Monday, February 23, 2015

Chapter 70 – Scammed Again

A little background on me and BRC (sounds like a Kristofferson song). As I wrote before in an earlier chapter, Billy Ray Cyrus had come to my house, or so I was told since I was incapacitated with a horrible flu, dressed as Santa Claus bearing gifts for my two boys (Morgan wasn’t to come into existence for a few years later). My next association with Billy Ray was when I played pedal steel guitar on a track of his written by my friend Chas Sandford (which twenty years later became the title track of his record, The Distance). My third encounter with the King of Achy-Breaky was not so auspicious.
My son Daniel had lent his Queen CD to one of Billy Ray’s sons who had refused to return it. As I was driving my MG Midget on Thompson Station Road one extremely hot and humid day at the end of May, I realized I was behind the school bus with Daniel and Morgan inside. When the bus came to a stop to let out some of the children, my two boys exited and got into my tiny sports car (Morgan was seated in the small area behind the driver’s seat not really meant for a passenger). Since we were only a mile or so from our house, I figured it would be safe enough if I took it easy. Then I remembered that Billy Ray would be waiting by the iron gate of his palatial mansion for his son to get off the bus. I thought it would be the perfect time to finally meet BRC face to face and mention the CD and hopefully he would give his boy a good talking to.
Billy Ray seemed nice enough as we conversed, but he stayed safely behind his protective gate. He said he would let his son know that I had talked with him and the CD would be returned promptly. We then talked about music, and how I had some songs he might be interested in and he told me to drop them off someday and he would have a listen. As we were talking, I noticed him acting a little nervous, like maybe I had stepped over the line by mentioning my music. It seemed as if he was looking off to his left, as if there was a hidden camera there and he was giving signals to some unknown entity. A minute later, I saw a police car drive by heading toward my house. Then I noticed that the cop had pulled over in a driveway not more than a hundred yards from my driveway.

I got back into the Midget with Daniel in the passenger seat and Morgan in the back area, which, of course had no seatbelts. As I turned the corner past the police car, I saw the red and blue light flash on in my rear view mirror. I pretended I didn’t see them and continued on into my driveway and parked my car in its usual place. The cop, who looked like a teenager with short blond hair and a wispy moustache had followed me in, got out of his cruiser and approached me with an attitude.
“License and registration,” he demanded. I showed him my license but told him my car registration was in my office and I would go grab it and be back in two shakes of a pig’s tail. He began to write something. I knew it wasn’t his memoirs.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Writing you a ticket for neglecting to have seatbelts, no child seat and not having your car registration available.”
“I told you its in the house. It just came by mail and I forgot to put it in my car with the rest of the paperwork.” I knew that ticket could cost me five hundred dollars or more so I wanted to make sure I would find the paperwork pronto.
“Well,” said the cop, “if you can produce the registration before I finish writing this here ticket, I might let that part go.”
Here I was on my own property being made to jump through a hoop of fire for this little Nazi stormtrooper. I rushed into the house, found the registration in less than a minute and ran back out to the so called officer of the law, a man who was sworn to protect and serve.
“Sorry, you’s a tad too late,” he said smugly.
Meanwhile Morgan and Daniel stood by the front door of the house watching the scene with morbid curiosity. I said to the cop as he handed me the ticket, “Are you through?”
He nodded his head and moved back toward his cruiser. Now as I said, I was on my own property, and sometimes a man can get a false sense of security when he feels he is in the right and standing in front of his castle. I then said, “Okay then, now would you kindly get the fuck off of my property!”
That was it. He rushed toward me and threw me up against the Toyota minivan parked right in from of my side door while Morgan and Daniel and my wife, Donna who had come outside to witness the commotion, watched with shock and horror. The fascist bent my arms back behind my back and tried to handcuff me, but I wasn’t making it easy for him. Then I thought, resisting arrest would not help my case so I acquiesced. I figured I could explain things to the higher-ups when I arrived at the jail in downtown Franklin, ten miles to the north.
While lying on my side in the back of the cruiser, I heard the cop having a phone conversation with what I thought was Billy Ray Cyrus. He was verifying the story I told him about the CD and how I was only trying to get back what belonged to my son. He asked BRC if we talked about my own CD and it seemed like Billy was corroborating my story to the T.
