On The Cover-James Otto

Label: Warner Music Nashville
Hometown: Benton City, WA
Birthday: July 29, 1973
Producers: Paul Worley and James Otto
Interesting Fact: I’m 6’5” tall and have a 3 lb Chihuahua…opposites attract.
Outside Interests: Vintage cars and trucks—I’m a major gearhead. I’ve got a 1960 Cadillac and a 1970 K5 Blazer.
Musical Influences: Ronnie Milsap, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Hank Jr., Al Green, Bob Seger. Country soul and rock ‘n’ roll baby!
Favorite Records: Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music by Ray Charles, Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson, Whiskey Bent & Hell Bound by Hank Jr., Al Green’s Greatest Hits, and Trouble by Ray LaMontagne.

Just two years after the release of his debut album, country music sensation James Otto is back with “Groovy Little Summer Song,” the lead single from his forthcoming sophomore album, James Otto. The track was co-written by Otto, Al Anderson and Carson Chamberlain, and co-produced by Otto and Grammy award-winning record producer and session guitarist Paul Worley. “This record is definitely a country soul album,” Otto says, referring to the sound that has come to full fruition on James Otto. “It’s something that’s always been inside me, because those are my two major influences. I’ve always heard that country soul sound when I listened to people like Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap and certain things by Kenny Rogers. But I also loved and grew up listening to a lot of Memphis R&B and soul music.”

Otto’s debut release, Sunset Man, for which he co-wrote nine of the eleven songs, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Its first single, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” was the year’s most played single at country radio and made it to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. It helped earn Otto nominations for Grammy Best Male Country Vocal Performance, ACM Top New Male Vocalist and CMA New Artist of the Year. He also earned Song of the Year awards from the ACM, CMA and MusicRow magazine for co-writing the Jamey Johnson hit “In Color” with Johnson and Lee Thomas Miller. The song also earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song.

More About The Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees

Clockwise: Jimmy Dean, Ferlin Husky, Billy Sherrill, and Don Williams

The categories and voting process were updated in 2009, taking effect with the 2010 ballot. The current categories are:

Modern Era – An artist becomes eligible for induction in this category 20 years after they first achieve national prominence. They will remain eligible for that category for the next 25 years.  [This replaced the former “Career Achieved National Prominence Between 1975 and the Present” category].

Veterans Era – An artist becomes eligible for induction in this category 45 years after they first achieve national prominence.  [This category combined the former “Career Achieved National Prominence between World War II and 1975” category (which was voted on annually) and “Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II” sub-category (which was voted on every third year in rotation) into one group].

Rotating Categories – The third slot is a rotating category, with each group in the spotlight every third year. The three rotating categories are Non-Performer, Songwriter, and Recording and/or Touring Musician. [The Songwriter category was created in the 2009 update, and will induct its first member in 2011. Previously, songwriters were included in the Non-Performer category].

The Veterans Era and Modern Era categories have separate Nominating Committees, each made up of 12 industry leaders who serve three-year terms. The Modern Era Nominating Committee also oversees the Rotating Categories. Final nominations are then submitted to two separate Panels of Electors, made up of historians and industry professionals that have a historical perspective on Country Music. One Panel votes for both the Modern Era and the Rotating Categories, while a second Panel votes for the Veterans Era category. Both Panels are updated annually by the CMA Awards and Recognition Committee. Individuals can serve on both Panels. All panelists remain anonymous.

Non Performer: Billy Sherrill – Born Nov. 5, 1936 in Phil Campbell, Ala., Sherrill was the son of an evangelist preacher. As a child, he learned to play piano and frequently performed at his father’s revival meetings. After learning to play saxophone, he formed a rock’n’roll and R&B band called The Fairlanes with his friend, songwriter/musician Rick Hall.  Although he was briefly signed as a solo artist to a small independent label in the late ’50s, he mainly concentrated on performing and songwriting. Sherrill co-wrote “Sweet and Innocent” (which would later be a hit for Donny Osmond) with his bandmate Rick Hall, with whom he created a publishing partnership called Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME).

