This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: Tamara Saviano, author, journalist, and producer.
The only way that Tamara Saviano could be any busier would be if she was running for the American presidency.
Don’t rule that out, just yet!
A vigorous cheerleader of Americana music, especially its songwriters, this Nashville-based dynamo wears a handful of occupational hats: producer, live concert producer, talent booker, publicist, manager, and others.
As Saviano continues to currently work on a Sun Records recording tribute as well as film documentary exploring the life and times of revered Texas-born songwriter Guy Clark who passed away May 17th at the age of 74, this week she was on hand for a celebration of Clark at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (Aug. 16th).
The evening featured Rodney Crowell as musical director; Vince Gill as emcee; and with performances by Jerry Jeff Walker, Jack Ingram, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, Verlon Thompson, David Rawlings, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Shawn Camp, Bobby Bare, Sam Bush, Terry Allen, Angaleena Presley, Robert Earl Keen, Chris and Morgane Stapleton, and others.
Saviano’s 406-page book “Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark,” completed just before the songwriter passed away, will be issued by Texas A&M University Press on Oct. 18th, 2016.
It is flat-out a monumental tome, and fully worthy of its subject who wrote such diamond-clear musical gems as “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” “L.A. Freeway,” “Dublin Blues,” “The Randall Knife,” and “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,”
In his lifetime, Clark released 13 studio albums, and his list of admirers is lengthy. The list includes Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Joe Ely, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Jerry Jeff Walker, Emmylou Harris, and so many others.
Don’t expect this to be a standardized biography because Saviano herself is a big part of the Clark narrative.
As a writer for Country Weekly and managing editor of Country Music magazine, Saviano interviewed Clark numerous times in the ‘90s. Sugar Hill Records hired her to interview Clark and to write the media materials for his 2002 album “The Dark.” She was his publicist for his albums, “Workbench Songs” (2006), and “Someday the Song Writes You” (2009). In 2011, she produced the tribute recording, “This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark,” named the 2012 Americana Album of the Year by the Americana Music Association.
Saviano's entry into the entertainment world came in her ‘20s when she was hired by Sundance Broadcasting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.. She soon moved to Nashville to work in the management office of Canadian singer Terri Clark. That was followed by a stint in the promotion department at Capitol Records Nashville that led to her working at Country Music magazine. This was followed by a position at the Great American Country cable network where she was operations manager and a producer.
Launching her own PR and marketing company, Saviano then worked with Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Radney Foster, Marty Stuart, Gretchen Peters, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Todd Snider, Janis Ian and others.
In 2002, Saviano formed the non-profit American Roots Publishing and piloted the New American Songbook Series that debuted with the release of “Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster” which was honored with a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2005.
Next in New American Songbook Series was “The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson” (2006); “The Bluegrass Elvises, Volume 1: Shawn Camp & Billy Burnette” (2007) marking the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley; and “This One’s For Him: A Tribute To Guy Clark (2011).
Saviano also contributed to “Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne” (2014) through Music Road Records.
She is a former president and a former board member of the Americana Music Association.
How was “Guy Clark: A Celebration,” the 20-artist tribute for the person many regard as America’s classic Texas-born songwriter?
It was magical. Rodney Crowell was the musical director, and it was his vision that brought it all together. He handled the job with grace. Vince Gill was the ideal emcee: charming, funny, and smart. Of course, everyone wanted to be part of the show. Many artists joined on the last two songs, “Texas Cookin'” and “Old Friends.”
[An all-star cast emerged for “Texas Cookin’,” led by Gary Nicholson, son Travis Clark, Steve Earle, Radney Foster and Bill Lloyd along with Kimmie Rhodes, Kevin Welch, Delbert McClinton, and Beth Neilson Chapman. Then the entire room joined in to sing the final song's chorus: "Old friends, they shine like diamonds / Old friends, you can always call / Old friends, Lord, you can't buy 'em / You know it's old friends after all."]
There was a notice posted backstage that read, “Guy’s songs are more interesting than your stories.” Were you concerned about the show running overtime for that reason?
That was Rodney's idea and, for the most part, it worked. We'd still be there if everyone started telling their Guy stories.
Did the show run overtime?
I know it's hard to pinpoint all the highlights, but which performance hit home personally for you?
Verlon (Thompson) singing "The Cape" made me burst into tears. All of it hit home. As Vince Gill said, "Three hours of music, and not one song sucked." These were his nearest and dearest paying tribute. The love in the room from both the performers and the audience was palpable.
