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  Industry Profile

Industry Profile: Bruce Burch

— By Larry LeBlanc

This week in the hot seat with Larry LeBlanc: Bruce Burch

A decade ago, Bruce Burch, administrative director of the University of Georgia Music Business Program, was a Music City player.

He was the creative director at EMI Music Publishing Nashville, and was running two publishing companies of his own.

However, when his two kids enrolled at the University of Georgia, Burch would often return to Athens, Georgia to see them. Burch, who had taught at the entertainment and music program at Belmont University in Nashville, discovered that UGA didn't have a music business program.

So he decided to change that.

UGA's Music Business Program, created by Burch and Steve Dancz, launched in Jan. 2006, as a privately funded certificate program in partnership between UGA's Terry College of Business and the Hodgson School.

Housed within the Terry College of Business, the program has been developed to prepare students for careers in the music industry.

For Burch, the program, which features an impressive list of weekly guest lecturers, provides him with an opportunity to teach students lessons he learned during his days working in Nashville.

Students can earn an interdisciplinary certificate studying music and business fundamentals including copyright issues, creative content, artist management, production and technology.

The program offers three tracks. One for business majors; one for music majors; and one for all other majors combining business and music courses as well as electives including new media studies.

For the program's first lecture of Fall, 2009, Widespread Panic’s lead singer John Bell recounted his experiences entering the music business from the perspective of a performer, songwriter, and member of a six-piece band. Bell and the band’s guitarist Michael Houser met while they were both students at the University of Georgia.

Bell told the students that a contract begin as an empty page and they can negotiate anything they want into it. "There will be people who come up with a cheque in one hand and a contract in the other, saying it's ironclad," he said. "You don't have to trust them or be bullied. It's your dream, and don't let someone else push you around."

After he graduated from UGA in 1975, Burch became a songwriter but, moving to Nashville, it took him over 5 years to get his first song recorded. Even after several top 10 records, he was still waiting tables.

Burch came up with the idea of a music business program at UGA in 2000. He met with George Benson, then dean of UGA's Terry College School of Business who encouraged him to try to set up the program but emphasized that funding was an issue.

Then, Texas-based George Fontaine, an UGA alumnus who had made a fortune distributing Red Bull in parts of the United States, donated $1 million to get the program off the ground. Fontaine also owns New West Records.

The result was a joint venture between the business and music schools that launched with 27 students.

Interestingly, several noted music figures have ties to UGA. In 1956, it was here (in the former television studio that’s now home to WUGA) that country music legend Bill Anderson recorded “City Lights” (a #1 hit as recorded by Ray Price in 1958) while attending UGA. It is also where a young Otis Redding recorded “Shout Bamalama” with members of Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers in 1960.

The studio used to be the home of WGTV public television Channel 8 when it was operated by the university for about 22 years or so.

Burch grew up in Gainesville, Georgia with a considerable passion for football. He played a year at East Tennessee State on a partial scholarship. The team, however, finished 0-9-1 in his freshman year. After the year, he moved to Athens to go to UGA.

Hearing the Kris Kristofferson song “For The Good Times” in 1972 led to Burch learning to play guitar and deciding to be a songwriter. "That song hit me like a ton of bricks," he recalls. "It was like this guy was living my life. Three months later, I wrote my first song, about my grandmother. It just spilled out."

Burch moved to Nashville in 1977 but spent five years knocking around Nashville’s Music Row trying to get a break.

His first break came in 1988 when he co-wrote a pair of Top 10 hits: "Out of Sight and On My Mind" recorded by Billy Joe Royal, and "The Last Resort" by T. Graham Brown. Then Reba McEntire recorded "Rumor Has It" which reached #3 on the Billboard’ country chart in 1990. Three years later, McEntire recorded another song he’d co-written titled “It’s Your Call” that reached #5 on Billboard.

Burch has since had songs covered by Barbara Mandrell, John Anderson, George Jones, the Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye & Dan Seals, Aaron Tippin, Faith Hill, and Wayne Newton.

He also briefly co-managed, Cledus T. Judd and authored the 1996 trade paperback “Songs That Changed Our Lives.”

It is a challenging time for anyone entering the music business.

It is and it isn’t. I think it’s a great time for young people to get into (the music business) because there is such a level playing field. It doesn’t matter if you have been doing this for 30 years or 30 minutes, everybody is sort of the same. Nobody knows where (the industry is) going to go. It doesn’t matter if you have a resume a mile long; if you have new ideas, that’s almost more valuable than having old ideas.