Sherrill moved to Nashville in 1962 after receiving a royalty check in the mail and learning that an unknown Country artist had recorded one of his songs. Florence-native Sam Phillips hired Sherrill to manage Sun Records’ Nashville studios. One year later, Sherrill moved on to Epic Records Nashville as an in-house producer and was assigned to record any artist that the label’s other producers had already rejected. He created his own production style based on his gospel music background and the influences of producers such as Owen Bradley and Phil Spector. In doing this, he broadened the Nashville sound of the 1950s by adding a modern, sophisticated sensibility while often using a generous amount of strings and background vocals. He also wrote or co-wrote songs to match the style of the artists he produced. 
In 1965, he achieved his first big success when David Houston hit No. 3 with the Sherrill-produced “Livin’ in a House Full of Love” (co-written by Sherrill and Glenn Sutton).  One year later, Sherrill produced Houston’s hit “Almost Persuaded” (also co-written by Sherrill and Sutton) which spent nine weeks at No. 1 and was recognized with three Grammy Awards in 1966: Best Country & Western Song (for Sherrill and Sutton); Best Country & Western Recording and Best Country & Western Vocal Performance, Male (both for Houston).  The song soon became a standard and was recorded more than 100 times by artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Merle Haggard, and Etta James, among others.

In 1966, Sherrill discovered the woman who would later be known as the First Lady of Country Music when a hairdresser named Wynette Byrd knocked on his door and asked for an audition. Sherrill soon signed the singer and, inspired by the Debbie Reynolds movie “Tammy and the Bachelor,” suggested she change her name to Tammy Wynette. Under Sherrill’s production, Wynette’s first single “Apartment No. 9” was released in December 1966 and peaked at No. 44.  Her second single, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” (a Sherrill/Sutton composition), reached No. 3 and launched a string of Top 10 hits. Wynette’s duet with Houston on “My Elusive Dreams” became her first No. 1 hit in the summer of 1967, and earned Sherrill and co-writer Curly Putman their first CMA Award nomination for Song of the Year. Sherrill and Wynette’s partnership continued as he produced her hit songs including “I Don’t Wanna Play House,”  “Take Me to Your World,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and her signature song “Stand By Your Man,” which Sherrill and Wynette wrote in the studio in 15 minutes. That song earned Sherrill and Wynette a CMA Award nomination for Song of the Year in 1969, and the recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Wynette continued having hits under Sherrill’s production in the ’70s, most notably “Til I Can Make It On My Own,” written by Sherrill, Wynette, and George Richey, which received a nomination for CMA Song of the Year in 1976.

Sherrill brought Wynette’s then-husband George Jones to Epic in 1971, and produced his solo albums for nearly two decades. Sherrill produced such solo Jones hits as “We Can Make It,” “A Picture of Me (Without You),” “The Grand Tour,” “These Days I Barely Get By,” “Memories of Us,” “Same Ol Me,” “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will),” “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes,” and the legendary “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” He also produced the Jones/Wynette duet projects, beginning with their first hit “Take Me.” The couple would record together off and on through 1980, even after their 1975 divorce, delivering such Sherrill-produced classics as “The Ceremony,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “(We’re Not) The Jet Set,” “Golden Ring,” “Two Story House,” and more.

Sherrill signed Charlie Rich to Epic in 1968. Though it took a few years, this pairing resulted in huge success in 1973 with the release of the album Behind Closed Doors. The album propelled Rich to superstardom and contained three hit singles including the title track, “I Take It On Home,” and “The Most Beautiful Girl.” The latter song, written by Sherrill, Norro Wilson, and Rory Bourke, spent three weeks at the top of the Country singles chart, two weeks atop the pop singles chart, and received a nomination for CMA Song of the Year in 1974.  In addition, Sherrill and Wilson received a Grammy Award in 1974 for Best Country Song for “A Very Special Love Song,” also recorded by Rich.

Sherrill signed Barbara Mandrell to Columbia Records in 1968. He produced and wrote many of her early hits, including her first Top 40 single “Playing Around with Love,” before she left the label four years later.

