Coal Miner’s Daughter Comes Full Circle

musings 250_edited-1Loretta Lynn debuted on the Grand Ole Opry stage at the Ryman Auditorium in 1960. In 2014, she headlined a show there for the first time and I was there. As wild as that seems, it is understandable in that the Ryman has only been hosting solo concerts for the last 15 years or so. Regardless, it was a treat to be there on many different levels. She played two shows (Friday and Saturday) and I attended the Friday show.

I grew up in Waverly, TN which is a scant 10 miles from Hurricane Mills, Tenn., where Loretta has had her ranch for several years. I went to school with a couple of her daughters and in a strange twist of fate, one of my sons goes to school with one of Loretta’s grandkids. During my growing up years, I wasn’t a country music fan, but have grown to appreciate some of the music I shunned in my youth. Therefore, when I learned of her two shows, I was decided it was time to go see my neighbor – Loretta.

Watch a short video of Loretta’s performance

The Ryman was packed on a stormy Friday night. Loretta’s daughter, Patsy, came out and welcomed everyone to the show. She talked about her mom having entertained folks for 54 years!  That’s a long time for any musician or singer. The surprise of the night was the opening act – Brandy Clark. With a wonderful voice and a single band member (acoustic guitar) to back her up, she captivated the packed house with her songs. She proved her songwriting chops by playing two of her more popular songs that she wrote – “Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert and “Better Dig Two” by the Band Perry. After about 30 minutes, she gave the stage over to Loretta’s long-time backup band – the Coal Miners. They were led by her son, Ernie who sang two songs to get the crowd warmed up.

lorettaThe crowd went nuts when Loretta came out. She spent the next hour singing her songs and cutting up with the band. Most of her banter was with Ernie who would tell off-color jokes and his mom would fuss at him. She clipped through all of her hits at a pretty good pace. Her vocals were strong. Not just strong for an 82 year old – strong period. She was suffering from a cold or sinus junk, commonly called the “Tennessee Crud”, so that caused a couple of missed words to cough; but her band would step right in and keep on singing. There was one mix up with the set list where we got the first verse of a song a second time. About halfway through her set, she did sit in a plain folding chair to rest her back.

I noticed that when she was standing, she basically stood in one spot. At first, I attributed that to age, but it hit me – most classic country acts did that – stand and sing. There wasn’t a whole lot of moving around I guess until Garth came along and brought rock & roll theatrics to country music.

While classic country may not be my cup of tea (sweet please), you have to respect Loretta for her enduring songs, vocal strength, and classiness. I was glad that I was there for her first time to headline the Ryman. Thanks, neighbor.

Drew Six Still Causing a Commotion

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Drew Six opens for Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan (Photo courtesy of Nate Aholt Photography)

First of a two-part series

Drew Six’s stage show has been causing a ruckus as long as he can remember.

“When I was in grade school,” he recalled, “I had an uncle who played guitar in a country band. I was way out in this rural town and they let me come up and sing. I remember I sang ‘Johnny Be Good’, and a fight broke out in the bar and they started throwing chairs in the middle of my song and I was like, ‘Hey, this is for me.’”

Despite the possibility of being hit by flying furniture, Drew new he had found his calling.  “So here I was,” he said, “I was literally a kid in grade school up there rocking out with the band. To get up on stage with a real band was pretty darn cool, you know. This was a lot more fun than an office would ever be – just a different kind of office.”

Now, Drew fronts his own band full time. And, the Kansas City, Mo., native still loves clocking in for work each day. “I enjoy the live performance the most,” he told us recently. “I like connecting with people, and even when I’m writing songs I’m thinking about how I’m going to connect with people in a live setting.

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“I’m blessed that I do music as a career. It’s my full-time job. I’d like to say one day I won’t do quite so many shows – because I do over 260 shows a year – but once again I’m very fortunate to do what I love. And some of those are acoustic and some of those are with the band. I enjoy the bigger production shows more, but I would probably miss the intimate acoustic shows if they weren’t a part of my regular booking.”

drew six beaverdamusa.comDrew — who splits time between KC and Nashville — works at a frenetic pace. And when he isn’t working, he is still a music fan. “Every time I go to a concert – it doesn’t matter who it is – it’s a spiritual experience for me. It’s moving,” he said. “And whenever I forget, or I get down about the struggle of making it in the music business, all it takes is to be at a concert and realize how much it’s who I am and how much I love it and how much it moves me.”

He added, “And looking at a great artist and the effect they have on the people when you’re in the crowd – and especially when you’re on stage – you can tell that there’s just no other feeling like that.”

Drew has made serious inroads in the music business already, despite the fact that he is an independent musician. “We get to open up for a lot of national acts, so we play 20,000 seat outdoor arenas,” he said, “And for me it’s the rush of the performance. Those are the ones I like the most.

But playing clubs is close to his heart, also. “That’s my life day-to-day most of the time,” he said. “That energy is very primal. It’s right there in your face. The crowd – you can reach out there and touch them. And I’ve played large-scale venues where the front row is back farther than the entire club. Bur for now I really enjoy being a front guy and moving around and putting on the show. That’s a big part of what I do, and the high energy that goes into that.”