Was the show recorded for a DVD, CD or streaming?
I thought I knew quite a bit about Guy Clark until I started reading your book. Then I quickly realized I knew little about him.
I found that out too. I thought I knew him until we started working on the book.
You approached over 200 family and friends in his hometowns of Monahans and Rockport, as well as in Nashville, and every single one of them checked first with Guy before talking to you?
I think Guy is to American music what Southern writers like William Faulkner, Robert Penn, and Flannery O’Connor are to American literature. His death this year is unfathomable. I can hardly believe it.
I can’t either.
He hated the term craftsman, but that’s what he was.
Yes, he hated it. I asked him when I started working on the book, “What do you want to get across in this book?” He said, “Tamara, I want people to stop calling me a fucking craftsman. I’m not a craftsman. I’m a poet.”
To me, he was a storyteller.
Well, he would disagree with you. He would argue vehemently that he was a poet. That’s how he saw himself.
What drew so many people around him? He was a magnet that attracted such talents as Rodney Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, and Steve Earle. There was his physicality. And he didn’t suffer fools...
That’s for sure.
And his music was honest.
I think what drew people to Guy, and what drew him to some of the people that you mentioned, is that Guy, as I said, thought of himself as a poet, and as an artist. He surrounded himself with people that took songwriting very seriously and thought of it as a serious art form. Not writing hit songs, but writing great songs. Rodney (Crowell), of course. I think Rodney is an iconic songwriter, but Guy said to Rodney, “Do you want to be a star or do you want to be a writer?” That’s what he brought. He was relentless. Relentless with his fellow songwriters about the writing of a song. If a line doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit the song, it doesn’t matter, it’s gone. Rodney will tell you, and he says in the book, that Guy is the best self-editor he ever knew.
Guy released 13 studio albums in his lifetime, yet never achieved mainstream stardom.
Guy never cared what was going on around him in the business. With his labels and stuff. (Sugar Hill Records founder) Barry Poss told me, and this is in the book, that when it came to the presentation of the music, and the art, Guy was all in, and wanted to be part of it. Once it came to the marketing and the selling of the records he didn’t care. He was done. “You go, and do that.” He never cared about the business part. Ever. He and I had many discussions about this as friends. I think especially now that it is important for artists to have a hand in the business part, but Guy never wanted any part of that.
What did Nashville’s mainstream music industry think of him?
Joe (Galante) told me...I interviewed (former Sony Music Nashville chairman) Joe Galante extensively for the book. Joe loved Guy as an artist. Had no idea what to do with him. No idea of how to market him. Writing about Guy, and the business, that was the most fun that I had with the book because I was trying to figure out how he fit in the business. That was really fun for me. I enjoyed talking to Joe Galante, who I admire. Here comes Guy in Nashville in the early ‘70s, and Nashville, especially then, was known for country music. It’s country music. They know how to sell country music. Well, Guy was never a country artist.
Neither was Mickey Newbury who pre-dated him.
No. No, Mickey wasn’t either. But, at the time, they didn’t know what to do with Mickey either. They didn’t know what to do with these artists.
In truth, Nashville didn’t know what to do with Kris Kristofferson as an artist either in the 1970s. He was fortunate to be signed by Monument Records’ Fred Foster who also ran the publishing house, Combine Music.
All Nashville wanted was, “We need a hit. We need a hit.” They did not know how to do that with Guy. They still don’t know how to do it, quite frankly. But Guy was willing to do whatever the labels wanted to do because, again, he was not a businessman. He was like, “I want the music to live.” Like with “Old No. 1” (RCA, 1975), which wasn’t even Guy’s first album when it came out. It was cobbled together by demoes. It made such an impact in the press and with people. RCA was scratching their heads, Like, “Now what?” Then they did “Texas Cookin’” (RCA, 1976), which was a way different album, and they tried to sell it to country radio which wasn’t going to play it.
Country radio wasn’t playing any singer/songwriters back then, and it was two decades before the birth of the Americana radio format.
Exactly. There was nothing like that until much later in Guy’s career. And when that happened it changed Guy’s career. Even in the early days of Americana, it changed things.
Still, artists like Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, the Highwaymen, Steve Wariner and others had country hits with Guy’s songs.
Yeah. Guy had been revered in Nashville. They revere Guy as a songwriter. Mainstream songwriters too. They revere him too, but not everybody is that brave. If you are working full-time as a songwriter out of a publishing company, and you are getting a (weekly) draw, you are expected to write hits. So I think that the songwriters here admire that Guy was always able to have a publishing deal, and he really wasn’t expected to write hits. They (his music publishers) were like, “Well, he’s Guy Clark, this is what he does.” I don’t think that someone like Guy would be signed to a major publishing house anymore.
