper breaks from investigative reporting when he takes, at face value, oft-repeated claims by Tom T. Hall, including the one that Hall arrived in Nashville on January 1, 1964.
Ralph Emery, known for a photographic memory, kindly provides the time line that indicates his good friend Hall’s account is not factually possible.
Further, Tom is the first to admit that he is “not very good with dates.”
Peter will find further confirmation of that by talking with current Tennessean entertainment reporter Cindy Watts. Watts was initially dismissive of my post-publication insistence that, on one occasion writing about Tom, she had her facts wrong- Watts’ having gone to "Hall's people"- until I produced public records that forced a retraction.
And perhaps because Hall has been so successful at creating his own image, full of demonstrably-provable falsehoods stated and repeated so often they are uncritically accepted as fact, I respectfully disagree with Cooper’s suggestion that Tom’s song, The Man Who Hated Freckles is Hall’s “only song of overt judgment.”
It’s a good idea, in general, for writers to steer clear of absolutes, and, in particular, when at least a couple of country-music writer/historians have referenced in their writings (see Nick Tosches' Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll and Stacy Harris' Kosher Country: Success and Survival on Nashville's Music Row) the lyrics of another Hall-penned (recorded but unreleased) polemic: I Was Born in A One-Nigger Town.
Even Hall, joining Charlie Worsham, John Prine, Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, Jr. and the late Porter Wagoner in contributing blurbs for Johnny’s Cash…, when pressed, has been known to concede as much.
A Cincinnati-born songwriter/music publisher/producer/singer and current Nashville radio show host, Even Stevens turns memoir author with the publication of this short (198 pages) but compact hardback (or kindle edition, if you prefer).
With a foreword by Duane Allen (an early and influential player in Stevens’ career) who, referencing the title of this book, opining that Stevens already “owns this town,” the author takes readers on his path to Nashville, beginning with the circuitous route, years prior to Stevens' career change, as a barber, first in Springfield, then in Lima, and Lakeview, Ohio.
Turning 18 during the Viet Nam war, and faced with the prospect of being drafted, Stevens hung up his clippers and enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard.
While an escape from the front lines, the move was insufficient to keep the enlisted man from being targeted by "Crazy Darleen," his high school sweetheart, who attacked Stevens with a knife- but not before she talked him into marriage and cheated on him, prompting a final separation after Stevens' several attempts to break up with her.
Bruce Noel Stevens' Coast Guard adventures took him to Groton, Connecticut, and then San Francisco where, intoxicated by the city’s music scene, during his off-duty hours the serviceman became a “full-fledged stoned hippie.” While in the famous City of Love, Stevens immersed himself in the San Francisco music scene, variously writing poetry, dabbling in songwriting and becoming a roadie, of sorts.
Arriving in Nashville, apparently at some point with a nickname/stage name, presumably and playfully derived from the idiomatic expression for a equal division or otherwise fair transaction, the transition is one, unless I missed it, Stevens does not disclose in this book, as he apparently omits any mention of his given name in these pages. (Lacking an index, reviewing a memoir, autobiographical is spots, that is not strictly in chronological order can be frustrating, as it must be to the many, mentioned by name, who have impacted Stevens' life; book browsers who may seek to confirm that they are mentioned in in the pages of Stevens' story before they invest in the printed version.)
At any rate, Music City appeared to be welcoming and Music Row fast and easy to navigate: At least that's what Even thought when an introduction to Webb Pierce was soon followed by Pierce's daughter, Debbie, an aspiring singer herself, making Stevens' day by indicating an intention to record one of Even's songs. Pierce's plans took an unexpected turn, demoralizing Even, when, as Stevens was learning instant success as a Music Row songwriter is largely an anomaly, no less than Norbert Putnam considered the young hopeful's prospects and concluded Even should "Go back to Ohio."
While Stevens' songwriting ability was not immediately evident to Putnam. Even found a mentor in another Music Row stalwart, Jim Malloy. Through the music publisher and Grammy Award-winning recording engineer Even eventually developed a professional partnership with Jim's son, David Malloy. David, who carved an impressive career as a songwriter and producer, served as Stevens' introduction to one of the artists he produced: Eddie Rabbitt.
Even and Eddie briefly roomed together as they attempted to reach their respective professional dreams as singer/songwriters. While Eddie's recording career took off, Even's lukewarm reception doing "the artist thing" convinced him he should stick to writing songs.
Stevens wrote or co-wrote nearly 60 of Rabbitt's recordings, including Eddie's biggest hits. Even's songs have been recorded by 55 other artists (including Stella Parton, who was once married to Jim Malloy). Each of the artists, and the names of the Even Stevens songs they recorded, is documented on these pages.
Dubbing themselves "the Trinity," (Stevens and David Malloy bought Music Row's Emerald Sound Studio in 1983), Even, Eddie and David enjoyed a comradery lasting until 1984 when Malloy was no longer interested in producing Rabbitt's records.
Malloy's reasons became more apparent two years later when Emerald Studio was sold and David moved to Los Angeles, selling his Nashville publishing interests that, thanks to a lawyer's intervention, impacted Even's income as a music publisher when Stevens was not allowed to buy out his business partner. The publishing company was sold, and then resold, before being absorbed by Sony/ATV Music. (After scaling down during a period in the mid-90s when Even stopped producing records and sold the two office buildings and recording studio he owned at the time, Stevens leased The Garage studio and formed ESP Music.)
When Even wasn't writing a song with Eddie Rabbitt, he co-wrote with several other songwriters who are named and whose work is credited in this book. But there is another instance, mentioned in Stevens' memoir, in which, thanks to Phil Ramone, A World Without Love, a song Eddie and Even co-wrote, resulted in the unwelcome addition of an unnamed third co-writer and a rift with Rabbitt.
is forthcoming about names (he generally speaks in
describing people he says he admires- which evidently doesn’t
Landis) and dates in these pages,
when he wants to be, (such as in his description of the
leading up to the distance created between he and Eddie, though Even's
welcome presence at Eddie's funeral) and while it is
in an increasing litigious society, Stevens' omits "Crazy Darleen"'s
surname, though Stevens elected not to acknowledge
same, it is
public knowledge that Even's unwanted co-writer was Phil
Similarly, Stevens shares only a little information about his oldest son, Seth, the result of a relationship between Stevens and a woman he identifies only as Lynn (again, perhaps for obvious reasons).
Even identifies his wife only as "Korene," mentioning that Korene gave birth to the Seth's half-brother, Luke in 1997. (Stevens married the former Korene Debra Wolters on April 20, 1997.)
If a paperback edition of Someday I'm Gonna Rent This Town is to follow, Stevens' editor might want to pay a little more attention to punctuation, including the placement of a question mark where an exclamation mark is in order (page 12), an ellipsis (on page 116), generally sloppy writing ("I wondered around Music Row," on page 183, a reference to a "fourteen year old" and the exclamation "Yea, right" on page 147) "try to emulate those hit's" on page 186, "Sure I'd love too" on page 190), and spelling errors including "recon" (as reckon is misspelled on page 95), Frances Preston's first name (listed as "Francis" on page 124) and Randy Owen's surname (which appears as "Owens" on page 165).
On balance, Even Stevens' memoir is informative and, at times, humorous and insightful.
It is an honest read, as far as it goes. The book lacks an introspection that might be remedied if Even chooses to write an autobiography- including a foreword written by a mental health professional!
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