At this point, Sherrill had become one of the most reliable hitmakers in Nashville. Throughout the ’70s, he either produced, wrote songs (or both) for a wide variety of artists including Johnny Cash, David Allan Coe, Janie Fricke, Johnny Paycheck, Marty Robbins, Johnny Rodriguez, Joe Stampley, Tanya Tucker, Bobby Vinton, Andy Williams, and more. In 1980, he was named Vice President/Executive Producer of CBS Records Nashville (the parent company of Epic and Columbia). He produced Elvis Costello’s Country album, Almost Blue, in 1981. Three years later, he produced Ray Charles’ Friendship, which featured Charles performing duets with Chet Atkins, Cash, Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Williams Jr., and others. After leaving CBS, Sherrill continued as an independent producer. He introduced the world to Shelby Lynne by producing both her 1988 duet with Jones on “If I Could Bottle This Up” as well as her first album, Sunrise, in 1989.

Sherrill was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008. He has 84 BMI Awards (66 Country, 17 Pop, and 1 R&B), more than any other Country songwriter. In 1999, Sherrill was named the BMI Country Songwriter of the Century.

Veterans Era Artist: Jimmy Dean – Jimmy Ray Dean was born in Olton, Texas on Aug. 10, 1928, and raised by his mother in Plainview. His mother taught him piano at age 10, which led him to pick up harmonica and accordion in his teen years. Dropping out of high school at age 16, Dean joined the Merchant Marines for two years before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. Stationed at a base in Washington D.C., Dean first performed publicly with a band called the Tennessee Haymakers at clubs around the area. He remained in the area after he left the Air Force in 1948 and created a new band called the Texas Wildcats, which performed both in clubs and on WARL Radio in Arlington, Va.  
In 1952, Dean toured the U.S. military bases in the Carribbean before returning to Washington, D.C. to record his first single for Four Star Records. “Bummin’ Around” was released in 1952 and hit No. 5 on the Country singles chart. Broadcast pioneer Connie B. Gay offered Dean the opportunity to host “Town and Country Time,” a three-hour weekly television show broadcast every Saturday night on the local ABC affiliate, WMAL-TV. Patsy Cline and Roy Clark were among the artists who regularly appeared on the show. The popular Dean was later hired away to Washington D.C.’s CBS affiliate to host a live Country show. In 1957, he moved to New York, signed with Columbia Records, and hosted “The Morning Show,” an early morning television variety show for CBS.

In 1961, Dean wrote and recorded his signature song “Big Bad John” in Nashville. The song, which established his flair for spoken narratives, went to No. 1 on both the Country and pop singles charts. Dean and “Big Bad John” received the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording.  Additional popular singles followed in the next few years. “Dear Ivan,” “Little Black Book,” and ‘P.T. 109″ (about John F. Kennedy’s military adventure) all reached the Top 10 on the Country singles charts while “To a Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Cajun Queen” charted in the Top 20.  All five of these songs also hit the Top 40 on the pop singles charts, with “P.T. 109” making the pop Top 10 as well.

During the early ’60s, Dean became the first guest host of “The Tonight Show” for NBC Television. From 1963-1966, “The Jimmy Dean Show” aired on ABC Television, and its host earned the nickname “The Dean of Country Music.” This variety show regularly featured Country Music artists as guests, introducing the likes of George Jones, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich and many more to a national mainstream audience. The show also featured frequent appearances from puppeteer Jim Henson, which made his piano-playing dog Rowlf the first Muppet to become a household name.

In 1966, Dean signed with RCA Records and placed “Stand Beside Me” in the Country Top 10 that year. Additional hits followed, including “A Thing Called Love,” “Born to Be by Your Side,” and “A Hammer and Nails.” By now a top name in Hollywood, Dean was also a headliner at major venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, and the London Palladium, and became the first Country performer to play the Las Vegas strip. He was a frequent guest on the talk show circuit, appearing often on “Merv Griffin,” “Dinah Shore Show,” “Mike Douglas Show,” and the like. He became a recurring character on the “Daniel Boone” television series in the late 60s, acted in several television movies-of-the-week, and in 1971 appeared as reclusive billionare Willard Whyte in the James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever” with Sean Connery.  That same year he and Dottie West achieved a Top 40 duet on the Country singles charts with “Slowly.” His final hit was in 1976 with “I.O.U.,” a narrative tribute honoring his mother that reached the Top 10 on the Country charts.  
During the late ’60s, Dean broadened his interests after buying a Texas hog farm and transforming it into the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in 1969. While he continued to record and act during the ’70s and ’80s, he spent much of his time on this new business as his sausage recipes, inspired by his grandfather, achieved mass popularity. The company soon became the most successful sausage company in America. Sara Lee Corporation acquired the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in 1984, but Dean continued to be company spokesperson and Chairman of the Board for nearly 20 years.