There were two nice things about being in the holding cell that day. One, I was fortunate to be in and empty cell, and two, it felt cool to lie down on the stainless steel bench with the temperatures outside in the high nineties. The cop had written his report and handed it in to the desk sergeant, and I was waiting to see what would happen next. About an hour later the stormtrooper approach my cell. “This must be your lucky day.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”
“It just so happens it’s my birthday and I’m feeling a might generous. We’ve decided to let you go.” He unlocked the barred door and let me out and then said, “If you want me to give you arid back home—“
“No that’s alright,” I said. “I want to walk home and think about things if it’s all the same to you.” There was no way in the world I was going into that police car again with that asshole. A block outside the jail, I called Donna on my cell phone and she told me she was already only a mile or so away. Fifteen or twenty minutes later I was back home. No charges were ever filed, the ticket was torn up and I have never seen that cop anywhere again. I guess he got a good bawling out from his superiors, who must had told him he was out of line for harassing a home owner with no police record.
Now, after writing that letter about the song-plugger. I was hoping that Billy Ray had forgotten about the CD incident and the cop, or if he remembered, he felt guilty for being apart of it. He answered me back quickly. The email read: Hey James. Just got this. Never heard of the songs or got to hear them sorry to say. I bet they were good. Back at that time when I worked with * * * *, Disney and their A and R team handled all the material unless it was something I wrote. I'm gonna make a new record in the fall so I'll reach out then. Maybe it was meant to be until now. All the best. B R.
So there it was. He never heard it, but I wondered how long it had been since he worked with this particular representative. He sent him a follow-up email: Thanks for responding. I have the feeling this song-plugger was making things up and wrote a bunch of nonsense on his report to us. These kinds of people (if this is what he is doing I will have to confirm it with other artists and A&R people before I can know for sure) should not be allowed to exist in the music business. It has a bad enough reputation already. Any time you want to hear these songs, and they are good and perfect for you esp. "Got It Too Good" let me know and I'll send you an MP3. Or if you in town you could drop by. Thanks again Billy, I always liked you and I hoped that you were still an all right guy. You ARE! There is one more thing I forgot to ask and before I start accusing anyone I need, as Jack Webb said, “just the facts”. You intimated that you are no longer working with * * * *. Did your association with him end before Nov. 2012?
Thanks, James
He replied: Yes. Way ...2008 or 2009.
It was time to tell Larry that my intuition was right and the song-plugger was pulling stats out of his ass. Larry and I constructed a letter advising this scumbag that we were going to not only sue him, but go to all the TV stations and make a public spectacle of him. He returned all the money within a week as long as we promised not to share his little secret. I’ll never know it any of the other artists were legitimate, but I highly doubt it. If it weren’t for the fact that I had a country star living right across the street from me, and was able to contact him, the ruse could have perpetuated for months . . . maybe even years. I wish I could mention his name but I don’t want to get sued for libel.
Oh yeah, a side note: Since the writing of this blog, Larry, because he felt I didn’t give him his due credit for winning a Cleo award for his musical contribution to the advertising game and not mentioning his solo Cd of instrumental music, he has not returned any of my calls and had remained completely out of touch for over a year now. C’est la vie say the old folks/ it goes to show you never can tell.
Another side note: The Queen CD was returned to Daniel the next school day after the incident.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Chapter 69 – Long Distance Production

A few years ago, while I put ideas for my record Timing is Everything together, Larry Harrison and I began to rekindle our songwriting over the phone and the internet. There was a song called After All on my first solo CD (See You Around) that I recorded in a Willie Nelson style and Larry insisted that it should be done differently. He believed in that song and told me I was one of the best songwriters he had ever had the privilege of working with. I’m not sure I believed him and wondered what he was up to.
He thought the song should be done in a contemporary ballad style a la Michael BublĂ© or something similar. I thought, why the hell not. He then expressed an interest in publishing that song as well as another song from that record of mine, Got it Too Good and would compensate me with some dollars. I needed the money so I did the deal. I would still retain 100% of my writer’s royalties, but Larry Harrison was now my publisher, of at least those two songs anyway. Larry had put together a state of the art recording studio in his home and had also assembled a crew of musicians at his beck and call. I told him to run with it.