Do your students identify what part of the music industry they want to go into?

Some of them have a definite idea. Some have no idea. That is what they learn in the course. We bring in different people from all facets of the industry. We’ve had Bertis Downs, REM’s (attorney) manager to PR people to marketing people to business managers. We even have people on the technical side that are either studio producers or work on lights or whatever. We brought in one of the top video game composer Chris Rickwood -- he did (25 minutes of highly interactive) music for the new “Ghostbusters” videogame.

It must hit home when you have local musicians like John Bell of Widespread Panic as a guest lecturer.

What was cool about that was (John) liked coming back. He went to school here and enjoyed being back on campus.

For your students to meet such a legendary country icon as singer/songwriter Bill Anderson must be incredible.

Well, it is. They get a taste of the real world with people who have (been successful) like Whispering Bill Anderson. Good gracious, he’s done everything. He’s been an artist, a writer, a publisher, and a TV host. It helps them to see that these artists are people. People look at show business and it’s a far off thing and they think, “Well, I could never do that because it’s Nashville or Hollywood.” So when they get to meet people like this, at least in my mind, they become less intimidated. They think, “Well, I can do this.” This is what we try to do when we bring people in.

How did you come to teach at UGA?

I got a call one day from (Professor) Pam Brown, who was then the associate dean at Belmont University. She needed a last minute substitution teacher to teach a publishing class. So I said sure, I’d try to fit it in. I taught a semester, and I enjoyed it. I ended up doing some other things at Belmont and at MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee) which has a music business program. I also started doing (industry) panels and stuff. I got into the educational side of the music business.

[Nashville-based Belmont University and its highly regarded Mike Curb School of Music Business have garnered an international reputation for turning out noted music industry grads including such artists as Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, and Brad Paisley.]

What are your qualifications for teaching music courses?

I had learned the music business by doing a lot of different things in Nashville. I had written songs for a lot of years. I had moved over to the publishing side with EMI Music Publishing. I had even managed an artist or two over the years. Sort of poorly but I did it anyway.

You started thinking about a music program at the University of Georgia Music Business Program as far back as early 2000?

My kids had both come to UGA for school. So I kind of re-connected with down here. This is where I graduated from in 1975. I started coming down here and I saw what was going on. I saw that there was a cool music scene going on down here now. Atlanta had also started blowing up with urban music and with the rock business. It made sense to come down here.

You had the idea for a music business program but it took several years to inaugurate.

My brother David was on the board of Terry College School of Business at UGA. In 2001, he told me he’d set up a meeting with George Benson (then dean of UGA's Terry College School of Business). Right off the bat, he was really excited about the program. But, he said that the bad news was that the school didn’t have the funding for it. That we’d have to raise the money for it. I was still at EMI. I was there until 2003 or so. Then I went independent (as a music publisher) for a few years because I was really trying to make this happen.

So I started talking to a few people about the program. And then I met George Fontaine. He was the key. George was a UGA grad and he has done really well in the Red Bull business. He has always loved music. (In 1977) he converted the Georgia Theatre, an old movie theatre, into a concert hall. It burned out in June (2009). Luckily, the facade is salvageable. So they are going to rebuild within the historic facade.

[The historic Georgia Theatre has hosted concerts by the Police, the B-52s, R.E.M., Widespread Panic, Sugarland, Jupiter Coyote, the Zac Brown Band, and the Derek Trucks Band.]

I met George and he committed some seed money to get (the course) started. He has since committed more money. We are still to this day totally donor funded. We have had some other donors join in but, by far, George is our biggest donor. We hope to get some more funding but we picked a bad time to be (launching a program) with the economy the way it is.

What does the course consist of?

It is a certificate program, which is the equivalent of having a minor. It is 21 hours. Out of those 21 hours, six hours are what we call the capstone courses. Those are the main "music business" related courses. They are the heart of the program, the ones that we teach and we bring in a lot of (guest) speakers.

We also have the students go out into the field and work. Athens has enough of an (entertainment) infrastructure that we can place our students. This semester we have 100 students in the program and we can place all of them with various companies-- with record companies, PR companies, live music venues, studios and so on with what we call externships. In the summer, we try to help them get internships.

It’s helpful that UGA is close to several music centers.