Like all artists, Drew is a free spirit, which helps him embrace the changing face of his music. “One of the things I love about country music is there’s really no rules, and the genre is constantly expanding and changing. You know there’s always traditional country as a part of that. And I look at myself as someone who grew up in the Midwest and that’s always going to be who I am; that’s my background,” he said. “And there’s country in there, and there’s soul in there, and country and soul are close cousins because they’re stories about people and feelings and living and that comes through in all my music.

He added, “I love commercial music. I love popular country. I love Nashville Country, lots of different artists. Honestly if I put on a what I would call a pop country station I’m going to love a little of that music. It’s not going to be all the kind of music that I do. Then I might change over to an electronic dance station on the radio and enjoy that, too. So all these influences are kind of coming into my music.”

When it comes to Drew’s music, though, seeing is believing. “I always try to tell people before they focus on anything that they have to see us, and I think that’s the intangible part of an artist,” he said. “You’ve got to be there. You kind of can’t see it on video. You’ve got to be in he house.

“I’m all about production,” Drew added. “You know, building the excitement, running on stage. Getting the crowd into it and making them a part of it. When people come to our shows, people are on their feet the whole time and most of the time dancing, and they’re a part of the show. That has certainly come into play (for me) as a songwriter, because I write songs for these kind of venues, and I think that’s an advantage because I’m out there every night, as opposed to guessing what people are going to react to. I’m always testing it to know what works to get a crowd excited live.”

Next week: Drew talks about his new single, “Learning to Drive,” his work with Variety Children’s Charity, and more.

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Lily Nelsen Steps in the Spotlight

Lily Nelsen Uses Adversity
to Her Advantage

lily nelsen, beaverdamusa.comAdversity can push a person in one of two directions. Either they cower and hope it passes, or they fight back.

Meet Lily Nelsen, fighter.

At only 17, the aspiring country music singer has already seen more than her fair share of adversity. As a young child she was diagnosed with Kawasaki Disease, which is the leading cause of heart disease in children. “I’m blessed to be here today,” she said.

Then at age 12, she found out she had Type 1 diabetes.

How did she handle it?

“Of course, it’s a shock when you get diagnosed with something like that, so (music) was pretty much my way of getting my emotions out. I started songwriting after I got diagnosed,” she recently told us. “It was my way of coping with the entire situation. And I decided that I wanted to start really pursuing my career after I got into songwriting.”

One of the first songs she penned, “Better Me,” was an upshot from the diagnosis. “I think it kind of came from that place of being upset about having diabetes — because I felt like a lot of people didn’t understand a lot about the disease.” She explained, “I felt different from my friends, and stuff like that, so it really, really helped me to deal with the situation.”

Since then, Lily has put her musical talents to good use from a philanthropic standpoint. She has performed to help various organizations, including Make-A-Wish and the Wounded Warrior Project.

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Lily performs at Nashville’s Hard Rock Cafe

“I also contacted the Kawasaki Disease Foundation,” she explained, “and we decided to put together a compilation CD with a bunch of different songs from different artists. It should be released soon. It’s a cause that I’m really passionate about.”

Lily was bitten by the country music bug at a young age. “My mom (Jayne Nelsen) used to be a singer-songwriter. She had a CD out, and she was doing the recording thing, too. And she decided that she didn’t like being away from my sister and me,” she said. “Actually before she decided she wanted to stop doing it, we moved to Nashville, and we just fell in love with the whole music scene in Nashville. Mom stuck with the songwriting side of everything.  And she’s really a great songwriter.  I’ve learned a lot from her. She was probably my first influence when it came to music.

“My parents encouraged me to take guitar lessons from a young age. I started taking guitar lessons when I was 7, and I also took some drum lessons,” Lily said. “I was into acting and I was the lead in two musicals in middle school, which was really fun. So I just fell in love with being on stage and being in front of people.”

Lily started home schooling this year to make time for her career. “I was so busy with writing appointments and performing out, I decided it would be the best route for me to take at that point,” she said. “I do about one to three co-writes a week. I love the songwriting side of everything, and I love performing on stage.”

Lily said she has co-written seven songs with Amanda Williams. “She’s kind of mentored me. Amanda is an amazing person to have on my team in the business.”

Four tunes Lily has co-written are featured on her Web site. She wrote “The Life I Left Behind” with 14-year-old Dallas Remington. Sal Oliveri produced the songs, she noted.

“And also I just did a video with Carl Diebold and that should be coming out pretty soon. It’s for my song ‘Growing Up’ which I haven’t released yet.”

Lily has spent much of 2014 writing. “I’ve been writing every week if possible, and that’s been great. I’ve found a lot of new co-writers recently, and I’m excited about working with them in the future. I just want to play out as often as possible and keep honing the songwriting craft.”