The recordings came out pretty nice. He had hired a few different vocalists to sing After All to see what would work the best for the song. The first vocalist sang the song in a Tom Waits style, which I really liked but Larry thought it wasn’t commercial enough for radio. Whatever. He then got an amazing soul sister to sing it and it was so riffed out I couldn’t even recognize the melody anymore. Then it became a duet with the vocal being shared with a black dude. It was better, but I still liked the Tom Waits version better. But the ball was in his court, and since my preference didn’t amount to a hill of coffee beans, I went along with his decision (which seemed to change hour to hour). At least we had three different versions of the song and we could let the powers that be (whomever they were) decide its fate.
The second song, Got it Too Good, needed to be straight ahead country. Larry was going to use Randy, the same guy that sang the Tom Waits version of After All (he could sound like anyone from Hank Williams or Buck Owens to Merle Haggard or Alan Jackson ). I told him I knew a guy who could sing the ever-loving crap out of it, and he happens to live right here in Music City. His name’s Sean Patrick McGraw. I met Sean years ago in L.A. when we both were attending a music writing workshop. We ended up meeting up ten years later and began penning some songs together when I first came to town. My original track of Got it Too Good sounded like it could have been right off of John Lennon’s Rock and Roll record from 1975, or maybe even one of Elton John’s releases from the eighties. Now, even though I didn’t care too much for country music (at least what country music had become), the track was as country as your mom’s apple pie. Sean recorded a stunning vocal and even laid down three part harmonies and then sent them off. Larry was thrilled, and even I thought the song sounded great, and commercial to (cowboy) boot.
There was a song I had written called Running Around the World, which was published by Curt Boettcher in 1986 and ended up on Mike Love’s solo record, Looking Back With Love. Larry came up with the idea to change it from a Beach Boys style to country. The tag line at the end of the chorus was: trying to catch up with my favorite little girl. He suggested that instead of “little girl” it should be “country girl”. I was okay with that. The song was now entitled, Favorite Country Girl. The track was really great and Sean did his usual outstanding vocals. I really thought that between the three songs, at least one of them was destined to be a hit, or at least get us some action in the marketplace. Larry was on a roll and recorded five more songs from our old duo’s (Two Guys from Van Nuys) catalogue. They turned out nice, but they weren’t as commercial as the previous three. Now the question was: how in the world were we going to sell these tunes?
Larry, being so far removed from the scene since becoming a stock broker/ insurance man (even though he recorded a moody solo record of instrumentals and was recording commercials for some Fortune 500 companies), he though with me living in Nashville, I should be the one to carry the ball into the playing field. This, as most people who know me would agree, is not my strong point.
I remembered my friend Chas Sandford had told me about a song-plugger that I almost did business with when I released Timing is Everything, but I couldn’t afford his fee. When I mentioned it to Larry, he thought it might be a way to go. He said he would pay the $200 a month (the cost of promoting one song which we decided should be Favorite Country Girl). Since the cost of two songs was only and extra hundred bucks, we added Got it Too Good to the presentation. We signed the contract with this song-plugger in November of 2012 and in exchange for our money, said song-plugger would shop our tune, send us a monthly report of which artist were being “pitched”, who represented the said artist, and the status of the song (either it was “kept” or “passed”). When we got our copy of the first report it looked very promising. Out of the fourteen pitches half of them had kept either one of the two songs. We were batting five-hundred which any hitter in the major leagues would be ecstatic about.
It was a little ironic that my heart was not really into this partnership with Larry. If it would have happened a few years earlier I would have been over the moon, but now I was more interested in writing my first novel, Mulligan’s Tour, and couldn’t give the proper amount of energy and dedication needed to really get that ship launched out of the harbor. Larry would call me up two, sometimes three times a day asking me what I thought about this musical part, or this lyric change and, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t wait to get him off the phone and get back to editing my manuscript. But now that the song-plugger had the tunes in his grubby little hands, it was out of mine.
So the reports came in monthly with more of the same result. The artists or their reps were either passing or keeping the songs but nobody had made any commitments to record them. I started to have a bad feeling about this song-plugger. Deep in my gut I felt that he was pulling these statistic out of thin air. Larry thought I was being paranoid. I didn’t think so. Funny enough, one of the artists on the list was Billy Ray Cyrus, who just happens to live right across the street from me in Thompson Station. I thought it would be ironic if my neighbor (who I could have thrown the CD over his gates) would end up cutting one of my songs from a song-plugger who lived thirty miles away. Then I had an idea. Maybe I should giver old Billy Ray a call, better yet send him an email to see if he ever actually heard these songs. I got his email from Chas, who had been working the the king of Achy-Breaky off and on for a few years. Actually, BRC recorded a song of Chas’s called The Distance (I mentioned this in a previous post) which became the title track of his last record.
