Real Country Music
After reading this magazine, and others devoted to Country Music, for years, I find myself often wondering why so often what I want to hear is so hard to find. Radio and label offerings end up being heard, make the charts, and have the sells, and then the industry uses these numbers to put out more of the same. This naturally becomes the problem, one even they should recognize, that when everything sounds the same, sells will start to suffer. Of course, thoughts like this lead one to ask, is the industry using their figures to dictate what we hear, and therefore what we buy? Is something that reports to be consumer driven really being controlled at the source of production? To put it more bluntly, why won’t they just give us what we want?
As a way to illustrate this issue, I turn to the example of Charley Pride. Several weeks ago, I turned on the radio to hear the morning deejay report that the night before Charley Pride sold-out his show during The Stars of Texas Fair and Rodeo. (To put this in context the only other act to do so this year was Lady Antebellum.) I then listened to caller after caller call in to the station and report on how the audience loved his show and how it was made up of every kind of person imaginable. (Funny.......I rarely hear his music on that channel). That was when the thought entered my mind to speak to Charley.
During our conversation, Charley was very matter of fact. His voice is simply one of experience. I began by congratulating him on his
About his night in
And how was the crowd? “Well they didn’t walk out, they wanted more and more. I was booked for 50 minutes and I did about 8 minutes over. And they stood up when we were coming in and they stood up when we went out. It was wonderful.”
To hear him talk about the response he received, only confirmed the positive and glowing reviews that I had heard. “Well, you would have loved the response last night. They couldn’t wait for us to get onstage and they couldn’t wait for the next song to start. It was great.”
Charley went on to relay that each year he does “about 45 shows, it’s about the same. We had a few dates more last year than we do at this time but not many. But sometime we go overseas and that bumps it up a bit.” His last overseas appearance being “in Scotland in the past five years but it’s been 10 or 12 years since we’ve been in the UK. It’s been a while since we’ve been there.”
But, for his
But regardless of where he performs, according to him, the response is pretty much the same. “I’m so glad that I still feel from the response from my fans that I’m giving them what they want. Otherwise they wouldn’t be coming to see me and giving me standing ovations.”
Having caught a televised special showing his recent performance at The White House for Barack Obama, I commented that even the President seemed to enjoy his music. Charley replied, “Yeah, it was nice, I’ve done that now for four or five Presidents.”
“Were each as welcoming as the next?” I asked.
“Yeah, well, they treat you nice, but it’s the President so that’s how it works.”
About President Obama, he had this to say, “He’s a nice fellow, I really like him, I think he’s sincere. And has a heavy schedule and has a lot to do. But I think he’s handled it well. Being as young as he is, I think he’s a very blessed fellow and very smart. I tell you I’m sure he’s glad he got that health bill passed because that would set him back a whole bunch.”
For some reason I asked, “But doesn’t it seem that at times, that there’s a lot of people who want him not to do well.”
He answered, “They said it in the beginning, all of the right wingers, up-wingers, down-wingers, or whatever wingers you want to call them, they want to cut his legs out from under him. Some of them made the statement they don’t want him to succeed. And then they holler back that they don’t want him to not succeed but they don’t want his policies, but what the heck’s the difference? If his policies don’t, then that means he doesn’t either?” With a small laugh he adds, “But some of them think different, but you know that’s the way the ball squashes.”
Hearing about the ovations and The White House appearances, I wondered if Charley could explain his successes and longevity. His addressed his longevity with a humorous anecdote. “Well, I was talking to some kid about my kids’ age, and they said, ‘My Mother loved you, just adored you.’ And I said ‘What about her son?’ This feller yesterday I said, ‘What about her son?’, and he said, ‘Well I like you too.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but you said your mother adores me.”
“But I’m singing to about four or five generations, right now, but that’s where it’s at right now. Some of them have been following me since they were in knee pants and now they’re the age of my kids or older. So I am very fortunate.”
In order to keep impressing audiences, Charley has done like he’s always done. For his voice he has put into practice the advice he received when he started. He recalls that he was told “by a DJ up in
Reflecting on his continued performance abilities, and thinking how I’ve never seen his name in a tabloid, I asked, “Is the trick just good living?”