When she isn’t writing, Lily is performing somewhere. About her show, she said, “It’s very acoustic. It’s just me and my guitar usually. Sometimes I’ll bring on a Cajon player.” Lily has played most of Nashville’s notable venues, including the Bluebird Café, Hard Rock Café and BB King’s.

With good reason, Lily is excited to see what the future holds for her. “Five years from now I want to have one, or two or three albums out. I would love to have an album out by the end of this year; that would be amazing,” she said. “And I just want to keep working with the people I’m working with. I’ve built an awesome team around me; they’re so awesome and encouraging. And I just want to leave it up to God to where it goes from here.”

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Justine Blazer Brings Detroit Sass to Nashville

justine blazer beaverdamusa.comDetroit is arguably one of the most important cities in American music history. Consider the influence of Stevie Wonder, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Madonna, Kid Rock, and dozens more. Though music has evolved since Motown, one thing remains the same: these artists aren’t just from Detroit, they are Detroit.

Country artist and Detroit native Justine Blazer is no exception. Let’s see: her latest album is titled Gasoline, no less. Her father worked for Ford Motor Company. And she speaks with a confidence worthy of her Detroit musical ancestors.

“I feel like I can sing about and represent the blue collar, gridiron town of Detroit or relatable cities like Gary, Ind., Pittsburgh, some of those other markets,” Justine told us recently. “You know, I was just in Madison, Wisc., and you wouldn’t think that country music would resonate, but I’m learning that country music isn’t just about people who live south of Mason-Dixon, north of Florida and east of Texas. It’s definitely got a really mass appeal.


“And I think it’s about the song,” she said. “I think whether it’s a fun rocking tune, or a sassy tune, or if it’s something that’s got a little bit more subject matter to it, I think it can relate,” she said. “So you just have to take it for what it’s worth and make it work for you and not apologize from where you’re from and what you represent. And I represent… the hardworking good people that I grew up with. Those are my peers, and my friends, and my family, and you know they speak country music, too.”

Justine moved to Nashville 2 years ago. And if hard work is any indicator of success, she will soon be a household name. She tours relentlessly, acts as her own manager and promoter, and still made time to write or co-write every track on Gasoline, which was released in March, 2013.

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Pop music’s loss became country’s gain some 10 years ago. “I was in high school, and I thought I was going to be the next Britney Spears — you know we all thought that,” she laughed. “And it’s kind of like I wanted to be a pop star. Most artists may go through that phase – trying to find out who you are.”

Call it foreshadowing, but Justine got a glimpse of her musical future even before Britney’s influence. “Actually I lived in Nashville when I was a kid. My parents lived here for a bit, and I definitely felt like my country roots started when I was at a young age because I lived in Nashville.”

It didn’t hurt that Justine was listening during a time when females dominated country radio. “There aren’t as many now , but there were (many female artists) then like Jennifer Day, and SHeDAISY, and Dixie Chicks, and Shania, and Faith Hill, and the list just goes on — and Trisha Yearwood, and LeAnn Rimes, and Lila McCann. I could just go on with all those CDs I had that were female fronted.”

Justine can’t remember not wanting to be in the spotlight. “I always loved singing. I started singing when I was 5. My mom put me in lessons and I always wanted to be in showbiz. I wanted to be on stage, and I always was on stage doing dance lessons and dance competitions and pageantry; and you know, whatever allowed me to be on stage, I did. And it was something I wanted to do, even at a very young age. So I just did whatever I could to be on stage, and I always thought I really wanted to be country.

“I recorded my first country demo at 13 years old that was submitted to Nashville. And I did some other studying – I studied opera and jazz, just some other genres just to get myself more well-rounded as a vocalist. And it wasn’t until my second album that I decided to embrace the country thing, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

“And if somebody likes country — especially female fronted, that’s what I am,” she said, adding, “I know right now very popular on the radio is kind of like that bro country kind of stuff which is cool, but I think my stuff sets it apart because I’m not that.”

Obviously. She’s just a good ol’ Detroit girl.

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(Next week, Justine will talk about the making of Gasoline, her new single release in Europe and what she sees for her future.)

Brandon Maddox Readies For Breakout Year

New Band, National Tour
Await Brandon Maddox in 2014

With an upcoming national tour, a new band and a fresh management team in place, you can’t blame Brandon Maddox for being excited for 2014.

“I see it just going up from here,” the Chattanooga, Tennessee, native told us recently. “Everything is getting better and better. And this new year — if it’s not a groundbreaking year — then I don’t know what you can count on in life.”

Groundbreaking, figuratively speaking; but groundbreaking in a more literal sense, as well. That’s because Brandon was recently named Lucas Oil Monster Truck Nationals Artist of the year. He is currently touring with Monster Nite Out, playing at 11 monster truck rallies mostly in the Midwest.

“(Monster Nite Out) came about through my connection with Reba McEntire’s keyboard player, Doug Sisemore. He was a high school acquaintance of my dad,” Brandon explained, “and my dad contacted him a couple of years ago for me. And Doug listened to some of my songs, and he said, ‘Can I write with you?’ and my jaw was dropping.