I sent him the email which read: Dear Billy Ray, Hi, I am your neighbor on Thompson Station Road. You might remember the time you came over dressed as Santa Claus about fifteen years ago. I have a big favor to ask of you if you could find it in your heart to help me straighten something out. You may or may not know that I write songs with my partner Larry Harrison and about six months ago we hired a local song-plugger to pitch some of our tunes for a nominal fee. It’s funny that he pitched ******* three of our songs, two of which your team had kept for more than three months, maybe four. The first song you kept was Favorite County Girl and the second was Got It Too Good. Our song-plugger sends us a spreadsheet report every month indicating who has kept or passed on the song. The frustrating thing is— we have no way of verifying his actions. What I am asking of you, Billy, is if you have ever heard these songs or if **** has even heard them? I am sure you can understand my dilemma, being a songwriter yourself and how hard it can be to break in to the community. At this point we have ceased our relationship with the song-plugger even though there are about ten different artists who have kept, and are still to my knowledge, keeping some of these songs. If you could help a neighbor out and let me know if you have any knowledge of these songs or no knowledge of them whatsoever, I would greatly appreciate it.
I didn’t hear back right away. Ten days later I sent the email out again. He replied within an hour. I was blown away with his response. To be continued.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chapter 68 – Aileen - Part II

The animal shelter in Franklin did a thorough check of my history as a pet owner after I have filled in the adoption papers for Aileen. They knew that I had two other dogs and one surviving cat (after my favorite black cat, Mowgli passed away a year earlier). They also knew that they were delinquent in their shots and I would have to have all of their inoculations current in order to proceed with the adoption.
Although Aileen was doing much better and had been de-liced and flea bathed, she still limped badly and they though she might had been hit by a car since her right ear tilted in a funny way and her right eye seemed unresponsive. I knew nobody else was going to adopt her but still, the thought of her being put to sleep after what she had been through seemed senseless and unnecessary. I put a call out to Todd, my cohort in Aileen’s rescue. Todd, a dour man who, to this day, I don’t think I’ve had ever seen smile (if you look up dour in the dictionary I’m sure his picture would be there), and I left a message about my travails with the animal shelter. When he called back we made a deal. He would fill out the paperwork and pay for the adoption fees, but I would keep her at my house in Thompson’s Station. I knew my wife, Donna, would be too happy about it, but what else could I do? I told her I would try and find a home for Aileen but in my heart I knew she would be spending her final days in the Haymer household.

At this time, Jonathan, my oldest son, was preparing to leave for China. He had been granted a full scholarship to study in Hangzhou at the Confucius Institute and was scheduled to leave in September, in two months time. Jonathan was ecstatic about being selected (only four students had that honor at MTSU), and we were all helping him get ready for his trip with passports, shots, luggage, you know, the usual. He was going to be gone for a year and my heart was sinking, but I knew it was going to be a great opportunity for him. In a way it was payback. I had married Donna in 1990 and taken her away from her mum and dad and now it was my turn to fell the sense of estrangement. Thank God for things like FaceTime and WeChat. At least I would be able to see him as well as hearing his voice.
Ashley had agreed to lend me the cage and I placed it in the back of the house behind the mudroom where I could keep an eye on her. It was hot that summer so I kept an electric fan propped up beside her and filled a bucket with plenty of cool water. She wasn’t eating too well, so I would mix in some chicken and turkey breast along with her dog food. It seemed to have done the trick. I then erected a makeshift fence with some old chicken wire I had from before and bought some more metal fence posts so she could have an enclosed area. The first week or so she would goosestep nervously around the small area, but after a while she seemed to settle down. I felt bad about keeping her outside, especially at night, but the cage was left open and had plenty of soft blankets and the fan, which I kept running 24/7.
About a week and a half later, we had given Aileen a cool shampooing outside in her fenced area by the spigot in back and I cut all of the tightly knit clumps of hair matted together with who knows what in the downstairs bathroom. She was more agreeable to it than I had imagined she would be, but I think she trusted me as much as she could trust any human. I could tell she had been abused and after living in the wilds for so long I knew it would take the patience of a saint to bring her around.