Yep. There’s Atlanta nearby; Athens is a pretty good music centre; and Nashville is right up the road. But we have had a number of (students) go to work in New York and LA.

The students are active in Athens’ club scene?

Oh yeah. With the clubs here, most of the time, the cover charge is inexpensive, $5 or $10, at the most. They support (live) music pretty well. There’s a real creative and supportive vibe here. A lot of (students) are in several bands and some of the students get involved with a band on the ground floor.

There used to be rock coming out of (Athens) but now there’s a lot country artists coming out. Zac Brown kind of got his start here. The Whigs are from here as well as the Drive By Truckers, (the indie pop band) of Montreal and of course, Widespread Panic is from here. Some of the R.E.M. guys still live here. Athens has 113,000 people and 35,000 of them are students.

Atlanta has been hailed as the new Motown. The city’s urban music history includes L.A. Reid and Babyface, P. Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, Outkast and, more recently, T.I., Ludacris, and Lil Jon.

It is bigger than Motown, really. The thing about the urban artists is that those guys are so entrepreneurial. When they have their first hit they are already thinking of a clothing line and other businesses. They are sort of how the hillbillies used to be in country music where most people came from a poor rural background.

In the urban industry, many of those guys come from the inner city. There aren’t that many ways out for a lot them. It’s music, drugs or sports. That’s one reason why I think a scene formed in Atlanta. Those guys really hustle. They are so diligent. Of all the genres out there, hip hop is probably the closest to country because it is such a lyrical music now. I’m not talking about all of the lyrics, or that I like them. But their songs are based around words (as country music is).

A music industry course only 21 hours must be intense.

I call it boot camp. About 25% of what we do is in the classrooms; 75% is outside of the classroom. I tell (students) to treat (the course) like a job because when they walk in the door they are in the music business. I tell them that this isn’t a class; this is a career. I give them all of the reasons not to go into the music business. I tell them if they want a 40 hour week job, this ain’t it. This is a 9 to 5 job -- 9 in the morning to 5 AM the next morning. I try to give them the real world view of the music business. I tell them all of these things to try and run them off. And we run a lot of them off, to be honest.

How do students fit the course into their studies?

It is the juniors and seniors that are in the certificate program. Most of them try to fit (the course) in over two semesters. Most of them get into it as a junior and spread it out over two years or they get into it in their senior year in a kind of a crash course. We have just started an (introductory) Music Business 101 course for freshmen and sophomores.

Students take the certificate course while majoring in other non-music programs?

Most of them major in something else. They can be (in) any major in the school. (The program) started out with business and music majors. But now we draw a lot from the journalism school because we’re talking (about) communications. We’re morphing into an entertainment business program to be honest.

You teach copyright?

Yes, and we also deal with film and TV as well as video game development. Georgia has become a huge film TV, and video game development centre because the state government passed tax incentive programs. We have one of the best tax incentives for these fields in the country. They are likely going to (include the music industry), I think, in the next (state) administration. (Politicians) are really going to work hard to get music (industry) incentives for companies to move here and for the companies here to stay here. We’ve lost a lot of people to New York, L.A. and Nashville.

You think of all of the musicians that have come from Georgia over the years from Johnny Mercer to Ray Charles to James Brown to (country acts like) Alan Jackson, and Trisha Yearwood and, more recently, Sugarland and Jason Aldean. R.E.M. stayed in Athens but the B-52s moved away. Pylon has stayed here.

Bill Anderson started his career while at the University of Georgia.

Last year, we brought him down here and honored him (for 50 years in the recording industry). He recorded his first #1 song “City Lights” on the UGA campus (along with the rockabilly song “I’ve Got No Song To Sing”). He’s hotter today than he’s ever been. He got back into the songwriting game. He’s had Song of the Year a couple years in a row at the CMAs.

[Anderson wrote and recorded “City Lights” when he was just 19 while at UGA. While his version failed to click, the song was recorded by Ray Price. Released in June 1958, Price's version of "City Lights" stalled at #2 on Billboard’s Most Played C&W by Disc Jockeys chart. When Billboard introduced its Hot C&W Sides chart on Oct. 20, 1958, "City Lights" was the new chart's first #1 song. It topped the chart for 13 weeks.