“He basically said, ‘there’s this audition going on where you can try to become the Monster Truck Artist. They’ve got this theme song, but the guy who wrote it who is also an artist decided not to do it because of family obligations and things like that.’ So I said, ‘well, cool.’ So I tried out for it and ended up getting it. We’ve been working together, and my first national commercial came out on today.”

Brandon said, “I’m going to be going to Monster Truck shows, playing at the rallies in the big arenas. They’re going to have the music video playing on the JumboTron. Me and my band are going to be playing 30 minutes’ worth of material before the Monster Truck Rally, then after the Monster Truck Rally. They’re spending $100,000 in radio promotion and major market TV promotion. So it’s going to be big,” he said.

Click here for a full schedule.

With the tour only a month out, rehearsals are obviously in full swing. “I’ve got the band rehearsing with me, and we’re getting prepared. It’s going to be great.”

About his set list, he said, “I’ve got a mixture of originals and covers. I’ve got plenty of original songs, it’s just that I’m trying to mix it up where the crowd knows some, and they’re learning some of my own songs. I just want to keep them engaged.”

The notoriety has already made a difference. He said, “I’m already seeing some evidence of that. As far as my artist career, it’s just taking off which will foster the writer side of my career. I have people coming to me more now, just saying they’d like to pitch me a song or they’d like to have me record one of their tunes, or write with me or whatever. Not that I was ever short on co-writers, but people I don’t know are coming now, and it’s kind of crazy. Everything feeds off the other, and everything’s just going to really blossom over the next 8 to 12 months.”

But Brandon is no stranger to success. To date, 18 of his songs have been recorded by artists. And in 2012, his “Honk if You’re Country” made it to the big screen. Brandon said, “I wrote that song back in 2009 with the lead singer of a band named Curtis and Luckey. They recorded the song as an independent duo act, and then the guitar player of the band pitched it to a publishing company in Hollywood. That publishing company then pitched it to film and TV. And it wound up being in the movie “Unconditional” which was released September, 21, 2012. And it’s a really great film.”

He also recalled some of the other artists who’ve cut his songs. “Megan Redmond, a song called ‘Blink’ was the title track of her album. Another guy, CJ Garton, was my first recorded song by an independent act that’s called ‘Big Time Love in a Small Town.’

“’Bebe’s Riding Shotgun’ was recorded by an artist named Mandy York. And ‘Everyday Love’ was cut by Adam James. ‘Flying Solo’ got cut by Grant Reiff. ‘I Can’t Live Without Loving You’ was cut by Ty Bowman.

“’Only God Knows,’ I recorded it with Hunter Monroe, the two-time American Idol finalist. And that’s going on a future record, too,” Brandon said.

Brandon moved to Nashville to pursue writing full time in 2007, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that he started honing his artist chops. While he is just beginning to enjoy success, he certainly appreciates some of the perks that come along with it – his new band, especially. “These are guys that I put together basically for the Monster Truck thing. They play with a lot of different acts, but that’s another thing that keeps getting better — the caliber of the musicians. I’m getting in with some circles of people who are better and better as time goes on.”

He said, “When I first had my group, we’d sound okay. We’d sound fair to middle. But as far as our rehearsals now, we’re sounding middle to great; and as far as who I’ve got playing on my team, they’re getting more and more professional.

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“I think it’s just something that as a whole, you try to work your way up in the business. You deal with people who aren’t very professional, and then you deal with those people who are more professional. As time goes on, you keep chugging away, and that’s what it’s all about — just not having to put up with some of that stuff that you go through when you’re starting out. It’s a new tier of people.”

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Brandon said his progress to this point has been “somewhere in the middle” as far as elapsed time. “I mean, sometimes it seems slow, and sometimes I have to look at it like I’ve only been full time in the business giving it my all as far as an artist goes the past 2 years. And so when it comes to that, I’ve been trying as a songwriter 6 and a half years, but I’ve only been trying as an artist the past couple of years.”

Just like everyone else, Brandon has had his detractors. “I think it could’ve gone faster. And I think there were some people who kind of blocked my success for a while because they didn’t like me as a person. Things happened, and I don’t know, there are some creeps out there, some unsavory characters. And they’d go around and they would blacklist me from some stuff, but those people – their voices get less and less influential as time goes on. So that’s the big, bright shiny sun in the sky,” he said.

Our next installment on Brandon will focus on his new single, “Picture Perfect.” And, he will talk about how his management group has helped him, we’ll hear what others are saying about him, and more. Look for publication around New Year’s.

Q&A with Country Artist Payton Taylor

payton taylor beaverdamusa.comCountry artist Payton Taylor recently sat down with BeaverDamUSA.com. Here is a follow-up Q&A session with her. (After you finish this, read Part 1 of our interview here.)

Q: You’re from rural New Jersey, but you’ve spent a lot of time touring in the South. Talk about similarities and differences between the two areas.

PT: We still had farms (in New Jersey). It was kind of where the Garden State still existed. We still had some farms and high school football. We had all that, too. And down here I feel like it’s much more of a tight-knit community. People look out for each other, and I feel like that’s something you couldn’t really find back home.”