Other than his search for perfection, another aspect of his distinctive personality was addictive. He and his wife Susanna, herself a gifted songwriter and painter, were alcoholics.
Alcoholics. Guy was a cocaine freak. Smoked lots of pot to the day that he died. Yep.
Guy practically lived the jazz cliché of Charlie Parker and others dealing with their muse with drugs.
And Guy believed that (ethos). He believed that being messed up fed into his creativity. He and I argued about that. I would say that was bullshit. That, “You could write these great songs without being fucked up. I know that you can.” But he was like, “Well, it’s not as much fun.” That was his answer. “It’s not as much fun.”
Despite them having a turbulent marriage at times, Guy took Susanna’s death in her sleep in 2012 hard. He found happiness in his private life following her death with his girlfriend Joy.
Susanna was the love of Guy’s life. Yes, he had companionship with Joy at the end, but even Joy knows that it wasn’t a love affair. It was nice companionship, but Susanna was the love of Guy’s life. No matter how the end was. No matter that she was in love with Townes (Van Zandt). Guy told me shortly before he died—actually, it was 10 days before he died. I was with him for four hours one afternoon, and we talked about Susanna. He knew that he was dying. He didn’t believe in the afterlife. I kept saying that, “Maybe, you will end up with Townes and Susanna.” He was like, “I don’t believe in that. Of course, I think I am already with Susanna for life.”
Was Guy able to read the manuscript of your book before his death?
No. At that point, I had my page proofs. I brought them with me, and I asked him if he wanted to see them or if he wanted me to read anything to him. He said something like, “I’m sure that you wrote the book that you were supposed to write, and I’m sure that’s it’s perfect.”
He wasn’t curious?
No. Right from the beginning, I didn’t believe that he was going to go down this (in-depth) path with me. I really didn’t. I thought that he wouldn’t go deep. From the very beginning, he did. He just dove right in. I kept reminding him that this was all on the record and he said, “I’m not out to rewrite the truth, Tamara.”
You have had the most expansive career. I saw your recent Facebook posting with your business cards. That was an eye-opener.
I am cleaning out my office, getting rid of stuff, and it’s just amazing what I’ve stumbled upon. “Oh gawd.”
With your books, with being a publicist, and with your production work, you have somewhat crossed a line as a journalist. It’s like you are embedded in the Americana music world.
Well, it’s a great community to be embedded in. I can understand what you are saying, but I think that the bottom line is that I’m a storyteller. A journalistic storyteller. Even when I am making a tribute album. It’s about telling the story of the artist. So everything that I do I approach as a journalist. I think that a lot of people that end up producing records, they are musicians or engineers or whatever. My goal, when I am producing a record, is to get all the right people in the room that are going to tell the story, and then I get out of the way, and let them do their thing. I’m not a musician. I’m not an engineer. I just want to get the story.
Is that why with productions you tend to work alongside collaborators who are musicians?
Yes. I just produced this Sun Records tribute with Luther Dickinson, and to tell the story of Memphis, a guy like that...
Working with all Memphis musicians too, like Bobby Rush and Alvin Youngblood Hart.
I said to the people that hired me, “Well, this needs to be Memphis-centric. To tell the story of Memphis within this record, Luther Dickson needs to be the dude.” I didn’t know Luther, but I knew I had to have him.
[Helmed by Saviano, the Sun Records’ tribute album features an in-house band headed by North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson. Engineered by Matt Ross-Spang, the recording features such notable local and regional artists as Shawn Camp, Bobby Rush, Jimbo Mathus, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Valerie June, and former BR5-49 singer and guitarist, Chuck Mead. The album is slated for an early 2017 release via a label arm of the Americana Music Society of Memphis. Proceeds from the recording will benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.]
You recorded at the Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis?
Yes, we did. We worked in the historic Sun Studio which is now a museum. We worked there at night, and we worked at the Sam Phillips’ Recording Studio.
The Sun Studio operates today as a tourist attraction, but you really do feel that vibe when it was called Memphis Recording Service in the ‘50s don’t you?
You do. It’s a magical place. It was so wonderful to work there. The moment that I remember is that one night we were there with Valerie June. I was standing in the control room, Sam Phillips’ old control room —the band was out in the studio--and I was standing there in the control room with the engineer and myself all cramped in there with Valerie. We had her miked in the control room. I was standing a foot from her as she was singing, and it was the most powerful feeling. It just gave me goosebumps. I just could not believe that we were standing in the control room and Valerie June, who I just think is bad-ass, was singing this Carl Perkins’ song.