As an artist, Anderson has had 6 #1 hits on Billboard’s country charts, including his signature song, "Still” In 1963. In 2004, he received Song of the Year honors from the Country Music Association for co-writing “Whiskey Lullaby” recorded by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss; and in Sept. (2009) for co-writing "Give It Away” recorded by George Strait.]

Otis Redding also recorded “Shout Bamalama” at UGA.

He recorded it right here on the UGA campus. At the time, WGTV (now WUGA) was one of the only studios in the area.

How did UGA come to honor Bill Anderson and Otis Redding?

When I got down here, I heard about Whispering Bill and Otis Redding recording here. So I talked to the guys over at WUGA and I said we should honor these guys that had recorded here. We started out with Whispering Bill (in 2008). This year we did the Otis Redding tribute. We had John Berry, Randall Bramblett, T. Graham Brown, and Jimmy Hall for a show that night (before an audience of 300). It was a great way to pay tribute to Otis Redding. They were commemorating the 40th anniversary of his death down at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. They had a great exhibit down there. So it all tied in.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do (next) year. I’ve talked recently to Wayne Cochrane. He recorded “Last Kiss” here. We’re trying to get him back up here. He’s a preacher in Miami now.

[Wayne Cochrane recorded "Last Kiss” for King Records at UGA. Later recorded by J. Frank Wilson & the Cavaliers, the song reached #2 on Billboard’s singles chart in 1964. The song was covered by Pearl Jam in 1999 and reached #2 on Billboard. It is the band’s biggest hit to date.]

Where are you originally from?

Gainesville, Georgia, the poultry capital of the world. My daddy was in the poultry industry for awhile. When I graduated from college (the University of Georgia), I thought I would teach school and coach football. I was coaching football for a year or so and I probably would have been a teacher if I had not been a songwriter. So (teaching is) kind of is in my blood. My mama was a teacher, and my daddy taught at various times in his life.

You were in high school during the rise of Southern Rock.

To be in Georgia then was unbelievable. I saw the Allman Brothers in 1969 or 1970 before they hit. I was a junior or sophomore in high school. I sat on the floor of the basement of the Georgian Terrace Hotel (in Atlanta) and watched the Allman Brothers. They had a concert down there and everybody was sitting down on the floor. I’ll never forget it. That was the first time I had ever heard of them or seen them. Someone said, “There’s this new band. We should go and see them.”

(Allman Brothers’ manager) Phil Walden’s son Philip Jr. is on your Music Business Advisory Council.

He donated Phil Walden’s CD and vinyl collection. We have about 20,000 CDs. It’s an amazing collection. We have an Otis Redding (whom Phil Walden also managed) test pressing. We have a Jimmy Carter commemorative album. Phil (who died in 2006) was heavily involved in his (presidential) campaign.

How did you come to get into music?

I played football (defensive back) as a freshman at East Tennessee State University. I quit. We went 0-9-1. We couldn’t win a game. I came from a winning high school (Gainesville High School in Gainesville, Georgia). It was a high school that had a great tradition of winning. Then I went to a college where we lost every game except for one we tied.

So I came back to Georgia for the summer of my freshman year. I was pretty depressed. My girlfriend had broken up with me and I had quit playing football, the only thing I had ever loved other than music.

I walked into a friend sister’s apartment and I heard Kris Kristofferson’s first album (“Kristofferson) playing. It was his first album that had “Me & Bobby McGee.” I walked in and heard “For the Good Times.” I said, “Damn, this guy is singing my life. So I bought that album and wore the needle out on it. The next thing I knew I was playing (music). My brother had an old guitar that he never played and had stuck in a closet. I pulled it out and got the Kris Kristofferson songbook, and learned every song in it. That sort of turned me onto Hank Williams. Within three chords, you can almost play every Hank Williams song, and almost every Kris Kristofferson song.

I wasn’t a singer but Kris wasn’t a singer either. That made me realize that (songwriting) might be something that I could do. I ended up working with Kristofferson when I was at EMI because they owned his catalog plus, I had also worked with his (earlier) publisher Combine Music.

When did you move to Nashville?

I moved there in 1977. I just had to go and try it. I knew that if I didn’t do it I would never know if I could. I didn’t have a lot to lose because I was teaching school in Gainesville and making about $11,000 a year. I was also coaching football. I was the assistant coach. I told the coach, who had coached me in high school that I wanted to quit because I wanted to go to Nashville and be a songwriter. He said, “What are you going to do? Sleep in your car?” I said, “If I have to.”