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Q: You spend lots of time in Nashville. Compare it to some of the places you’ve seen?

PT: One of the coolest things about Nashville is those great small town characteristics carry over into the big city. We’re down here so much, and Nashville is a big city with a small town feel, and it’s true, it’s true! You can walk down Broadway, and I see tons of people I know, and they’ll be the first to extend a handshake ask how you’re doing. How’s your mom? How’s your dad? And you don’t get that at home. And that’s one of the things I really love, and one of the things we really want to try to celebrate in our new single(“Small Town Paradise”).

payton taylor beaverdamusa.comQ: Everybody asks you about your influences, so we will, too.

PT: As far as influences I really have a spot in my heart for Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, but one of my biggest inspirations, I think, is Dolly Parton. I just think she’s such an amazing woman. And she has a quote where she says she’s 3 women, She’s Dolly herself. She’s Dolly the artist who creates music. And she’s Dolly the business woman. And you really have to have those 3 people when being an artist. So I think she’s just incredible. As far as writing, I really look up to her stuff.

Q: What was your first desire as far as performing?

PT: I was determined to go to Broadway and keep doing theater. Being originally from New Jersey — and it’s so close to New York — there are so many people who want to go to Broadway; and I was determined to do it, but it wasn’t until I took that first trip to Nashville that really changed my mind.

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Ashland Belle: Playing for Keeps

Success is coming quickly for Ashland Belle, but it’s not happening by accident. Since coming together last November, the Buffalo, New York, country rockers are AShland Belle beaverdamusa.comalready hard at work touring in support of their debut release, “Bringin’ Country Back.”

“It’s definitely taking off,” drummer Rob Ferenc told us recently. “Right now we’re booking shows regionally. Mostly we’re covering the New York area. We’ve got some shows booked in Pennsylvania, and we’re talking to people in Pennsylvania and Ohio. We’re making a trip down to Nashville probably in February of next year; we’ve got some contacts down there.”

Ashland Belle is made up of front man David Guy, lead guitarist John Rosini, bass player Josh Long and Ferenc.

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The guys aren’t strangers to each other, as Ferenc explained. “The 4 of us have known each other off and on for a minimum of 10 years now. Me and John go back pretty much our whole lives. Actually the funny thing is, we lived next door to each other – our parents lived next door to each other — so we’ve known each other our whole lives. And Dave and Josh knew each other for a while.”

Ferenc said the project started when Guy and Long teamed up to write. “Dave and Josh are the main two songwriters in the band. So when they started to write songs (summer, 2012), they got in contact with John, who was in another band at the time. And John started practicing with them — started writing songs — and thatAshland Belle beaverdamusa.com was pretty much throughout the summer. And then they contacted me in November.”

From then on, it has been full steam ahead. “The four of us really started hunkering down and started writing the material and really getting into it.”

That hunkering down is paying off. Sales of the six-song EP have pleased the band so far. “We’ve got some great response,” Ferenc said. “We’re selling a lot of units through iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon. That’s the three main places where we have the EP available. People are liking the music, and they’re buying the CD from all over the place, so it’s taking off fast and we love it,” he said. “It’s great.”

“Bringin’ Country Back” mixes driving tempos (“Hot and Crazy”) with melodic ballads, (“Dream Called You”).

Ferenc explained how the album’s rocking tunes came easy to them. “We actually grew up on rock music. I grew up in the late ‘80s-early ‘90s listening to all the Motley Crues and Poisions and Cinderellas. I grew up on it. Obviously the tastes have changed over the years but that’s when I started playing.”

And don’t go to an Ashland Belle show expecting to sit there. “I mean it’s a lot of energy,” Ferenc said. “You’re going to see four guys up there giving it their all and obviously playing to the crowd. I like to bring the power to a show, like I’m back there and I’m smashing away and John’s playing balls-out guitar… and we interact with the crowd a lot, you know, calling people up on stage and they’re having fun with us and it’s a party.

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“One thing that we pride ourselves on is playing our songs identical to the record,” he added about their live show. “You’re not going to hear a lot of different versions. I mean obviously we’ll extend some things out here and there, or we’ll put a different ending on it. But we like to stay true to what we sound like. We don’t add a lot of different stuff that’s not on the album,” he said, “and we purposely didn’t put a lot of auxiliary instruments into the EP because if you’re not able to duplicate it live then it really changes your sound. I mean, what we do is we go out there, it’s 4 guys; all four guys play instruments, and it’s a high-energy show. It’s a party.”

The fans have definitely responded, “Our Facebook page is taking off,” Ferenc said, “I mean well over 14,000 likes. And the majority of them aren’t even in this area. We’re getting the word out there and people from all over the country – I mean California, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, some overseas – we’ve got some from Argentina; just different areas.”

The industry is already starting to take notice as well. “We’re definitely getting good responses from various labels and management companies that want to work with the band because they see the potential.

