On the Music Row Cover: Williams Riley

mr-june09-250Label: Golden Music

Current Album: Williams Riley

Current Single & Video: “I’m Still Me”

Current Producers: Noel Golden, Derek George

Hometowns: Larose, LA; Nashville, TN

Interesting Fact: The band is named after the guitar player’s great-grandfather.

Outside Interests: Hunting, fishing, horses, cattle and thumb wrestling

Awards: American Country Countdown Superstars 2009, Voted Best New Country Artist on AOL for 2009

Musical Influences: Restless Heart, Bryan White, Edwin McCain, Hall & Oates

Favorite Records: Hotel California (The Eagles), Don’t Look Back (Boston), Flirtin’ With Disaster (Molly Hatchet), Defying Gravity (Keith Urban)

Band Members: Steve Williams—lead singer, acoustic guitar; Charlie Hutto—background vocals, acoustic and electric guitar; Derek George—background vocals, electric guitar; Travis Thibodaux—background vocals, keyboards; Joe Rogers—pedal steel guitar, fiddle, harmonica; Dave Guidry—bass guitar; and Nick Buda—drums.

Williams Riley lead singer Steve Williams was working in the oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico when he passed along some of his songwriting work to popular singer-songwriter Edwin McCain at McCain’s concert in New Orleans. He won McCain’s support and eventually other top names in the music industry rallied behind Williams to help his music find a larger audience. Among those offering support is rock’s most famous guitarist, Slash, who joins country artist Bryan White and McCain on Williams Riley’s debut album.

That’s only part of the lineup of all-stars on the recording. Co-producer Noel Golden is an award-winning studio veteran who has worked with platinum selling artists Matchbox Twenty, Metallica, Edwin McCain, Sister Hazel, Sammy Hagar, Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack. Derek George, best-known as Bryan White’s primary collaborator, also co-produced. Besides Slash, other acclaimed instrumentalists on the album include A-team players Dan Dugmore, Kenny Greenberg and John Hobbs.

“I can’t believe how passionate everyone has been about what we’re doing,” says Williams. “Not long ago, I was just a guy writing songs in Louisiana. Now a bunch of my heroes are playing with me and my band on my songs because they love what I’m doing, that tells me that we must be doing something right.” Williams realizes that an album featuring McCain, Slash and White might sound diverse—and he says that’s exactly what it is. “I wanted to make a country album, but one that pushed against the boundaries and appealed to fans outside of country music too,” he says. “One reason I asked Derek George to co-produce was that I wanted the album to stay within the parameters of contemporary country music. The reason I insisted that Noel (Golden) co-produce was that I knew he’d push the boundaries and capture the energy that I wanted for this record.”


Halfway To Hazard

“I Know Where Heaven Is”

Stylesonic/Picnic Hill/Bigger Picture

h2h-playlist-71309“I Know Where Heaven Is” is the new single for Kentucky-raised duo Halfway To Hazard (Chad Warrix and David Tolliver), and was penned by top-shelf Nashville writers Dave Berg and Sam and Annie Tate. The duo’s distinctive name refers to Hazard, the county seat of Perry Co., KY, near the tiny towns where Warrix and Tolliver grew up and which served as their adolescent social hub.

In fact, the words “Halfway to Hazard” were the first ever penned by the duo. The phrase not only inspired their name, but also serves as a symbol of the musical journey their lives have taken; the journey from tiny rural towns hidden in the mountains to huge arenas filled with thousands of screaming fans. “That’s what I love about music, it bridges the gaps between people in so many ways and can even make distances seem closer,” says Warrix.

Halfway to Hazard released its self-titled debut album, produced by Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore, in 2007 on Mercury Records. They joined McGraw and Faith Hill’s Soul II Soul Tour as the opening act the same year, which was the year’s highest grossing tour.

2008 was also a success for H2H as they again opened for their self-proclaimed biggest “fan” Tim McGraw along with Jason Aldean. Other highlights of 2008 included: a nomination in the Academy of Country Music’s coveted Best Duo of the Year category, several NFL national anthem pre-game appearances, and the singing the national anthem at Rupp Arena for their beloved UK Wildcats.

The first Annual Halfway to Hazard Charity Trail Ride and Concert in Sept. 2008 was another high point for H2H, allowing them to give back to the region that means so much to them. The event raised over $100,000 for the Buckhorn Children’s Center and Family Services and helped secure the East KY Leadership award for the pair. The duo are gearing up for this year’s event in late summer.


Keni Thomas




“…this seriously rocks.”
—Robert K. Oermann, MusicRow

MySpace Song Plays: 210,000
MySpace Views: 175,000
MySpace Friends: 6500

“Gunslinger,” the infectious title track from Keni Thomas’s new album, is featured on this year’s CMA Music Fest Sampler and available for over 100,000 free downloads through September 2009. The new single, written by Thomas, is the follow up to the hit video and single, “Shreveport 2 LA,” which dominated GAC’s Top 20 Video chart for 16 weeks. The video for “Gunslinger” was filmed in Dallas at the rodeo and will be released in the coming weeks. Thomas continues to tour both nationwide and abroad with his band, Cornbread.