Dean married former Mercury/Polygram recording artist Donna Meade in 1991 and moved to an area just outside Richmond, Va.  The couple co-wrote his autobiography, 30 Years of Sausage, 50 Years of Ham, which was released in 2004. The Deans recently wrote the song “Virginia,” which is slated to become that state’s next anthem. He was appointed by the Virginia governor to the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries in 1998. Dean was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005, and the Meat Industry Hall of Fame in 2009.

Veterans Era Artist: Ferlin Husky – Born Dec. 3, 1925 in Cantwell, Mo., and raised on a farm, Husky learned to play guitar as a child from his uncle. He later moved to St. Louis and worked odd jobs. From 1943-1948, he served in the Merchant Marines, U.S. Army, and Coast Guard. During this time he fought under more than 48 hours of gunfire during the D-Day invasion of Normandy at Cherbourg in June 1944. During his time in the military, he occasionally entertained the troops on his ship.

After the war ended, Husky returned to St. Louis and worked in radio alongside Gene Autry’s sidekick, Smiley Burnett. He moved to California in 1949 and acted in some bit parts in several western movies before settling in Bakersfield where he worked as a radio disc jockey. He also regularly hosted and performed a family-style show in area clubs such as the Rainbow Garden that featured musical performances, talent shows for kids, and more. Changing his name first to Tex Terry and then to Terry Preston, he signed with Four Star Records in 1950. Although he had little success at Four Star, he did meet Cliffie Stone, a performer who also managed Tennessee Ernie Ford, served as an A&R executive at Capitol Records, and hosted the “Hometown Jamboree” radio and television show each Saturday night on KXLA Radio/Pasadena and KTLA-TV (Los Angeles).

Stone signed Husky to Capitol with Ken Nelson as his producer. Although his first few singles were released under the Preston name, Husky soon reverted back to his birth name under Nelson’s urging. He soon moved to Springfield, Missouri where he performed often on the Ozark Jubilee. In 1952, he moved to Nashville to be closer to the Country Music industry and became a frequent guest performer on the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1953, Husky performed a recitation in the song “A Dear John Letter” sung by Jean Shepard. The song went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country singles chart and No. 4 on Billboard’s pop singles chart, launching both artists’ careers. The two reunited later that year for the follow up answer song, “Forgive Me John,” which went Top 10.  In 1955, Husky returned to the Top 10 with “I Feel Better All Over” and “Little Tom,” and achieved a Top 20 hit with “I’ll Babysit with You.”  He also had a No. 5 hit, “Cuzz Yore So Sweet,” under his comic alter-ego name Simon Crum. 
Husky topped the Billboard Country singles chart for 10 weeks in 1957 with “Gone.” The song also reached No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart. A year later, he had a No. 2 hit as Crum with “Country Music is Here to Stay.”  Back as himself in 1960, Husky released his signature hit, “Wings of a Dove,” which was once again No. 1 on the Billboard Country singles chart for 10 weeks and reached No. 12 on the Billboard pop singles chart. He hit No. 4 on the Country singles chart in 1966 with “Once,” and had his final Top 10 hit in 1967 with “Just for You.”  Husky remained on Capitol Records until 1972, continuing to have success with songs including “Heavenly Sunshine,” “Sweet Misery,”  “White Fences and Evergreen Trees,” “Every Step of the Way,” “I Promised You the World,” and more. He then signed with ABC, remaining with them through 1975. His last Top 20 hit was “Rosie Cries a Lot” in 1973.