The night of June, 26th, Aileen was in bad shape. I thought, if she can make it through until morning it would be a miracle. I stayed up until almost three in the morning with her, playing my acoustic guitar in the adjoining room, and watching Under the Dome, a television adaptation of a book by Stephen King that was featured on demand. When she had settled a bit I finally went to bed and woke up about two hours later to check to see if she was all right. She was in a bad way. I had to wait until seven am to call Dr. Woody at Animal Health Center, and they told me the first available appointment was at three-thirty. I couldn’t wait that long—I had to bring her in. I took her outside and I could see something moving under her thick coat near her right shoulder where there was a growth of some kind. Maggots—tons of them had burrowed their way into her skin and were sucking her dry. No wonder she was so dissipated and struggling to survive. She was at her eleven and a half hour and fading fast. Ashley had come over to help me remove the parasites with a toothbrush and tweezers, and I think we picked out over a hundred of the little beasts. I even tried apple cider vinegar and Cutter bug spray (which worked better than the vinegar and didn’t make here whimper). I swore to myself if she made it through this ordeal she would stay in the mudroom from then on.
Dr. Woody gave her  some Capstar, a medication that kills the fuckers and is taken in pill form. It had done the trick and in two days time she was maggot free. As the summer turned into autumn, Aileen was not really improving. She was totally incontinent and every morning I awoke to the familiar smell of feces and urine. At least that room was closed off from the rest of the house.
By the end of November I knew things were going downhill rapidly for the poor old girl. She would whimper in the night and sometimes I would have to stay up all night by her side trying to comfort her. We took her back to Dr. Woody’s and he prescribed some medication for pain and something the help with her back legs which were practically paralyzed. I knew she wouldn’t last too much longer, but I didn’t want to give up. I figured Aileen was about twelve or thirteen, but it was really hard to determine since she was in such terrible shape. Usually you can judge by the shape their teeth are in, but she had been on survival mode for so long and could have been eating anything to stay alive and some of it would be pretty hard on the teeth.
Was this the day? It is Thursday December 5, 2013 and I was most likely going to have poor Aileen euthanized. She couldn’t walk anymore and cried all night (the nights were always worse). I knew the pain killers and anti-inflammatory meds were not really helping anymore (the night before I had give her three times the normal dose and still she cried out).  It was hard, but I had to admit that it was time. I had grown quite attached to her and I kept trying to stall the inevitable, but I reminded myself that she was not going to get any better.
It was 7:40 am and I was waiting for a call back from Animal Health Center. Maybe I’ll lose my keys like I did when Ginger had to be put to a dreamless sleep. I did that the other day when I thought it was time...but I found them. They were in the pocket of my robe. I still thought it was a sign and decided not to take her in to end her earthly struggles. I wish she could talk and tell me what she wanted me to do. I had to read it in her eyes and her whining groans. Now she was calm, but the mornings are always better for her. She still dragged her flailing back legs along and pulled herself in concentric circles. It was truly pathetic.
I removed one of the back seats from the Toyota Sienna and placed her gently on a blanket and closed the sliding door. She seemed to sense what was going on, but was still in a state of peace or calm. When I arrived at the vet’s they directed me into an examination room and they helped me place her on the metallic table. They gave me a few minutes with her to say my goodbyes. I looked around at the room with the borders with cats and dogs in play and I hoped that Aileen had experienced some joy in her life. At least the last six months, although painful for her, had been in a home with people who loved her and took good care of her. I did all that I could do and now it was in the hands of the big Dog in the sky. Dr. Woody came back with the two injections. The first was a sedative to relax her and the second, the more ominous one, would be the one to send her on her way. He injected the first shot and her breathing became shallow and she seemed to let go of her pain. I stroked her bent little ear and told her I loved her and how much I was going to miss her. Then came the second shot and at ten minutes after ten she slowly closed her eyes and was gone.
Afterwards they wrapped her in a white sheet and helped me load her body back into the can. I stopped a t a Home Depot on the way home and bought some peat moss and sand. Alone in the backyard pet cemetery, I dug a large hole next to Bailey’s grave and placed her there with her nose pointing east and then said a prayer as I shoveled the dirt and then built up a mound of peat moss and sand. It looked like a dome. I surrounded the grave with rocks and put the largest one where her head was. I will never forget her.