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 Bublé 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.

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