Part of the vibe of the room is its physical dimensions. I don’t know if that makes sense to you.
It makes perfect sense, yeah. The spirits are there.
The first recording project you were involved with as a producer was “Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster,” featuring 18 songs penned by Foster, that won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2005. A nice start to your production career.
Thank you. The Stephen Foster project was my first tribute album. It came about because of David Macias who owns the (Nashville-based) entertainment) company Thirty Tigers. It was his idea. When he and I were talking about it, I said, “Certainly somebody has done this already.” We looked back, and there was nothing, really. There was a lot of orchestral-type Stephen Foster things, but there were no songwriter things. We were blown away.
Most of our generation grew up with the music of Stephen Foster--“The father of American music.” With songs like “Oh, Susannah,” “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Where I grew up I was very fortunate. I had great grandparents until I was 30-years-old. They lived in the neighborhood, and I knew them well. My great grandfather, when he graduated from high school, his parents gave him this music box called a Regina. This old music box that plays these huge punched-metal discs. I first heard Stephen Foster songs on that. My great grandparents were musicians, and they had this Regina, and they would play. My great grandfather played xylophone and piano, and my great grandmother would play the accordion. And they would put on these concerts for all of us great-grandchildren. We would sit there on the floor and they would put on these little concerts for us. So Stephen Foster was just embedded in my childhood. I adore him. I feel this connection to him that I can’t explain, and I loved doing that record.
What I love about that record, featuring performances by Alison Kraus, John Prine, Michelle Shocked, Mavis Staples, Ron Sexsmith and others, is that the arrangements largely adhere to the traditional style of Stephen Foster. It wasn’t camped up.
Well, I think most of it is that way. There are some exceptions. But, yeah. Being that was our first one and it was me and (co-producers) David Macias and Steve Fishell we would have these meetings, “Oh wouldn’t this be cool? Oh, wouldn’t this be cool?” Larry, when we were doing that record, we thought that nobody would ever hear it, except our families. It was, “Let’s just do this for us.” It was so rewarding to have so many people love that album.
The album was released via American Roots Publishing?
Yeah. I started this non-profit organization. I started it because I wanted to push Joe Ely’s novel. I was having breakfast with him, and he told me that he’d written a novel. I talked him into letting read his book draft. I just loved it. He had a New York agent who told him that he loved it, but he didn’t know what to do with it. I was thinking, “Well, I know what to do with it. I know exactly what to do with Joe Ely.” That never came to fruition. The book came out a couple of years later (in 2014). “It’s Joe Ely’s “Reverb: An Odyssey.” It’s a great book. Joe is just a spectacular storyteller. Oh my gawd, I just love him.
[In 2002, Saviano formed the non-profit company, American Roots Publishing. As the founder and executive director, she created and implemented its business model. As well, she recruited a notable board of directors, including Apple Computers co-founder Steve Wozniak; singer Emmylou Harris; music journalist Dave Marsh; music industry executives Cameron Strang, Tom Frouge, Kathi Whitley and Steve Fishell; music publishing executive Steve Garvan; and actress/singer Bobbie Eakes.]
Did you know what you were doing in the studio with the Stephen Foster recording?
Oh gawd no, we had no idea. Well, Steve Fishell knew what he was doing. He’d done this before. But David and I were just like, “We have no idea what we are doing.” We just knew instinctively what we wanted, and we figured it out. I always tell young women this: I think the thing about the title “producer” is that it might be intimidating to people because they might think that you need to know how to use the (recording sound) board. That you need to be a very seasoned musician. There can be a thousand definitions of what a producer does.
Producers have different approaches. Some let the musicians do their thing while others work alongside the players. As recordings moved from two-track, and beyond to 72-tracks and to digital home studios, the recording forest became increasingly complex.
The way that I like to record is that we do everything live in the studio so nobody is coming into to track separately. We get an engineer that fits the project. So get a good engineer, but get one that understands the project. And you get the right musicians, and the right people in the room, and then, like I said earlier, you let them do their work. Like with the Guy tribute (“This One’s For Him”), that was really my baby. That was my creation. I knew exactly what I wanted to do because I wanted to record the way that Guy records. So I was probably a little bit more of a stickler on that record than any other one. Like I didn’t want to have a drummer at all on the record. We had somebody play the cajón, and we had a little bit of percussion, drums; but that was more me compromising with what the artist wanted. But I was like, “No. I want it to be this certain way.” So I’m very proud of that album because it was really my baby.