Husky made appearances on several of the top television variety shows of the time, including “The Steve Allen Show” and “Toast of the Town,” and also served as a summer replacement host for Arthur Godfrey on his self-titled CBS show in 1957. That same year, Husky branched out into acting, beginning with a role on an episode of “Kraft TV Theater” and an appearance as himself in the film “Mr Rock & Roll.” One year later, he acted in the movie “Country Music Holiday.” After a few years break, Husky returned to the movies in 1965, appearing as himself in “Country Music on Broadway” and acting as Crum in “Forty Acre Feud.” He portrayed the character Woody in “The Las Vegas Hillbillys” (1966) and “Hillbillys in a Haunted House” (1967). His last film role was in “Swamp Girl” (1971).

In 1960, Husky was among the first Country artists inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Throughout his career, he toured in more than 62 countries. In 2005 at the age of 80, he released the album The Way It Was (Is the Way It Is), featuring both old and new material, on the Heart of Texas record label. Leona Williams, who wrote the title cut, performed with him on two tracks.

Modern Era Artist: Don Williams – The man who would later be known as “The Gentle Giant” was born May 27, 1939 in Floydada, Texas. Williams learned guitar from his mother during his childhood and performed in a variety of Country, folk, and rock’n’roll bands during his teen years.

Living in Corpus Christi after high school, he partnered with Lofton Kline to form a musical duo called The Strangers Two. In 1965, they added Susan Taylor to the group and renamed themselves the Pozo-Seco Singers. The folk-pop group signed with Edmark Records, a local record label, and had a regional hit with their single “Time.” With that success, Columbia Records signed the group in 1966 and re-released the song nationally where it charted in the Top 50 on the pop charts. The threesome had two additional Top 40 pop hits with “I Can Make It with You” and “Look What You’ve Done” before disbanding in 1970 after releasing their fourth album.

Williams moved to Nashville and signed as a songwriter with Jack Music, Inc. owned by legendary producer/publisher Jack Clement. In 1972 he signed with JMI as a solo artist. While his first single “Don’t You Believe” did not receive much airplay, the 1973 follow up “The Shelter of Your Eyes” reached No. 14 on the Country singles chart. He released a few more singles to varying degrees of success before hitting No. 5 with “We Should Be Together” in 1974.  This success led to a recording deal with ABC/Dot Records.  His debut single on the new label, “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me,” topped the Country singles chart in the summer of 1974.

During the 1970s, Williams grew into one of the most popular Country artists in the world with No. 1 songs such as “You’re My Best Friend,” “Love Me Tonight,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry” (which he co-wrote with Wayland Holyfield), “Say It Again,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “I’m Just a Country Boy,” “Tulsa Time,” “It Must Be Love” and “Love Me Over Again” (written by Williams). In addition to his American success, he gained a huge following in the United Kingdom and Europe. He was named CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 1978. Williams also appeared in movies such as “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings,” and “Smokey and the Bandit II.”

Williams wrote several of his hits, including “I’ve Got a Winner in You” (with Holyfield), and “Lay Down Beside Me,” both of which hit the Top 10 in 1978. But he also frequently recorded songs written by Bob McDill, Holyfield, Roger Cook, Dave Loggins, John Prine, and Allen Reynolds (who produced several of Williams’ early albums). For more than 17 years beginning in the mid-70s, Williams co-produced his albums with Garth Fundis.

In 1980, Williams released his most successful single “I Believe in You,” which topped the Country singles chart and reached No. 24 on the pop singles chart.  1981 saw two more No. 1 singles (“Lord, I Hope This Day is Good” and “Miracles”); a No. 3 duet with Emmylou Harris on “If I Needed You”; and the CMA Album of the Year Award for I Believe In You. Additional No. 1 singles in the ’80s included “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “Love is On a Roll,” “That’s the Thing About Love,” and “Heartbeat in the Darkness.” He switched labels, moving from MCA (which had acquired ABC/Dot) to Capitol in 1986, and then to RCA in 1989.  His last Top 10 single was in 1992 with “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy.”