“We’re looking for that big break,” he said about the band’s future. “We see ourselves in 5 years hopefully two to three records into our career, playing in front of thousands of people every day. We’re not half-assing this. We spend a lot of time networking. We spend a lot of time practicing. We’re together probably 20 to 25 hours a week, just practicing and hanging out with each other, so we’re together a lot because we’re putting a lot of effort in, so we’re going all out.”

Doreen Taylor Part 1 of 2

Doreen Taylor masthead

Cover Photo: Bobby Quillard

Doreen Taylor can’t wait to see what happens next. And who could blame her? The country-rocker is headlining a larger-than-life tour at sold-out theaters on the heels of a successful album release. And from all appearances, she’s just getting started.

“Every day I wake up and I have to pinch myself because this has happened,” Doreen told us recently. “I mean, that’s relatively very new for me, and it still hasn’t sunk in yet. Every day I say a little prayer and say ‘thank you for this, and wherever you want it to go is where it’s going to go.’”

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Currently, that career path is leading her down a familiar road. Despite a Master’s degree in opera performance, and numerous on- and off-Broadway roles including Christine in “Phantom of the Opera,” Doreen has stayed true to her roots.

Doreen Taylor performing 1“When I started really going through my journey and my path, yeah I had a really crazy start,” she said. “I did a lot of different things. I did Broadway, I did opera and stuff, but in my heart I just wanted to be an original artist and find my voice. Once I started writing my own songs and doing my own kind of original sound that was exactly what came out of me, and it’s been wanting to come out just my whole life, really.”

Doreen was born in rural Alden, New York, 20 miles outside Buffalo. “Country is very popular out there,” she said. “I mean everybody drives a pickup truck. If you took a camera and didn’t say where you were, you would really think that you were down in the south. I just came home about 3 weeks ago, and I hadn’t been out there in a while… and I’m thinking, ‘this is what I think of when I think of country.’ I mean you’ve got the farms, you’ve got the rolling land, you’ve got people who are laid back – it’s definitely not what you think of in quote-unquote New York.”

“Magic,” is her first full-length album of original songs, which she released in 2012. Doreen wrote all the songs on the album.

“I’ve always written,” she said. “It’s kind of been like a secret little skill I could do. Nobody really knew I could do it. Very few people… knew that was something I enjoyed. But to actually go out and put myself out there for the world to hear it, this was the first time I really did that. I just kind of came to the conclusion that my voice needed to get out there. It’s been sitting in there way too long, and I needed to get it out there so it was like the perfect storm,” she said.

“Really I never anticipated this album to have the success that it has. I really just went in to record these songs that were in my head, and I needed to get them out in case I wanted to pass them down to my grandchildren someday, or who knows.”

Teaming up with musicians nearby in Pennsylvania created the perfect environment, and the project “just took off,” she explained. “It was an amazing thing, like I came in with all these songs that had been already written throughout my life, and I never used any of them. “

The songs that ended up on the record didn’t get there by accident. “I wrote the songs for the album. I just was so inspired and it was just flowing out of me that I couldn’t stop it. It was like I was possessed in a weird way,” she said, laughing. “And every day I was writing a new song, and I had to stop myself because it was getting overwhelming. (Follow the Beaver Dam on Facebook and twitter for chances to win a free copy of the CD!)

Doreen Taylor

Photo: Bobby Quillard

“I really worked closely with a guy named Joe Mass — and he’s played with Bon Jovi, John Mayer. He’s toured with a lot of people and he’s actually in my tour now. He’s incredible. When we got together, and I came in with the melody and the words; he just took what I had and made “Magic” quote-unquote. And it was really just a perfect marriage. He was definitely rock-n-roll, I was definitely country; and together we made this amazing sound.” Buy the CD here. Purchase downloads here.

She’s taken that sound to the stage in a big way. “I really wanted to translate that vision onto the stage. And plus I have the Broadway background. I have the Vegas background. And I said, ‘Why am I running away from that? Why am I not embracing it and bringing the best qualities into my own show?’”

She continued, “So I teamed up with this great guy, David Pedemonte. He kind of fell out of the sky like an affirmation. I don’t know how he came into my world but he did. And we sat down and we created this amazing vision. He listened to what I said and he made it come out on the stage. We have actors, we have dancers, we have special effects. We even make it snow at one point. It’s a very amazing visually stunning show. You have the music behind it, so it’s really like a story.”

In November, she takes an acoustic version of the same show to Don’t Tell Mama NYC (343 West 46th St., if you’re in the area). As much as she likes the glitzy full-blown production, she loves doing the acoustic show — “Doreen Taylor Stripped” — even more. “I’m singing and I’m kind of showing you my soul and I like it better because it really is able to translate the songs the way I wanted them to be.”

“Actually we (first) did it on the Strip in Los Angeles. We did it at the House of Blues. So that’s where it got its name kind of. And it’s very different – it’s my show, it’s the exact same show only completely unplugged. And it’s really, very cool.