With recording newbies, everything sounds good in the studio. With experience, your ears get more attuned to subtleties. At some point, you are able as a producer to zero in, and pick out imperfections. Did you go through something like that?
Yes, I did. “With ”Beautiful Dreamer,” I had no idea. There were a couple of tracks I can tell you that I wasn’t really thrilled about, but I couldn’t really tell you why. But when we did “The Pilgrim” which was the Kristofferson tribute, I had been working with Kris for a long time and that’s when I really started going, “No. It has to be more this than that.” I think that when my ears started...I started trusting my instincts more. With “Beautiful Dreamer,” it was like, “I have no business doing this. Why am I here?”
And you win a Grammy in 2005.
Yeah. That was beginner’s luck for sure. By the time we did the Kristofferson record I was starting to feel more confident about how I wanted to tell the story. Of course, I knew Kris very well. Stephen Foster is dead. With Kris, it was like, “Here’s somebody that I know and love him, and I am close to.” And I wanted to make him proud. So that was my driving force with that one.
For ‘Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne,” the first artist that signed on Don Henley came up with three arrangements for “These Days.” That’s an interesting story.
It’s a great story. I had never worked with Don Henley. When we started working on this album, he was the first artist that I got in touch with because it was a no brainer. Don Henley needs to be on this because he’s close to Jackson. His management got back to me, and said, “Yes. He wants to do this.” So I started plotting with this management rep what we were going to do. We were going to go to the studio in Austin where we were recording a lot of the tracks and we were going to have Bruce Hornsby play piano and Steuart Smith was going to play guitar with whatever the band was going to be.
That didn’t happen.
Not even a week before we were going to go into the studio, I get a call from Don directly. He was like, “I’ve been thinking about this. ‘These Days’ deserves more of a subtle treatment than the rock band thing. What about a cello and a violin?” I was like, “Okay, yeah, I can hear that. Okay.” So I scrapped the other plan, and I spent the weekend looking for a cello player and a violin player that would work. Then I got an email from Don with a link to a YouTube video of Blind Pilot whom I had never heard of. When I watched the link I immediately got it. I knew. I was like, “Oh yeah, I hear where you are going. I think that is great.” So then it was “I have to track down this band. Who manages them?” So I did, and we made that work. Don went to Portland (Oregon) and recorded in the studio with the band in the studio they record in, and with their engineer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go because I had another commitment. So I missed that session.
[“Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne” features Don Henley, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt & David Lindley, Lyle Lovett, Venice, Keb’ Mo’, Griffin House, Sara and Sean Watkins, Bob Schneider and others. “These Days” with Don Henley and Blind Pilot can be heard at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TFOvsNAnIE
Another great track from the album is “Linda Paloma” with Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa. That’s done in a Mexicali-inspired style I haven’t heard from Bruce previously. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_AOOTMlL1k
Your husband, video engineer/producer Paul Whitfield, has worked with Bruce since 2002. So you had access to him.
Yeah. We wanted Bruce on the album. Bruce, as an artist, obviously has the best instincts, of course, and he knows exactly who he is, and what he wants. So that was one of those, “Bruce, we’d love to have you on this album. What do you want to do?” He said, “I want to do this with Patti and this is how I want to do it.” I’m like, “Okay, go.” The Jackson Browne thing was a very different album for me as a producer because it was more of a compilation producing.
When you did the Guy Clark tribute you had a set band. Here you were working with Kelcy Warren, who owns Music Road Records, and the studio, Cedar Creek Recording in Austin, Texas. You sought out artists and said, “Can you do this?”
Yeah. I like to work with a house band and have more artistic control on my pet projects.
That approach also brings a community of musicians together as well.
Yeah, yeah. This Jackson Browne thing, I loved doing it. I had so much fun doing it. The way that happened is that I was in the studio in Austin producing the Guy Clark tribute, and Kelcy Warren, who owns the studio that I was working in, he happened to be there that day. He’s a Dallas businessman (chairman of the board of directors of Energy Transfer Partners), and he just happened to be in Austin at the studio with a Forbes reporter who was doing a story on him. So they asked if they could sit in on the session. I was like, “Okay sure.” They sat there for a little while and, then when we were on a break, Kelcy pulled me aside. He said, “Hey, I really want to do a Jackson Browne tribute. Would you be interested in helping me with that?” I was like, “Sure.” So that’s how that came about. I loved working with Kelcie. He’s the biggest Jackson Browne fan of anybody I’ve ever met. He knew every nuance of Jackson’s career. It was his vision for this record. I just helped get his vision. He said that he wanted the artists to have all the control, and for them to do whatever they wanted. And that was a great position for me to be in to tell the artists, “Do whatever you want to do. How do you want to do this? How can I help you achieve your vision for your song.”