Williams announced his “Farewell Tour to the World” in early 2006 and performed around the globe before wrapping up with his sold-out, final concert in Memphis, Tenn. at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts on Nov. 21, 2006.  He then retired from live performing, recording, and public life. Among his many career accomplishments were 17 No. 1 hits and 13 CMA Award nominations. He and his wife Joy will celebrate 50 years of marriage on April 10, 2010.

Jerrod Niemann

“Lover, Lover”

Sea Gayle/Arista

Jerrod Niemann’s new single “Lover, Lover” is impacting country radio, and officially goes for adds March 1. The song appears on Niemann’s upcoming major label debut album, for which his friend Jamey Johnson provided inspiration. Johnson encouraged Niemann to make a record that really meant something to him, and the result earned him a record deal with Sea Gayle/Arista. The album is slated for release later in 2010.

Niemann’s voice may be new to country radio but the Kansas native has already been making a name for himself as a performer and a respected songwriter, best-known for co-writing Garth Brooks’ “Good Ride Cowboy.”

Niemann began writing songs at an early age, and his love for country music found him embracing such classic influences as Keith Whitley, Eddy Arnold, Waylon Jennings, and many others. He is currently out on a radio tour to promote the single, but also has live dates lined up with Johnson in March.


Brady Seals

“Been There, Drunk That”

StarCity/Nine North

Full of laughs and highly entertaining. The lyric is wildly clever, and the track rocks splendidly. “Set ‘em all up—put ‘em on the table I can tell you what it is without looking at the label.” Woo-hoo. Larry Franklin’ fiddle sizzles, and Jeff King’s guitar is frothing.
—Robert K. Oermann, MusicRow

Brady Seals’
“Been There, Drunk That” is currently impacting country radio, and is already earning praise from critics. More than 20 years after he rise to the heights of country music fame as the long-haired Little Texas heartthrob on keys, Seals continues to thrive on the edge of the genre, easing effortlessly into the role of the slightly subversive renegade. His latest solo effort, Play Time, is a no-holds-barred celebration of “long-legged, half-wasted” party girls, dance club debauchery, and illicit smoke breaks. “There’s no question of this being a really adult record,” Seals says. “It gets raunchy and raw. But I’ve always wanted to make music that affects people. Love it, hate it. But you can’t ignore it.”

Seals had planned to independently release Play Time online when StarCity Recording Company entered the picture. An industry friend had passed the album advance to StarCity head Jeff Glixman, best known as producer of 1970’s progressive rock band Kansas, among others. The StarCity team promised Seals a level of creative control that he’d never before experienced with a label. “I was thrilled,” Seals explains, “to hear from this boutique indie label that wanted to release my album exactly as I had hoped to on my own…only with more money to put behind it.”

Seals has successfully managed to reinvent himself throughout his career, while always remaining true to his musical roots in rock-tinged country. At 16, Seals left his home in Ohio as a touring musician, and by 21 had scored three No. 1 hits with Little Texas—all of which he’d co-written, winning him the ASCAP Triple Play award. He went on to release three solo albums in the late ‘90s before forming and fronting the quartet of player’s players known as Hot Apple Pie, with whom he scored a top 20 hit (“Hillbillies”) and opened for such superstars as Keith Urban and Tim McGraw.


Burns & Poe

burnspoe“Don’t Get No Better Than That”

Blue Steel Records

“Big Blue Steel thank yous to the MusicRow Panel. 71 stations strong and growing every day. Top 20 looking good – Don’t Get No Better Than That!”

Blue Steel Records duo Burns & Poe have a new single, “Don’t Get No Better Than That” and it has already climbed to No. 28 on MusicRow’s CountryBreakout Chart.

Keith Burns and Michelle Poe individually are no strangers to country music fans. He was a founder and vocal mainstay of the group Trick Pony, and she has been the accomplished bass player and harmony singer for the likes of Dierks Bentley and Hank Williams Jr. Producer James Stroud brought the two together, and there was an instant connection.

“She’s got these real silky vocals—real smooth and sexy,” Burns observes, “and mine are real raspy and edgy. Together, it just works.” “We realized from the beginning that we had something special to offer,” Poe adds. “We clicked in every way.” Not only did the two singers blend together musically, they also discovered a profound songwriting chemistry. Almost all the songs on their new CD, which is due out in May, were penned together.