Doreen’s next full production show, however, is coming up Oct. 20 in Buffalo at Asbury Hall (Buy tickets here $22.50-$77.50). The singer plans to donate all the profits to Andrew’s Army, a non-profit organization she feels a special kinship with.

“Actually, it’s a beautiful story,” she said. “It was a past high school teacher of mine, her son tragically passed away in a car accident about 3 years ago. And ever since I heard that I said, ‘I have to do something.’ And it took 3 years but I finally found something to do to help.”

Andrew’s Army raises money to promote awareness for organ and tissue donation and transplantation. “They did donate his tissue and it saved two other people’s lives – two children. So his story is really inspiring. The crazy part is I’m asking (the former teacher) if I can do this, and we were talking back and forth, and she asked the day of the show and I said October 20th. And she just said, ‘I’m speechless. That’s the anniversary of his accident.”

Doreen said, “It’s like the angel looking down. I wanted to do it the week prior. I was forcing for the weekend of the 12th and really trying to make that happen and nobody could do it, not the venue, not my band, not my tour manager. Nobody could make it happen. It was like everything was forcing us to (the 20th). I never do a show on a Sunday, and that’s a Sunday. Those are the affirmations and the things that happened that you can’t deny.”

Doreen’s other charity work is admirable as well. Most recently, she was named honorary chairperson for the Big Brother Big Sisters gala in Pennsylvania in November. “I was so honored they picked me,” she said, “because they’ve picked some amazing people in the past and they wanted me to do it this year and that alone – that’s why I do what I do.

“The fact that I can use my name and my music to help a cause like that is just outstanding. That’s the biggest blessing of them all.”

Spoken like a true country girl.

Watch Doreen Taylor’s video for “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess.

Bartlee Norton and 64 Highway: men on a mission

bartleeSure, a record deal would suit Bartlee Norton just fine. But don’t think the country singer will be satisfied when he gets it, because it’s just another step along the journey.

Bartlee spoke with us recently about his past, present and future. He easily recalled an eye-opening conversation he had with a Nashville music business executive. “He asked me how many male vocalists are on the radio today,” Bartlee said. “I counted about 12. And he said, ‘which one are you going to knock out?’ And that got me thinking. Then he asked me what my end goal was, and I said ‘to have a record deal,’ And he said, ‘that’s not your end goal. That’s just the next goal. You get a record deal. Then you’ve got to have a No. 1 song, then another.’

“There is no end goal,” Bartlee pointed out, “but to survive.”

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That survival has been tough at times for the singer from Cleveland, Tenn. After meeting with UMG Nashville with hopes for a big record deal, things didn’t work out. Nearly a year later, Bartlee had an opportunity to meet with Lyric Street Records for a possible deal with their sister label imprint, Carrolwood Records. But the potential of that record deal fell through when Lyric Street left Music City. Of course, Bartlee did what all good cowboys do: he got up and dusted himself off and cowboy’d up.

Fast forward to today. Bartlee and his band 64 Highway have poured a year into their upcoming album, and they’ve turned to heavy-hitting songwriters for only the best tunes.

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Bartlee explained, “We’re recording some outside material to get closer to our goal of having that song. We’re looking forward to having (the album) out. Hopefully it will be out by the end of July. We haven’t even named it yet.” He hinted, however, that the cut “Whole Lotta Gone” is leading the way to be the title track. “Whole Lotta Gone,” incidentally, was penned by smash-hit writers Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts fame and Bobby Pinson (“Want To”/Sugarland, “Beers Ago”/Toby Keith).

64 highwayBartlee is sold on quality over quantity when it comes to recording. “There will probably be five songs on the new album,” he said. “We may end up getting a few more cuts. We’re not selling albums; we’re selling songs. I would rather invest in five incredible songs than invest in three hits and eight or nine fillers.

“We’ve been working on this album since last June. We’ve dropped songs; we’ve altered some of the song choices. We’ve been taking time to get it where we want it. I’ve never waited this long.”

Bartlee isn’t one to conform to the status quo, however, when shopping for songs. “I don’t sing a whole lot of drinking songs, I’m not a drinker. I can sing about it, but that’s not who I am. You have to be careful with what you’re willing to attach your name to,” he said.

“There are four (songs) for sure done, and I’m in the middle of writing one, but I have to finish it.” He is considering recording it as an acoustic piano-vocal. “We’ve done acoustic-driven tracks in the past that worked out really well. We’re pretty good with coming up with a strong acoustic feel.”

Another song that might be on the album, “Picture in My Pocket” is a nostalgic ballad Bartlee is co-writing with band leader Ian Porter.

The upcoming release will be Bartlee’s fourth. His first album was a self-titled effort. The first album he cut with 64 Highway is called Boots and Bar Stools. (The band also released a holiday album, Christmas on 64 Highway.)

He told us how the new record fits in with his earlier releases. “The solo album is a more polished and contemporary style,” he said. Boots and Bar Stools was more of a rocking album. “With Boots and Bar Stools we took more of a different direction. We wrote all the songs on the album as a band and it had a rock-n-roll feel.

“The new album is rocking but not as raw as Boots and Bar Stools,” Bartlee said.

