STORY NUMBER FIVE
November 8, 2010
As you know, I have been in and around the music business in Nashville, all of my life. I have always respected the open door, smile and a handshake way, that most of the people I know, conduct themselves and their business. There are thousands of people that come to Nashville every year with a guitar on their back, a song in their heart and aspirations of singing on the Grand Old Opry and making it big in country music. I compare it to how almost every young boy says at one time that he is going to play football for the NFL. Very few actually get the chance. There is just not enough spots to go around for the people that want them.
There are even a few jokes about it here in Nashville. For example when someone tells you that they are a songwriter and/or singer, a sarcastic person might say, “really, what restaurant?”. That’s because about 80% of them have to get jobs waiting tables until their big break happens. Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of these singers and writers DO have the talent, there is just simply not enough deals to go around.
There are also the folks that bring their lifes savings and sometimes their parents' lifes savings to Nashville after quitting their job, selling everything and moving here to make it or break it. Sometimes these families have mortgaged their homes, sold belongings and invested everything they have into this hope and dream of stardom. They come to Nashville hoping to meet the right producer and the right manager and jump on their star to fame. Unfortunately, as in every business, there are a few shady, polyester Texas suit wearing opportunists, ready to tell them what they want to hear and promise them the moon, spend all their money and then move on to the next victim. If I ever see anyone about to fall for this, I stop them, if I can. With that said, I want to share a story about two such business men and their encounter with ME. I call it:
CAN YOU GET ME ONE OF THEM THERE
RECORD DEAL THINGYS?
If you have read my previous stories then you have heard me make reference to a place called the Third Coast. In it’s heyday it was a melting pot of writers, singers, producers, agents, pickers, some famous and some not. It was in the lobby of what was called the Rock and Roll Hotel. It was always open, so to speak, because after the bar itself closed, if you were part of the “in” crowd, you usually ended up in someone’s room hanging out and picking and partying until the wee hours. It was a great time. A wonderful creative time.
If you were new to Nashville, you might be told that this was such a gathering place and go there hoping to be at the right place at the right time and get “discovered”. These new stardom seeking people were easy to spot because they didn’t look worn out from the town yet and they were usually a little over exaggerated in their dress and mannerisms. This was due in large part from them watching too much Hee Haw and thinking they could learn how we acted from it. They usually talked like cheerleaders, all gung ho about being the next big thing. They weren’t afraid to sing for anybody at anytime about anything. Their enthusiasm was actually kind of cute to me. One thing I have learned is that you absolutely CAN’T judge a book by its cover. Although, in the entertainment field, if you are someone trying to make it, you might think that you are indeed judged by your cover. I digress.
Along about this time there were a couple of guys in Nashville that had come here, opened a big office, bought some big desks and some even bigger cowboy hats and gold Eldorados and billed themselves as Publicity and Management Specialists. If you couldn’t get to the top with them on board, then you couldn’t get to the top. I knew who they were, I had heard tales of their exploits, they did not know who I was, by sight anyway. I am sure they knew who my father was, but we had not met in person.
These two “specialists” had managed to rub elbows with some very influential and honest people, which from the outside gave them a little credibility. Then stories of misused funds and high rolling expense accounts at other’s expense started to surface and their popularity and reputation dwindled. Their office was still open and if you were new to Nashville you COULD be fooled by them, I guess. They knew what to say and how to get certain things done and if you would turn all of your money over to them they could get you the hook-up. And it all seemed to cost about as much as you had. It was priced accordingly.
One day, I saw the specialists at the Third Coast. My friend and I struck up a conversation about how sad it was when that happened to good hard working people. What a shame to see someone come here with all they had and basically get taken for it. So after a little more chatting, a plan was hatched. A mischievous and sarcastic plan. We were going to see how far they would let us go with our lifes savings. Our dreams, our hopes….would they bite or not bite? That was the question.
Before costume adjustment:
I’m wearing jeans, wrangler boots, a blue jean oversized shirt and a leather vest. I promise I looked cool.
I’ve got big curly country hair and sunglasses.
After costume adjustment:
I’m just “barely 18”
I’m wearing jeans rolled up about 6 inches to reveal the bandana I have tied around my boot at the ankle.
I have put my hair in two giant Ellie May Clampett pigtails and taken a flower off the table and put it behind my ear.
I have amped up the makeup from a solid 8 to a 12 and even penciled in a little beauty mark over my lip.
I looked like I thought I should look, if I had no clue how I was really supposed to look.
I borrowed a black notebook that was really a wine list and my friend and I approached the two men.