So did you have to sleep in your car?

I got lucky. I found a $125 a month apartment and got a job at the Hall of Fame Motor Inn. I would eat one meal a day there that was free. That’s where I met a lot of people I ended up working with. It was such a great place because people were in and out of there all of the time. I got to meet a lot of people the first year I was in town.

I remember Harold Shedd, who produced (and discovered) Alabama. His studio was right across the street (from the Hall of Fame Motor Inn). He would come into the lounge which was the hot place back then. A lot of people would gather there. I got to know many of them. I got over the intimidation factor of being around artists and stars because they were always in there. That probably was as good a learning experience as anything. I realized that artists were people like me. That’s such a hard thing to realize. Nashville felt like home. It just wasn’t that intimidating, you know. I met Waylon Jennings down in Printer’s Alley and he actually talked to me.

[In the ‘70s, the Hall of Fame Motor Inn was an infamous hangout for Nashville’s country music stars, including George Jones and Mickey Gilley who would give impromptu shows in the lounge. Vern Gosdin, and Kenny Rogers often stayed there and Loretta Lynn used to book an entire floor during Fan Fair.]

Your buddy John Jarrard followed you to Nashville.

Oh man, he was amazing. You know about the health issues he had. For him to have 11 #1 hits was miraculous for what he had to go through. He is one of the first people I met in Gainesville. We went from second grade on together. I moved to Nashville in ’77 and he moved there nine months later. He told me, “You are the reason I moved to Nashville.” I replied, “Well, you are the reason I stayed.” We supported each other, and fed each others’ fire.

[John Jarrard, who died in 2001 battling diabetes, penned a string of hits for Alabama as well as hits for Don Williams, George Strait, Diamond Rio and Tracy Lawrence. To carry on Jarrard’s memory, Burch and friends organized an annual benefit concert. This year’s 8th annual Bruce Burch and Friends Concert at Brenau University in Gainesville included Burch, John Berry, Steve Cropper, Jimmy Hall, Roger Cook, Buddy Cannon, Gary Nicholson, and Allen Nivens.}

The ‘70s were a great time to be in Nashville. Kris Kristofferson once said, "It was like Paris in the ‘20s.”

The cool thing about Nashville then was that there such a camaraderie. It was so easy to meet people because--within three blocks--you had 75% of the music business. At one point, I moved out to LA for three months. I soon knew I couldn’t stay there because it just felt totally foreign to me. I was from a small town. I went out there on a lark with a friend. He stayed there for several years. I went to Nashville again.

Who signed you as a writer?

The first place I got to hang out was at Combine Music. They didn’t sign me but Johnny MacRae, who worked under (Combine owner) Bob Beckham, let me hang out. I hung out and I wrote with some of the writers there. That was the first place that I really felt that I might be able to do something in Nashville.

[The running gag in Nashville was Bob Beckham had started Combine Music because he had free beer every day at 5 PM. Between 5 PM and 6 PM, songwriters could run over to Combine and there would be a party going on. There’d be 18 people in there, and half of them worked for other publishers.]

Combine didn’t sign you so you didn’t get a weekly draw.

Exactly. They would let me come down and write with the writers there and hang out and meet people. I would come down there at six o’clock after I came off work and just hang out. You never knew who you’d see there. Donnie Fritts might walk in. Mickey Newbury used to hang out there some. Larry Jon Wilson. You just never knew who would roll in. I ran slap into Kristofferson one time coming out of the tape room. There was a really creative vibe there.

Well, Nashville is the rough business town too. Artists aren’t quick to record your songs and publishers won’t give up their good songs easily.

That’s truth. It is tough. It took me five years to get my first song recorded. I did that desk clerk job for a year and then I got married. I ran a hot dog shop for the next 7 years and I waited tables. I had two top 10 records and I was still waiting tables three nights a week because of the lag time in getting your (royalty) money. I had Top 10 hits (in 1988) with Billy Joe Royal (Out Of Sight and On My Mind”) and T. Graham Brown (“The Last Resort”).

By that time, I had two kids and I needed a certain amount of money to survive. We had bought a house and I had a lot of responsibilities that I didn’t have when I first moved there.

What was your first cover?

My first song recorded was “Christmas Carol” by the Oak Ridge Boys (in 1982) published by Combine Music.

Your first cover, however, never got released.