Bartlee is investing his present and his future in his band mates. “I didn’t use session artists, he said. I used my band in hopes of a record deal. I’ve been in this game long enough to know you’ve got to be smart, not greedy. Smart work outdoes hard work.”

When the band goes out on the road, you can see them in a variety of places. “Typically we look for festivals. We do some rodeos due to my love of the rodeo circuit,” he said, explaining that he cut his teeth singing during rodeo intermissions. “Country people go to rodeos. They already like country music.”

Bartlee Norton and 64 Highway give fans an interactive show. “We’re all about our fans. We want to give people more than what they paid for. That’s what people want. People want to be able to reach you.”

True to their hometown roots, they want their audience to know they’re part of them. “Our audience is never thinking, ‘they’re too good for us.’ We stay two or three hours after the show is over and talk, and make sure everybody gets an autograph or just a chance to meet us. We want to make sure to take the time to meet everybody.

“We want them to see that we’re just some good ol’ boys experiencing the dream of making music and having fun with all of our country friends.”

Meet 64 Highway (Learn more about each at 64highway.com):

  • Devon Goins, keyboard. Devon has played with such musicians as Geron Davis, Vicki Yohoe and Paul Morton.
  • Ian Porter, guitar. Ian’s journey has spanned punk rock, rebellion, religion and most everything in between.
  • Jake Ketterer, drums. At 6 years old, Jake destroyed his first drum kit the same day he got it.
  • Josh Harris, guitar. Jake’s Benton, Tenn., heritage gave him a background in bluegrass music.
  • Keith Guillot, bass. Keith is also an on-call saxophonist for the Chattanooga Symphony.
  • Tim Jester, fiddle. Tim is classically trained and has played with orchestras and string ensembles in the US and Europe.

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Reviewing “Albuquerque Sky” from Sarah Peacock, plus other tidbits

Sarah peacock beaverdamusa.comOn October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy slammed the New Jersey coastline and quickly became the second costliest hurricane in US history.

Sarah Peacock was right in the middle of it. Then she did what songwriters do: she wrote a song about it.

“I lived through it,” she said. “I was in Red Bank, New Jersey, when it blew ashore. We were in the eye of the hurricane, and I experienced the devastation first-hand.”

“Hurricane” was the heart-felt effort that came from her experience. Download it from www.sarahpeacockmusic.com, and 100% of the proceeds go directly to Hurricane Sandy relief.

“I saw the damage. And I saw a lot of the folks who were friends of friends; they were government employees who were involved in the relief efforts. It was horrible, then at the same time I saw the love and compassion people started showing toward each other. They really pulled together. It was something I thought was very neat.

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“Love is the most powerful force in the universe, more power than any wind can blow.”

***

Sarah and her booking agent Mollie Clayton jokingly call (or maybe not) her current outing “The Definitely Indefinite Tour.” She’s spanned 46 states, including Alaska. But gigging isn’t all she’s about these days. Sarah and her team take the business end of music very seriously. “We plan to build the fan base exponentially this year,” she said. “We’re working on a video now. It’s a lot to juggle.” She tirelessly does press and appearances. “You never know when that moment is going to come,” she said.

***

Sarah’s new album Albuquerque Sky is a mixture of modern and traditional country. Her southern roots pepper the songs with tenderness, truth and a little sass when necessary. As she noted, this album is a vast departure from Straight For Your Heart, her first release in 2009. Do not cherry pick the songs in this album. It is wall-to-wall. Get it at www.sarahpeacockmusic.com. In the meantime, here is our down-and-dirty review of each track.

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“Jeans”… Driving country rocker, 100% radio-ready, the female answer to Aldean.

“Things We Didn’t Do”… Catchy and upbeat tune about leaving the door open after a break-up. Big vocal, big chorus, shredding slide and electric guitar solos.

“Albuquerque Sky”… Reflective mid-tempo, earthy and acoustic.

“Cast My Line”… Cool groove, radio friendly, nifty guitar riffs.

“Dry Spell”… Lyric-driven, thoughtful.

“Jesus, Wonderful Lord”… A creative effort for all you Baptists out there.

“Rio Grande”… Intimate, heartfelt vocal, folksy.

“Not Just a Country Song”… Another cool country groove song. Awesome harmonies.

“Paralyzed”… We love the mandolin and Dobro solos. Anybody wanna two-step?

“One Ticket”… Haunting, a la “Midnight in Montgomery.”

“Our Place”… Upbeat, up-tempo, perfect summer song.

“Where Will You Run”… Toe tapper, light and airy melody, big chorus. For what it’s worth, this is the Beaver Dam’s favorite track on the album.

“Blue Flame”… Different feel from the others with lots of piano.

“If It Don’t Kill Me”… Fresh lyrics, a beautiful cry-yourself-to-sleep ballad. Aspiring vocalists: learn to sing this way.

“I Left My Heart in New Mexico”… Fun Texas-swing, ‘70s country feel.

“117 Stewart Street”… “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” has nothing on this little ditty.

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