This past winter, Thomas embarked on his fourth USO Hope & Freedom Holiday tour to the Middle East with Craig Morgan and Mark Wills. In early June, Thomas sang the National Anthem at the new Yankee Stadium in New York in connection with Military Appreciation Day.

A portion of the proceeds from “Gunslinger” will benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Hero Fund, established by Keni to provide college education for children of soldiers killed in training or combat. To date, more than 700 children have had their college education paid for as a direct result of funds raised through the Hero Fund.

Whether standing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry or entertaining the troops in Iraq, Thomas is using his gifts to deliver a message through his words and his music. Thomas’s new album, Gunslinger, is a collection of insightful songs that live and breathe the stories of life. Gunslinger is the follow-up to Thomas’s critically acclaimed debut, Flags of Our Fathers.

Impacting July!


Hoyt Hughes

“Ain’t My Day To Save The World”

Whirlwind Records/Lofton Creek

hhuges-playlist-62209“Ain’t My Day To Save The World” is Hoyt Hughes’ debut single for Lofton Creek Records, a song that recasts the working man as a superhero who needs a little time off. The Lakeland, Florida native is currently working on his upcoming album.

Hughes was raised in a musical family with his dad being a singer and his older brother playing drums. “I can remember Dad gathering up the band and performing on the front porch. The whole neighborhood would end up in the yard before the night was over with.” With music abilities that continued to grow, Hoyt spent his childhood dreaming of a life in the country spotlight.

When Hughes met his wife, his passion for music accelerated. She pushed him to get on a stage one evening where his brother was playing. “I realized I had been bitten by the music bug and I haven’t looked away from the industry ever since.” He has taken the stage alongside artists including Charlie Daniels, Jett Williams and the Bellamy Brothers. Grammy winner and “Rose Garden” icon Lynn Anderson even personally invited him to sing at her birthday celebration.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” says Hughes. “To bring a smile to someone’s face or hear stories of how my music has changed a fan’s life is overwhelming. Sometimes, you can just see and feel the crowd and band connect at a live show. It makes me recognize that I am part of something that is much bigger than me and the band members. It’s those experiences that drive me to take the stage.”


Richie Fields

“When You Love Someone That Much”

Joint Journey Records

rfields-playlist-62209“Propulsive and energetic, with a wonderfully upbeat, positive message. His vocal rides above the rocking track with admirable force and emotion. This is Richie’s third straight winner.”
—Robert K. Oermann, Music Row

Richie Fields‘ latest single, “When You Love Someone That Much,” is a bit of a change up for the distinctive baritone singer who naturally gravitates to power ballads. “When folks hear the title,” Richie says, “They automatically think ‘ballad’—and I love it that this song just drives from the very first note.”  The single was written by Chip Martin and Jan Linville, and is Richie’s first collaboration with new producer, J. Gary Smith (Andy Griggs, Lonestar) and associate producer, Clif Doyal.

Since turning to music full-time in 2006, Richie has enjoyed success on the road and at radio. Fields’ accomplishments led to his inclusion on the CMA’s Who New To Watch in 2009 list, and his national television debut on Inside Music Row in February. Richie was Country Weekly’s “Who’s New” in June, and will be featured in the magazine again in July. He was a hit at this year’s CMA Music Fest, finding long lines at the Roughstock, VAULT, Digital Rodeo and Music City Zone booths, as well as filming interviews with the Pentagon Channel, Hit Country TV, Country Home, True Country GoTV Networks and Country Music Tattletale.

In between tour dates, Richie spends his time with his family, working out, writing songs and Twittering.


Darren Kozelsky

“Seven Vern Gosdins Ago”

Major 7th/Nine North

dkozelsky-playlist“Seven Vern Gosdins Ago” is the latest single from Texas-bred singer Darren Kozelsky. The heartfelt ballad is from his album Arrivals & Departures, which was released digitally May 29. Kozelsky was also named Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the 2008 New Music Weekly Awards. His sound has the comfortable familiarity of home, and his audience is rapidly growing.

Kozelsky got his first taste of country music at his father’s shop, where they would hook up speakers in every corner and surround themselves with music while working. After many years singing along to the radio and in church, he was teaching himself on his aunt’s guitar and entering talent shows. Eventually Darren was fronting his own country band and hit the road playing his own music.

His tour schedule keeps him busy out on the road, and includes a recent spate of performances during the CMA Music Festival. He’ll be back in Nashville June 21 for a performance at Tootsie’s.


Charlie Allen


River Run/Big 7

callen-playlist60109“I have made no secret of my respect for this artist. He’s proudly country, and this groove-saturated drinking song is one more feather in his cap.”
—Robert K. Oermann, Music Row.

So far, 2009 has been a banner year for Charlie Allen. Allen has seen his music gain acceptance around the world, and his media visibility has never been higher.