It was a song called “It’s all These Onions (That Are Making Me Cry)” recorded by Slim Pickens, the actor (best remembered for his comic roles, notably in “Dr. Strangelove” and “Blazing Saddles”). I was running the hot dog shop at the time. I got the idea for this comedy song because I had to chop onions every day. So the song got recorded by Slim. One of the other songs he recorded from Combine Music was a Kristofferson song. So I took that as a sign that I was supposed to stay in the business. But my song never got released.

When Johnny MacRae went to the studio, he said “This is this boy’s first song he’s ever had recorded.” Slim said "Well he's dang shore starting at the bottom."

You did get signed eventually by a music publisher?

Paul Craft (who wrote “Drop Kick Me Jesus (Through the Goal Posts of Life” and “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life”) signed me (to his company). I wrote for him for about a year. Then I ended up at Famous Music which was owned by Paramount. It was being run in Nashville by Nelson Larkin. Famous is where I got my first real publishing deal. That’s where I was writing when the Reba McEntire cuts (“Rumor Has It” and “It’s Your Call”) happened. Then, I started my own publishing company.

Why did you decide to open your own company?

By this time, I was networking so much and I was writing with a lot of artists like T. Graham, Aaron Tippin and Faith Hill. A lot of songs that were recorded were because I networked so well. I never could find anyone who believed in my songs as much as I did. My brother had done well in the insurance and financial planning business. So he had a bit of extra money so he said, “Let’s start our own company.” So we did. It did well. I had it from about 1991 to 1996.

You became known almost as much for being a song plugger than being a songwriter.

In fact, I think I was a better song plugger than I was a songwriter. Rejection didn’t bother me at all. I would write 10-2 and I would pitch songs from 2 to 6. I had this system that seemed to work.

How did you pitch songs?

Once I had a couple of songs recorded, I got to know more people. We sort of moved up the ranks together. Maybe they were a receptionist one day, and the next day they might be working as an A&R person. Renee Bell, who is the head of A&R at Sony Music, is one of the most powerful women in Nashville. Hell, she was from my hometown, and then she was a receptionist for Tony Brown at MCA. When I wrote my first song with Faith Hill, she was a receptionist for (singer/songwriter) Gary Morris. Trisha Yearwood was a receptionist at MTM Records.

I tell my students, “I guarantee you that there is someone in this class room that you will be doing business with 40 years from now.”

Then you worked at EMI.

Gary Overton took over (as head of EMI Publishing in Nashville) in 1996 and I was one of the first staff that he hired. He called me, and I thought he was calling about a writing deal. I was trying to sell my publishing company at the time. When we met, he said he that it wasn’t about a writing deal. He wanted me to pitch (EMI’s) old catalogs. He knew I knew about (the catalogs of) Combine, CBS Songs and Screen Gems that EMI had bought. I knew the catalogs and, of course, I knew lot of the writers. Basically, that’s what I did at EMI, pitch songs in the catalog.

Phil Vassar was at EMI Publishing around that time. He moved to Nashville in 1987 and, after bartending, bought a restaurant and a club.

Phil was on a $15,000 draw (at EMI Music Publishing) and he still ran his club on (Interstate) Highway 24 going to Chattanooga. I used to go and see him play out there. He (broke) that first year (in Nashville).

Brad Paisley had just hit Nashville as well

Brad was just starting out. He didn’t even have a record deal. He had a song called “Treading Whiskey” that I loved. I told him he should cut it. He said, “Well, I don’t drink and I don’t want to sing about drinking.” It was a first person song. He has recorded some drinking songs (like [“Whiskey Lullaby,” and “Alcohol”) but, if you notice, his drinking songs are all in third person. He will never do a drinking song if it’s about him drinking.

What do you think of country music today?

I don’t even call it country anymore. I call it suburban music. It’s more ‘80s rock than it is country. I like it but I still wish there was still room for a new Merle Haggard, George Jones or even a new Hank Williams. If Hank Williams came along, I don’t think he could get arrested (in Nashville). There are still some great artists. Keith Urban is one of the most amazing artists to ever come through Nashville but that’s not my cup of tea. I’m into Willie, Waylon, Kristofferson, Cash and Merle Haggard. It is just a different audience that they are aiming at now. It’s a younger audience. It was moving in that direction in the ‘70s.

And Nashville?

It is the new Tin Pan Alley. It is still the last place that a true songwriter can survive.

Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.

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