What has been the response from musicians like Jackson Browne and Guy Clark in hearing their recorded tributes?
It was different with Guy because I had a close relationship with Guy. Every time that we were in the studio I would take tape mixes over to Guy’s, and play them for him. He would say, “Good job Tamara. Good job Tamara.” That would be his thing. I didn’t know Jackson. I met Jackson after the record was done. He was in Nashville for the Americana Awards. We got together then, and he was so kind. He worked through track-by-track, told me what he loved, and what were his favorites. I could tell that he had spent a lot of time with the record, and he seemed to like it. That was nice. But I don’t know Jackson the way that I knew Guy.
With Guy there was one thing that happened. There was an artist that I took into the studio to do a track, and it just wasn’t working out. I knew it wasn’t working out. I could feel it wasn’t working out, but the label had really wanted this artist. When I played that track for Guy, it was the only time that he said, “It’s not the right melody. It’s not right. It’s not right.” I said, “I know.” So I ended up scrapping the track and bringing in someone else. I was very happy that it worked out that way. I was close enough to Guy that he’d be honest with me, and say, “This is not sitting right with me.”
You co-authored the eBook, “From Art To Commerce: A Workshop For Independent Musicians” with Rod Picott. What was the idea behind the eBook?
Well, Rod Picott is a wonderful songwriter, and touring artist. Rod and I ended up on a couple of panels together. I think it was at Folk Alliance that we were talking about independent artist stuff, and we really just clicked. We have the same philosophies. Then we decided to start putting together these workshops. We wrote that eBook to go together with the workshops. I have coached some young artists and I have done speaking at Kerrville, Americana, and Folk Alliance conferences. In this day and age, there are artists that are here (in Nashville) trying to get a record deal. Well, record deals aren’t what they were. I think if you are an artist, you are running your own business. Even if you do have a record deal, you are running your own business and, as if you were a corner bakery, you need to know every aspect of your business.
Very few musicians can successfully do DIY (do it yourself) careers. Most can’t or won’t.
Well, they can do DIY with some support. They have to understand the model. What was frustrating to me is that I was dealing with people who didn’t even know what a PRO (performance rights organization) was. They didn’t understand where the revenue flows were.
Are you still doing seminars?
We haven’t because Rod has just been a road dog. He’s been gone constantly, and I have been busy with Guy, but I do think that we will get back to it at some point.
Did you get into the music business while living in Wisconsin?
At Sundance Broadcasting which operates WMIL-FM and WOKY in Milwaukee.
Yes. I worked in radio at Sundance Broadcasting. I published the magazine for them.
How old were you?
In my late ‘20s.
Had you been involved with the music business previously?
No. I had my daughter when I was very young. I was 20-years old when I had my daughter. When my daughter started school I went back to college for (studying) communications. I went to Alverno College in Milwaukee, but I didn’t graduate. I didn’t finish. So I was going to Alverno on weekends, and working at several office jobs. For part of my school program I had to do an internship. I ended up doing an internship at Sundance Broadcasting. After my semester of interning they offered me a full-time job. So I quit school because I wanted this job. I was a single parent. It was like, “Enough of college. I’m going to go and work now.” I was department head running what they called this database marketing department. Publishing this magazine, and doing other stuff with the P1 (heavy) listeners.
How did you get to Nashville?
WMIL was a country station.So I came to Nashville for a lot for work. For Radio Seminar, and CMA (conferences) and all of that. I fell in love with Nashville. So I decided in 1995 that I wanted to move to Nashville. I started coming down to Nashville more. I would drive down to Nashville. It‘s an eight-hour drive from Milwaukee. I would drive down every eight weeks, and try to meet people. And I knew a lot of people here. Trying to meet with people. Trying to find a job.