I will not reveal their real names, I will just call them Rip Yewoff and Will Cheatcha for the purpose of this story. Chewing feverishly on my three sticks of Juicy Fruit, I walked up with my folder and said enthusiastically “are you Rip Yewoff and Will Cheatcha, I have heard so much about you and my friend told me I should meet you and I am a singer and I’m really good, I even won a contest at the Strawberry Festival in Podunk, Oklahoma and my daddy said that I have “star quality” and he has been working as a blacksmith my whole life to save the money to send me here to make a record and be on the Opry, (breath) and I wrote a song about my cat that I have right here in my folder and it is real purty and makes people cry and I sang at my cousin Clara’s wedding and she cried so hard she couldn’t remember to say “I do” (breath) and I would do just about ANYTHING to be like Patsy Cline, I know all of her songs by heart (breath) and if you all can help me, that would be so great. My daddy would be so proud” (smile, chew, wink)
After I finished my plea, Rip Yewoff said, “well, sit down little lady and let’s talk”. So I did. He told me that I would need to get some pictures made. 8 x 10 glossies were the thing back then. Black and white “headshots” with your name printed on the bottom. I already knew that there was a company here in town called Star Photo that would take the picture and print you up a hundred for $25 bucks. With that said, I asked him how would I get that done. He said that his partner just happened to be a photographer and that he would do a “sitting” for $500. I said “just $500, I’ve got that much. Do I need anything else?” “Oh, yeah, you will need a demo, what did you say your daddy did?”, Rip said and asked. “What’s a demo and he was a blacksmith”, I replied. He informed me that “A demo is a recording of your performance and you said your daddy saved his money to send you here, how nice”. He ordered himself a scotch and me and my friend a soda and we continued to be schooled on the ins and outs of the business. I was appropriately captivated. He was appropriately opportunistic. It was fun. For me, anyway. Sitting all naïve there on my barstool acting like I had finally “made it” by meeting my two new Management Specialists. Everyone at that table thought that they had the other one right where they wanted them. Only one of those people really did. This was going GREAT!
Rip’s partner, Will, basically sat and agreed with everything Rip said. It just so happened that they already had a band that they used for demos that I could hire for about 10 times what it really cost and their studio would be just the place to do it. Of course there was a fee for that too. And one for the engineers, tape, cassettes, packaging and other large list of “expenses”. The more stuff that I claimed to have the money to pay for, the more stuff I seemed to need. Not one time did the question of whether I really had any talent come up. It was sad, really, knowing how quickly they were willing to take me for my savings but definitely funnier than it was sad, for me to know that they were making giant, thieving, pompous asses out of themselves. My friend was doing great in her role too. Every so often she would say something like “Isn’t this great, you meeting them and everything, it’s just like a dream come true”. Gush Gush. As I am writing this now, I do wonder how we kept a straight face.
Now, here comes the tricky part. How do we end it? Do we just sneak off to the bathroom and out the door? Do we reveal our true identity and tell them that they just got what they had coming? We hadn’t really talked about THAT.
Life seems to have a way of answering its own questions sometimes. It was starting to be Happy Hour time and folks were beginning to roll in and take their regular everyday spots at the bar. Now, I had a little dilemma. I would surely be recognized by several people and they would wonder what in the world I was doing sitting with these two and dressed like a Hee Haw reject. I attempted to sort of turn to the side and act uninterested in the rest of the bar, which worked for awhile.
It worked just long enough for me and Rip and Will to absorb any of my remaining funds on extras like business cards, business lunches and entertainment and whatever else they could think of. Since I was “18” and could make my own decisions, they were on the fast track to get me to their office and start signing papers. They dropped a few names as people strolled in. Rip said, “there is Mickey Newbury, he’s a famous songwriter, we know him”. And “that man there is Harlan Howard, he wrote some of Patsy Cline’s biggest hits”. All I could do was say “REALLY? Wow” without looking at any of the people. I had known both Mickey Newbury and Harlan Howard since I was a little girl. I did not want them to see me and blow my cover.
As all good things must come to an end, this meeting was about to be over, with a bang. I had to go the restroom. That meant I would have to walk across the bar, unnoticed, head down and then back without being stopped by someone I knew. Fat Chance of that, but, I gave it a shot. Maybe the outfit was so ridiculous that they would think it was me, but not be sure since they couldn’t see my face. So here goes….
No sooner had I stood up and turned around, I caught the eye of my good friend, Johnny Rodriguez. He came running over, threw his arms around my neck, kissed me square on the lips and said “how are you, how’s your dad and what’s with the get-up?”. All I could say was “dammit, Johnny, I was just about to get a deal with Rip Yewoff and Will Cheatcha, thanks a LOT”. The gig was up. Johnny knew I was toying with the specialists. He OF COURSE knew who they were and what their game was and he OF COURSE knew that I knew it too. Johnny was amused. In fact, he belly laughed. Obviously anxious to be part of the joke, Johnny said to Rip and Will, “Oh, I see you have met Alison Clement, the legendary Cowboy Jack Clement’s daughter, (laugh laugh)”.
This is where there are not enough adjectives to describe Rip and Will at this moment. They were mortified, weight shifting nervous, jealous that I knew Johnny Rodriguez, triple dog embarrassed that it turns out that my daddy is NOT a blacksmith, and a little bit afraid that they didn’t have a straight shot for the door. It was also clear to everyone that they had been had.
Rip and Will rose to their feet and said something like “well, this has been nice, we’ve got to go” and off they went. I am not going to take credit for ending the shenanigans of Rip and Will all together, but I will take some of it. They did not come to the Third Coast very much after that. Their office eventually shut down and they rode out of town in their gold Eldorados. As for me and the rest of that night, I hung out with Mickey and Harlan and Johnny and the boys. Most nights would reach a point where someone would break out a guitar and start singing. Singing songs that ripped your heart out. Songs that you would later hear on the radio being sung by one of your heroes. And to think that all of those people made it without the Specialized Management of Rip and Will.