As a songwriter Burns has had his work recorded by Joe Diffie, Hootie & The Blowfish, Sammy Kershaw, Anita Cochran and, of course, Trick Pony. Like Burns, Poe has a keen sensibility on what great country music entails. “It’s about real life,” she told one interviewer, “about honest, straight-from-the-heart emotions.”


Jessica Harp

jharp-playlist“A Woman Needs”

Warner Music Nashville

Warner Music Nashville is releasing Jessica Harp’s empowering new single “A Woman Needs” to country radio, and it goes for adds January 19. To coincide with the release, Harp is offering three “making of the video” webisodes and the exclusive premiere of the song’s video on AOL’s The Boot. The webisodes will be part of a contest where fans will obtain a code to enter a page at www.jessicaharp.com/awomanneeds and the winner will win a weekend getaway to Nashville and a meeting with Harp. “A Woman Needs” parts 1 and 2 are posted Theboot.com and Part 3 will be available Friday, Jan. 22. The full video will post on Monday, Jan. 25. A winner for the contest will be announced on Thursday, Feb. 4 at www.jessicaharp.com.

In June 2004, Harp set out for Nashville to finalize a solo recording contract as a country artist. Fate intervened along the way when her best friend (pop star Michelle Branch) called and asked her to form a country/pop duo, which the girls dubbed The Wreckers. A No. 1 country single, a gold album, a Grammy-Award nomination, and high-profile tours with Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban followed, but Harp could never shake the feeling of wanting to show the world what she could do on her own.

Now she has that chance with the upcoming release of her major-label solo debut A Woman Needs — a breezy modern-country collection that finds the honey-voiced Harp telling appealingly relatable stories about her life, loves, and heartbreaks. “Country music is about real people and real things, and that always spoke to me not only as a music fan, but as a singer-songwriter,” Harp says. “I like to tell stories with my songs. This is the album I have dreamed of making since I was eight years old and singing along to my mom’s Judds and Reba McEntire records.”

“In a way, it’s like going back to square one after being in a successful band,” she continues, “but at the same time, it makes everything that I’ve done on my own feel that much stronger because I know I have stood on my own two feet and, against all odds, proven myself all over again.”


Tommy Steele

“Watching Love Grow”

Triple Creek Records, Inc.

tsteele-playlistCountry artist Tommy Steele is already a mainstay at numerous US clubs and festivals, and now he is taking his music to a larger audience with the release of his single “Watching Love Grow” to country radio. The single, co-written by Rodney Clawson (“I Saw God Today,” “Amarillo Sky,” “Lost In This Moment”) appears on Steele’s newly-released album, The Long Haul. His engaging live performances have earned him opening slots for John Anderson, LeAnn Rimes and Jimmy Wayne.

Through aggressive online marketing, Steele has racked up impressive digital impressions for an independent artist. His social sites have a combined 1.8 million song plays, 40,000 friends and 2.2 million online views, which has helped forge marketing partnerships with companies including Peavey Electronics, Budda Amplification and Trace Elliott Co. Steele will soon embark on a national radio tour, produced by GrassRoots Promotion.


On The Cover: Blake Shelton

BlakeShelton-250Label: Warner Music Nashville
Current Album: Startin’ Fires
Current Single/Video: “Hillbilly Bone,” from an upcoming album
Current Producer: Scott Hendricks
Hometown: Ada, Oklahoma
Management: Starstruck Mgmt. Group
Booking: William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
Recent Hits: “She Wouldn’t Be Gone,” “Home”
Special TV/Film Appearances: NBC’s Clash of the Choirs show; judge on Nashville Star; Shelton was named one of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive” in 2008.
Interesting Fact: Shelton heard about producer Scott Hendricks early on in Oklahoma. “I remember seeing a story on an Oklahoma City TV station about Scott Hendricks,” he says. “They said he was an Oklahoma guy who had moved to Nashville and made good, making these huge albums on big artists. I used to think, ‘It would be so cool to meet him some day. Maybe he’d give me a shot.’ Then, not long ago, he fell in my lap when he became A&R chief at Warner Bros. We decided we wanted to make this record together, and I’m really glad we did.”
Twitter: @BlakeShelton