I had just come back to Milwaukee from a trip down here, and Terri Clark---she was a new artist---and Terri and her manager were in Milwaukee doing some new artist things, and they came to the radio station. I had met her a few times before. When people are new artists, you see a lot of them when you work in radio. I was driving Terri and her manager somewhere, and I had told them that I had just got back from Nashville. Terri said, “Well, what were you doing in Nashville?” I said, “I was looking for a job. I want to move down there.” Before we got to where we were going, they hired me. So a month later, I was driving to Nashville for a job with Terri Clark’s management company. I didn’t stay there very long. Her manager had a drug problem. I was sitting there going, “Oh my God, I have just moved myself and my 15-year-old daughter to Nashville and I don’t want to work with this guy.” I went to lunch with a friend of mine who worked at Capitol Records and I got a job there almost immediately. So I was only with Terri for a couple of months, and then I got a job at Capitol.
As executive assistant to the head of promotion.
Yes. Bill Catino (executive VP of promotion, Capitol Records Nashville) hired me. So that was sort of the start of my Nashville journey. Working at Capitol I really missed working in media and it just wasn’t a good fit for me working at a major record label. It just wasn’t a good fit. Also, I went back to the media world.
Capitol Records Nashville was going through changes at the time.
They were. They were going through a lot of changes. I was there during the Scott Hendricks (CEO Capitol Records Nashville) era. I love Scott Hendricks. So anyway I went back to the media side of things. I started my own company with Kris (Kristofferson) as my first client in 2002.
What was the PR firm called?
It was Tamara Saviano Media. Then it was called Ellis Creative, and then it was back to Tamara Saviano Media.
First, you stirred up one of biggest controversies to hit Nashville in decades. What was that all about?
What happened was I was managing editor of Country Music Magazine (owned by Sussex Publishers), and they were bought by Country Weekly where I had already worked, and I didn’t want to go back there. I was looking for a job, and I ended up at GAC, Great American Country, which is cable TV. I was the operations manager, talent booker, producing some shows.
GAC was then owned by the Jones Media Network.
Yes. It was Jones Media at the times. I got fired from there after 9/11 when they (the American government) were gearing up to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. That would have been 2002. This publicist for Charlie Daniels sent out some rant that Charlie did about Sean Penn going to Iraq on a humanitarian issue or whatever. The first time I got it I deleted it. The second time I replied to it and said “Take me off your mailing list. I don’t want to see this.” The third time I got it, I went through it point-by-point and refuted Charlie’s rant.
So this publicist sent my email to my boss in Denver. My boss, who was a Boston liberal, called me and said, “You can’t talk about politics in your job.” I said, “Well, I’m not going to talk about politics at work, but you can’t stop me from talking about politics outside of work.” So, in the end, they asked me to resign. I said “I’m not resigning. If you want to fire me over this...” They offered me two weeks severance, and said, “We want you to sign this gag order, and we will give you two weeks severance.” I was like, “You can keep your two weeks severance. I’m not signing anything. You can fire me.” So they fired me.”
[Charlie Daniels’ e-mail press release, "An Open Letter to the Hollywood Bunch." took aim at two of Hollywood's biggest activists. "Sean Penn, you're a traitor to the United States of America," Daniels opined. "Barbara [sic] Streisand's fanatical and hateful rankings [sic] about George Bush makes about as much sense as Michael Jackson hanging a baby over a railing."
Steven Shapiro, a spokesman for GAC’s parent company Jones Media Networks, indicated in the media at the time that Saviano wasn’t fired for expressing her political views, but rather for later suggesting a boycott of Charlie Daniels’ music and concerts while failing to make it sufficiently clear that she wasn’t speaking for GAC.]
Given what happened with the Dixie Chicks around the same time period it was a tense time in America to be expressing anti-war sentiments.
Yeah, the Dixie Chicks thing happened a week after I got fired.
[On March 10, 2003, during a London concert, 9 days before the March 19th, 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks’ lead vocalist Natalie Maines told the audience, "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas.” Her comments led to boycotts of the Dixie Chicks throughout the U.S.].
Today, it’s a badge of honor to say you opposed the Iraq war.
That’s how I got hooked up with (Kris) Kristofferson. I had never met him before. Al Bunetta who owned Oh Boy Records, and who was a friend of mine, called me one day, and he said, “You need to come to my office. I need to talk to you about something.” I got to Al’s office—Al was always talking to people on speaker phone—and he’s yelling into the speakerphone, “Okay, she’s here. She’s here.” Then I heard Kris’ voice. “Tamara, this is Kris Kristofferson. I want you to come and work for me.” And that was that. So I was able to start my company with Oh Boy Records, and Kris as my first clients.
Are you still doing publicity?
No, I’m not other than for Kris. I run Kris’ record label and I do his PR. I was working with Radney Foster, and we amicably parted ways at the end of last year
What was the reasoning behind Kris’ 25-track double album “The Cedar Creek Sessions” in 2014 which offered re-recordings of his repertoire.?