In January, he made a promotional appearance at MIDEM in Cannes, France, and performed an invitation-only showcase event at the Gibson Guitar Studio in London, England. And, he just celebrated his second No. 1 single in Europe. Recently, he was a featured guest on a special Memorial Day edition of Geraldo at Large on FOX News and currently is preparing for his second appearance opening the mega festival, Bonnaroo, in June. Allen’s new single, “Proof” is from his CD, That Was Then, This Is Now.

Allen hails from the east Tennessee town of Bristol, which is credited with being the birthplace of modern country music. (It was there that Ralph Peer first recorded The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and others, creating what is now referred to as “The Big Bang” of country). Allen has been performing since childhood, when at age 7, he was singing onstage at Panther Hall in Ft. Worth, TX., and appearing in concert with iconic artists such as Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others.



Christopher Michael Johnson

“The Day We Changed The Rules”

Lofton Creek/Big Dog Records

cmjohnson-playlist60109“I got the same feeling meeting Christopher Michael Johnson as I did the day I met and signed Tim McGraw.”
—Mike Borchetta [President, Lofton Creek Records (former VP, Curb Records)]

“Wow, what a song… it’s a 3 minute long hook.”
—Keith Hill

“Good lyrics, good delivery, good story, good add.”
—Dan Hollander [WLLX/Lawrenceburg, TN]

“Lofton Creek could be in line for another ‘I Loved Her First’ this could be it…Should rattle the cash register.”

—Dr. Bruce [KFTX/Corpus Christi, TX]

Christopher Michael Johnson’s father once wrote a short story predicting that his young son would one day grow up to be a rock star, an item that was discovered years later by Johnson’s mother after his father’s untimely passing.

Amazingly, Johnson had already spent four years in Nashville working to build a career as a country singer without any prior knowledge of his father’s prophecy. The singer eventually returned to his Missouri roots, started a business and a family, but continued to pursue his dream of playing country music.

He was led back to Nashville, where producer Brien Fisher introduced him to Lofton Creek President Mike Borchetta, who signed him to the label. Johnson began working with Fisher on his upcoming full length album Gettin’ Ready To Fly, which is due out late summer 2009. The latest single from the project is “The Day We Changed The Rules.”

Johnson has also started a non-profit organization for children with cancer, in honor of his father, and is a supporter of the American Cancer Society.



Gretchen Wilson

“If I Could Do It All Again”

Columbia Nashville

gw-playlist60109Gretchen Wilson exploded onto the country music scene in 2004 with her smash hit “Redneck Woman” and has since scored three No. 1 albums with Here For The Party, All Jacked Up, and One Of The Boys. The critically-acclaimed multi-platinum artist has won virtually every award for which she’s been nominated, including Female Vocalist of the Year from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music and a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.  Her first book, the autobiographical Redneck Woman: Stories from My Life, landed her on the prestigious New York Times Best Seller List.

But until last year, Gretchen Wilson was one of the millions of Americans who hadn’t finished their high school education. A tumultuous home life caused Gretchen to drop out of high school. But even with her huge success, she still wanted to fulfill the void that had been missing since she was 15 years old. At the age of 34, Gretchen received her G.E.D. on May 15, 2008.

With “If I Could Do It All Again,” the new single from her forthcoming album, Gretchen takes a cue from her own life by taking a deeper look in the mirror and invites us all to spend more time embracing the often overlooked pleasures of life. Written by songwriting vets Rivers Rutherford and George Teren, “If I Could Do It All Again,” tugs at the heartstrings of any person who has wished they could change their past. The digital track will be available for purchase on all major services on June 9.

What would you do if you could do it all again?



Sean Hogan

“Catalina Sunrise”

Lakeland Heart Records

shogan-catalinaWhen Sean Hogan debuted in 1996, his first album release immediately caught the attention of country radio programmers and listeners across Canada. Their reaction earned him the first-ever CCMA Independent Male Artist of The Year Award in 1997. Since then, Hogan has become one of the highest-profiled Canadian singer-songwriters performing his own brand of country and roots music in Canada, as well as in parts of the U.S. and Australia in recent years.

And the accolades haven’t stopped there. Hijacked, Hogan’s second album, as well as his third, Late Last Night, won two consecutive West Coast Music Awards in 2001 and 2002 for Best Country Album. In 2003, Hogan won CCMA Roots Artist of The Year, the first independent artist to win this prestigious award. Hogan’s self-released U.S. Americana debut, Ruled by Mercury, went Top 30, making it to No. 24 on the AMA Americana Chart during Hogan’s self-organized tour in Australia.

Hogan was nominated again in 2008 for the CCMA Roots Artist Of The Year Award and set his sights on making the full time career move to Nashville. He began working tirelessly on his U.S. debut album, The Southern Sessions, and is ready to bring his no holds barred brand of country music to American audiences.

His debut single, “Catalina Sunrise,” released in May 2009, is currently on the rise at country radio and can be found on CDX 474. The Southern Sessions will be available fall 2009 in stores and all digital music outlets.