To which he replied, “Well, I don’t say good living. I’m just a guy like everybody else. I had a couple of things. Hustler magazine put something out about me and Mel Tillis and Dolly Parton. And when I had an operation on my right vocal chords, the tabloids said, ‘Charley Pride terrified that he’ll never sing again’. I wasn’t terrified, but I was concerned. And that’s about the biggest tabloids I’ve had.”
For some reason, I doubt that he was serious about a story involving him and Mel Tillis and Dolly Parton. But I readily admit that if true I want it to be a part of any film about his life. And, as has been reported in CMP, such a film is in the works. However, the project has met with some hurdles. According to Charley, “It was supposed to have been already done. But they had a writer’s strike out there right when they decided they wanted to do it. We tried to get the guy who was going to write the script to agree....we agreed to pay him what he wanted...... but he was afraid to go ahead and do the script while they were on strike.”
“And then later on Paramount, the one who was going to do it, this old guy who used to be in charge of everything came back, and he was about 80 something years old, and he did a lot of firing and his mentality wasn’t stuck on Ray Charles and Johnny Cash,” Paramount had “just put out those movies when they decided to do it. His mentality was more Bruce Willis, shoot em up, blow em up, that kind of thing, you know. But it’s still on the board, on the docket, But first we got to get the financials, they need about 15-20 million to do it the way they want to do it.”
Charley, of course, disagrees with the studio’s choice. And he made a point to say, “I noticed that Matt Damon and all those guys, spent about 100 million on the Green Zone, and ain’t made but about 17 million. They spent about 100 million, but I heard they only made about 17 million.”
“But when get an old fellow like that. They also, which I think it’s gone now too, they wanted to retain the distribution for the movie once it was made. They still wanted to be a part of it from that standpoint, but like I say it’s still on the docket. And hopefully, we get if off the ground in the next year or so. I don’t plan or want to be in the same position Johnny was in when they made his. I want to be on top of the grass when they do it.”
And then I began to ask the question, I wanted to ask all along. “With your history as being the second all time leading seller for RCA behind only Elvis.....”
Charley stops me for a second to say; “Well now that’s what they said...I didn’t put it out there... I’ll go along with it.......I didn’t do the discography on it, but, they did and that’s alright with me.”
“Ok”, I replied, “but considering that and all your latest projects and appearances, you’ve been doing well, with your standing ovations and White House specials, but we don’t really see your records coming out as often. Is that a sign of the state of the industry?
And that’s when a member of the Hall Of Fame begins to confirm my suspicions. “Yeah, it’s the industry, not only in country music, but music in general, it’s messed up. They have to somehow try and get a handle back on it because there is so much bad music out there now. It’s just awful.”
I couldn’t agree more, and said, “I think that there is so much bad stuff out there and that it’s so bad we shouldn’t even write about it.”
His reply....“I completely concur with you. I am not going to specify but I’m just going to say that the industry itself is in very, very, very tough straits.”
Charley is clearly happy selling out concerts, playing for Presidents, and enjoying sales of his back catalogue. In addition, he continues to record independently, but admits that “if we don’t get the airplay, the best we’re going to be able to do is sell them on our internet and at the live shows.” And they do sell “but it’s not nearly what it could be.”
His disappointment with the industry is clear, but not only for his sake. He knows others who should receive more interest. Namely his younger brother Stephen, and his son Dion.
“I got a son that’s so talented; I can pick the Daddy hat off. I’ve had a lot of people on my shoulders who have went onto prominence themselves, Dave and Sugar, Ronnie Milsap, to name a few, Earl Thomas Conley, Janie Fricke, Johnny Duncan, but I can take the Daddy hat off. And also my younger brother and you wonder.”
“A lot of people say ‘Why aren’t there any more of ya’ll, you know, than us coming out?’ I just tell people ask the industry. I don’t have the answer. I tell them, I have two, my son and my brother, just waiting at it and trying. Of course Darius Rucker is doing a real fine job, but I don’t consider him a Country Singer, I consider him a good singer singing country songs, like Dean Martin used to do, and the other people in different categories of music that came over to our industry and did pretty well with singing country songs.”
With that said, Charley had to let me go and catch a plane to