What happened was that we were going to Austin for two different events in June 2014. We had three days off between the events. So (Kris’ wife) Lisa Kristofferson said to me, “Do you want to take Kris into the studio when we have these three days off?” I was like, Yea-ahhh.” So I started quickly making calls to musicians to come into the studio and play with him. My dear friend Shawn Camp just happened to be in Texas writing with Bubba Strait, George Strait’s son. So I said to Shawn, “You have to play on this record. So we three put that session together.
Kris was then having short-term memory problems.
I told the band, “We will pay you through the union. We will overtime everything. You just need to work as long as Kris wants to work. So when Kris starts, we are just going to keep going.”
Sheryl Crowe happened to be in town—one of the events we were there for was “Austin City Limit”’ 40th-anniversary show. Her and Kris are old, old friends. So we asked Sheryl if she wanted to come in and sing “The Loving Gift” with Kris which he had never recorded before. June Carter and Johnny Cash (and Kenny Rogers and Dottie West) had recorded it, but Kris wrote it, but never recorded it. Kris and Sheryl did that, and it was fantastic. I like to say that we midwifed that record. It wasn’t so much produced as just get in there and midwife it. We recorded 25 songs in three days. It was fantastic. Kris just brought it there.
Let’s talk about your 2014 memoir “The Most Beautiful Girl.” It was sparked by letters you found in 1976 between your parents. The book opens with a scene at Johnny Cash’s funeral in 2002 when you thought about your father who had died less than two years earlier. The two of you hadn’t spoken for more than a decade before that.
I found out when I was 15 that the man that I thought was my father wasn’t my biological father.
Growing up in St. Francis, Wisconsin during the 1960s, did you have any inkling previously? After all, you didn’t look like your three brothers who each have brown eyes, and straight blond hair, whereas your eyes are large and crystalline blue. You have dark curly hair. Any inkling?
No. I never thought of it before that. It’s just when I found out that everything started making sense. As a kid, I think that you just accept things the way that they are. This is my mom. This is my dad. These are my brothers. Yeah, I don’t look like them. So what. When I realized it, when I figured it out, then everything started making sense to me. “Oh, no wonder?”
You tracked down your biological father, Mike Saviano?
Well, that came years later because I didn’t know his name.
You mother wouldn’t tell you?
No, she was very upset that I found out. I have had long conversations with my mother since, and they were never going to tell me.
You had a rocky relationship with your stepfather, Robert Ruditys.
I did. He was an alcoholic. He died in 2001 (at the age of 59).
He was the father you knew for much of your life.
Yeah, He was the only father that I knew.
You didn’t talk to him for a decade before his passing. What caused that?
I don’t think it was one thing. It was a lot of things. He was very controlling. He expected me to make decisions on what he thought was best for me. It was a lot of things. I think that the last straw was that I changed my name in 1989 or 1990 to Saviano which was my biological dad’s name
I can understand how that would upset him.
Yeah. If I had to do it all over again, knowing what I know now and being a mature woman, I would have handled things differently. I did not handle things in a very mature way.
You probably had abandonment issues which you couldn’t ignore.
Yeah, when I met my biological dad whom I am very close to, it was outstanding. The first time I laid eyes on him. I just looked just like him. It was astounding to see him walking into that room, and I am looking at him, “Well yeah, you are my dad.” Just astounding that I am also like my dad’s sister whom I didn’t know until I was in my ‘20s. My aunt (Corinne) and I are so much alike. Like wearing our hearts on our sleeves. I’m very close with her too. It’s just funny how I did not grow up with these people, but I’ve such a part of the family. It was just automatic. There was no awkwardness or anything.
Well, it’s a personal background that still defines who you are as a person in many ways.
It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Growing up that way really made me much more resilient. I know who am. Change and decisions don’t scare me like they do other people because I have had to take care of myself my whole life. But yeah, I have abandonment issues, of course. I have all of the typical children of alcoholics stuff. Classic overachiever.
You decided to work in a field that differs from your parents’ experience. You didn’t stay in Wisconsin and become a secretary.
For them, if I had gotten a job at the Harley-Davidson plant (in Milwaukee), that would have been the greatest success, period. Anybody who tries to be an artist, and comes from a family of non-artists, is going to have some of those struggles. Guy Clark did. His parents wanted him to do something else than what he did. His mom thought the music industry was grimy.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he 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, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario, and a consultant to the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta.
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