BlakeShelton-tocBlake Shelton’s journey to country stardom starts way back in his high school days in Oklahoma, when he was part of the entertainment for an event in hometown Ada honoring acclaimed Nashville songwriter Mae Axton. She saw him perform and told him she thought he could get a record deal if he moved to Nashville, and that she was willing to help. That convinced Shelton to move just two weeks after graduation. He worked with Hoyt Axton, Bobby Braddock and Earl Thomas Conley, among others, en route to his record deal. Eventually, he signed with Warner Bros. Nashville and his debut single, “Austin,” shot him straight to the top of the charts and stayed there for six weeks. It also became his first No. 1 video, in a series that would ultimately include “Heavy Liftin’,” “Goodbye Time,” “Home,” “Nobody But Me,” “Some Beach,” “Don’t Make Me,” “The More I Drink” and more.

Four more albums produced a string of hits, leading up to his fifth and most recent studio effort, Startin’ Fires. One of the project’s signature songs, “Home,” took Shelton into new musical territory, both vocally and stylistically. “This is something I’ve been wanting to do,” he says, “exploring richer melodies and challenging myself as a singer. I think this album is probably more autobiographical than anything I’ve ever done. While Pure BS was a kind of reflection of what I was going through at the time, this album is a reflection of who I am and the things I love and always have—driving back roads, drinking beer, being outdoors. People know these things about me, but I’ve never really had that in my music, and I’m finally dumping myself onto my album. It’s about who I am personally, and I hope other people can relate to it.”

His upcoming project is sure to have plenty of the elements that make Shelton the multidimensional artist he is—soaring melodies, passionate lyrics, a bit of romance, and songs that celebrate the country life. Shelton’s hot new single, “Hillbilly Bone,” is a duet featuring Trace Adkins and is the title track from his forthcoming Warner Music Nashville album.

Adam Fisher

afisher-playlist“He sings splendidly. The throaty warmth in his delivery really sells this nostalgic look back at a rural youth. Heartily and unconditionally recommended. Spin this a-plenty.”
—Robert K. Oermann, MusicRow

Reared in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Adam Fisher was first exposed to music via his gospel singing parents. Now a Nashville resident, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter’s sound reflects back to the country outlaw heyday of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. His single “Cotton Town” is being released to radio by Lofton Creek Records and recently was given a DisCovery Award by renowned music critic Robert K. Oermann.

While performing in Memphis a few years ago, Fisher was approached by singer/songwriter Stella Parton and jumped at the opportunity to travel to Nashville for his first album. “I never thought I wanted to be a writer,” says Fisher. “But after moving here and working with Stella, I’ve realized how important it is to me as an artist and how much I enjoy writing.”

After finding and writing songs for his first CD at the age of 21, Fisher has come a long way from the small town bars of North Carolina to the bright lights of Music City. Today Adam continues to write and connect with the city’s successful songwriters for his upcoming Lofton Creek debut.

“With no risk, there is no reward,” adds Fisher. “I love playing music and there is no way I could do anything else. When this ride is said and done, I don’t want to be remembered as a singer, but as a good man. I want my music to last beyond the performance and continue to have an impact after I’m gone.”


Trent Tomlinson

“Angels Like Her”

Lyric Street Records

tomlinson-playlistTrent Tomlinson has recently released his newest single, “Angels Like Her,” from his upcoming sophomore album, A Guy Like Me. “Angels Like Her” was written by Tomlinson with Arlos Smith and Aaron Barker and was produced by the singer and Leigh Reynolds.

“This has to be my favorite song I’ve ever written,” shares Tomlinson. “I was so happy when the label came to me and said they wanted this to be the single. I love how the track turned out.”

As the best selling debut male artist of 2006, Tomlinson’s hit singles include “One Wing In The Fire,” “Just Might Have Her Radio On,” and “Drunker Than Me.” After wrapping in the studio, Tomlinson has spent the year touring and visiting radio stations across the country. A Guy Like Me is scheduled to be released by Lyric Street Records in 2010.